29 July 2008

"I rode into the hamlet on a white horse..."

So bragged Vasiliy Kononov, the convicted war criminal whose appeal to the European Court of Human Rights was successful. Vilhelm Konnander has written about the recent decision at Global Voices, where I've responded (primarily with extracts from the dissents; the judgment [4:3] and the dissents are available as a .doc file here and are very much worth reading).

The Kononov case has dragged on for years. Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze has a retrospective that includes fresh commentary from judges and prosecutors (in Latvian).

From what I wrote at soc.culture.baltics some years ago:

First, a brief précis of Kononov's crimes. He was the commander and organizer of a group of eighteen Red Partisans in a brigade called the "Little Boat" in the territory of occupied Latvia and Belarus. He organized and planned a mission of revenge at Mazo Batu sādža (the hamlet of Mazie Bati) near Ludza in May 1944, in response to a German military unit's destruction of a Red Partisan group commanded by Chugunov in February. Dressed in German uniforms, Kononov's group entered the hamlet on 27 May, when its inhabitants were preparing to celebrate the Pentecost. They divided into smaller groups and broke into the houses. One Modest Krupnikov begged them not to shoot him in front of his young son. They ordered Krupnikov to run into the woods and shot him there, gravely wounding him and leaving him to bleed to death. His cries for help were heard into the night, but the inhabitants were too afraid to give him aid. Another group broke into the home of Meikul Krupnik. Krupnik was in the sauna. They dragged him and another man from the sauna to the house, stole weapons, shot the men and Krupnik's mother, then torched the house. Krupnik's pregnant wife attempted to flee. They threw her into the burning house, where she was burned to death together with the two men and Krupnik's mother. They visited two other houses, robbing and killing. In total, they murdered nine civilians, burning six of them (including three women, one of whom was pregnant).

[The information in the above summary is from the rejection of Kononov's appeal by the Senate of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Latvia, 28 September 2004.]

I hope Latvia will appeal the flawed ECHR decision to the Grand Chamber, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recommended.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I read the Wiki article. It made the Kononov story, less clear cut.

I'll read the dissents.

30 July, 2008 10:13  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

The Wikipedia article is extremely biased, parts of it based largely on sources that reflect Russian propaganda rather than testimony from, or facts established at, the trials; the section entitled "Mazie Bati," for example, is founded upon spin by Kononov's lawyer, Mikhail Ioffe (directly and indirectly). Ioffe has repeatedly distorted the case and the findings of the courts, making claims about a supposed exoneration of Kononov by the ECHR long before the court issued a judgment, for example (see, for instance, this post at Ivan vs. Jaan).

This is not to say that the case isn't complex, or that the trial process in Latvia wasn't flawed -- the prosecutors and courts here had little experience of war crimes trials and are quite self-critical in the NRA article (which I dont have time to translate, unfortunately).

The fact is, however, that the findings of the ECHR are limited in scope. The judgment was not a vindication of Kononov, though the decision rests upon more than what the Baltic Times called "a technicality" ("Latvian war crime case overturned on technicality").

The précis in my post is based on facts established in court. I can't attempt a full summary of the trials, but I hope readers who are interested will study the judgment and the dissents.

One of the obvious problems with the judgment is the fact that the (narrow) majority decision ignores the fact that Latvia could not have brought charges prior to the 1990s, as it was under occupation.

30 July, 2008 11:02  
Blogger Giustino said...

It's actually a very insightful look at war -- where you have this anarchic state and teams of partisans with shifty allegiances settling personal scores under the cover of ideology.

I think Latvia should actually be commended for bringing this case, because it is one of the few countries that has the courage to try and deal with communism using current legal standards.

Whatever the final verdict is, at least we are better off for having the case heard in public. I think the Russians are quite scared of Western legal systems considering cases where they cannot hide behind the veil of state ideology.

Let's get it all out in the open and examine it.

30 July, 2008 17:10  
Blogger Alphast said...

I think it is an extremely interesting case and a very difficult legal imbroglio. Both the majority and the dissenters have very strong cases to make. However, I have the feeling, after having read everything that the majority was won by the inability of the Dutch judge to assess historical circumstances. In other words, by qualifying the suspected collaboration with the Nazis of the villagers as worse than the collaboration of the defendant, he has faulted by ethnocentrism. There is absolutely no comparison possible between Dutch collaborators and Latvian collaborators. Unlike the situation pre-1944 in the Netherlands, the Latvian situation was as much a civil war as an external conflict. Hence, the gruesome killing of the three women should have been seen as a fully qualified "war crime" (under The Hague definition, i.e. as defined before the facts) and not a normal crime (thus falling under a status of limitation).

My two cents, but in any case, this was and still is not a clear cut issue.

30 July, 2008 17:39  
Anonymous Tim said...

Good Job! :)

24 August, 2008 12:54  

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