For Russia, he’s a hero.
For Estoinia, he’s a genocide suspect.
There’s also a Canadian connection.
Arnold Meri, 88, has been charged with the 1949 deportation of 251 Estonians from the island of Hiiumaa to the Novosibirsk oblast. The deported ranged in age from 13 to 75 and according to prosecutors most were women. Sixteen were under 18 years of age. Eleven of them died en route. They were deemded to be opposed to Soviet authority, specifically to the forced collectivization of farms. (City families did not escape this 1949 mass deportation.) At he time Meri was the official representative of the Estonian Communist (bolshevik) Party Central Committee and the Council of Ministers in Hiiumaa.
Meri was awared a Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for organizing the defence of his Corps headquarters. It has been revealed that the defence was in effect commanded by Captain Loog, not duly recognized nor decorated because he wasn’t a member of the Communist Party. From 1945 to 1949 Meri served as secretary of the Central Committee of the Komsomol in Estonia. In 1948 he was awarded the highest Soviet order, the Order of Lenin.
Meri, has ackonwledged taking part in the deportations but denies responsibility to the court in Hiiumaa. His defence lawyer Sven Sillar (son of the last KGB chief in Estonia) said Meri is innocent of all charges filed and said that Meri’s role was to ensure that the human rights of the deported were to be ensured.. (This would be laughable if the deportations were not so tragic.) Some 70 of the deported are still alive.
The case attracted the interest of the Russian media, who arrived in large numbers to report the event. It was also inevitable that “Young Guard” demonstrators denouncing Estonia for accusing Meri would make an appearance at the Estonian Consulate General in St. Petersburg.
On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry stated that it was another attempt for Estonia to discredit Soiviet veterans of the Second World War, that the court case was a “pseudo-proceeding” unrelated to reality.
At a 2004 Kremlin reception hosted by Vladimir Putin celebrating the May 9 anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Arnold Meri is seen in a news broadcast seated at the head table beside Putin.In addition a Russian recently has proposed naming a street in honour of Meri.
Meri’s role in the 1949 harrasment and intimidation of has been public knowledge for years, since many personal accounts have detailed his activies. But with the presumption of innocence until proven guitly, investigators have been thorough in preparing a prosecutorial case that would withstand Moscow’s harrangues as well as clever defence manoeuverings. Very few prosecutions have been launched against Soviet crimes gainst humanity in Estonia. Ironically Meri’s case has also been delayed pending a medical evaluation of his health.
In the mid-eighties, Meri, as head of the Committee on Developing Cultural Relations with Foregn Countries (a KGB front) visited Canada with a Soviet cultural delegation. At an unnoficial, privately organized reception at a Vancouver church hall, Meri posed for a photograph under pictures of Estonia’s first president Konstantin Päts and comnmander of the defence forces Juhan Laindoner. Participants took it as an offensive gesture of disrespect towards Estonia’s historic figures.
Meri’s is the fifteenth case connected to the 1949 deportations. Punishment for those convicted earlier has been suspended sentences.
Estonian central Council in Canada - LL
For Russia, he’s a hero. (10)