Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 118

International conferences on communist crimes against humanity were held on June 12-14 in Vilnius and on June 15-16 in Tallinn. Pegged to the commemoration of the first wave of mass deportations of Balts to Siberia in 1941, the gatherings brought together Baltic government and parliamentary leaders, Gulag survivors, veterans of Baltic and Ukrainian resistance movements, victims of Soviet repression from a number of newly independent countries, Belarusan opposition leaders, Poland’s former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walensa, as well as legal specialists and historians from some twenty countries.

The Vilnius conference centered on a session of the International Public Tribunal to Evaluate the Crimes of Communism, a forum which aims to convene a trial analogous to the one held on Nazi crimes in Nuernberg. The effort aims not only to restore historic justice but also to help prevent a recurrence of crimes against humanity in the future. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, in a message to the conference, urged that the next stage of this process should lead “from Vilnius to [the International Court of Justice in] The Hague.”

Addressing the Tallinn conference, Estonian President Lennart Meri underscored the importance of punishing violators of international law, including international humanitarian law, as a defense of small nations against powerful aggressive neighbors. Estonia’s Prime Minister Mart Laar and parliamentary Vice Chairman Tunne Kelam–both of whom are professional historians–drew attention to two problems which need to be addressed internationally: first, double standards in the evaluation of Nazi and of Soviet crimes, with the latter still lacking a proper international legal, historical, moral and political evaluation and, second and more recent, the Russian authorities’ tendency to restrict access to archival material on Soviet crimes.

On June 14 Latvia observed a Day of Mourning and Hope commemorating the mass deportations. Addressing a solemn gathering in Riga, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga rebutted the Russian government’s protests against prosecution of Soviet crimes against humanity in the Baltic states. Noting that those crimes are not covered by statutes of limitations, Vike-Freiberga called for international application of the same standards to Nazi and to Soviet mass repression. Focusing on a special feature of that repression in the Baltic states, she observed that it targeted both the people and the state as such in order to obliterate it. The deportations amounted to an act of “state terrorism, aimed at breaking Latvians’ will to resist and live free.”

Implicitly or explicitly, Baltic leaders underscored that membership in the European Union and NATO would guarantee a secure future for their nations. Vike-Freiberga and Lithuanian Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, among others, predicted that once the Balts join those organizations, Russian policy would no longer be “liable to temptations” (Landsbergis), Moscow would stop its threatening rhetoric and Russia-Baltic relations would stabilize and develop normally (BNS, LETA, June 12-15; see the Monitor, June 13, 15).