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Baltics: Leaders Differ Over Attending Anniversary of Soviet Victory Over Nazis

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus (file photo) The presidents of the Baltic States are divided whether to participate in festivities in Moscow that this May will mark the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. The Latvian leader has decided to participate but the Lithuanian and Estonian Presidents have yet to make up their minds. The decision is complicated by the fact that the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 led to a half-century occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Prague, 23 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Many key Western leaders have already announced their plans to be in Moscow on May 9. They include U.S. President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, and German President Gerhard Schroeder, just to name a few.

But Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus hasn't decided yet whether he will go.

The reason is that May 9 has always been a day of mixed emotions for the Baltic countries. It marks the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany but it also is a reminder that the victory led to a half century of occupation.

Audrius Baciulis, an analyst for Lithuanian daily magazine "Veidas" [a Face], says opinion polls indicate how deeply the Lithuanian public is divided over the issue of whether their president should share in the Moscow celebration. "The society is divided in two parts," Baciulis said. "Some are strictly opposed to the trip, the other -- only a very slight majority -- supports the trip."
"On the 9th of May we would celebrate not the victory against Nazism but the occupation of Eastern and Middle Europe by Stalin. We can not go [to Moscow] and celebrate our own occupation."

Baciulis says Lithuanian parliamentarians and other politicians also disagree among themselves. Right and center-right politicians oppose the trip but the left urges the president to go. "[The argument of the trip's opponents] is very simple," Baciulis said. "On the 9th of May we would celebrate not the victory against Nazism but the occupation of Eastern and Middle Europe by Stalin. We can not go [to Moscow] and celebrate our own occupation."

But those who want the president to participate say Lithuania should not quarrel with Russia. They note that the occupation is over and warn that Russia might stop oil and gas supplies if made really angry by Lithuanian disrespect.

Andrius Kubilius, a member of Lithuanian Parliament and a former prime minister, says there is no open Russian diplomatic pressure for Adamkus to go. However, the Kremlin has indicated it wouldn't be happy if Lithuanian and Estonian leaders stay at home.

Recently, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kossachev said that "if the three Baltic countries' leaders do not come to Moscow, [ …] it will put them into global isolation in Europe." The argument appears not to take note of the fact that the three states became full-fledged EU members last May.

Lithuanian parliamentarian Kubilius says Russia is concerned about the boycott because it might raise the problem of whether the Baltic states should be compensated for damage done to them by the Soviet occupation.

He says Moscow has tried hard to obscure the history of how the Baltics were included in the Soviet Union -- not only in the minds of Russians but also other Europeans. "Russia by all possible means seeks to create a situation whereby it would be impossible to understand in the West whether the Baltic States were occupied or joined [the Soviet Union] voluntarily," Kubilius says. "It seeks to make it difficult for the Baltic States to make the [compensation] problem an international one."

It is not clear what decision the Lithuanian president will take but reportedly it will be announced by the end of March.

Baciulis says that Adamkus will probably stay away from the celebrations, because Lithuanians opposing the trip are those who voted for him in the presidential election. "There is also a political pragmatic moment," Baciulis said. "One should have in mind that those people, who voted for Adamkus, now are opposed to his trip to Moscow. Those who voted against him, now urge him to go. If he takes into account the opinion of his opponents and goes, they would not start supporting him. They would only say he was made act as they wanted. Meanwhile, those who voted for Adamkus and support him would be left strongly disappointed."

Latvian President Vaira-Vike Freiberga has agreed to participate, but later voiced some reservations. She has urged Russia to denounce the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Soviet Union and Germany.

That pact refers to an agreement between the Nazi and Soviet leaders in 1939 to divide much of Eastern Europe -- including the Baltic States -- between themselves. The agreement was included as a secret addendum to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

Analysts say that if Moscow were to renounce the secret pact, it would be acknowledging some responsibility for the Second World War and the Baltic occupation.

It is also still unclear if Estonian President Arnold Ruutel will go to Moscow for the celebrations. Ruutel has urged a discussion at home on Estonian recent history and urged Russia to denounce Ribbetrop-Molotov pact.

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