TALLINN - An Estonian is to be charged with genocide.
According to charges brought by the Estonian western circuit prosecutor's office, 88-year-old Arnold Meri is alleged to have taken part in the March 1949 mass deportation of Estonians to Siberia as well as supervising deportations to Hiiumaa Island.
A total of 251 civilians were detained in Hiiumaa on March 25, 1949. They were taken to the port of Paldiski by boat the next day and later loaded into railroad cars and transported to Siberia for life.
In 1949, Arnold Meri was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia, a member of the Central Committee of Komsomol [the youth wing of the Communist Party] and first secretary of the Estonian branch of Komsomol.
Meri, born in 1919, served in the Red Army in World War II and was awarded the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union in August 1941. He was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1948. Meri served as deputy minister of education of the Estonian SSR in 1961. Ironically, he is a cousin of Estonia's former president and independence leader Lennart Meri (1929-2006).
During the deportations of March 1949, 20,702 residents were taken to Siberia from Estonia. The deportees were allowed to return in the years after Stalin's death, by which time 3,000 had perished.
Reacting to the charges, Meri said it is unlikely that he will live long enough to stand trial, Eesti Paevaleht newspaper reported.
Meri said that while he had never denied his participation in the deportations, his role was not what he was being accused of.
"I was sent to Hiiumaa as a commissioner of the Central Committee and my task was to make sure that no excesses took place during the deportations and that the entire activity corresponded with the laws of that time. During the week that I spent there I was not able to check anything, as I was actually never shown the relevant documents," Meri claimed.
Meri described himself as being in very bad health. " I do not believe that I've got more than two years to liveâ€¦ I'm virtually deaf and blind. I just measured my blood pressure, which was slightly over 200. That should do to describe my health condition," he said.
As recently as this May, Meri donned his Soviet-era uniform and joined commemorations of the Red Army's sacrifices.
Meri's activities in 1949 have been under investigation for more than a decade. Given his own estimation of his parlous state of health, it seems that there is little likelihood of a conviction ever being recorded. In view of that fact, the decision to prosecute looks more like an attempt to record a symbolic charge against him for posterity than a genuine desire to see the legal process through to the bitter end.