Baltic states honour Soviet deportation victims

14th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia paid tribute Monday to tens of thousands of their citizens who were deported to the Soviet Union during World War II.

"In each of our souls there is a deep scar. Every day we complain about small things, but today we need to remember their stories, understand that there is no Latvian family who did not suffer," Latvian President Valdis Zatlers said at a ceremony.

His Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts led similar events.

The small Baltic trio won independence as the Soviet bloc crumbled in 1991 and have since held a memorial day every June 14.

That was the date in 1941 when some 10,000 Estonians, 15,000 Latvians and 18,000 Lithuanians were herded onto cattle trains and sent deep into the Soviet Union, where many died.

Whole families were swept up as the invading Soviets cracked down on opposition -- real and imagined.

"Those things won't disappear from my mind. We lost my mother, the family property, my homeland and health," Lithuanian survivor Vytautas, 70, told AFP.

For younger people with little or no memory of the communist era, however, the anniversary does not strike the same chord.

Latvian student Emils Soms, 20, said he travels every day past an area in Riga where the victims were loaded onto trains.

"I was not directly affected by the tragedy. Instead I look forward to days that celebrate the positive side of Latvian life," he said.

In the summer of 1939, Moscow cut a deal with Nazi Germany on taking over the Baltic states and carving up Poland.

Ten months after joining the Nazi attack on Poland, the Soviets seized the Baltic trio.

The deportations were halted when the Nazis turned on their erstwhile allies on June 22, 1941, pushing the Red Army out as they invaded the Soviet Union.

In 1944 the Soviets ended the Nazis' own bloody occupation, and began a new deportation wave running into the early 1950s.

Since independence, relations have often been strained between Moscow and the Baltic trio, who joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

Disputes are stoked by conflicts over the past, notably Moscow's refusal to recognise its five-decade rule as occupation and the deportations as a crime.

© 2010 AFP

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