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17/4/2014 17:33
RIA Novosti

Features & Opinion

Russians and Balts are trapped by the past

17:04 26/03/2007

MOSCOW. (Leonid Mlechin, member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council)

Russians think that Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians are arrogant, that their countries are malicious gnomes with an all-but-Nazi ideology, and that they hate Russia and treat Russian-speaking residents of their countries as second-class people. To be honest, Russians dislike the Balts for three reasons:

To start with, they were the first to leave the Soviet Union - how ungrateful!

Second, these pro-Western countries rushed into the EU and NATO - joined our enemies!

Third, they make claims on our territory or demand compensation for what they call "the Soviet occupation."

Discontent with the status of local Russians and other grievances are rooted in these causes. There are ex-Soviet countries where Russians are really having a hard time, but Moscow does not want to mess with dictatorships. It is much safer to lash out at the three Baltic democracies.

Our protests against SS veterans' rallies or SS monuments in the Baltics are also affected in many respects. In Russia, people freely march under overtly Nazi slogans, and Nazi literature is sold in the open, but society does not worry too much about this.

Moscow's traditionally high-handed attitude to small European countries and its habit of resolving all issues only with its big partners - America, Germany or France - is a source of rightful irritation in the Baltic nations. Russian policy towards them is hardly dexterous. What has our diplomacy done to build new relations with them? Incidentally, when transport links with Kaliningrad turned into a big problem, Moscow desperately needed good relations with Lithuania, but there were none to be had.

If we want to overcome this enmity, we have to be honest about the past. There is simply no other way. The trouble is that the past is very unattractive on both sides. Nobody wants to recall it, let alone accept any blame. But modern politicians are in no way responsible for events in the 1930s and 1940s. Why should they display false solidarity with the criminals of that era? If Russian politicians do not want to talk about the Stalinist era and admit that Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians became Soviet citizens against their will, then righteous indignation at Baltic SS squads does not sound too credible.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia demand that Russia should apologize for the occupation. The Russian leaders do not apologize because they deny that there was an occupation. I don't think that the latter is a precise term, though. Occupation means control over a foreign territory. In 1940 the three Baltic countries were annexed and absorbed by the Soviet Union. Some of our politicians still claim that all three joined the U.S.S.R. of their own free will. But declassified documents from the Soviet Foreign Ministry paint a completely different picture. The Soviet Union incorporated the three republics after sending in troops, changing their governments by force, and holding elections that could not be called democratic by any stretch of the imagination.

Massive purges were launched almost right away. Not only former policemen and officials, but also intellectuals were shot or sent to labor camps. The last prewar deportation took place on June 14, 1941 - a week before the German invasion. The deportations have shaped the local attitude to the Soviet Union ever since.

Baltic soldiers were not too enthusiastic about defending Soviet power. In August 1941, half of all Estonian conscripts fled the Red Army. In October, 10,000 Lithuanians and 5,000 Latvians joined the Nazis. Stalin had to disband the Baltic national units.

After the war, the Balts forgot that Hitler was going to resettle them and invite Germans to their land. Latvia and Estonia started building heavy industry on imported raw materials and labor. The locals' share of the population went down abruptly. Newcomers believed that the Baltics were as much a part of the Soviet Union as any other, and did not bother to study the language or local customs. The locals were angry that the newcomers behaved like hosts.

These very different nations were part of one country only by virtue of geopolitics and a common historical destiny. Until recently, they had always been under the control of some overlord, and they had to adapt themselves to it. They are angry at themselves for their failure to achieve independence. They lament their destiny as minor nations that nobody cares about, but they do not admit this.

The Baltic nations wanted to be left alone. They felt ill at ease in a big foreign country also because more emotional, dynamic and flexible nationalities made them look awkward, unskillful and slow. The popular Russian jokes about "hot-blooded Estonian guys" have appeared for a reason. The Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian temperaments, mentalities and traditions (for all the differences between them) are very different from those in Russia, not to mention Asia or the Caucasus. In a word, coexistence in the big Soviet family was awkward for them in every respect.

Balts are often criticized for their snobbery, but it is more a lack of confidence. Trapped by complexes, they are too reserved for self-deprecating irony. On the other hand, they quite often underrate themselves.

This is probably why the policy of the three Baltic republics towards Russia contains a mixture of fear, audacity, and a childish desire to get at an adult who is unable to reciprocate. I believe my Baltic colleagues will agree that this is a desire to assert oneself at the expense of a big neighbor, and take a little revenge for the past into the bargain. It thrives on confidence in cultural superiority. The Balts seriously believe that civilized Europe ends at Estonia's eastern border.

Civilized Europe would not have joined the Nazis. Some 40,000 Lets fought on the side of Nazi Germany, including 20,000 SS volunteers. Another 15,000 Estonians joined the SS of their own free will. Having sided with the Germans, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians became accomplices to Nazi war crimes. Local residents were killing communists and staging Jewish pogroms even before German troops arrived. Jews had no escape in the Baltics.

Civilized Europe does not acquit Nazis. Having become independent in 1991, Lithuania announced an amnesty for all those who had been convicted of crimes by Soviet power, including those who took part in the extermination of Jews. They even received compensation for being wrongly punished. This caused protests, but Lithuanian intellectuals were indignant: "How can these people accuse us of anything? We are the victims, not them!"

A moral right to reproach others only comes with an ability to see one's own shortcomings. If the Kremlin says that Russia has to give jobs at markets to its own people first, how can it criticize Riga or Tallinn, which have been following the same logic for 15 years now?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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