Latvia risks Russian ire after MPs vote to open KGB records

Posted in Russia | 21-May-04 | Author: Nick Walsh| Source: Guardian

Latvia has escalated tensions with Moscow by deciding to open its old KGB files.

The decision, taken in a parliamentary vote late on Wednesday night, will further fuel an already furious dispute over the alleged Latvian mistreatment of thousands of ethnic Russians who live in the ex-Soviet Baltic state.

The vote extends for 10 years a ban on former employees of, and informants for, the KGB from serving in government. It also opens to public scrutiny the rest of the KGB's archives in Latvia.

The KGB is thought to have removed the bulk of sensitive records during the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it left a series of "cards" - records outlining which Latvians were informers and employees. Some 4,000 cards have become a political tool as Latvian politicians seek to discredit each other by exposing KGB links. Two Social Democrat MPs, Juris Bojars and Janis Adamsons, lost their jobs in 1993 and 2000 when the cards showed they had worked for the security force.

The new law will foment anti-Russian sentiment. Latvia's perception of Russia as its former repressor and occupier has been exaggerated by growing nationalism and its entry into the EU.

Some Latvians have erected statues in honour of SS soldiers, who they saw as liberators.

Moscow has decried such gestures and been infuriated by plans to remove the Russian language from Latvian schools, a move it believes will add to the ethnic Russians being seen as second-class citizens.

Peteris Stabons, an MP with the For Freedom and the Fatherland party, said: "During the occupation we suffered so much it was a nightmare. The KGB helped make lists of hundreds of thousands of people who were sent to Siberia. Many of them never came back. These people have done a lot of evil and it is just that we deprive them of occupying posts and running for legislative office.

"[Moscow] still has not acknowledged that they have occupied us for 50 years and left behind more than half a million of their own people."

Concerns were also raised yesterday that the records may be incomplete and contain non-political KGB workers, not those involved in the suppression of the 40s and 50s.

Alexander Gurin, a member of the Latvian committee on human rights, said: "Some hoped that after Latvia's entrance into the EU the situation would improve. But this first sign is disappointing."

He cited the attempt to exclude the Russian language from schools - even private ones - as "the most scandalous" development.