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RIGA - Russian Ambassador to Latvia Alexander Veshnyakov says he is concerned about the anti-Russia sentiment increasing in Latvia ahead of the upcoming municipal elections next year, reports LETA. In an interview on Latvian State Radio’s Program 4 on Dec. 7, the ambassador added that several candidates, including from Latvia’s leading parties, had made unfriendly comments about Russia.
Veshnyakov reiterated that 2012 cannot be considered a successful year in Latvian-Russian relations. Several actions by Latvia, for example, Latvia’s accusations during the Russian language referendum, the Security Police reports on Russia’s supposedly secret goals in Latvia and the country’s decision to blacklist Russian citizens have had a negative impact on relations.
The ambassador did mention some positive developments - the bilateral agreement on double taxation avoidance is scheduled to take effect in 2013; the growth of Latvian-Russian trade continues, and the sides are working on drafting a cultural program for 2013-2015.
History not easily forgotten
Relations need to improve, but an acceptance of historical issues remains a sticking point. Ignoring historical injustices doesn’t promote healing of the recent, Soviet-era wounds.
Historian Peteris Zvidrins said on Dec. 7 at the presentation of his new book, titled ‘Padomju Savienibas nodaritie zaudejumi Baltija’ (‘Losses sustained by the Baltics under Soviet rule’) that the Soviet occupation of Latvia caused severe demographic losses to the country - direct losses total just over 10 million man years.
Zvidrins pointed out that the Soviet deportations and the annexation of Abrene caused a large portion of these demographic losses. However, included in the calculations was also the effect of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, migration in the post-war period, as well as the participation of Latvian soldiers in the Soviet-Afghan War.
Indirect demographic losses sustained during the Soviet occupation were even larger - approximately 20 million man years. This was influenced by the mobilization of over 600,000 Latvian residents into the Soviet army, who spent a portion of their life away from home. The deportations also caused indirect demographic losses due to the fact that many women were deprived of the right to bear children.
Also calculated was what Latvia’s annual output would be if the Soviet occupation never took place - three times more than what it is now. There would be larger salaries, pensions, budget revenue and quality of life.
European Parliament Member Inese Vaidere at the presentation recalled the European Council’s announcement last year that totalitarian regimes are equally condemnable, and that it is the obligation of each country to research what took place under these regimes. As one of the main losses suffered during the Soviet occupation, Vaidere pointed to the 1.42 million man years lost by those who were deported and/or executed, and the children that could have been born, but weren’t.
The head of the Latvian Occupation Research Association Ruta Pazdere said that there are many Latvian citizens who are afraid to speak about the Soviet occupation, but that this must be done. “This is our common history. History forms our future,” Pazdere said.
She said that there are many myths within Latvian society about the Soviet era, as one portion of residents praise this era, saying that it was possible to make a living and get work, while others remind us that this was a period of deportations and a large deficit.
Approximately 90 percent of factories that operated in the Latvian SSR fulfilled military orders, historian Ilgonis Upmalis said at the presentation. There were 17 factories in Latvia that only fulfilled military orders.
“The Liepaja bakery complex not only produced bread, but also produced eight tons of biscuits daily for military use. These biscuits were meant for the military reserve,” the historian said. Military orders were also fulfilled by socks manufacturers, factories manufacturing matches, and many other factories.
Another example he mentions is the Olaine Pharmaceutical Factory, which not only produced medicine, but also materials for chemical and biological weapons. He said that he was surprised when he interviewed factory workers that they did not know for what purposes these materials were being manufactured.
Upmalis also pointed to the environmental damage caused, especially at Olaine, where the pharmaceutical factory dumped chemical materials. “‘If you visit any ponds near Olaine, or the surrounding forests, you can take the town’s notorious drug users, and they will be able to get high right there,” the historian added with irony.