You don’t have to be a wizard to anticipate that the renovated exhibition, that opened on 7 February at Salaspils camp, which was actually a newly developed exhibition, will cause an avalanche of anger and reproaches from Russia, full of absurd conclusions, lies and fantasies. It could also be anticipated that the reproaches voiced in the media throughout the entire month of February will not be directed towards the “word”, but rather towards the “spirit”.
The content of the new exhibition was developed by a historian of the Museum of the Occupation, Uldis Neiburgs, and a historian of Daugava Museum, Zigmārs Gailis, who avoided ideological constructs in the displays of the museum and provided only known facts. It was the omission of the myths about Salaspils, composed during the Soviet period, giving up one-sided interpretations and tenfold or even hundredfold increasing of the number of inmates and victim statistics that caused the loudest protests.
The accusations that foreign diplomats were not invited to the opening of the exhibition, that inmates who survived Salaspils camp, and the children of the earliest Belarussian inmates, were not permitted to speak (otherwise they would shatter the “official” version of Salaspils...), that the authors have used only documents “that emphasise the positive role of Nazis in the history of Latvia” for the exhibition and similar were voiced. To summarise the case, Russian media used Salaspils to “add up” the other traditional set of labels for Latvia – non-citizens, school reform, “SS marches” etc.
“Historians are convinced that the new exhibition has been created to erase the crimes of Latvian collaborators from memory,” portal Rubaltic.ru says. “The bourgeois government of Latvia has again demonstrated its real face, disgracing the memory of the people, who died in the Nazi death camp of Salaspils” (politsturm.com). “A memorial to the butchers of Salaspils camp” (eurasia.film).
A frequent guest of the Russian television channel Rossija 1, propagandist Armen Gasparyan, who is sometimes referred to as “a historian”, at other times “civic activist” and sometimes “a writer”, for instance says: “An impression is being created about Salaspils, that it was, in essence, something in between a pioneer camp and a recreation base, where no one was ever killed, but all documents, no matter if they were the documents of the Soviet commission for the investigation of the atrocities committed by Fascist occupants or German documents – they are “a hundred percent fake”.
Meanwhile, a history enthusiast, who is popular in the Russian-speaking circles of Latvia, Vlads Bogovs, has managed to observe the following in the new exhibition: “First of all, the purpose of this exhibition is to emphasize that, in comparison to the Soviet regime, the Nazi regime was much better.” The mortality data of “only” approximately 3,000 people in Salaspils “have been pulled out of thin air”. Incapable of providing counter arguments to the facts, Bogovs starts literally picking on details in the portal Rubaltic.ru. Namely, why the information has only mentioned that the personnel of Latvian and Lithuanian police battalions participated in the guarding of the camp, but there is no mention that “they participated in the degrading attitude towards people”.
Meanwhile, the Russian orthodox TV channel Tsargrad uses the fact that the exhibition in the memorial was created with EU funds to make the following statement: “EU money is used in Latvia to whitewash Nazism.” The exhibition allegedly demonstrates that Salaspils was a “resort” and “it appears that life in Salaspils was a sole pleasure.” The aforementioned television channel, on the fly, named the Minister for Culture Dace Melbārde an “ultranationalist”. The critics were enraged even by the introductory information of the exhibition, which stated that the memorial complex of Salaspils camp was built “during Soviet occupation”.
Another peculiarity – the authors are being “exposed” for failing to use the photo collections available online, while selecting photo evidence, allegedly, for ideological reasons. As Sputnik says, the exhibition of Salaspils “lacks killed people, emaciated adults and children, although archives are full of such photos”.
The amount of original photo evidence from the time of Salaspils is indeed rather scant, furthermore, Sputnik would, most probably, consider them not efficient enough. Another issue – photos of inmates have been frequently used in the stories about Salaspils in Russian media. The only problem is that these photos usually come from other Nazi detention centres that were specifically used for the extermination and elimination of people, which were not located in the territory of Latvia. For instance, they are taken from Auschwitz or Jastrebarsko camps in the former Yugoslavia.
Frequently the photos do not reflect the topic at all – the stories are illustrated by a photograph from the 16 March legionnaire commemoration day, and the readers must assume that the elderly people seen in these photos in pre-war uniforms of Aizsargi or contemporary parade forms of Latvian army are the same “SS fighters”, who guarded Salaspils punishment camp.
It is not true that foreign diplomats were not invited to the opening of the renewed memorial. The representatives of the embassies of Germany and Israel definitely participated, and, as it is said, the representatives from Belarus and Ukraine were also there. Furthermore, on 7 February, people, who were brought to Salaspils from Belarussian villages during anti-guerilla campaigns as very young children, were also represented among the guests. They viewed the exhibition, talked to journalists and none of these, now rather elderly people, seemed to demonstrate a desire to take to the floor behind the microphone.
The most frequent accusations that the Latvian government tries to present Salaspils as a “resort” and a “pioneer camp” are absurd, because no Latvian media has ever called the punishment camp established by Nazis such. The epithets “recreation camp” and similar have come from the same Russian language media that attacked the joint work of historians Kārlis Kangers, Uldis Neiburgs and Rudīte Vīksne, Behind These Gates The Earth Moans. Salaspils Camp 1941-1944, which, to great extent, was the basis of the new exhibition.
Regarding the attitude of Latvian historians towards Salaspils, it is demonstrated in a sufficiently balanced and argumentative manner in the aforementioned book. The fact that the critics, although condemning this book, have not even read it, is another matter to reflect on. The situation with the materials visible at the memorial is similar. Only a minor number, perhaps a couple, of Russian media journalists have actually been to the memorial and observed it with their own eyes. The rest of them use the same biased reports; each adding more and more elaborate and chaotic improvisations on the article they have read, and finally creating their own “oracle predictions” based on their fantasies, lies, and delirious considerations that result in the assumption that the exposition has been created only to demonstrate that the “Nazi occupation regime was “better” than the Soviet one”.
Supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia