Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Is Lithuania's Adamkus overdoing it?



Anyone who had a chance to step into the corridors of power such as those of Brussels, or just followed foreign policy in-depth reviews domestically (such as in the last Välismääraja) can tell that Western European fonctionnaires can sometimes be similar to their Kremlin homologues in their sensitivity to the Russian myth of WWII.

Yesterday, Lithuania's president Valdas Adamkus broke into that sensitive topic by saying out loud several things on the verge of russophobic faux pas:
1) Russia must recognize 1940 occupation of Baltic states and
2) pay the damages to the victims.
This news was delivered to me by Russian and Baltic press. According to Newsru.com:

"We aren't giving up on demanding to recognize the fact of the Soviet occupation and we are going to demand compensating the damage, caused by the occupation, while at the same time we are going to be looking for ways of developing dialogue with Russia".

But even if it is correct to assume that Brussels and Moscow, implicitly or explicitly, avoid the sensitive question of the Russian WWII role in Eastern Europe, it is not because they are in agreement. Brussels' favorite moto is integration, while Russia's ideas center around its imperial power.

This can explain why you haven't heard about Mr Adamkus' latest claims. Unlike Russian press English speaking media just missed the news as if it wasn't important. In the Russian press however Lithuanian's claims provoked a wave of whining and anger, both in the blogs and in the media, printed and televised.

In order to highlight the difference between the two media spaces let me point to the sources from the internet. At this moment Google indexed pages, the ones based on English alphabet, are finding 0 (zero) press articles on Valdas Adamkus' renewed "outrageous demands", while Cyrillic-based World has been in high fervor since yesterday noon with the news on front pages. For example see the headlines at Newsru.com (a yesterday evening screen shot):


If you have a feeling you don't know what is important or not in Russia and you don't understand Russian, you are probably right, because your English or French media isn't reporting even the news making the headlines on the Russian major news portals.
Screen shot from: www.newsru.com:

Now let's turn briefly to Brussels, before going back to Russia again. As stated, Western countries, Brussels in particular, don't like seeing Russia unhappy, at least more unhappy than she has been on average since 1991. Brussels may have different reasons for that. Many of us would agree that Russia's whining is boring and irritating. Western countries don't like to deal with the disputes on history, as has already been pointed out once or twice in this blog, look for the reference to Ann Applebaum, opinion writer from the US. For Brussels in particular opening up WWII issues is considered as a threat of disrupting the sensitive process of European integration, with the reasons quite obvious. That's why Brussels likes telling people to just move on, forget about the past, be happy and if to worry than better for economic competitiveness.

What is Russia's message then? From what one can read in the current news, formally Russia seems to be in agreement with notre belle union. Russia too tells the World about forget and move on, economic competition and let's be friends, well armed. On the particular issue , that is the Lithuanian one, comments were made by a prominent Russian MP, Leonid Slutsky (see his Russian homepage), who is also well-connected in Europe, in particular to the European Parliamentary Assembly and the French parliament. He characterized alleged Lithuania's president remarks as "schizophrenic" and "discussion topic for historians, not for present days' politicians". Thus, Mr Slutsky is telling us what we have been hearing from Moscow during the time since perestroika, which can be called as "forget and move on" approach, used in an attempt to sidestep the unpleasant issues of 1940-1991, the Soviet oppression and terror.
From this point the similarity between the attitude of Brussels, silent, and outspoken one in Moscow is striking, with both the Western side and the Eastern side appealing to those in between to bury the hatchet. Are Brussels and Moscow indeed conveying the same message, with perhaps just slight differences in tone?

Not really. Because Russians are lying. On MP Slutsky homepage we read that he and his own parliament, State Duma on 27th of April of 2007 called upon the Russian government to break diplomatic relations with neighboring country of Estonia and impose economic sanctions in a colorful declaration titled (my own attempt at translation):

"About sacrilegious trampling by the Estonian authorities on the memory of the liberator-soldiers fallen in the fight against fascism"
(in Russian: "О кощунственном попрании властями Эстонии памяти воинов-освободителей, павших в боях с фашизмом")

This foreign affairs demarche, one of several of such on Estonia's issue, which can be found on the website, is both significant and telling. Russian parliament - both houses of it, was unanimous in proposing the measures of a harshness rarely seen even in the crude Russian parliamentary diplomacy. And what was the casus belli? Historic memory! Estonia doesn't want to remember things as Russians do, Estonia has no recollection of liberators. How outrageous, let's stop at nothing but war!
Based on these and other documents we have to admit the cause for the strongest Russian reaction affaires étrangères in 2007 was given by Estonia's open doubt in the official Russian WWII line. This tells us all we need to know about the real attitude in Russia towards the history. Clearly, Russia has not even a slight grasp of the meaning of "forget and move on" approach. That country lives in the past and guards history with fanaticism.
But in the constant litany of "forget and move on" teachings, abundantly provided by the country's top foreign affairs chiefs such as Mr Lavrov, Mr Kosachev and Mr Slutsky we see typical Russian-Soviet hypocrisy. The country is as sensitive to WWII issues as a bull to red color and doesn't hesitate to spend any diplomatic, political and economic resources on a theological dispute about the relocaltion of some rusty old statue to a more forgettable place.

Lithuania, however has got several things right.
Firstly, as opposed to Russia's approach, Lithuania's approach is honest, openly discussing what's troubling. It is only natural that this discussion is ongoing today (as opposed to late 1940s in Western Europe), because during 50 years of Soviet rule it was impossible.
Secondly, while theoretically we could say that the compensation demand is a bit provocative, the demand to recognize the fact of occupation isn't. It has been, actually both things, done elsewhere in Europe and it was also done by the Russian heads of state, including Vladimir Putin with regard to the events of 1956 in Hungary and by Boris Yeltsin with regard to Katyn massacre. They were recognized. However Russia sometimes sees the Baltic states differently, as if they were not real foreign countries and their independence is just temporary. Clearly, this attitude doesn't increase the Baltic states' willingness to compromize.
Thirdly, one can wonder whether Lithuania is playing some kind of deeper politics with Russia. Mr Adamkus' remarks strangely coincided with the claims by the current chief of notorious Russian FSB secret service, Nikolay Patrushev, who recently officially accused the Baltic states of undermining Russian security, thus making one of most ridiculous of the recent allegations from Kremlin. According to Lithuanian newspaper (see the piece in the Baltic Times) Russia is picking a fight specifically with Lithuania, claiming the country to be number one in the current list of Russia's European enemies after the UK, which is serious. Could be that Lithuania is just responding to this latest Russian provocation.

In such case, bon courage, Valdas!

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