• 2001-06-14
This week the Baltics states remember one of the darkest moments in their history - the night of June 13 to June 14, sixty years ago, when thousands of Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians were forcibly taken from their homes and sent on a long and tragic journey to Siberia, from which only a few survivors returned more than 20 years later.

There is an old, cynical, journalists' saying that one death is a tragedy, but a thousand are a front-page headline.

When the editor of this newspaper was asked recently how many were deported that night, the inquirer was surprised to receive an uncertain response.

But the figures are not as important as the memories of the survivors who are still alive.

The Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1949 left a mark on many Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians. The families of the majority of people known to this editor have suffered the deportation of a relative.

But though thousands perished, the anniversary of the deportations doesn't necessarily create headlines in the Baltics. The day is more about personal remembrance - people go to commemorative events, share their stories and take out old photographs.

Estonian President Lennart Meri, himself a former deportee, well understands the significance of the anniversary and is visiting the homes of returned deportees this year.

The shocking perestroika years, when, through the Russian-language press, the full truth of the Soviet gulag became public knowledge - when people could at last read aloud what had only ever been told in whispers - are long gone.

Historians' conferences on the subject are now a rare event and many Baltic politicians have abandoned all plans to claim compensation from Russia, as the heir of the Soviet Union, for half a century of occupation - years marked by the enslavement and starvation of Baltic people in Siberia.

The Latvian Occupation Museum does a great job to preserve the facts of these crimes against humanity and the memories of deportees. Meanwhile, other projects continue. Evidence is being documented while the deportation survivors are still with us. This June sees the release of a new CD-ROM on deportations and the reburial of an unknown Latvian army soldier who died in Norilsk.

With the passing of the generations, documenting the history becomes increasingly urgent. What is probably the most tragic period in Latvian history may be lost unless it becomes part of our countries' education systems.

We highly recommend a new documentary about children sent to Siberia by Latvian film director Dzintra Geka, to be premiered at 4 p.m. on June 14, at the Cinema Riga. The same film will also be broadcast on Latvian state TV at 7.35 p.m. on the same day.

Only one out of 10 of the 4000 Latvian children sent to Siberia survived. On the road to Mezaparks, on the corner of Kokneses, Peterupes and Stokholmas Streets, sits a little monument devoted to the deported children - a bronze baby on all fours pleading for help with his arm raised. But there is an irony: the monument originally sat on the other side of the road, but was removed when the space on which it stands was incorporated into a fancy neighboring property. So, the little baby was deported again.