Compensation for «Soviet Occupation»? Not Before Vilnius and Klaipėda are Returned to Their Owners
Yuriy RUBTSOV | 12.11.2015 | OPINION

Compensation for «Soviet Occupation»? Not Before Vilnius and Klaipėda are Returned to Their Owners

The attempts by the governments of the Baltic states over the last twenty years to win reimbursement from Russia for the «damages» suffered during the «Soviet occupation» have culminated in a «memorandum of cooperation»which was signed in Riga on Nov. 5 by the justice ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

During the years that the former Soviet republics have been independent, these servants of the Baltic Themis were coached in how to make absurd demands of Russia. In 1940 all three republics voted in favor of joining the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although this fact is at odds with their political doctrine, according to which the elections of 1940 were conducted «with a gun to our heads», and the period from 1940 to 1991 is seen as a time of Soviet occupation. «...It is precisely the legal continuity of the Baltic countries’ existence that makes it possible to present this demand. Under international law, one may demand legal redress for an occupation, both through compensation for material damage, as well as in the form of a formal apology», stated the participants in the Riga meeting.

This «memorandum of cooperation» did not appear out of nowhere. In Latvia, the commission responsible for tallying the «damage» has been working for many years. They have agreed for now on the sum of 300 billion euros, but that is not a final figure and there are constant attempts to increase it. Lithuania is also making similar calculations, which currently amount to about $830 billion.

Estonia has been slightly more restrained. Realizing that instead of money they might only be offered «dead donkey's ears» (in the words of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, quoting a line from a famous Russian novel in response to the Baltic ministers’ absurd claims), Estonian politicians are willing to be satisfied with an apology from Moscow. And the Prime Minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas, has gone so far as to criticize the ministers of justice for raising such a hue and cry for no purpose. He has stated that he cannot understand what his country can realistically gain from this memorandum. 

Nevertheless, this collective paranoia is clearly focused on forcing Russia to make amends. However, the «victims» acknowledge that they are having difficulty calculating the amount that they would like to receive. The ministers have agreed that their first practical step should be to standardize their methodologies for estimating the «damages». Then they will get together to jointly formulate a demand for compensation for these «damages» in accordance with international law and to prepare legal steps to submit this claim. The Estonian Minister of Justice, Urmas Reinsalu, says that in addition to the states’ demands, potential collective claims against Russia from private individuals are also possible, both against the «legal successor to the occupying state» as well as «against the companies that used slave labor»

That idea seems so ridiculous that the only response could be to laugh, as did Dmitry Rogozin. But let’s pause for a moment. The potential plaintiffs hope that these lawsuits being dreamed up against Russia will make it possible to take the doctrine of «Soviet occupation» and muscle that idea into international law. Once that has been accomplished, the ethnocratic regimes that exist in the Baltics count on being able to resolve a long list of pressing issues.

Their top priority is to evade their historical culpability for collaborating with the Nazis during WWII and to assert their «right» to include those collaborators among the fighters for «national independence». Should that occur, the government would have a free hand to tear down monuments honoring the Red Army, retaliate against (and criminally prosecute) former Soviet soldiers, and ban Soviet symbols. And, as recent days have shown, they could even cut off cultural ties with Russia, as we have seen in the much-talked-about ban on concerts by the Russian Army’s Academic Song and Dance Ensemble in a number of cities in Lithuania and Latvia, under the pretext that those concerts could become «a well-paid tool of Moscow» attempting to «divide Lithuanian society» (this was the opinion expressed by the Minister of Culture, Šarūnas Birutis).

The existence of a doctrine of «Soviet occupation» is also a prerequisite for preserving the shameful institution of widespread statelessness in Latvia and Estonia (in Estonia they are officially called «persons of unspecified citizenship»). There, the local ethnic Russians are labeled as «occupiers» or «the descendants of occupiers». The laws adopted by the Latvian and Estonian governments in the early 1990s serve as the legal justification for such discrimination. In accordance with that legislation, citizenship in those countries is granted only to residents who can prove that their ancestors were living there prior to 1940.

«If we renounce the concept of the occupation, we will endanger our policy on citizenship, non-citizens and their rights, and other key issues. It is obvious that we cannot take such a step». These were the very frank, almost cynical words spoken back in 2005 by Vaira Paegle, the Chair of the Latvian Saeima’s European Affairs Committee. In the ten years since, the situation has only gotten worse: there are about 300,000 «Negroes» (the local slang for non-citizens, primarily Russians) in Latvia today. In other words, about 15% of the population is completely excluded from participation in politics: they have no voice in parliamentary elections and are subject to more than 80 other restrictions on their political, economic, and social rights. Estonia has about 90,000 residents who hold special non-citizen passports and are deprived of rights. The ethnocratic regimes are also trying to settle old scores against them.

Now the Baltics are ready to take decisive steps to completely rid themselves of the legacy of the «Soviet occupation». However, it should be kept in mind that this could prove a double-edged sword. One thorny issue might be the territorial gains that were won thanks to that «occupation regime».

Today’s city of Klaipėda, for example, used to be the German town of Memel. But in 1923 it was handed over to Lithuania by the League of Nations, which is when it acquired its current name. On March 22, 1939, Germany dispatched its soldiers to the town. A Nazi occupation of all of Lithuania would have been unavoidable had the Soviet Union – which was entering into a nonaggression pact with Germany – not insisted that the Baltic states be included within its zone of geopolitical interest. What is now the Lithuanian city of Klaipėda exists only thanks to the efforts of the Soviet Union.

And what about the formerly Polish city of Vilnius, which became Lithuanian in October 1939? That occurred precisely as a result of the political and military actions of the USSR, specifically the Red Army’s campaign into the eastern regions of a Poland that had been devastated by the Wehrmacht. Should Berlin bring up the subject of Memel, or Warsaw mention Wilno, who would be considered the aggressor? Not the long gone Soviet Union, for sure. Therefore, before any «compensation» can come from Russia, the prized fruits of «Stalinist expansionism» must first be relinquished, at the very least.

And here’s a word to the wise for those who would enjoy making a profit by speculating on all the blather about the «occupation». On June 30, 2015, the Russian general prosecutor’s office announced that they were launching a review into the legality of the decision from the early 1990s to recognize the independence of the Baltic republics – on the grounds that the decision «was made by an unconstitutional body». Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė and Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius rushed to label the work of the Russian prosecutor’s office a provocation.  That was futile. The Russian general prosecutor’s office is simply reexamining the situation from a legal standpoint – in which all the arguments that the arrival of the Red Army in 1940, and then in 1944, brought the Baltics not liberation, but «occupation» – are not only ludicrous, but also legally null and void.

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