Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 195

It would be unthinkable for the German government to criticize foreign countries for prosecuting former SS or Gestapo personnel involved in crimes against Jews. Should it ever take such an unthinkable step, it would rightly evoke universal condemnation. The Russian government, however, operates according to its own standards. On October 19, Russia’s Foreign Ministry protested against the intended prosecution of several former NKVD officers, involved in the mass deportation of Latvians to Siberian camps. The note, handed over in Riga to Latvia’s Foreign Ministry, did not attempt to dispute the charges. But it did describe such prosecutions as a “witch hunt,” motivated by “revenge,” jeopardizing the “[inter-ethnic] consolidation of society in Latvia” and “definitely affecting bilateral relations…. Improvement in Russian-Latvian relations is unlikely if prosecutors set the tone.” Russia’s ambassador in Riga, Aleksandr Udaltsov, made a public statement along similar lines.

Latvia’s Foreign Ministry responded through a spokesman that crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide do not carry a statute of limitations, according to internationally valid norms and Latvian legislation, and that the accused will be tried in an independent court with full regard for due process of law (Itar-Tass, BNS, LETA, October 18-20).

The restrained response stopped short of addressing the political message contained in the Russian protest. That message implied that the judicial proceedings underway affect the interests of Latvia’s Russian population, and cast the Russian government as a protector of members of the Soviet repressive apparatus. The Russian note also cited the advanced age of the accused. However, the Russian government equally protects agents of repression of a far more recent vintage. Scores of KGB and OMON officers and Communist Party officials, wanted for prosecution in Latvia and Lithuania on criminal charges stemming from the Soviet crackdown of 1991, have absconded to a safe haven in Russia. The Russian government has rejected or ignored all extradition requests and withheld all relevant materials.

The Baltic states can hardly be said to have been “vengeful” against the Soviet-era deporters. In Latvia, only six individuals have been charged, two of whom were convicted and another four of whom are awaiting trial. Moscow had earlier protested against the trial and conviction of Communist Party leader Alfreds Rubiks–one of the leaders of the 1991 putsch in Latvia. And most recently, the Russian Foreign Ministry protested against the trial and conviction of the Communist leaders of the putsch in Lithuania (see the Monitor, August 30).