17 June 2007

The Seventeenth of June

Only three days after we marked the June 1941 deportations, the flags again fly with black tassels attached -- today we observe the 67th anniversary of the occupation of the Republic of Latvia by the USSR. At dawn on this day in 1940, Russian troops and tanks invaded from all three sides, reaching Rīga around noon (pictured). Andrei Vishinsky, already infamous for his cruelty during Stalin's Great Purge, arrived the next day to coordinate repression, rigged elections, and the eventual illegal incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union.

A Time magazine article
published a week after Vishinsky's death in New York in 1954 includes his reply to Roosevelt, who had asked him at Yalta if he'd ever been abroad: "Not often. And the first time I left Russia, a funny thing happened. I went to Latvia. One morning there I woke up -- and I was back in Russia."

Russia's denial of its history has taken a new turn of late -- the historian Heinrihs Strods was denied a Russian visa a week ago, just as the Chair of the History Department at the University of Latvia, Aivars Stranga, was refused a visa last year. Almost simultaneously, the representative of Russia at the Commission of the Historians of Latvia, the Armenian historian Aleksandr Chubariyan (who heads Moscow's Institute of General History), has resigned from the Commission, perhaps because he edited Natalia Lebedeva's study of the occupation of Lithuania, which led to his fall from favor in the new old Russia ("Chubariyan has to pay for Lebedeva's sins" in acknowledging the occupation of the Baltic states, the Latvian historian Irēne Šneidere observed).

Russian archives, though partially opened in the 1990s, have been increasingly difficult to access -- it seems that those who don't accept Stalinist historiography are finding access more difficult still, if not impossible. As Heinrihs Strods remarked, "I must have dug too deeply."

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