The Baltic nation Latvia is repaying €1bn of a loan to the European Union Commission Tuesday and is also commemorating the 1949 deportation of 42,000 people in cattle train cars bound for Siberia, while many Latvians are voicing concern of a possible Russian invasion of their country, likening the situation to Crimea.
The €1bn is part of a €7.5bn bailout loan granted in late 2008 to Latvia under the EU’s international support loan program, of which Latvia used €4.5bn. Latvia is scheduled to make its next payment in 2015, when it will repay €1.2bn to the EC and 60mm to the World Bank.
Commemorating the 1945 mass deportation of mostly farming families which were sent to forced settlement locations in Siberia for life, several events and concerts took place in locations around Latvia. The first event was held at Skirotava railway station, where the 1949 deportees were forced onto cattle trains at gunpoint.
From the Museum of Occupation, a traditional procession will lead to the Freedom Monument before a flower laying ceremoney at that monument will be held to honor the thousands of citizens involved in the deportation.
Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union under various pretexts in 1940, although the takeover was considered illegal by Western nations and was never recognized as valid. The Soviets began deportations that year. The Soviet deportations began again in 1945 after the Nazi German occupation of Latvia was expelled by the Soviet army. The Soviets then sought to punish Latvians who the USSR recognized as collaborators with the Nazis and resisters of Soviet occupation.
The 1949 deportation was the Soviet response to Latvian resistance to forced collectivization of farms and to the supporters of Latvian nationalism. Entire families were deported, beginning the night of March 24, when Latvians were arrested at their homes, and continuing on the day of March 25, when Latvians were arrested at work. Most of the deportees were women and children–around 73 percent. The deportations were part of a larger program directed at the Baltic states that took 30,620 families and 94,799 people from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Moscow has this month begun to signal concern for ethnic Russians who, Russian authorities have stated, are being mistreated within the nation. Latvia has a 27.6 percent ethnically-Russian population, and Russians, such as Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Veshnyakov, have publicly discussed legislation–already proposed in Russia–that would give ethnic Russians in Latvia Russian citizenship and pensions to “save [them] out of poverty.”
Twenty-four years after breaking free from the Soviet Union and 10 years since joining NATO-Latvia also belongs to the EU–concern that Latvia is in the sights of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the next Crimea, which was “liberated” from the “tyranny” of Ukraine under the pretexts of aiding Russian citizens, has not only grown in Latvia but elsewhere as well.
Jim Thomas, vice president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has argued that NATO should respond dramatically to Russia’s recent actions. Thomas has advised moving nuclear forces to the Baltics, strengthening the armies of European allies, such as the Polish air force, which, Thomas says, should be made capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons, conducting site surveys for potential storage sites for nuclear weapons, permanently stationing forces in Romania, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia and creating general “anti-access, area denial” zones past Russian borders.
This Wednesday, Latvia will be visited by Brunssum Hans-Lothar Domröse, NATO’s Allied Joint Force commander, to discuss steps the Baltic states should take to strengthen security.
By Day Blakely Donaldson