07 May 2007

"Glory to the Imperial Behemoth!"

Darkness at Noon ran some photographs and descriptions of an anti-Estonian demonstration in Moscow, whence the slogan I am taking for the title of this post. Like most of Europe, Latvia marks the defeat of Nazism on 8 May. Russia celebrates the Soviet victory over fascism a day later, on 9 May (a day that is marked as Europe Day in Latvia, celebrating the Schuman Declaration of 1950 and not Stalin's victory five years before). The difference in dates is not trivial -- rather, the difference is part of what Oleg Ken of the European University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, describes as "un lourd héritage":
Stalin's strategy of political technology was that of designing the historical memory of this and next generations by a preventive purge of the history itself. [...] By cutting corners and patching up some lapses, he established control over the memory of future generations. Of course, this could not be attained without the collaboration of Russian society, a willing hostage of its own superiority complex.
Following the events in neighboring Estonia in the media and the blogosphere, one cannot help but be struck by the accuracy of Dr. Hist. Ken's analysis if we're to apply it to the flood of propaganda being poured upon Tallinn. Ken writes of "the theocratic dimension of the Soviet system." In Russia, the language never changed. Vladimir Socor, writing at Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov denounces Estonia for “spitting on these values” [evidently Soviet ones] and behaving “disgustingly.” The Duma’s International Affairs Committee chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, accuses Estonia of “barbarism” and “lying.” These and other Russian officials mix the bullying language with the familiar neo-Soviet mysticism that defends “sacred” objects [the Bronze Soldier as a substitute icon] against “blasphemy” [by Estonian unbelievers in this case]. Those two key words are recurrent in Russian officials’ statements during this crisis.
Though the dependably insightful Socor and some others (especially Shawn Macomber at The American Spectator) sympathize with the Estonian position, it's not only the homines sovietici and their offspring, primarily Russophones (whether extremists, nationalists, or even liberals like Yevgenia Albats [link in Russian]) who perpetuate a false view of history -- a falsified view, to be exact. The attempt to "balance" Stalinist distortions with historical fact, for instance in the style of Deutsche Welle, doesn't lead to balance at all, and the typical Western European (please forgive me for still using that term -- unfortunately, for Latvia [but less so for Estonia], "Eastern European" still fits) reaction to recent events tends to include a nod to "respect" for "the Russians' view," despite the fact that said view is very often infected with said lamentable, perverse, and intentional distortions.

Again, look at the language that's once again
au courant. Not only did Estonia "desecrate" a tomb (by moving unmarked graves from a well-trodden bus stop to a cemetery following identification of the bodies and a church service?) -- Estonia is "rehabilitating fascism." Just for fun, I perused my collection of old Soviet history books this morning. I'm afraid that many of those who lacked the sacred privilege of indoctrination don't realize that "fascist" in the Soviet lexicon, and in the Russian lexicon today, is practically a synonym for "Balt." It might be difficult for the uninitiated Western European to distinguish between the broad terms that make Soviet historiography unreadable in their density -- "bourgeois," "anti-Soviet," "enemy of the people," "fascist." Maybe that's because the definitions are indeed indistinct. Let's move to verbs -- "rewriting" history. "Revising" the outcome of the War. Excuse me, but should we, in some perverse allegiance to the "theocratic dimension of the Soviet system," stick to Stalin's scriptures? The outcome of the War has been revised, Gott sei dank. The outcome of the War was the enslavement of half of Europe by forces directed from the Kremlin, where Lt. Col. Putin, a proud KGBeshnik who thinks the collapse of the USSR was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th C" rules today -- perhaps we should also pretend to see the fall of the Soviet Union as a catastrophe, here in the Baltics?

On 8 May, I always read Pēteris Ērmanis' poem about the rejoicing when the War ended -- driven into exile (like my parents -- my mother studied under him in a displaced persons camp), he wept; he saw and felt how happy everyone in Prague and The Hague and Paris was that the horrors brought about by Hitler and Stalin had ended, but he knew all too well that the horrors had only begun for his nation.

Many of the Russian propaganda sites, e.g.,
Komsomolskaya Pravda, stick to the scriptures -- indeed, scripture says that "the Great Patriotic War" started in 1941. Most of the monuments foisted upon us, like one of the memorials here in Daugavpils, bear that date as a beginning, graven in granite -- after all, according to that view, we were "bourgeois" and/or "fascists" until we "voluntarily" joined the Soviet Union. In reality (yes, reality) the Baltic states went to hell when Stalin colluded with his friend Hitler, 22 months before. The gruesome photographs I chose to illustrate this post are from Masļenki -- details here.

Unlike Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia was never defeated. It fell apart due to rot, and so Russia has never faced its history -- unlike Germany, it wasn't forced to. Most of the ethnic Russians in Latvia, like Russia the state, deny the occupation. The idea that we could "let bygones be bygones" doesn't hold water -- Giustino, when he wrote "How do they not know that their former prime minister Jaan Tõnisson was most likely executed by NKVD in 1941?" was sadly prophetic -- rioting Russophones in Estonia tried to torch a
Tõnisson statue last week. The feeble crucifix erected at Masļenki was also set afire some time ago -- the location is now in Russia, and Latvia is about to legitimize that theft.

The illustrious analyst Atis Lejiņš called the day when the Latvian Parliament failed to produce a resolution supporting Estonia the darkest day in the history of our restored independence. It didn't stop there -- even the Writers' Union, once a cradle of the Awakening, failed to adopt such a declaration -- the poetess submitting the resolution, Margita Gūtmane (who heavily influenced me by her writing from adolescence), was derided as "a foreigner" (though she repatriated long ago), and Estonians were called, derisively, "Scandinavians" (this is, I suppose, what Ilves gets back for the nasty comments he made anent Baltic unity some time ago). I guess we're too busy selling out to care about our northern neighbor. Or -- not we but our Government. The film director Laila Pakalniņa read our Prime Minister's words over and over again -- we would like to be as sovereign as, asking whether this was a complex Fenno-Ugric grammatical form or recognition of the fact that we really aren't sovereign... her conclusion was that we could at least support Estonia's sovereignty, though we lack it and though Russia is displeased with its breadth and depth.

So here we are. Some are predicting a televized rebellion on "Victory Day." I think it deeply regrettable that there's so much blasphemy around -- do please forgive me for blaspheming the blasphemers! Russians, and the many others (many Balts included) whose loved ones died in the fight against Nazism, have every right -- and indeed the obligation -- to mourn and respect the sacrifices of their soldiers. The same rights and obligations that Balts (some Russians included) have to mourn the sacrifices of those who served in the Latvian and Estonian Legions in their fight against Bolshevism. What nobody has a right to do is to glorify the murderous imperial behemoth, be it Hitlerite or Stalinist. There is nothing sacred about the falsification of history.

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Blogger Robert The Bruce said...

Excellent post, as (almost) always, Pēteri. I would ask, though, that you consider posting the full text of Ērmanis' poem. It would make for great reading, and deserves to be iemūžināts on the internet.

The tragedy of Litene is most profound. I took a trip through the boondock province of Latgale last summer, and visited the monument at the Brāļu Kapi in Litene. Sadly, I was unable to find the exact spot in the fields where to pay proper respect for those who were so senselessly slaughtered. Perhaps someday there will be a national park, like at Little Bighorn or at Gettysburg.



09 May, 2007 01:43  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Paldies, Robert! Good idea -- I think I even did a rough English translation some time ago. I'll try to dig it up.

To all readers -- Elizabete has done a translation of a letter from Yelena Bonner that was published in Diena -- a must read!

Sam at Kojunshugi thanks Latvians and Lithuanians for demonstrating in support of Estonia yesterday, with photographs of the events. There are more photos of the event in Rīga here.

Sam has also written one of the best blog posts of any kind I've ever read, a four part series attempting to explain the Estonian events "beyond the sound bites."

Vysu lobu,

09 May, 2007 12:40  
Blogger James Higham said...

...Most of the ethnic Russians in Latvia, like Russia the state, deny the occupation...

This is understandable because of the ethnic divisions in "preBaltika". The more the Latvians try to exorcize the Russian ghost, the more the Russian ethnic reacts.

Further into Russia, where I am, they are facing their past much better. No one is ramming it down their throats and so, in their own way, they are letting their own scribes come out with the truth, bit by bit, as if these are new revelations.

It's the same situation where Islam is so militant. Over here it isn't because it doesn't need to be and doesn't have a hated enemy cloeseby trying to suppress it.

09 May, 2007 15:00  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks for your comment, James. Surveys would seem to bear that out -- a much larger percentage of Russians in Russia acknowledges the occupation than Russians in Latvia. Of course, there's a different angle to the psychological factor (e.g., justifying Russification) in play here, too.

But I don't think one can really say that Russians face their history in Russia -- there may be "bit by bit" revelations, but there is also a bit by bit "rehabilitation" of the Soviet legacy (mixed with forgetfulness and an earlier nostalgia for Tsarist empire), and the ugly bits seem to add up to a lot more than any Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

10 May, 2007 08:33  
Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

My last stop in the Baltics last week was in a small village near Riga. Janis, the one I've visited, said: Russia will always be like this, it will never stop. Claiming something beyond its borders. This month he will travel to Hamburg. More excactly: KZ Neuengamme, where his grandfather died. This man avoided military service in WWII as a Latvian. But the Germans got him, put him in uniform and he had to defend the front on the Eastern side of Latvia. Once the Germans gave order to him to blow up houses, the grandfather refused to do so. He went to military court and was sent to Neuengamme a concentration camp in Germany. He died February 1945. Janis wants to find out for what the Germans were accusing him and afterwards sending his Grandfather to jail and this camp. Janis wants to see the written words.

10 May, 2007 15:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another good piece of writing, Pēteri. Atkal paldies!

With the Russian elections looming, I see the recent Tallinn "events" as a prelude to nastier things from Mother Russia. By hook or by crook, Putin will remain in power. There is nothing like a crisis, real or immagined, for him to invoke "special powers" to circumvent what remains of their constitution. The saddest part is that I suspect most Russians will see that as a good thing...


10 May, 2007 22:14  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

yet another excellent and informative post Peteris

13 May, 2007 21:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am happy Peteris must spend his unique life in hateful Russophone Daugavpils. Every day come out of his home and see the terrible "post imperial" minority around him. And the next year I will specially visit Daugavpils on May 9 to participate in Victory day demonstration and commemoration. To provide new portion of happiness for this Nazi intellectual. Daugavpils is my town, built by the generations of my Russian ancestors, Latvian citizens by the way.

12 July, 2007 13:38  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thank you for confirming what I said re the usage of the word "Fascist" by your use of the word "Nazi," o anonymous one.

As to Daugavpils being "your" city -- it's also my city; my mother's family lived there until the Soviet invasion brought death to some and exile to others. Unity Hall (Vienības nams), one of the largest public buildings constructed in the interbellum, was built with donations, for example.

Daugavpils was as Jewish, Polish and Latvian as it was Russian -- prior to the occupation, for instance, ethnic Russians were only 20% of the population.

The Soviets and their Nazi droogs devastated all of these communities, the Russian community included -- Melety Kallistratov, the most prominent Russian politician in independent Latvia, was murdered in the courtyard of the prison, for instance.

If Daugavpils were hateful to me, I wouldn't live there. It is once again becoming the multilingual, multicultural city it once was. The Polish school that Stalin shuttered is operating once again, the synagogue was recently restored, the churches of the different denominations have been renovated, and more than 40% of the inhabitants can now speak Latvian.

13 July, 2007 05:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real impact of “enlightenment” activity of the Latvian emigration historians, journalists and university lectors on Latvian society is that the new generation of Latvians are brought now in the spirit of vulgar anticommunism and aggressive Rusophobia. This heritage your people brought back to Latvia from the dark times of Trimda. I can understand what the psychological ground of this phenomenon is. The hate and hopelessness were concentrated by Latvian emigrants for the decades the Soviet power seemed to be endless. But now we – ethnic Russians of Latvia are paying for all crimes of communist power. By persistent overusing of the “ocupation” term you have created the “hysteric” perception of Latvian past, where the Soviet occupation was the most prominent event and the respectful ground for the endless revenge. And the most amusing fact is that you are united in this activity with the former Latvian communist ideologists and historians. Now you together with Vaidere and Tabuns are teaching us how to understand the history. I am sorry I told you are “Nazi”. I do not think so. I often read you posts, finding a lot of useful information on history and honest analysis. But when you are speaking about “occupation” you repeat the totalitarian myths, created in the emigration and added to political armoury by the former Latvian communists – modern Latvian patriots. It is the typical behavior of a nationalist. To “correct” history by using special emotionally colored terms and by emphasizing the dark sides of events in order to motivate the compatriots for aggressive xenophobic behavior.

You are writing about some “multicultural” perspectives of Daugavpils, but the attitude of your – ethnic Latvian state is openly disadvantaging towards any multiculturalism. In my native town, 99 percent of residents can read and understand Russian, and where at least 55 per sent of residents are local Russians with Latvian citizenship. But your state has prohibited us to submit any personal application in Russian to local authorities as well as to receive any official written reply in our “foreign” Language. The Russian language school I had graduated from now has all official inscriptions, ads and other administrative information in Latvian only. And the State Language Inspection is hunting any case of violation of this ban in Russian language schools. I have studied Latvian according to my personal choice many years ago because it is a tool of communication in social life of my country and because it is the mother tongue of my friends and relatives. But then it became the tool of punishment and discrimination. Three times I personally was examined by the Language inspection. Why? The same answer as in the cases of my school and town’s administration: Latvian ethnocratic state allowed the majority to revenge minority. And you personally as well as other nationalistic intellectuals provide the logical and emotional ground for such actions.

13 July, 2007 14:38  
Blogger Giustino said...


The question you should ask yourself is how did so many Latvians learn Russian. Except, of course, that foreigner Vaira Vike-Freiberga (sorry for mutilating your language, I don't have a Latvian keyboard).



13 July, 2007 19:41  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

It's interesting that you call Daugavpils "your" city, but Latvia seems to be somehow "ours" in your view -- e.g., "your state" and "Latvian ethnocratic state." I assume that you're Miroslav Mitrofanov the deputāta kungs -- if Latvia is such an ethnocracy, how is it that you're in Parliament?

The real impact of “enlightenment” activity of the Latvian emigration historians, journalists and university lectors on Latvian society is that the new generation of Latvians are brought now in the spirit of vulgar anticommunism and aggressive Rusophobia.

Really? I certainly don't put Russians (much less the so-called "Russophones") in the same bag, and I hardly think you can do that with Western Latvians who've repatriated. Kārlis Streips, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Vita Matīss, Valters Nollendorfs, Nils Muižnieks, Pauls Raudseps, Ojārs Kalniņš, the late Vilnis Zaļkalns and Juris Sinka, et al. ...they're quite different from each other, not to mention different from your stereotype.

As to historians -- consider Leo Dribins (not a Western Latvian but a local Jew) on the three schools of history; the Latvian nationalist school, the Russian nationalist (or revanchist) school, and that school inspired by Western models, indebted especially to Andrew (Andrievs) Ezergailis.

What do you mean by the dark times of Trimda? Naturally, exile was difficult and painful -- but in terms of growing up in civil, open societies and having access to undistorted information, the trimda was far less "dark" than occupied Latvia, of course.

The hate and hopelessness were concentrated by Latvian emigrants for the decades the Soviet power seemed to be endless.

Some Latvian émigrés stewed in bitter juices, to be sure -- most did not; they published thousands of books, developed educational and cultural institutions (all without the state support that the Russians get here, of course), and stood ready to help Latvia when the time came. Elsewhere on this blog I've quotes from an interview with Dainis Īvāns, who notes how very important that help was from the time of the Awakening.

And the most amusing fact is that you are united in this activity with the former Latvian communist ideologists and historians. Now you together with Vaidere and Tabuns are teaching us how to understand the history.

Again you are lumping people together and generalizing most grossly about views -- I don't recall doing anything together with Vaidere or Tabūns, and understandings of history are various...

But when you are speaking about “occupation” you repeat the totalitarian myths, created in the emigration

How so? Who is the totalitarian? Where do I add to myths?

It is your party that echoes the totalitarian, actually -- read the decision of the Grand Chamber of the ECHR re Gospozha Zhdanok.

The occupation took place, Gospodin Mitrofanov, and the Latvian part of the population of Daugavpils dropped from 33,6% to 12,6% -- the Jewish part from 25% to close to zero.

There are all sorts of models for multiculturalism, all of them with positive and negative aspects. The Soviet model was one of language death and physical death, and the Russian Federation is the same prison house of nations that the Russian Empire was. What is "vulgar anticommunism"? You think it took trimdinieki to teach Letts about the Soviet system? Your party continues to include and even lionize people who opposed and oppose the very existence of this country -- and your party isn't even particularly popular among Russians (or Russophones) anymore.

As to all of this "revenge" stuff -- I find these matters difficult to discuss in these terms. Granted, there are not a few right-wing Latvians who mirror the crypto-Stalinist Russophones, the latter being far more numerous. But where's the revenge? The language and citizenship policies are working just fine -- "bilingualism" is far less asymmetrical, well over 100 000 non-citizens have naturalized, etc.

I would be glad to debate these things with you -- but you personally as well as other nationalistic intellectuals provide the logical and emotional ground for such actions?!?

Well, I hope I do provide logical ground, yes. As to emotions -- that ground was around for a while, no? The Latvian nation, including the many people not of Latvian ethnicity who supported independence (and that included you at one time, I believe) chose the West. People like Gospozha Zhdanok fought this tooth and nail, and when they failed to vanquish the desire for freedom, they used our democracy against us and swiftly converted their Soviet rhetoric to a eurorhetoric parts of the (pseudo-)left welcome. This motley crew is where your party found a home in Brussels, and you are especially expert at this.

Your party desires a so-called bicommunal state, and most Latvian citizens are vehemently opposed to this. That comes of experience -- "friendship between peoples" under occupation meant annihilation, in essence. Only ca. 15% of the Russians in Latvia spoke Latvian when the occupation ended. That isn't bilingualism or multiculturalism -- it's Russification. "Revenge"? It is still more difficult to be a Lettophone in parts of Latvia, such as Daugavpils, than it is to be a Russophone. No one has tried to take Russian away from the Russians -- you're in Parliament, Zhdanok is in Brussels, Daugavpils has a nice Russian theater and Russian schools, a vibrant Russian press, Russian radio and TV galore, etc.

The state language in Latvia is Latvian. Russian is the state language from Pytalovo (Abrene) to Vladivostok. A freely elected Parliament here made that decision, and a strong majority thinks it important. I have many friends who have varying opinions about the citizenship laws, the language laws, the education reform, etc. -- but logical ground is logical ground. You accuse me (and my supposed ilk) of dwelling upon the occupation -- but you (and your party) tend to deny the occupation. Historical fact (as opposed to myth) is on our side, sir.

Get serious, Gospodin Mitrofanov -- Latvia's laws have been gone through with a fine-toothed comb by the EU, the CoE, the OSCE, etc. This is not an ethnocracy. It's a democracy with severe problems, and most of those problems are rooted in our history. Soviet historiography had (has!) little to do with history.

It is not at all difficult for an ethnic Russian (or a Russophone so-called) to relish his or her Russianness or the Russian language in Latvia, nor should it be. We would like to see an integrated society, however, and not a bicommunal state perpetuating asymmetrical bilingualism. The Latvian right wing is about as popular as you are -- i.e., hardly at all.

As I said, I would be glad to discuss these things further with you, here or in another venue -- I'm in Ventspils at the moment, but will be home in mid-August.

13 July, 2007 23:00  
Blogger Peters J Vecrumba said...

To Miroslav's anticommunist Russophobic dark Trimda commentary...

All that has to be done is for Russia to officially acknowledge that the Soviet Union illegally occupied Latvia. We can then all move on.

Your apology to Pēteris (for calling him a Nazi) is telling: anything anti-Soviet is anti-"anti-fascist hero" is therefore pro-Nazi. It is, in fact, you who are brainwashed. It is not darkness and disparagement which the trimdinieki bring back, but the simple truth. If you don't like being on the receiving end of the truth, then you too have the chance to acknowledge it and move on. The Soviet Union and Soviet glory are dead, and good riddance.

Speaking of that glory, you do know that Stalin and Hitler started WWII together, not just in signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Soviets transmitted coded signals to support Hitler's air force in support of their invasion of Poland, then wired their congratulations to Hitler just before they invaded to take their half of Poland (winding up with more of Poland than Hitler).

As long as the Russian government pronounces that one can't occupy what one already possesses, that Soviet participation in WWII was all glorious and heroic--that is, they (a) didn't start it in the first place and (b) didn't use its aftermath to occupy all of Eastern Europe for half a century--you will continue to hear the unflattering truth.

Latvians waited patiently for half a century for the Soviet Union to crumble, we can wait longer for Russia to admit the truth. It's your choice, admit the truth now and move on, or live in the past and keep wringing your hands that Soviet glory is a bunch of crock.

I do applaud your personal decision to learn Latvian, especially since my first ever visit to Latvia, less than a year post independence (my mother returning to see--for the first time in nearly half a century--her family who had been deported to and survived Siberia) featured Russians calling in to radio talk shows swearing they would never learn that "pig language" Latvian.

Ar cieņu,

27 August, 2007 07:31  

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