Wednesday, May 04, 2005

To Riga with Love

Welcome to LETA

On Friday, President Bush touches down on Riga airport in Latvia and thus begins his new tour of different European countries.

The centrepiece of this trip is his participation in the celebrations in Moscow on Monday of the 60th year anniversary of the defeat of Hitler's Germany.

It was on May 9th 1945 that a full and final capitulation of German armed forces in all theatres of war was signed at the Soviet military headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst. The war had finally ended.

A capitulation had in fact already been signed on May 7th at General Eisenhowers forward headquarters in Reims. Sitting at an old naval base by Flensburg just by the Danish border, the German leader after the suicide of Hitler, Admiral Dönitz, had been desperate to sign a capitulation first with the Western Countries.

But Stalin didn't like this Reims capitulation too much, and the entire thing had to be repeated in Berlin under Soviet auspicies.

The peoples of the then Soviet Union suffered beyond belief during this war. It's estimated that 27 million people lost their lives. This is many times more than all the Western allies taken together. A country like the Belarus of today lost nearly a third of its total population.

These sacrifices and this suffering is worth to be honoured and remembered. That's why it's correct for also Western leaders to go to Moscow.

But the problem is the way what happened is often presented by President Putin. For half of Europe it wasn't liberation - just the transition from one nightmare to another. This needs to be respected as well.

In this letter to Latvian President Vike-Freiberga prior to his arrival to Riga, President Bush states clearly that he shares this view, and talks about the Soviet occupation that followed immediately after liberation from the Nazi horrors.

It will be most interesting to see to which extent other Western leaders are prepared to express themselves on the same issue.

After being in Moscow on Monday, President Bush proceeds to Tbilisi in Georgia to give support to the new democratic reformers there. Neither the Riga nor the Tbilisi trip are likely to have been met with applause in the Kremlin.

That's probably also why a quick trip to the Netherlands was added. President Bush goes to the Hague from Riga, and from there to Moscow. It's the Queen's jubilee, but I guess the real reason is that by going directly from Riga to Moscow some Russians would simply have been too irritated.

It's worth noting that the trip to Riga is President Bush second visit to the Baltic countries - two years ago he was in Vilnius in Lithuania.

For a country like Sweden it's worth noting where the centre of political gravity in the Baltic region is these days.