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19th Feb 2017

Lithuania gets EU backing for confrontation with Communist past

  • A Stalin-era propaganda poster - Soviet crimes are still taboo in some countries (Photo: wikipedia)

A strong promoter of shedding light on the crimes against humanity committed under the Soviet occupation, Lithuania on Friday managed to get the political backing of the other 26 EU member states for measures aimed at educating the public about all totalitarian regimes in Europe.

"We were active in promoting the question of crimes of totalitarian regimes, because it is also important for us to know what has happened in other countries," Lithuanian justice minister Remigijus Simasius told this website on Friday (10 June).

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According to Simasius, the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes in Libya, Syria and "not so long ago, Bosnia" make it even more important that there is an accurate account of crimes committed by the Soviet and the national communist regimes in eastern Europe.

The document, agreed Friday by EU justice ministers, refers only once to Communist and Nazi crimes with Simasius admitting that there was a "lengthy discussion" on the exact language around the different totalitarian regimes.

"There are many reasons why. In some countries it was for a long time politically incorrect to speak about Soviet crimes, because of the heritage of World War II, when the Soviet Union was an ally of the West."

But for Lithuania, as well as the other two Baltic states - Latvia and Estonia - liberation from the Nazi occupation soon became "another occupation" as they were annexed to the Soviet Union. Mass deportations, imprisonments on political grounds and summary executions affected hundreds of thousands of people in the three small countries.

"It's strange, from our perspective, that we don't have any international courts to deal with these crimes. But at least it is accepted, at an EU level, for countries to prosecute and sentence people guilty of such crimes."

In concrete terms, the EU declaration is "quite general, but it is a clear political statement which gives the European Commission and national governments some guidelines on how to deal with the memory of totalitarian regimes," the minister said.

According to the EU council conclusions, "a fair treatment of the victims of every totalitarian regime as well as a proper prevention of such crimes should be assured."

When it comes to the denial of crimes committed under Communist regimes, ministers refrained from equating penalties with those for denying the Holocaust and said that "national circumstances and legal traditions, as well as freedom of expression" should be taken into account.

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