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.)

24 thoughts on “Putin’s war of words: The irony of Russia’s propaganda against Latvia

  1. This article is so correct. It’s curious that A. Skele’s statement “behind his back everyone is calling him Mr. Xenophobe” perfectly describes V. Putin. It is truly odd that nearly one-quarter of Latvia’s newly-elected parliament hardly speak any Latvian. What are they doing there? To be a citizen of Latvia shouldn’t you be able to speak Latvian? And especially to be a member of parliament – shouldn’t you be able to speak Latvian? It’s more than 1000% certain that deputies in Russia’s parliament speak Russian (and only Russian). The so-called Harmony (Center) Party is full of radical elements from A. Rubiks (who spent time in jail for his anti-Latvian independence activities) and his son no less, to Janis Urbanovics (whose doublespeak is straight out of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” doublethink) – this group of extremists are obvious puppet proxies from the Kremlin. Under the Soviet/Russian occupation Latvians were taught/brainwashed to believe they were inferior to the superior Russian. The inhumane slave system called communism collapsed and now Stalin’s children want their privileges back. Talk about axis of evil!

  2. The Russian minority in Latvia, the Polish minority in Lithuania, they find Baltic “cocktail of propaganda, chauvinism and xenophobia” very difficult indeed. How an earth can Putin “quash Latvia’s independence and progress, not to mention to further dilute and damage the Latvian language and Latvia’s unique cultural identity” ????????? Wtf, seriously? By the way, first you say that KGB are as bad as Nazis and next you are outraged about a murder of a KGB-colonel Litvinienko! Hope Latvians in Latvia know better than to listen to this type of Washington sponsored bull.

  3. The Holodomor wasnt a genocide, you liar. Also, Ukrainians are Russian, and Stalin was a Georgian, FYI. The Nazis were way worse than the Communists and we saved your sorry asses, Latvians are so ungrateful! Screw your tiny country and 20% unemployment rate! Glory to Russia!

  4. The only thing I agree with in this article is that Stalin was no better than Hitler. But then the article is so full of baseless allegations and populist views, that I seriously doubt that the author can call herself a “researcher”. Calling kulaks an ethnic group? Justifying racially biased policies of Latvian government, because Putin is bad too? You are living in America, haven’t you learned that government should treat every citizen equally, without any regard for race and religious beliefs? Because if you don’t then you are like Stalin or Hitler.

  5. To Tom Schmit, Russians in Latvia who do not abide by Latvia’s language law. Russians in Latvia who hold office in the Latvian Parliament without speaking and/or understanding the Latvian language. Russians who present themselves for election to the Latvian Parliament while working on the staff of Russian publications which peddle an aggressively anti-Latvian agenda. Nothing to do with Russia, you say? Nothing for Latvians to worry about? Sheesh! What sort of insular, parochial, provincial thinking is that? Get real! Take your head out of the sand, for Heavens sake! You are evidently in deep denial. And as for you, Russian posters, it is precisely the likes of you who give Russians a bad name. No, you’re not witty, or intelligent, or impressive. Just plain boring and tiresome. Get a life!

  6. This article is very true. Sadly Russia is not doing this with only Latvia, but also with Estonia, Lithuania, Georgia, Belorussia, Ukraine, Poland, Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan to name just a few. I think all those countries should unitedly and actively fight against Putin’s propaganda-war. True information is here the best weapon. Sadly in russian there is almost no materials about soviet crimes against humanity, red army war crimes, russification and colonization. I think western countries should direct their energy towards educating simple russians.

  7. Interesting to see how upset the Russian authorities get when the truth is pointed out to them. I see an orchestrated response to this article, which is part of Putin’s propaganda campaign. We would not tolerate a German denying the holocaust so we should not tolerate deniers of Stalin’s mass-murders, occupations and forced colonisations. Putin’s law about equating Hitler and Stalin just shows the little tyrant’s weakness. Keep up the good work – excellent article.

  8. Response to Julija in Latvia. I agree with your statement that propaganda is nothing new from the Kremlin. What is new is its recently ramped up and singular campaign against Latvia, particularly on the eve of Latvia’s Independence Day. Putin is deliberately manipulating the current spotlight onto questionable human rights issues in Latvia, so as to take the spotlight away from the recent truly horrific human rights violations in Russia, including the brutal beating of Russian journalist Oleg Kashin just a week ago in Moscow. The beating left his skull fractured, both legs fractured, his jaw broken and his fingers broken. Please read the November 6 Financial Times article entitled “RUSSIAN JOURNALIST BEATEN UP”. Journalists, Russian or of other ethnic origin, are not brutally beaten and/or killed in Latvia. Latvia is a democratic country in which the human rights of its residents are respected and guaranteed, to an exaggerated extent. For instance, a majority of Russians in Latvia do not abide by Latvia’s language law, yet there are no consequences. Of particular note, is the fact that a significant number of Latvia’s members of Parliament cannot speak and/or understand the Latvian language, and by law they should not be allowed to hold office, yet they remain in Parliament, because of Latvia’s overly careful deference to human rights issues within its borders.

  9. Для менеджера по электронной почте этот идиотский опус написан не плохо. Но для историка писателя учёного, статья полный бред. Последнии 20 лет показали полную импотенцию национальной власти латышей, которое окупирывало Латвию. Пустые города, народ разбежался, живем в долг о чем тут говорить? Ищете дальше крайних!

  10. Госпожа Инга Фрейвальдс, Вашему популистскому пропагандистскому и антироссийскому запалу позавидовал бы сам покойный Йозеф Геббельс. Ваша статья злобна и грешит непростительными неточностями, она сконструирована по геббельсовскому принципу: хлесткие лживые заявления. Вам не хочется признаться в том, что премьер-министр Латвии г-н Валдис Домбровскис так опростоволосился перед мировым сообществом, поощряя русофобию двух известных латышских врачей, не желающих лечить больных, русских по национальности. Читая Ваш опус, невольно вспоминаю непримиримых красных латышских стрелков, штыки которых помогли удержаться Ленинскому режиму в России.

  11. Мне интересно, когда Инга Фрейвальдс подобную же статью напишет о ЕС и США. А в том, что напишет – не сомневаюсь. В России молодёжь уже и не знает, что такое Латвия. В наших СМИ редко встречаются упоминания об этой стране. А возьмём любой номер любого латвийского издания – грязь на Россию везде. Кто же поганой пропагандой занимается?! Латвия, судя по вашим СМИ,- банкрот, экономический и политический. А своё банкротство вы пытаетесь маскировать якобы “тяжёлым наследием” и происками России. И всё сводите к одному: дайте денег, сами заработать не можем. От вас устали и в ЕС, и в США, и в России. Стратегия устарела. Удачного вам свободного плавания!

  12. To the author: this article was translated to russian and published in inosmi.ru. So this article – real and powerful propaganda against Latvia. I live in Moscow but I haven’t heard anything about Latvia on russian TV for ages. What “propaganda campaign” does the author mean?

  13. The article is not correct at all. The worst enemies of Latvians are Latvians themselves, not Russians or other nations. “The unique culture identity” of Latvia will be gone after 10-20 years, since Latvia has no future. If Inga is a real patriot of Latvia why does she live in the US? The same, other patriots of Latvia from Europe and Australia – welcome to Latvia.

  14. The opus of Ms. Freivalds is sadly lacking one important component, namely, a body of evidence. Dear Ms. Freivalds, would you kindly publish a list of publications and speeches by the Russian officials that contains xenophobic, anti-Latvian and “inflammatory” language. If you can’t produce such a list, you are a liar who publishes precisely what you accuse the Russians of: an inflammatory, xenophobic and anti-Russian dirty piece of demagoguery. A pot calling the kettle black.

  15. Dear Inga Freivalds! We do not care about Latvia, but everyday I see people from Latvia, driving their second hand cars, looking for job and/or some small business affairs around Saint-Petersburg. Good luck, “Baltic Tigers”!

  16. “Latvia’s greatest concern currently is its position and perception in the international arena.” Says Ms Freivalda. For the record – I suspect that most people who live here would say that LV’s biggest concerns revolve around the economy and local perceptions of corruption. The world’s view of LV is important, but it is certainly secondary to what is actually going on here and whether or not LV will continue as a state. RU is certainly opportunistic, but our problems are our problems. They are not born (or borne) in Moscow, but right here in Riga.

  17. Though all of this is true, it is also important to note that this is not a new tendency, in fact Latvia has been facing identical attacks since regaining its independence. I myself found this article to be founded mostly in emotion, rather than fact.

  18. Response to Raimonds: Thank you for your comment (considering some of its content, it is interesting to note that it was written from the United States). Please be advised that I have been to Latvia many times, for lengthier periods at a time. My mother, father and grandparents were all born in Latvia, in its heyday. I have many friends in Latvia, particularly in the Latvian cultural and political communities. I have also personally seen and experienced how the economic crisis has hit hard Latvians in Latvia. Valdis Dombrovskis’ government is our great hope, he is the right person at the right time to carefully bring Latvia out of its financial troubles, with the support of the international community, including the IMF, EU, US, etc. My greatest hope is that the Latvians, who have been leaving Latvia in large numbers recently, will eventually return, when the economy improves. Additionally, and to precisely respond to your last two sentences, nowhere in my article is it stated that I live full-time in Washington, DC, that is simply assumption on your part. In this technological global village that we all now live in, I can work from anywhere in the world. Welcome to the global village! P.S. The Latvians, who lived and worked in exile during the 50 year Soviet occupation of Latvia, fought tirelessly for the recognition of Latvia’s plight on the world’s stage. They did so in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere, while the Latvians in Latvia were unable to do so, without severe repercussions. By contrast and to the opposite extreme, most Latvians in Soviet occupied Latvia were forced to join the Communist party and stick to party lines if they wanted to have any sort of a significant career and/or acceptable standard of living. It is sad to realize that many Latvians, such as yourself, do not know about and/or acknowledge the enormous body of work done on Latvia’s behalf by the many Latvians living in exile during the Soviet occupation. We continue the work even now from influential countries worldwide, because the future of Latvia is by no means certain. Putin, much like Stalin, still has his eyes on Latvia and many other neighboring countries, and is doing everything possible to try to reabsorb them back into the Russian sphere of control. Within Latvia, Putin’s strategy is “divide and conquer”. Which is why Latvians worldwide must work together and present a united Latvian front against Putin’s Russia and his propaganda.

  19. Response to both Andor and Alex. The original version of my article sent out to the Washington, DC American-Latvian community included links to recent propaganda by the Voice of Russia (VOR) and Pravda against Latvia. Putin’s recently ramped up anti-Latvian/anti-Baltic propaganda includes the VOR articles entitled “Latvia in the throws of Russian phobia”, “Why the US and EU back Baltic Nazis” and “Russophobe remains at his post in Latvia”. Pravda also published the inflammatory article “Latvian Nazism desecrates the Hippocratic Oath”. Quite a few other similar articles have come out of the Kremlin-controlled Russian media over the past few weeks and is easily found on the internet.

  20. People. I find some of your comments very humerous. To equate Hitler and Stalin and say that both were just as brutal will always be a question. It all depends upon who you ask. Remember! What decides history is the following. Where was one born? What ethnic background does one have? What happened to one during ones lifetime (loved, hated, used as as a scapegoat,…)? Finally, what measures or vengence will one take against the actions that were applied towards him or his family, if at all? Next to equate Hitler and Stalin I find as questionable. Looking from my point of view if Hitler would not have invaded the Soviet Union on June 22,1941 were would most of the Baltic people be by now, besides 6′ under? Do you think that the world would give notice about this lost civilization? Remember, to each their own. To Tom Schmit about the Russian language. You do remember that the Russians from time of the Czar made it law that if a Balt was heard speaking his native language on the city streets or at some store he could apprehended by a police officer and forced to pay afine. From kopeks, to ruble and the third time to jail. Russians now defy speaking any of the three Baltic languages even though this Baltic area have become countries. You don’t think that they are trying to advertise as if they are “uberalles”? No, of course not. Thats Nazism. About Balts being Nazis. I wonder how many Baltic men were forced into the Soviet army which later made up the Baltic-Russian army? 100,000? And if these men did not register then off to siberia or a bullet to the head. How many Russians have shown respect to those men who fought against the Germans alongside with Russians? All you critics do remember that later on, in 1944-45, the three Baltic legions were formed under the approvel of the German high command, 15th, 19th and 20th divisions to fight against Stalins Red Army. Even Balts against Balts. As for Putin. I always tried to find out why, he being so young, was Stalins compatriot? I found out. Putins grandfather was a chef at one of Stalins houses. He was as well a chef for Lenin and RasPutin the “Mad Monk” or fortune teller.

  21. A couple of people referenced my comment. One was: “To Tom Schmit about the Russian language. You do remember that the Russians from time of the Czar made it law that if a Balt was heard speaking his native language on the city streets or at some store he could apprehended by a police officer and forced to pay a fine. From kopeks, to ruble and the third time to jail. Russians now defy speaking any of the three Baltic languages even though this Baltic area have become countries. You don’t think that they are trying to advertise as if they are “uberalles”?” I did not write anything at all about Russian language use. I would remind the quoted gentleman that we are not living in czarist Russia and that, even during the infamous padomes laiks, Latvian was a language of instruction in school. Of course (according to my wife who attended soviet schools in LV) they emphasized the Russian and russian literature, but no punishments speaking LV. My comments were actually adressed when Ms Freivalda changed the first sentence of her article to this “Latvia’s greatest international concern.” The first version said simply “Latvia’s greatest concern.” I took and take issue with that statement. As far as those who say that RU is Latvia’s biggest threat, I would remind you of the following great Latvian patriots – Lembergs, Škele un Šlešers.

  22. I’m half-Latvian, but I’m also 100% American, and I can say that while I did not always think the USSR was as much a threat as made out to the American public, and while I also believe the USA to be a rotting empire comparable to the USSR, I know noone takes Putin seriously as a benevolent leader, as the man can barely hide his jupiter-sized egomania, and his joy of assassinating Russia’s few real democrats, including female journalists, and its own citizens at home and abroad (like always). The man is another megalomaniacal dictator, and that doesn’t say much about the character or power of the average Russian citizen. THe WIkileaks cables said it best – Russia is ‘a totalitarian defacto mafia state.’ Perfect reason for why there is no point in believing or listening to anything that comes out of their official press releases or the neofascist that is Putin.

  23. Amongst all this Russian- and Soviet-bashing one needs to remember that it was under Russian rule that Latvian literature even came to exist – neither the beloved Germans nor the magnificent Swedes helped in this regard. Additionally contrary to lies about Russian domination in the LSSR both Latvian and Russian were official languages in the republic and ALL ethnic Russians living in Latvia were required to learn Latvian, practically all government positions and positions of leadership in enterprises were held by ethnic Latvians, many Latvians could study in Moscow and St. Petersburg thanks to ethnic minority quotas even when their entrance exam results were below ethnic Russians (think affirmative action), and Latvian culture was generally celebrated within the republic by sponsoring Latvian folk dance and song festivals and such. Oh and yes, lest we forget it was Lenin who gave Latvia independence from Russia.

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