Since their first days, the second republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been cherishing the dream to get some money from Russia for the “Soviet-time occupation.” So, no surprise that the thesis about “47 years of occupation” is the core of their national ideologies. The calculations of the “damages” and the claims of “compensations” are the key elements of this myth and those daring to defy this quasi-religion may face serious problems.
Pragmatism and rigidity
In late 2015, the Baltic justice ministers met in Riga to agree to jointly claim compensation for the “damages caused by the Soviet occupation.” Lithuanian Justice Minister Juozas Bernatonis warned that the Balts will appeal to international institutions, while his Estonian colleague Urmas Reinsalu said that Russia is the “immediate successor of the occupant Soviet Union.” Latvian Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs exclaimed pathetically: “There can be no sufficient compensation for the devastation caused to the Baltics by the occupant totalitarian Soviet regime! But compensation is a guarantee of our future security.” Rasnacs reiterated the favorite excuse of the Baltic authorities that the “bitter Soviet legacy” is the key reason why their countries are poor and their people are fleeing. According to the Latvian minister, had there been no “Soviet occupation,” the Baltic states would have been as developed as Finland is.
The ministers agreed that their first steps will be a single method for assessing the “damages.” In their joint statement they said: “We, the justice ministers of the Baltic states, declare that it is time for the Balts to assess the damages caused by the totalitarian Communist regime.” But later it turned out that the Estonians are soberer than their southern neighbors. Their Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said that his government is not going to claim compensation for the “Soviet occupation.” “We regained our sovereignty 24 years ago and since then we have been a successful state. So, instead of claiming something from the past, we should care for the future,” Roivas said.
Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand, who is one of the most probable successors of current Estonian President Toomas Ilves, is of the same opinion: “I understand that all of us have a past. I understand that we must not forget our past. But I think that we should look into the future.” Reinsalu and radical nationalists protested but their voices could change nothing.
In Latvia, things developed in a different way. During a conference concerning the Soviet colonial policy in Latvia, member of the local “damages” commission Ruta Pazdere said that they are going to claim as much as 300bn EUR, while European parliamentarian Inese Vaidere explained that without studying the past, one has no future. “Both Nazi and Soviet regimes were criminal,” she added.
We don’t need your houses, power plants and factories!
Recently, Chairman of the "damage" commission Edmunds Stankevics said that Latvia had no achievements in 1940-1991. “We had nothing but losses. Even the houses, factories, roads, bridges, water power plants and research companies built during the Soviet times were a crime as the Soviet regime had no right to build anything in our territory. You just can’t occupy another territory and try to improve something there. You will only cause damages! For example, the Soviet authorities built as many as 8mn sq m of housing in Latvia. Though still used, most of those houses are uncomfortable and ugly as they were built mostly for invited workers. Those people are also the consequence of the occupation,” Stankevics said. He does not believe that the current Russian regime will pay the compensation but things will change as soon as true “democrats” come into power in Moscow...
Well-known Latvian journalist and economist Sergey Vasilyev (Seva-Riga) mocked these claims in his blog: “Professional damages assessor Edmunds Stankevics says that all that was built in Latvia during the Soviet times is illegal. So, now it has become clear that our authorities didn’t go nuts when they ruined our industry and agriculture and forced hundreds of thousands of people out of the country but were just fighting the illegal legacy of the Soviet Union! They have done a lot: they have destroyed over 400 industrial enterprises and have liquidated as many as 300,000 jobs. But they have much more to do yet! We still have an illegal water power cascade on Daugava, illegal bridges, the Riga and Ventspils commercial ports, Dailes Theater and Congress Center in Riga, Sigulda bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track... In fact, 3/4 of Riga are illegal Soviet-time facilities! So many things to destroy! So, perhaps, we should ask our elder brother to help us!? He has big experience of carpet bombing...”
But all this is like talking to a brick wall. The Latvian authorities are not going to give up. Even more, they are ready to help the other victims of the “Soviet occupation.” A few days ago well-known prankers Vovan and Lexus called Pazdere by phone and told her that they were high-ranking Ukrainian officials and that they were considering similar claims. Pazdere was very enthusiastic: “Today Ukraine is protecting the Baltics and whole Europe. The Soviet regime caused you huge damages. In 1933 you suffered Holodomor. So, you can claim huge sums. We are going to claim 300bn EUR, so, you can claim trillions,” Pazdere said. When asked by the “Ukrainian” about a counter-claim by Russia, she said: “We are not afraid of their counter-claims. They are very aggressive. Judging by their latest TV programs, they are preparing their people for a new Crimea. They are kindling hatred and their people like it.”
Mayor’s PR campaign
Many Latvians are laughing at Pazdere. Mayor of Riga Nil Usakovs is among them. “For 25 years already, the right-wing politicians have been exploiting the memory and the feelings of the people who suffered from the Stalin regime. For 25 years already they have one excuse for their mistakes and crimes – bitter historical legacy. Citadele Bank has been robbed? Liepajas Metalurgs has been robbed? Pensions are still very low? You have to wait for months to see a doctor? Nobody is going to raise teachers’ wages? People keep emigrating? You think that this is the fault of our governments? No, it is the fault of Russia and the Soviet regime. This is what our authorities have been saying for 25 years already. They keep stalling themselves and keep blaming others for this. And many people believe them,” Usakovs said in Facebook.
The authorities were indignant. MP Vilnis Kirsis complained to the police, while Pazdere said that Usakovs made a jest of Latvia’s history and independence, which is a crime. “So, European parliamentarian Inese Vaidere and I are going to complaint to the Prosecutor General,” Pazdere said. The radical nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK wants Usakovs to apologize, while MP Janis Dombrava twitted: “Were it not for the occupation, there would be no Usakovs!”
Usakovs refused to apologize and even added more details: “For almost 12 years (from 1977 till 1989) Inese Vaidere was a Communist and today she is a European parliamentarian. Yesterday, she complained to the Prosecutor General about my caricature about 185,000,000,000 EUR compensation we should claim from Russia. I was just one year old, when she became a Communist. So, my question is how much Ms. Vaidere should pay for 12 years of loyalty to the Soviet regime?”
“Ruta Pazdere wants to see me in jail for my caricature. It was she who calculated that the compensation Russia must pay for the Soviet-time occupation is 185,000,000,000 EUR. And it is she who claims that our low pensions and emigration are the consequences of our bitter historical legacy. She is boasting that her claim can bring Russia to ruin. This is exactly what my caricature was about: our right-wing politicians are blaming others for their own mistakes. People like Ruta Parzere must realize that they have their share of responsibility for our low pensions and emigration. It is really amusing to see that people studying repressions, deportations and criminal regimes think exactly the same way as those who once served those regimes,” Usakovs said.
Some Facebook users have already launched a campaign to support the Riga mayor. If one shares his view, one may post his photo and Es esmu Ušakovs (I am Usakovs) slogan on one's page. In the meantime, Usakovs has met with President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. “Our key topics were the scandalous amendments to the criminal code (about imprisonment for those who involved in the “hybrid” and “information” wars against Latvia – author's note) and the case of Maxim Potelovs, who has been sent to jail for six months for his joke about Latvia joining Russia,” Usakovs said.
Of course, Usakovs has his reasons for acting like this: the next municipal elections are near and he needs support from Russian citizens. He will hardly be sent to jail. Our concern is that a harmless caricature may cause such a harsh response in Latvia, which means that ordinary Latvians will hardly dare to be as outspoken as Usakovs.