In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga explains why she will be travelling to Moscow for the official anniversary ceremony to mark the end of WWII.
DW-WORLD: The Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited the heads of state of all the countries that fought against the Third Reich, to join him on 9th May in marking the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII. The presidents of Estonia and Lithuania have declined the offer, but you are planning to go. Yet media reports say you initially described the invitation as an "insult". What made you change your mind?
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: I don't recall having said that. The feeling in all the Baltic states was that it is difficult to celebrate this occasion at all. At the end of the Second World War we were occupied by the Soviet Union and remained under its occupation for 50 years, so in that sense, there is nothing to celebrate. The Russians are celebrating because it was a victory over National Socialism and Hitler. For them it is a day of joy filled with the memory of the heroic acts of the Red Army. I decided to go to Moscow, because I believe that we have to think about the symbolic value of the end of the war, but I also wanted to remind Mr Putin and all the other heads of state that it is unfortunately also a very sad day for Latvia.
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The Latvian people genuinely suffered under the occupation, how did they react to your decision?
I think it was initially perceived as a provocation. They thought that no Latvian should travel to Moscow to celebrate the Red Army's victory over their own country. And that is the reason why the Estonian and Lithuanian presidents ultimately decided to stay at home with their own people. But in Latvia there was a lot of debate and I have massive support from the government, from parliament and from the people. It's a matter of explaining what this chapter in history means to Latvia and to us as Latvians, but it is also a matter of showing Latvia's good will, of making a gesture of friendship to Russia. We want to work together to create a new Europe, in which wars like WWII will never happen again.
One could see your trip as a gesture of reconciliation. Is it not reasonable to expect Russia , on the other hand, to use the occasion as an opportunity to acknowledge its occupation of the Baltic states ?
I stressed that point in my letter to President Putin. I think it is very difficult for the president and for the Russian people to accept that it was an occupation. I don't know if it is simply an emotional issue, or whether they are worried that the Latvians will demand compensation. I think they are afraid of that legal possibility.
Is this fear founded?
There are many people who lost a lot, whether it was their fortune or members of their families. Latvia really did lose a lot. But there is currently no-one in our parliament calling for compensation.
Will you be able to speak to Putin on 9th May, and repeat to his face what you wrote in your letter -- that he should acknowledge the occupation?
I wrote the letter, and although I have not yet received an answer from him, I have received many other, very nice letters in which people told me they understand how hard it is for Latvia to remember this date, and that they know that the Latvian people suffered greatly. But they also support my decision to travel to Latvia.
In an interview with Deutschlandfunk, you said "Stalin would turn in his grave if he knew I was going to Russia ." What did you mean by that?
Stalin wanted to build an empire, he wanted a world revolution. And Stalin and his propaganda always said that it would be a great asset for that empire to absorb the Baltic states into the Soviet Union. So if he knew that the president of an independent Latvia was in Moscow, he would really be very angry.
Turn to the second part to read about the Latvian President's personal recollections of Germany and to find out why the Latvians like modern Germans .