This morning the Russian newspaper VZGLIAD published this interview with a Latvian official named Ruta Pazdere. Ruta heads a commission (called the “Commission to Study the Occupation”) whose job is to calculate how much money Russia owes Latvia; and to seek restitution and damages for the “Soviet occupation” of Latvia. Ruta wants to factor into the equation, not just the economic damages, but also try to place a monetary value on “intellectual and demographic damage” to her nation.
Last week Ruta’s commission published their preliminary findings, in which they placed a value of 300 billion (Euros) , “or perhaps even more”, with Ruta explaining that damages continued to incur, even long after the “occupiers” had left. Earlier, the commission had placed a smaller number of 185 billion, but now they think that was too little, and have revised upwards. The fact that so many residents of Latvia have emigrated, and that pensioners are paid less than in other countries — that too is the result of Soviet occupation, according to Ruta.
Here is my summary/translation of the interview. The VZGLIAD journalist is named Yury Zaynashev. I will denote him as Y and Ruta as R:
Y: As you know, Mrs. Pazdere, Latvia has very high unemployment, as a result of which a quarter of the population has emigrated. In Soviet times, many large factories were built in Latvia. Have you factored in, how much revenue they brought in?
R: We know that we committed many mistakes [in our transition from socialism]. Businessmen arrived, from both East and West. These businessmen were not interested in renovating these factories. They didn’t want competition. They bought them up for pennies and then closed them. It was difficult to control these processes, because we didn’t have the experience [in capitalism].
Y: Are you saying that businessmen arrived from the EU as well, who did not comport themselves honorably?
R: Of course.
Y: (Let’s talk about a list of objects) – the famous microbus factory “RAF”, two electric heating factories in Riga, 93 radio-cell (towers), the oil refineries of Polotsk and Ventspils – they don’t bring you any revenues?
R: Of course (these objects) bring in revenues. We factored this into our report. But all the same we ended up with a deficit. When the Soviet Union collapsed, this caused great damage to Russia as well. Very many factories were closed, including in the center of Moscow.
Y: In your report you talk about the fact that in the post-war years [WWII], the cities of the Baltic republics were flooded with refugees. You wrote the following: “As a result of their absence of technical experience, low level of education and culture, the newcomers arriving in Latvia and Estonia not only did not assist in the technological and intellectual development [of those countries], but actually slowed it down.” [Yury goes on to list the names of several famous tennis players and figure skaters with Russian names, who have represented Latvia in international competitions, and done her proud.] Latvia derives no benefit from (these people)?
R: They live among us, and we are glad that they managed to integrate themselves and do something useful for Latvia. But (ethnic) Latvians are also a very talented people. 40% of the people living here are not ethnic Latvians. We don’t set them apart (from Latvians) why do you make distinctions?
Y: Because in your report on the population of post-war Latvia you differentiate locals and “newcomers”. Okay, let’s stipulate that the poorly educated newcomers from the Russian heartland slowed down the development of the (Latvian) republic. But then life got better, their children and grandchildren went on to become the elite of Latvia. Why don’t you factor that into your equation?
R: We do!
Y: No you don’t! There is not one word about that in your report.
R: Let me tell you how it was. In 1988 there were many, many newcomers to Latvia. Up to a million. Each of them needed to be given a job, a flat to live in, and nearby there must be built a kindergarten, a hospital, all the infrastructure (to support them)! This was an enormous burden on our economy! The leaders of our Supreme Soviet wrote frantic letters to Moscow: “Please stop sending people! Our republic cannot bear the load!” Each arrival to Riga cost us 1700 rubles. In the prices of that time. These were huge expenditures for Latvia.
Y: In other words, you agree with the sentiments of the Supreme Soviet (of that time)?
R: We just couldn’t take any more, that is a fact.
Y: You cite the leadership of Latvia from 1988, and support their position. And yet you consider them to be “a government of occupation”. Perhaps these were national organs of the government, who were defending the national interest?
R: Not at all. They had to account for the economy of the republic, and they saw that the budget was overstretched. It doesn’t matter who these people were. They wrote the letter to Moscow. During Soviet times, the number of (ethnic) Latvians decreased by 8%. Because of the influx. By comparison with 1940 the percentage of Latvians decreased.
Y: You exclude the fact that the Soviet Union was a changing country? In 1988 it was a completely different country than it was in 1940. So, do you or do you not consider the leaders of the Supreme Soviet, whom you cited, to be occupiers?
R: Of course they were occupiers! But they also were responsible for the economy, and they stated a simple fact. For three years we have been studying Latvia’s budget for the Soviet period, we have verified just how much (money) we sent to Moscow. It goes without saying that the center must receive money for administrative and other expenses. But we donated quite a large percentage and received back in return — well, very little. Every year we lost on average somewhere around 15%. The result shows that we were a “donor” republic. Secondly, what we did get back (from the center) – a lot of it was for military needs. When we factor all of this together, it turns out that a full third of the Latvian budget went to serve the needs of the USSR. A full third!
This is one of the reasons why our development was twice as slow as, say, Finland. Even though Finland in 1940 was much more backward than Latvia. By 1990 Finland had already surpassed us by twice as much.
Y: In your report initially you calculated the damages at 185 billion Euros. But then you factored in demographic, ecological, and intellectual damages, and obtained a figure of 300 billion. You factor in only the minuses, no pluses. But you and I just agreed on the fact, that the children and grandchildren of those who arrived after 1945, today constitute the pride of Latvia. Does it not seem to you then, that from this figure of 300 billion you should subtract demographic and intellectual assets, such as they exist?
R: Well, of course, we don’t deny that there was some good (come out of this). Our report is not all-encompassing. We were asked to simply come to a conclusion: were damages incurred, or not? We were budgeted a very small amount (for this project) – only 40,000 Euros annually; and not allocated much time (to complete the project). We did the best we could with the resources we were allocated.
Y: You have stated that you will present this demand for 300 billion Euros to the Russian Federation, as the legal heir to the USSR. This may come as news to you, but the Russian Federation never was the legal heir of the USSR. That’s a myth. In December of 1991 the Russian Federation declared itself to be the “legal-continuation state” of the USSR. International society recognized Russia in that capacity. This terminology figures in a treaty of Russia with France from 1992. This terminology allowed the new government to avoid liability claims such as yours. Russia inherited from the Soviet Union only that, which it deemed necessary.
R: Well, of course! Only what it deemed necessary. The rights without the responsibilities.
Y: In which case, what do you see as the purpose of your committee’s work?
R: I understand what you are saying. I am not a lawyer. We are currently working with jurists to figure out, how we can pursue these claims, and who will be the defendant to our plaintif. Because after all, the losses are enormous. We are working on this issue.