The ambassador of the Russian Federation to Latvia Yevgeny Lukyanov gave special greetings to the residents of Latvia before 9 May (pictured above). Greetings were published in the newspaper Segodnya, while the video address was uploaded to the accounts of the embassy on the social networks Twitter and Facebook.
The 9 May has ideologically become the main national holiday in Russia, therefore the congratulations of the ambassador would not be anything unusual per se. However, the content of the address leads one to ask certain questions.
In the newspaper Segodnya, the ambassador, as if addressing war veterans, wrote: “We were a united Soviet people during the years of the Great Patriotic War, we contributed 27 million lives to defending our common Motherland - the Soviet Union and, consequently, everybody defended our own motherland - irrespective of whether it was Russia, Latvia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine.”
The same idea was repeated in the video message, where the address was dedicated to the “residents of Latvia”, and a translation in Latvian was added. “We had to pay a huge and horrifying price for this great victory - 28 million of our compatriots surrendered their lives for victory. (..) All peoples of the Soviet Union participated in this victory, in this fight of its time...” A slightly edited video was prepared especially for the residents of Daugavpils.
This is not fake news created by anonymous “trolls” and circulated online, which has been frequently reflected in this column. It is an official address from a government official, where cordial congratulations for a celebration were supplemented by considerable ideological background, based on selectively picked and even false ‘facts.
What “common Motherland” and “united Soviet people” could we talk about in 1941? Only one year after the occupation of Latvia by the USSR (after a prior agreement with Hitler regarding the division on the areas of influence) and the merciless repressions carried out against the local population - killings, deportations, and other.
When we are talking about the residents of Latvia, who served in the Soviet Army, their numbers are estimated at between 70,000 to 80,000 people; however, only some of them were volunteers. Most of them - 57,422 were conscripted from August 1944 until 1945 in violation of the Hague Convention, which prohibits the conscription of the residents of occupied territories into the army of the occupying state.
The historian Edgars Engīzers called Yevgeny Lukyanov’s address “maintenance of collective amnesia”. He does not object to the part of the address where the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, who was born in the USSR, thanks veterans for “saving the Motherland”. “However, the spreading of constructs aiming at making the Latvian public ‘forget’ the events of World War Two that happened before the war between Russia and Germany, and the processes which eliminated the national independence of the state of Latvia seems to be non-diplomatic,” Engīzers states, reminding us that the USSR was one of the initiators of World War Two.
Latvian people suffered from both occupations, while Lukyanov presents the USSR as the only sufferer. “The Ambassador seems to have forgotten that in the course of WWII the USSR was not the homeland of the residents of Latvia. Furthermore - Latvia was founded as an opposite to Soviet Russia, against which (just like the other “Russian world”- the monarchist version of Bermondt-Avalov) Latvia fought for its independence from 1918 to 1920 and won it”, says E. Engīzers, reminding us of these historical facts.
Doctor of Communication Sciences Mārtiņš Kaprāns also believes that the message of the address is obvious, and it is not the self-expression of a Russian diplomat but a constituent part of state policy: “The statement of Ambassador Lukyanov, is definitely based on the opinion that Latvia was a part of the USSR and the Soviet people during WWII. This would mean that there was no occupation and all the residents of Latvia, including those that were enlisted in the Red Army mandatorily, eagerly fought for the Soviet Motherland, the existence of which most residents of Latvia were not even aware of before the war.
“We could hear the same type of “glorification” of the Soviet people in the address of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the parade of 9 May in Moscow. To put it briefly, the statements of Lukyanov precisely echo one of the central myths of the Russian historical policy regarding WWII - the USSR liberated the world from Nazism and without the USSR this liberation would have been impossible.
“This myth does not come into line with facts inconvenient for Russia such as the fact that the USSR was an ally of Nazi Germany for 21 months at the beginning of the war, the fact that Latvia became a part of the USSR as a result of an occupation following the ultimatum, and that the allies, especially the USA, significantly contributed to the victory over Nazi Germany.”
He nevertheless notes that the representatives of the Russian political elite have themselves previously ignored the contribution of this imaginary “Soviet people”. For instance, in 2010 the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in one interview underscored that the USSR would have won the war without the assistance of Ukrainian soldiers. Kaprāns reminds us that “many Ukrainian veterans took it as a slap in the face, because, as is generally known, more than 2.5 million Ukrainians who fought in the Red Army died in the war.”
Engīzers believes that other “facts” referred to in the address of the Ambassador of Russia are also worth discussing. “Does the ambassador include people who were killed by the Soviet regime and the people who lost their lives fighting against the Soviet occupation within those 28 million “compatriots who paid for the victory with their lives” mentioned by him? And not only the people who were conscripted into German armed forces, but also the resistance movement members who were highly active during the war, must also be mentioned here. Furthermore, the “all union” scale narrative offered by the ambassador allows one to infer the presence of these phenomena in the context of all territories controlled by the USSR - not only Latvia.”
What are the objectives of Russia then? Engīzers is convinced that the spreading of fake news, which has been frequently spoken about recently, is not what the situation above infers. The situation is much more serious - it is the construction of an alternative reality.
It could also be considered to be a part of the so-called “Russian world”, which is offered to the part of the public that is alienated from the state and sentimental towards the Soviet regime: “It is a neo-Soviet revisionism of history (and not only history), which aims not only at a return to the understanding of history held during Stalinist times, but also at the weakening of trust in democracy and the model of western society.”
Supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia