The interpretation of the history of Riga and Moscow has always differed significantly, but so far, we have not seen such a shameless falsification of historical facts by Russia. Rewriting history has always been a favourite pastime of Kremlin political technologists. This was the case in imperial times, in Soviet times and, of course, now, during the reign of dictator Vladimir Putin. According to recent actions by Russian diplomatic missions, during Putin’s rule, rewriting history has become much more perverted and aggressive than ever before. We are talking about tweets from the Russian embassy in Latvia (and not only), which openly deny the fact of the occupation of Latvia and declare that the republic has voluntarily joined the USSR.
Falsification of Historical Facts
Now, at least in three years, we have seen that Moscow’s lies in the field of history have reached unprecedented heights. I will give only a few examples of deliberate attempts by Moscow to rewrite the history of Latvia.
One of the “research” (sorry, propaganda) institutions directly subordinated to the Kremlin, the Historical Memory Foundation, from 2017 to 2020 published six full-length books, 10 collections of commentary documents, as well as numerous small books, and scientific articles on the history of Eastern Europe, including Latvia.
The Foundation has always worked on the history of Eastern Europe and World War II, and its research has been deliberately adapted to use seemingly universally accepted historical facts to justify pro-Kremlin positions. Examples are the following:
- Latvia willingly joined the USSR.
- The USSR was not responsible for the outbreak of World War II.
- The Baltics and Nazi Germany planned to attack the USSR.
- The Latvian SS Legion consisted of volunteers and assisted in the commission of Nazi war crimes.
As a rule, these “historical facts” are always taken from the classified archives of the Kremlin and the FSB, to which only historians of the Historical Memory Foundation have access. The main researchers in Russia are the director of the fund Oleksandr Dyukov and a former employee of the Russian Embassy in Latvia Volodymyr Simindei. And since both were denied entry to Latvia, on this side of the border, the Foundation receives assistance from Latvian Seimas member Mykola Kabanov. The Foundation’s publications are usually followed by a large-scale information campaign in the Russian federal media. The research of these pseudo-historians is presented at the Rossiya Segodnya press centre and is broadcast on major Russian TV channels.
Recently, the Historical Memory Foundation has shifted its focus to SS legionnaires and their activities in the USSR during World War II. And when it comes to this topic, the fund is supported not only by the Kremlin’s propaganda but also by its repressive machine.
A clear example of this is the criminal cases initiated by the Investigative Committee of Russia such as the killings of civilians in the USSR by the Nazis and their henchmen. Currently, such criminal cases have been initiated in several regions of Russia: Krasnodar Krai, Rostov and Novgorod regions, Orel region, the Republic of Karelia and Volgograd.
The criminal cases are based on and justified by research by the Historical Memory Foundation, data obtained during the excavations of the victims of World War II in the framework of the project “No statute of limitations,” and, in some cases, information obtained from the FSB archives.
In at least one of the criminal cases (Novgorod region), the accused are Latvian legionnaires. In others they are Estonians, Ukrainians and Finns. Yes, Finns are also accused of killing civilians in Soviet-occupied Karelia.
Interestingly, most cases have been initiated under the article “On Genocide” of the Russian Criminal Code. Although previously the atrocities of the Nazis committed in the USSR were interpreted as “war crimes.”
How to Resist the Russian Federation?
It is clear that, in the coming years, the Russian propaganda apparatus and state institutions will continue to work in this direction. This means that Latvia must be ready to resist increasingly aggressive attempts by the Kremlin to falsify history.
The increase in advocacy is likely to have two fairly logical explanations. First, the Russian regime is becoming less and less popula. People are becoming more and more tired. In such circumstances, the Kremlin must divert public attention from the unpleasant reality. It is best to do this by emphasising Russia’s historical achievements (victory over Nazism) or by encouraging the fight against historical external enemies (such as Latvian Nazi collaborators).
Second, Putin himself is more personally interested and involved in shaping history in Russia. It is no secret that Putin has always been interested in historical topics, and he has strong ideological convictions in this regard. This can be read in the article of National Interest entitled “Vladimir Putin: real lessons of the 75th anniversary of World War II.”
For those who have not read the article, Putin has openly stated that:
- Western countries are innocent in the beginning of World War II, not Nazi Germany or the USSR.
- Poland itself is innocent for its division.
- The Baltics willingly joined the USSR.
- Ignoring the interests of modern Russia, the West risks repeating the scenario of World War II.
Knowing all this, the question arises: what do Latvia and its decision-makers in various spheres intend to do to counter the “historic war” that is looming with Putin’s Russia?
I personally believe that it is time for the state to pay more attention to local history. Additional funding is needed for new historical research and for the translation of already completed historical works (books). It is necessary to increase the salaries of historians and teachers. Scholarships should be given to students who want to study issues related to the history of Latvia and Russia. In addition, complex historical topics should be discussed not only at the expert level, but also by society as a whole.
In other words, Latvia must take the initiative and begin to explain its historical perspective to its citizens, Western partners and Russia itself. Emphasis should be placed on regional cooperation between historians from other Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine.
Here’s a good way to start – if the Russian embassy decides to publish absurd tweets, we should send them a protest or call an ambassador.
Janis Makonkalns (Latvia)