Soviet era lives on in debates

  • 2008-04-22
  • In cooperation with BNS
BRUSSELS - At itsplenary in Strasbourg on april 21, the European Parliament discussed of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes, having previously heard a statement by the Commission.

Commissioner Jacques Barrot spoke on behalf of the Commission, and in subsequent speeches by MEPs it was stated that the truth should be established as regards crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by totalitarian regimes, and that the awareness of Europeans in that respect should be increased and progress made toward reconciliation.

Barrot recalled that on April 8, the Commission together with the Slovenian presidency organized a hearing on crimes committed by totalitarian regimes, the aim of which was to better understand how member states have managed the issues of totalitarian crimes and reconciliation.

He stressed at the same time that every country must find the best way for itself, as there is no uniform path that suits everyone.

That position was criticized by Tunne Kelam, Estonian member of the European People's Party -- European Democrats group.

"The Commission statement can be understood as suggesting that offering an assessment of Communisttotalitarianism is first and foremost an internal problem ofeach member state," Kelam said, adding that such attitudes lead to double standards.

As no-one in Europe considers Nazism an internal matter of member states, there should be a common interpretation of history in Europe and a common assessment of all criminal regimes, Kelam said.

"To this day that principle does not apply to the tens of millions of victims of Communist regimes and theirdescendants. In the present situation they inevitably feel as second rate or third rate victims to whom the famous 'Never again' does not apply," Kelam said.

The same was stressed by Estonian Social Democrat MEPKatrin Saks.

"Unfortunately, the reality now is that while almost all people in the West know about Auschwitz, most have heard nothing about Gulag. And the sufferings caused by the Soviet regime are seen as being somehow second rate," the MEP said.

If the European Union takes its declared values seriously, it must very clearly express its attitude to the past in accordance with the same values, said Saks.

Hope for this was offered by Barrot, who said that the old member states should become better aware of the tragic history of the new member states, and that the debate on April 8 also had agreed on calling on European institutions to do more in this area.

"Our friends in Eastern Europe must understand that we are committed to finding out the truth," the commissioner said at the end of the debate.

The hearing on April 8 was organized in response to a request made by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on April 19, 2007 for a hearing on "crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by totalitarian regimes as well as those who publicly condone, deny, grossly distort or trivialize them."

On the basis of the materials gathered by the Commission the EU interior and justice ministers may in the future adopt a decision providing grounds for punishing those who deny or justify crimes committed by Communist totalitarian regimes.

The Soviet occupation has also been exercising thoughts in Latvia this week.

The Foreign Ministry has been put in charge of the completion of adocument outlining the precise nature and scale of the occupation, following a prime minister's decree issued in 2006.

Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis said at the latest Cabinet meeting he wouldask the commission tasked with calculating the damage brought to Latvia bythe Soviet occupation regime to report on its work in the near future.

The ministry said one of the tasks set forth in the declaration - toconclude a special migration agreement with Russia - has been completed,as the two neighbor countries have extended their agreement, signed in1993, regulating the migration process and the protection of migrants'rights.

The declaration also says Latvia still has to maintain its claim againstRussia over the damage caused by the Soviet occupation to the Latvianstate and its residents. Latvia, the document says, should demandcompensations for these damages and the return of the Latvian archivematerials that have been taken to Russia.

The ministry and Latvia's diplomatic missions have been constantly raisingthe issue of the recognition of the Soviet occupation since therestoration of Latvia's independence and the question is on the agenda ofLatvian-Russian relations.

The commission, set up in August 11, 2005, to establish the number ofvictims of the Soviet regime and the location of mass graves, to summarizeinformation on mass deportations and calculate the damages brought toLatvia and its residents, is also continuing its work.

To ensure the return of Latvian archive materials an agreement as signedlast year between the archives of two countries. The Latvian-Russianintergovernmental commission and its workgroup for humanitariancooperation are also working to resolve the issue. Experts have agreed onactive cooperation.

The Foreign Ministry also notes that an agreement on the status of burialsites has also been concluded with Russia.