Putin’s war of words: The irony of Russia’s propaganda against Latvia

Latvia’s greatest international concern currently is its position and perception in the global arena. Russia, full well realizing this, has launched a malicious propaganda campaign against the current Latvian government headed by Vienotība (Unity) and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis.

Moscow’s campaign to try to oust Latvian Foreign Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis from office is one of the most overt and recent examples of this. Another recent example is the introduction by the Russian delegation to the United Nations of a resolution condemning the so-called glorification of Nazism and the dismantling of World War II monuments (read: monuments glorifying Joseph Stalin and the 50-year Soviet occupation of the Baltic republics). 

Russia’s and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaign (with the help of the Russian parties in Latvia—Harmony Centre and For Human Rights in a United Latvia—and their Latvian allies, the oligarchs Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēle and Aivars Lembergs) is intended to quash Latvia’s independence and progress, not to mention to further dilute and damage the Latvian language and Latvia’s unique cultural identity. 

Throughout their propaganda, the Russians are using inflammatory catchwords like Nazi, Hitler, fascist and russophobe. These words are infamous, “politically incorrect” and catch the attention of most everyone. It is a cheap trick, and hopefully intelligent and well-informed people will not buy into it. Hopefully the European Union, UN, the NATO defense alliance and the United States “get it,” as they say, because the Kremlin-controlled Russian media are a dangerous cocktail of propaganda, chauvinism and xenophobia.

Let’s step back and put things into perspective. Stalin’s Russian bolsheviks, communists and terrorists (the NKVD and, later, the KGB) were just as bad, if not worse, than Adolph Hitler and his Nazis. Stalin himself was a narcissistic and paranoid egoist, who ultimately killed many more people than Hitler, and, interestingly enough, Putin is currently trying to resurrect and improve Stalin’s reputation in Russia. Putin’s government sponsored Russian history textbooks that glorify Stalin. Many journalists have written of Putin’s admiration of Stalin and compared the two. Some of those journalists were assassinated. The Russian law enacted by Putin whereby anyone equating Hitler with Stalin can be prosecuted is of great significance to the topic at hand.

In contrast to the current propaganda coming out of the Kremlin, it is also important to consider catchwords such as Stalin, KGB, Siberia, deportation, gulag, famine and Great Purge. Stalin’s Russian terrorists ultimately occupied Latvia for 50 years! They sent thousands upon thousands of Latvians to their deaths in Siberian concentration camps. They virtually outlawed the Latvian language and religion. The NKVD and KGB forced Latvians to spy on each other. They flooded Latvia with ethnic Russians in an attempt to dilute and ultimately dissolve Latvia. During Stalin’s reign and the Soviet era, Latvia of the three Baltic republics was deliberately the most saturated with ethnic Russians. Latvia is still struggling with the consequences today.

Now the Russians accuse us of being anti-Russian. Of course, it is only natural that we are now wary of Russia’s motives in Latvia, and wish to protect our language, cultural identity and independence. Unfortunately, Russia will not admit to the basic historical fact of its 50-year occupation of Latvia, and that of many other countries. Stalin’s terrors unleashed on Latvia were also experienced by many other countries and ethnic groups including the Estonians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meshketian Turks, Bulgarians, Greeks, Koreans, kulaks and people of Jewish descent. The Ukrainian Holodomor famine and genocide (at least 3 million and possibly up to 10 million people starved to death) and the execution of Polish prisoners of war known as the Katyn Massacre (22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were killed) are of particular note because of the staggering number of people who died and perished as a result of Stalin’s mandates during these cataclysmic and inhumane horrors. Stalin was a mass murderer and a butcher, and Putin is his admirer.

As modern day public relations campaigns go, the Russians have done well on a very base level, but they did not succeed in ousting Latvian Foreign Minister Kristovskis. Let’s hope Europe and the rest of the world realize what Russia is really up to. Why should Putin express concerns about the civil and human rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia, when he ignores the rights of most Russians, and causes many to suffer, in his own Russia? It is hypocrisy at its worst.

What about the human rights of the 52 journalists murdered in Russia since 1992? Remember the November 2006 deadly poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in a London restaurant?Litvinenko was a former colonel in the Russian secret service and a fierce critic of Putin. Did Russia consider the civil and human rights of former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and his “Other Russia” supporters when they participated in an authorized anti-Putin rally in Moscow in November 2007, a week before parliamentary elections? No, Kasparov was arrested and imprisoned for five days. Other demonstrators at the Moscow rally were also arrested. In St. Petersburg, at a demonstration also organized by Kasparov, 200 people were arrested as they chanted “Russia without Putin.” For these and many other transgressions by Putin’s regime against the Russian people, it is disingenuous and hypocritical of Moscow to now accuse Latvia of violating the human rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia. The overall quality of life of ethnic Russians living in Latvia is better than that of most Russians living in Russia.

It is currently popular and important throughout the world to be politically correct. Putin’s propaganda against Latvia guises itself in a cloak of civil rights and political correctness in an attempt to manipulate the international community against Latvia. He plays the political correctness card masterfully (but hypocritically). Personally, I would like to believe that the leaders in Europe, the U.S. and other countries are wise enough to see through Moscow’s cloak of propaganda and hypocrisy. 

The irony of the Kremlin’s deliberately provocative use of the words fascist and Nazi to slander patriotic Latvians is that the largest country in the world today where the government engages in fascism is Putin’s own Russia.

(Update 19 NOV 2010: The first paragraph has been modified for clarity.)