Russia criticizes Lestene monument, president's interview on BBC

  • 2000-11-16
  • TBT staff and wire reports
MOSCOW - It probably took Russian officials a week to recover from Revolution Day celebrations Nov. 6 and 7 and prepare a critical statement on Latvia's recent deeds.

The Russian Foreign Ministry sharply criticized the unveiling of a monument to fallen soldiers who served in the Latvian legion, a part of the Nazi Waffen SS unit, in World War II and also voiced reproaches over the Latvian president's recent interview on BBC's "HARDtalk."

"For the first time in post-war Europe a monument to Nazi supporters - Latvian legionnaires - built at the state's expense was unveiled in the presence of government and parliamentary representatives Nov. 5 near Tukums in western Latvia. It was the beginning of a huge memorial to be developed in memory of those who defended fascism in Latvia with arms in their hands," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement.

The so-called Latvian legion comprised about 140,000 Latvian soldiers forced to serve in the Nazi army during World War II.

In 1950 the U.S. government published a declaration about the Baltic SS legions, that they should be distinguished from other German SS troops and not regarded as movements harmful to the U.S. government.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also lashed out against a Latvian MP, who, speaking at the unveiling ceremony, urged to demand from Russia compensation for damages resulting from the Soviet occupation of Latvia.

"The speeches matched the event. From them we learned that Latvians owe their lives and freedom exclusively to the legionnaires. A member of the Parliament, addressing thousands of people in attendance, urged them "not to fear the name of Ônationalist,'" to "further the Legionnaires' cause" in the fight for a "Latvian-style Latvia" as well as "to demand proudly from Russia compensations for all," the statement said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also criticized the interview of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on BBC World in which the Latvian leader allegedly tried to justify "behavior of Latvian SS men."

"Regretfully, the interview fit naturally into the context of developments in modern Latvia. The neighboring state's leader tried to justify the overbearing behavior of Latvian SS men by no more or less than reference to basic freedoms of citizens," read the statement.

The Latvian president's words about willingness to develop relations with Russia cannot be taken seriously, the ministry claimed.

Russia also wondered how Latvia's Western partners "evaluated another onset of [vengeance] trends in a country seeking to join the European Union and - it should be noted with special emphasis Ă‘ also holds the [presidency of the] Council of Europe."

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry "the generosity of the Latvian state in eternalizing the memory of the legionnaires cannot be disregarded in view of the disdainful attitude towards the monument to soldiers, who freed Latvia from fascism, in Riga."

Russia stressed, though, that "against the background of all those developments Russia stands committed to establish a true understanding and good neighbor relations with Latvia."