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World War II -- 60 Years After: Latvian Foreign Minister Andris Pabriks Speaks To RFE/RL

  • Jeremy Bransten

http://gdb.rferl.org/68BDCD5E-8AEC-4B4F-A7A2-CEA09F5A23FD_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/68BDCD5E-8AEC-4B4F-A7A2-CEA09F5A23FD_mw800_mh600.jpg Riga, 6 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As Moscow prepares to host world leaders to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, uncomfortable chapters from the past are being reexamined, casting a shadow over the celebrations. In recent days, senior U.S. and EU officials have called on Moscow to denounce the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, under which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania paid a high price under the pact. They were annexed by the Soviet Union and only regained their independence upon the breakup of the USSR 50 years later. Tens of thousands of their citizens were shipped off to the Siberian Gulag, where many perished. But this week, Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the Soviet Union never occupied the Baltic states against their will and that Moscow has no reason to apologize. RFE/RL spoke with Latvian Foreign Minister Andris Pabriks about his country's relations with Russia and the war anniversary.

RFE/RL: Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, unlike her Estonian and Lithuanian colleagues, has accepted Russia's invitation to attend the 9 May celebrations in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. What prompted her decision, and what will be her message to Russia?

PABRIKS: What we wanted to say to the Russians is that we, of course, also honor simple Russian people's sacrifices in World War II. We understand that the victory over Nazism was something really great. It's nice that it happened. But at the same time, we wanted to use this opportunity to also say that by recognizing Nazi crimes, this is only half of the story. We have to finish this book also by recognizing communist crimes and the crimes of the Soviet Union against the free nations of Europe. And our president made the very hard decision for this reason, particularly, as well as to say that despite our past and despite our fundamental differences of perception in Latvia and in Russia, we are willing to look into the future, and we are willing to build a good relationship with our neighboring country.

RFE/RL: What would you like to hear from the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin?

PABRIKS: That Russia recognizes the Soviet Union's crime against Latvia in 1940, that it recognizes that this was an occupation, it was annexation, and it was communist rule which was imposed on us from outside. And if this is recognized, I think it will be much, much easier for our two nations -- Latvians and Russians -- to build a constructive future. We cannot go any further forward for a longer time -- not only between Latvia and Russia but also between Europe and Russia -- if we are not putting an end to this story. And a concrete and correct end, not a distorted end.

RFE/RL: How do Latvians remember World War II, and how will you be marking next week's anniversary?

PABRIKS: It was a tragedy for our nation -- World War II. Basically, there was not a family which did not lose a person, either to the Nazis or to the communists. We will [commemorate] this in the cemeteries on 8 May, because this is the day when the Nazi regime collapsed. Unfortunately, 8 May did not bring freedom to us, and that is, of course, a problem which makes this celebration not only a happy event but also, let's say, an event which asks us to remember the other victims which died over the next 50 years.

RFE/RL: U.S. President George W. Bush is due to visit Latvia on 9-10 May, before his trip to Moscow. He follows in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to Riga in 1994. How do you evaluate this presidential visit?

PABRIKS: We are very pleased, and we highly appreciate that already the second American president after our reestablishment of independence is traveling to Riga. Because in some ways it is a recognition of our success story, of our successful democracy, of our successful market-reform system, of our stability and prosperity, which is coming every day more and more to our people. So I think Bush's visit is just a recognition that we are a good example to many other nations which recently decided to take the democratic road.

RFE/RL: Do you welcome this week's statements by U.S. and European Union officials urging Moscow to acknowledge the darker chapters of the Soviet past, especially the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and its secret protocols, which spelled the end of Latvian independence?

PABRIKS: This is a unique chance -- not only for all EU nations to have one common stance, to demand the recognition of the past of the Soviet Union from Russia -- but this is also a unique possibility for the European Union and America to have a common stance. And this is what we need. We need a common stance of strategic partners. And Americans and Europeans are strategic partners.

RFE/RL: What kind of relations -- in an ideal world -- would you like to develop with your big neighbor?

PABRIKS: We would like to have good, normal relations with Russia, despite our past. We do not need anything from Russia. We simply want normal relations, where our people can exchange visits, where our tourists can exchange visits, that we can sit at the same table and discuss normal issues. We do not want any more interference from outside in our internal affairs. We do not want any more accusations about things which do not happen in this country. We want simply to have a good, friendly relationship.

As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, RFE/RL takes a look at that conflict's enduring legacies in its broadcast areas. See "World War II -- 60 Years After"
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