Tere, Labas, Sveiks, bonjour, good evening.
Today we commemorate the 65th anniversary of one of the most horrific events in our nations’ histories, the first of the mass deportations inflicted by the Soviet Regime on 14 June 1941. In the early morning hours of 14 June, throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, men, women and children were woken up in the middle of the night, put into cattle cars and shipped to Siberia. Whole families were deported, men separated from the women and children, on a list of people whom the Soviet regime considered to be potentially dangerous to their amibitions. On that one night, 1% of the population of the Baltic nations was sent to a perilous future; that would be the equivalent of over 300,000 Canadians subjected to extermination in one night alone. Fully 60% of those who were deported that night would not survive the ordeal. Many died en-route; infants had virtually no chance of survival. In Siberia, they faced torture, slave-labour, summary execution, starvation and living circumstances which could only be described as inhumane. Many contracted long-term diseases for which there was no cure available.
There is virtually no-one in our community who is not personally affected by the events of that night, and of course every one of us here has been directly affected by the actions of the Soviet regime, and their murderous collaboration with the Nazis with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. For many of those who lost siblings, parents, or indeed were themselves deported on that night, commemoration of this event is too difficult to do in public; best to remember in solitude or with family. We are the fortunate; we are not only alive today, but we live in one of the greatest nations on earth, one which welcomed our families as refugees after WWII, and has served to provide us all with opportunities. It would be a statement of modesty even, to say that we have prospered and contributed significantly with our work ethic, education and sense of collective level-headedness to help build this nation. And so it is, that the freedom and democracy which has been so hard won, at the cost of the lives of our families, friends, associates and countrymen, is one which we must continue to strive to defend and promote.
The events of 14 June 1941 sit by no means in isolation. The Soviet regime, before, during and after WWII deported a total of 1.9 million people in the name of sovietization, in some cases russification; actions which clearly fell in the category of genocide, or in more recent terminology, ethnic cleansing. Wikipedia, a well-known internet encyclopaedia, has a stunning chronological list of Soviet deportations, commencing in April 1920 with 45,000 Terek Cossacks deported to the Ukraine and Northern Russia and ending in 1951 with deportations from the Baltic States, the Ukraine and Belarus. It seems that no ethnic element was left untouched by the totalitarian state; savagery trumped humanity.
So how should we best commemorate the 65th anniversary of the night when 18,000 Lithuanians, 17,000 Latvians and 10,000 Estonians disappeared into the darkness of Siberia? What can we do to ensure that this event serves the cause of humanity and not savagery?
The cynic, or the pessimist, may say — not much. Those who would take that perspective might make two points to advocate their argument. The first is, that there is no evidence whatsoever that Russia has atoned for the atrocities they have committed, and the second, that there has been a continued series of events of mass savagery since the Second World War which continue to this day. Perhaps because of the mass media, these events are occurring every more frequently, but perhaps in-spite of the mass media bringing these images to us we have come to view them as reality television, seemingly detached and uninterested, because they are occurring somewhere far away.
Indeed, the evidence is irrefutable; but does it constitute an argument for inaction? A recent edition of Maclean's magazine had the blaring front cover “Russia Goes To Hell”. Many of us might have had a first reaction to that cover by saying, when did it ever leave hell? A more thoughtful perspective would indeed have raised the issue of why is it that to this day no measures whatsoever have been taken by like-minded nations, including Canada to take Russia to task for the atrocities of the past? Is it because they were allied with the West during that war, and there is an ill-placed sense of kinship, or is it that politicians and academics don’t wish to become apologists on their behalf as we turned a blind eye during those times.
On that subject, I will read to you an excerpt from an article written by Paul Goble, a former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Special Advisor to the US State Department, and currently a professor at the University of Tartu in Estonia. This is part of an article he wrote five years ago, on 14 June 2001.
“And all three countries have set up national and international commissions to examine these events, to ferret out the information that the Soviet authorities sought for so long to conceal.
Nonetheless, the Russian government as the successor to the Soviet state continues to insist that the inclusion of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union was a voluntary event and that Moscow bears no responsibility for what happened there in 1940 and afterwards. Even more, many Russian commentators argue that the Baltic countries should be grateful that the Soviet Union took them in because it helped protect them against the Nazis.
But there are serious problems with each of these claims. Stalin absorbed the Baltic countries in 1940 after he and Hitler divided up Eastern Europe via the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It is true that the Baltic governments did not order armed resistance to the Soviet occupation that followed, but only because they believed that such resistance would be both bloody and futile.
And the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries did little or nothing to slow the Nazi advance through them and into the Soviet Union itself in 1941. If anything, the disorder that the Soviet occupation created meant that some in these three countries initially viewed the Germans as liberators rather than as invaders. That reality too continues to color how citizens of both the Baltic countries and Russia view these events.
But it is another Russian argument arising from these events of long ago that is perhaps the most troubling. The Russian government continues to insist that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were legitimately part of the Soviet Union and that, as a result, the West must not consider including them in NATO.
That insistence represents a challenge to the Baltic countries, which are convinced that they need the guarantees of membership, and to the West, most of whose governments never recognized the forcible inclusion of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union as legitimate. Indeed, these governments maintained ties with the diplomats of the last pre-occupation governments right up until the three Baltic countries fully recovered their independence in 1991.
The commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the deportations coincides with an upsurge of Baltic efforts to be among the next new members of the Western alliance, a coincidence that makes their political impact now far greater than would otherwise have been the case.”
This quote brings me to invoke the case of the optimist, one who would say that all three Baltic countries are now members of NATO, and the European Union. These two milestones would not have been achieved without both the resolute efforts of the people and leadership of the Baltic States, and, the leadership and people of the member states of both NATO and the European Union. Ongoing efforts by Russia to destabilize these efforts by putting up roadblocks to resolving outstanding border issues, attempting to evoke the ethnic Russian population in the Baltics to challenge the laws of the land, and ongoing threats regarding their interests in the so-called near-abroad, continue to be rebuffed. Joining NATO and the EU is at the invitation, and on the terms and conditions of NATO and the EU and these challenges are being met. Moreso, our countries are living up to their obligations and responsibilities as members of a broader family, be it with troops in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, or with bringing new economic perspectives such as the implementation of flat taxes to the table. And so, the tables for dialogue are open to promote the need for Russia to be brought to bear to atone for the atrocities of the past, if for no other reason, than to make sure that indeed Russia does “not go to hell”….with unimaginable consequences for all of us. Such dialogue needs to be held, not in retribution, but for the good of the Russian peoples themselves, to confront their past with a view to building a better future.
Now, the second perspective of the pessimist, is arguably much more troubling. After WW One, some said that that would be the last that we would see of such needless losses of lives on such a scale. Unfortunately, the second WW proved them wrong. After WWII, some would argue that although the Soviet regime did continue to commit crimes against humanity, the power balance of the Cold War kept others in check…….perhaps so; we cannot define what might have happened. But, to cite the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, as but one example, crimes against humanity continued to be committed. The past fifteen years, however, suggest that savagery has now taken several new dimensions. With the relatively quiet collapse of the Soviet Union, we were not ready to grasp what happened in the Balkans. We were not ready to grasp what happened in Rwanda, Angola, and today it appears that we don’t understand what is happening in Darfur, we are clearly not coming to terms with the situation in Iraq, and places like Chechnya seem to be completely out of sight. Perhaps that is because we don’t know, or, we don’t want to know. After all it’s over there……….so the pessimist would be able to take the first page of every newspaper for the past 15 year and draw a list, not unlike the Wikipedia list I noted earlier, of mass killings in the name of various regimes and ideologies.
The notion of “over there”……..is one which we in Canada had a particular view of during the Cold War; we were perhaps more aware than others of what activities the Soviet government was undertaking outside its borders, and in Canada in particular, while many if not most paid no attention to these matters. And so, with the end of the Cold War, many of our concerns indeed did become far removed from Canada, as we celebrated the re-independence of our homelands. The term “peace dividend” was coined, and we sat back in our lawn chairs to enjoy a new period of world stability, or so we thought. The arrests in Toronto of 17 alleged “home grown terrorists”, however, suggests that whereas we may have been able to relegate our views of Bosnia, Rwanda and even Iraq to “reality TV”, the problem is no longer “over there”, and arguably never was. Our freedoms and democracy, so hard fought for by so many, including those deported on the night of 14 June 1941, are ideals that we need to champion by our actions, and not to assume that they will not be taken away by inaction.
Today is a day that we not only need to commemorate for the sake of the memory of our own families and friends, but also to use the occasion to promote the cause of humanity over savagery, to apply history to our understanding of today and to shape the future.
I would like to end with a poem, which is attributed to a quite ordinary German who was later gassed, in a Nazi concentration camp.:
"When they came for the Jews
I said nothing.
When they came for the Communists
I said nothing.
When they came for the Catholics
I said nothing.
When they came for me
There was no-one left
to say anything".
Timeline: Soviet Deportations
Population numbers are rounded.
a.. April 1920: 45,000 Terek Cossacks deported to Ukraine and Northern European Russia according to Directive of RKP(b) Central Committee On decossackization, January 21, 1919
b.. 1930: Cleansing of Western border regions: 18,000 "socially-dangerous elements" from 22km wide border zone of Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR deported to Western Siberia and Far East
c.. 1930-1936: several waves of deportations of kulaks from "regions of total collectivization" and from various other regions
d.. 1933: Migration of 200,000 Kazakh nomads during the famine of 1933 out of Soviet Union into China, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan
e.. February-May 1935 deportation of 30,000 Finns - Ingrians from border regions of Leningrad Oblast into Vologda Oblast, Tadzhik SSR, Kazakh SSR, and Western Siberia.
f.. February-March 1935: Deportations of 42,000 Poles and Germans from border parts of Ukrainian SSR: Kiev and Vinnitsa oblasts to Eastern parts of Ukraine.
g.. May 1936: Deportations of 45,000 Poles and Germans from Ukrainian SSR to Kazakhstan
h.. July 1937: Deportation of 2,000 Kurds from Southern borders (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) to Kirghiz SSR and Kazakh SSR.
i.. September-October 1937: Total deportation of Koreans (172,000) from border regions of Western Siberia and Far East to Kazakh SSR and Uzbek SSR
j.. September-October 1937: Deportation of 9,000 Chinese and repatriated "Harbinites" (Harbin Russians) from Southern Far East to Kazakh SSR and Uzbek SSR.
k.. January 1938: Deportation of Iranians from Border regions of Azerbaijan SSR to Kazakhstan
l.. 1938: Deportation of 6,000 Iranian Jews from Southern borders of Turkmenian SSR into Northern Turkmenian deserts
m.. February 1940: Deportation of 140,000 Poles (deportation of osadniks) from newly acquired Western regions of Belarus and Ukraine to Northern European Russia, Ural and Siberia.
n.. April 1940: Deportation of 61,000 Poles (several social categories) Western regions of Belarus and Ukraine to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan
o.. June 1940: Deportation of 75,000 Poles from Ukraine and Belarus who were fugitives from Poland to Northern European Russia, Ural and Siberia.
p.. July 1940: Deportation of "persons of foreign ethnicity" (??????????????????) from Murmansk Oblast to Karelo-Finnish SSR and Altai Krai.
q.. May 22, 1941: Deportation of 11,000 of members of families of "counterrevolutionaries and nationalists" from Western Ukraine to Southern Kazakhstan, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Omsk Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast.
r.. June 12, 1941 Deportation of 30,000 of members of families of "counterrevolutionaries and nationalists" from Chernovtsy and Izmail oblasts of Ukraine and from Moldavian SSR to Kazakhstan, Komi ASSR, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Omsk and Novosibirsk oblasts
s.. June 14, 1941 Deportation of "anti-Soviet elements" from annexed Baltic States (in accordance with instructions set out in NKGB Order No. 001223):
a.. from Lithuania (18,000) to Altai Krai, Novosibirsk Oblast, Kazakhstan and Komi ASSR;
b.. from Latvia (17,000) to Krasnoyarsk Krai and Novosibirsk Oblast of Russia and Karaganda oblast of Kazakhstan
c.. from Estonia (10,000) to Kirov Oblast and Novosibirsk Oblast
t.. June 1941: Deportation of 21,000 "nationalists" from Western belarus
u.. September-October 1941:
a.. Deportation of 439,000 Germans (Volga Germans and from Saratov and Stalingrad oblast) to Kazakhstan, Krasnoyarsk and Altai Krais, and Novosibiksk and Omsk oblasts
b.. Deportation of 91,000 Finns and Germans from Leningrad oblast to Kazakhstan, Krasnoyarsk and Altai Krais, and Novosibiksk and Omsk oblasts
c.. Deportation of 36,000 Germans from Moscow, Moscow oblast and Rostov oblast to Kazakhstan
d.. Deportation of 138,000 Germans from Krasnodar and Ordzhonikidze krais, Tula oblast, Kabarda-Balkar ASSR and North Ossetian ASSR to Krasnoyarsk Krai, Irkutsk oblast and Kazakhstan
e.. Deportation of 110,000 Germans from Zaporozhye, Stalinsk Oblast, and Voroshilovgrad Oblast to Kazakhstan and Astrakhan Oblast
f.. Deportation of 5,000 Germans from Voronezh oblast to Novosibirsk and Omsk oblasts
g.. Deportation of 46,000 Germans from Transcaucasus republics to Kazakhstan
h.. Deportation of 6,000 Germans from Dagestan ASSR and Chechen-Ingush ASSR to Kazakhstan
v.. March-April 1942: Deportation of 9,000 Finns and Germans (as well as "socially-dangeorus elements") from Leningrad and Leningrad oblast to Irkutsk Oblast, Krasnoyarsk Krai and Yakutia
w.. April 1942: Deportation of Greeks, Romanians and some other nationalities from Crimea and Northern Caucasus
x.. June 1942: Deportation of Germans, Romanians, Crimean Tatars, and Greeks of foreign citizenship from Kransnodar Krai and Rostov Oblast
y.. August 1943: Deportation of 500 Karachay "bandits" out of Karachay-Cherkessia AO
z.. November 1943: Complete deportation of Karachays (70,000) to Kazakh SSR and Kirgiz SSR.
aa.. December 1943: Deportation of Kalmyks from Kalmyk ASSR to Altai and Krasnoyarsk Krais and Omsk and Novosibirsk oblasts
ab.. February 1944: Complete deportations of Chechens (393,000) and Ingushs (91,000) from Chechen-Ingush ASSR and Dagestan to Kazakh SSR and Kirghiz SSR.
ac.. March 1944: Complete deportation of Balkars (38,000) from Kabarda-Balkar ASSR to Kazakh SSR and Kirghiz SSR.
ad.. March 1944: Deportation of 3,000 Kalmyks from Rostov oblast to Omsk and Novosibirsk oblasts
ae.. May 1944: Deportation of Balkars (~100) from Georgia to Kazakh SSR and Kirghiz SSR.
af.. Spring 1944: Search and deportation of all Chechens, Ingushs, Kalmyks, Karachays and Balkars from everywhere to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (~4,200)
ag.. May 1944: Deportation of 182,000 Crimean Tatars from Crimea to Uzbekistan and a number of other places
ah.. June 1944: Deportation of 1,000 Kalmyks from Stalingrad oblast to Sverdlovsk oblast
ai.. July 1944: Deportation of 1,800 Truly Orthodox Christians ("???????-???????????? ?????????") from Ryazan, Voronezh and Oryol oblasts to Tomsk and Tyumen oblasts and Krasnoyarsk krai
aj.. June-July 1944:Deportation of Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Turks, etc. from Crimea to Uzbekistan (42,000)
ak.. November 1944: Deportation of 92,000 Meskhs, Kurds, and Khemshins from Southern Georgia, and 1,000 Lazs from Adjar ASSR to Uzbek SSR, Kazakh SSR, Kirgiz SSR.
al.. June 1948: Deportation of Greeks and Armenian Dashnaks (58,000 ) from the Black Sea coast to Kazakhstan
am.. 1948-1949: a number of deportation of families of "bandits" from various republics
an.. March 1951, a decree about expulsion of 9,400 Jehovah's Witnesses, including about 4,000 children, from the Baltic States, Moldova, and western parts of Belarus and Ukraine.
ao.. December 1951: Deportation of 35,000 kulaks from annexed territories of Baltic States, Western Ukraine, and Western Belarus to Krasnoyarsk Krai, Yakutia, Tyumen Oblast and Kazakhstan
Address to the Ottawa Baltic community, June 14, 2006, at the Human Rights Memorial (16)