Monthly Archives: May 2011

Latvia 2011 A time for political change?

The President Latvia gives a historical landmark speech.

Yesterday the president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers addressed the nation and came out with radical decision to propose vote for new parliament. He used point 48. of Latvian constitution that allows president to force referendum to depose the current Parliament (Saeima). Parliament still functions until referendum and emergency elections, however it can hold sessions only if president calls them and they are lead strictly by president. The referendum for deposing of parliament does not need any quorum, if only 3 people in whole country vote yes the parliament is deposed. However there is certain twist in it- this radical decision  was made only few days before presidential elections. The president is elected by parliament. That means that parliament that has lost the faith in eyes of the president must elect him. While juridically its favorable it’s the question of morale. Another twist is what if Zatlers is not elected. The constitution says that if people vote no presidential decision  than he must resign. This makes question what would the new president will have to do in this situation. It’s also important that the president that made this decision must be the main arbiter of the situation, if so who has the constitutional rights to lead the state in the time of political change? It’s clear that this radical step was hard decision for Zatlers and great risk for all nation.

What are the legitimate reason for this step? First since 9th Parliament a political split between society and parliament had grow larger and deeper. Only 6% of people trusted the previous parliament, nothing has changed now the current parliament is trusted by 10% of people. That is a quite a small growth. Second reason is the continuing influence of business tycoon interests in government.  There are three main players labeled as oligarchs Aivars Lembergs, Andris Skele and Ainars Slesers. In last elections the last two lost the political capital and lost the great deal of influence. But Aivars Lembergs- the major of town of Ventspils and owner many oil and sea transit companies won the great deal. His party- The Green Farmers Union won enough seats to join any variant of coalition. This means that fate of coalition lead by liberal party Union leader Valdis Dombrovskis was in hands of one man. His influence has paralyzed the coalition, but Unity has not gone far from the three of corruption either.  The constant practice of appointing Unity party members in state services and commissions has angered the nation. Unity proposed themselves as the crusaders against corruption but now its seams the have betrayed their ideals in sake of power balance.

President Zatlers had many chances and reasons to do this. In January 2009. when Riga erupted in violent riots Zatlers gave an ultimatum to parliament to make changes in their policy if not he will depose the parliament. Parliament managed to fulfill his demands but many believed that Zatlers missed a chance to do that step then. A trigger that caused Zatlers decision was a sudden crackdown by Latvian anti-corruption service on three main oligarchs. The investigators wanted to make a search in-house of Ainars Slesers that happens to be deputy of parliament. The laws require the parliament to vote to allow to make such steps against the member of the parliament. And the majority of parliament voted either no or abstained. This was a clear blow against lawfulness of the state, that makes the deputy in higher position than simple citizen. Another reason for Zatlers action was a high chance of betrayal against his chance to be re-elected. Only Unity and National Union promised to vote for him. The Green Farmers and Harmony Center was the main opponents of his re-election. And Green Farmers proposed a another candidate Andris Berzins. 

What will happen next? The next important event is possible presidential election next Thursday. If it will happen will the parliament will vote yes for the person who has deposed it? By the political logic they must elect Zatlers to fulfill the constitution to avert constitutional crisis. But if they vote no then the future sequence of events is not clear.  The referendum against the parliament probably will be positive judging by large praise of the nation. Large crowd went to presidential palace in the night to great Zatlers.

But the important question lays in the new elections. Will the populace vote to punish all oligarch parties once and for all? Will the National Union use this situation to get bigger support? Would Harmony Center triumph in elections? Or nothing will change. It lies on the hands of the people, if they want to make a revolution and campaign against old policy or let things as they were. It is a question of will of Latvian nation to change and survive in this changing world.

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Latvians and the Chernobyl disaster

Medal for Chernobyl disaster liquidators

Last month 25th anniversary was marked by infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The meltdown of the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear plant was the largest man-made disaster in XX century. It was also a big nail in the coffin of collapsing Soviet Union. The scale of the disaster was so large that the Soviet government was forced to use large masses of people to clear the damage left by the disaster. These were so-called liquidators men and woman sent from all parts of the Soviet Union to assist rescue operation. They were sent to work in life threatening conditions with no chance to return home back to normal. It was a war against invisible force the radiation that was beyond the power of every man. A force that should not never been released.  6 thousand Latvian citizens were also fighting this war. This article is a story about them.

Today many believe that the Chernobyl disaster was an invertible. There were many reasons for this accident. The concept of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was flawed, with insufficient safety measures.  The NPP staff was irresponsible and badly organized.  Thus they deliberately broke the rules and requirements for power plant operation.

Initial blast released a cloud of radioactive fallout. A vast territory around the reactor of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia was primarily affected, but the radiation went further to Scandinavia where it was first discovered even before Moscow had issued any warnings. A high dose of radiation was discovered in Latvia mainly in towns of Liepaja and Jekabpils. Disaster occurred on the night of  April 26, in the evening of  April 27 Moscow reported of “minor incident”. After the discovery of radiation cloud coming from Chernobyl by Sweden and pressure from Western powers Soviet government finally admitted the seriousness of the accident. This showed that the Soviet government was confused by the disaster and used secrecy to disclose its weakness. On April 27 an evacuation from the nearby town of Pripyat and other villages started.  30 km zone around the reactor turned into “death zone”.

To hold further leak of radioactive fuel and radiation exposure a decision to construct large concrete sarcophagus on damaged reactor was met. It required large workforce. 600-800 people were used in a rescue operation to do various tasks. All of them were exposed to different doses of radiation. Large numbers of them died soon, others became invalids from the dose they received.  It’s not clearly known how much Latvian citizens were involved in the rescue operation. The soviet documents were classified and even destroyed. Experts say that no less than 6 thousand  people from Latvia was present at Chernobyl.

Latvian men serving duty in Soviet army reserves and also from active duty were sent there. The conscription begun on  May 8 and on  May 11 first Latvians reached the 30 km zone. Order to join liquidation service was obligatory and people were not informed about their duties. Also it was common that liquidators did not receive proper safety equipment or training. People were not informed about the dangers and had no information about doses they received. Main tasks were building of sarcophagus, decontamination of buildings, soil and forest. Latvian liquidators took part in building new city for evacuees called Slavutich in Chernigov district, about 1000 Latvians were involved there. It is known that president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers was also involved in the rescue operation as a doctor.

When liquidators returned to Latvia, new issues were faced by local medical services. A special rehabilitation services were introduced for sufferers from the effects of radiation.  After the fall of USSR new Latvian state introduced a special law for liquidators to make social guarantees for them. They receive social transfers and other social reliefs. Not only the physical damage to their health but also the psychological problems they had to suffer. The alcohol abuse is common among them. The liquidators have formed social organization the Latvian Republican Union “Chernobyl lead by Arnolds Vērzemnieks

By the years large numbers of liquidators have become invalids and are unable to work. It’s not known how many have died the liquidators call about 500 casualties.  The damage done by the radiation is inherited by their children who have birth defects and anomalies.  1300 children coming from liquidator families in Latvia need special health care.

The Chernobyl disaster has caused a loss 100 million Lats for Latvia. But the damage to the individual person surviving the war with radiation is more greater. It’s a countless ruined lives at  the expense of human error and a desire to use force that is beyond their control.

Chernobyl veterans

Mould, R,F. (2000) Chernobyl Record: The Definitive History of the Chernobyl Catastrophe. London: Taylor & Francis

http://www.chernobyl.lv/

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Soviet War Crimes 1944-1945

Today across the former Soviet Union a Victory day over Nazi Germany is celebrated. In Moscow there are large military parade and celebrations. In Riga people gather around the “Monument of Liberation” to celebrate victory with music, dance and alcohol. An important part in this war are all veterans- old men in uniforms covered with medals and badges. For years Soviet and Russian governments have made the cult of victory in “Great patriotic war”. The May 9 is more important to some Russians than Christmas and Easter. Little do they know or care about the dark side surrounding the victory over Germany. This article will discuss the bloody atrocities made by Soviet soldiers on their way to Berlin in 1944-1945.

The East Prussia, Danzig, Silesia and Pomerania were German possessions with the German ethnic majority. These were the first German lands that were reached by Soviet offensive. When the Soviet army reached them the local German civilians fell victim to bloody outrage. The rapes of all age women, the killings of children and full-scale looting. Soviet tanks attacked fleeing German refugees. Those who survived were later deported. Many were killed just for being Germans. British General Montgomery recalls the soviet soldiers as “uncivilized Asiatics”, other American General Keating  calls soviet actions as much as bad as hordes of Genghis Khan. Famous American diplomat George F, Kennan remembers that “the local  population was razed to the ground  with means that had no analogy with times of Asian hordes.”

It’s not known how many German POWS were killed in Eastern German provinces alone. Numbers of killed civilians also varies in different forms. German Federal Archive counts killed 120000 men, women, children and old people . 100000-200000 died in concentration camps and prison. 250000 died in Soviet organized deportations. Large numbers made suicide. It’s not only the Germans who suffered this atrocity it was also the Poles, Yugoslavians, Czechs and Slovakians. However in Czechoslovakia Germans become victims of Czech made atrocities.

Soviet leadership- Stalin, the Politburo and commanders of Soviet fronts knew about this and did nothing to stop it. In fact they encouraged soldiers to do this and took part in the crimes themselves. General Zhukov was known for collecting large amounts of looted German goods and brought them to Soviet unions using seven cargo trains. Zhukov was responsible for issuing orders of deportations and repressions in German east. As for discipline of Soviet soldiers; it was in disarray since 1944. Rapes, murder, looting began already in Ukraine, Belarus and Baltic states. Soviet army was divided in three vanguards- the front men took part most battles and suffered heavy losses. They were more busy with fighting than raping and looting. After them came the NKVD forces that cleared the captured lands. The last of them were soldiers in last lines that saw no serious combat, but took the actions of looting, killing and raping.

The atrocities of these men were horrendous. Memoirs of their victims describe bloody outrage filled with bestial sexual desire. Also memoirs of soviet soldiers themselves. Women were raped then killed and mutilated. There are stories of killed raped woman brought as feed for the hungry pigs. A woman breastfeeding his baby was shot with a bullet that went trough her and her child.

What were the motives for these atrocities? Records show that motivation came from Soviet government and its propaganda. The most famous was soviet propagandist Ilya Erenburg who called to kill every German they meet and destroy Germany and the Germans. His numerous publications in soviet newspapers calling to destroy Germans were no better than Nazi calls to kill Jews and other nations. Soviet propaganda was systematic and minds of Soviet soldiers were full of hate and bloody lust.   Also the orders issued by Soviet war command like “take no prisoners, it’s not tolerated, kill them all” were no better. By these the captured German lands were razed to the ground, civilians either killed or evicted.

When Soviets reached Berlin it also faced destruction. A large numbers of women were raped in Berlin alone. Looting was at high scale. Soviet soldiers took everything. The soldier who raised the flag over the Reichstag had so many stolen watches on his arm, that the famous photo had to be edited to hide them. After the war most of German territories that fell victim to Soviet atrocity was annexed by Poland and Soviet Union. East Prussia became part of the USSR. Its capital Koenigsberg, which was destroyed by the Soviets was renamed Kaliningrad. Today the city vaguely resembles the lost German legacy. Pomerania, Danzig, Silesia became part of Poland. The absolute majority of German civilians living there were deported from there and sent to East Germany.  Poles and Russians living there may not know what was the bloody cost of acquiring these lands as their own.

History is written by victorious side. So it’s rare that these things are discussed in Russia. Attempts to bring up this question have been met with anger. The usual excuse for the crimes, or revenge for German atrocities in Russian soil. And the fact that “Germans started the war so they must be punished”. However its a question where the German woman and children responsible for politics of Nazi Germany and crimes done by their soldiers. And can the soviet side that’s supposed to be good side be just as outrageous as their enemy. Or even more outrageous.

In 1914 when the Russian imperial army invaded Eastern Prussia, Russian soldiers along with Latvian soldiers entered the church. They sat and begun to eat, then the Latvian soldier told them that is the church, and it must be respected even it’s not the orthodox church. Russian soldiers gave amen and left the church on sight. In 1944 in other Eastern Prussian church Soviet soldiers made a large orgy of raping of tens of woman. It must be a gigantic cultural shift made by Communist ideology that changed the behavior of Russian people. Communism has the tendency of ruining morale and cultural borders in every part of the world. Even bloodier and bestial atrocities happened in communist China that supposed to be the center of the culture in Asia. But until this day the communism and its leaders are praised  in vast processions in Russia, Riga and even in the west. The higher justice has been done on Nazi ideology, the Communism still awaits its trial.

Selected Sources:

Hoffmann, Joachim. (2001) Stalin’s War of Extermination 1941-1945: Planning, Realization and Documentation. Theses & Dissertations Press, Capshaw, AL

Ryan, Cornelius (1966) The Last Battle. – New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Antony Beevor,  (2002) Berlin: The Downfall 1945 London: Viking.

Norman M. Naimark, (1995) The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949. Harvard University Press.

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