In Baltics, reminders of Soviet past come easy

May 24th, 2008 - 10:49 am ICT by admin  

By Aleks Tapinsh
Riga (Latvia), May 24 (DPA) As the three small Baltic nations struggle to reduce dependence on Russian energy, painful reminders of the Soviet past come easily to Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. On Thursday, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Vilnius honoured tens of thousands of Lithuanians deported from the Baltic nation under Joseph Stalin’s regime 60 years ago.

They laid flowers at a memorial to victims of the Soviet occupation in the Lithuanian capital, marking the day in 1948 when more than 40,000 Lithuanians were held in a mass roundup called Operation Spring.

“Even the long decades that have passed since these tragic events cannot heal the wounds inflicted by the occupants. Yet, these memories urge us to follow a new path of hope, truth and freedom, paved with respect for the past and courage for the future,” Adamkus said.

Overall, more than 80,000 Lithuanians, including 11,000 children, were deported in 1948 to northern and eastern parts of Russia.

The Baltics, which joined the European Union in 2004, want the EU to recognize the communist crimes on the same level as those of Nazi Germany.

“Lithuania is making every effort today … to have crimes of the Stalin regime be uniformly condemned throughout the European Union,” Adamkus said in Vilnius, standing alongside the Polish president.

Kaczynski came to Lithuania on a one-day visit to discuss energy issues as the region attempts to offset its dependence on Russia, fearing its former overlord might try to exploit its leverage.

The presidents also discussed talks on an EU strategic agreement with Russia after Lithuania officially withdrew its veto this week.

The bitter, shared history makes any Baltic defiance of Russian investments or energy reliance an emotional thing.

A key Lithuanian goal is to diversify energy sources before the planned shutdown of Soviet-built Ignalina, the region’s sole nuclear power plant, at the end of 2009.

History in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - whose total population of 7.1 million people is less than Moscow’s - is alive in a series of commemorative days, all tied to the Soviet period.

For the three Baltic states, the last century began under Russia’s tsars. After World War I, the three countries gained independence.

Under a 1939 pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Baltics lost their independence the next year. Soviet troops swept in, and Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of people to die in Siberian gulags.

When Adolf Hitler’s troops marched through in turn, some who saw the Germans as liberators collaborated with the Nazis.

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