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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Teaching Russia How to Apologize for Soviet Past

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The author Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that he had certain sympathies for Estonia and Lithuania, small nations grievously wronged by their big neighbor. In the case of Latvia, however, he had no such sympathies because of the role that a relatively small but significant number of Latvians played in the Soviet regime. It would appear that the Latvians have something to answer for.

Since the heaven-sent dissolution of the Soviet Union, the air has been thick throughout the former Soviet Union with talk of apologies. And so much horror has happened in the region that the grievances seem to have no end. Everyone wants an apology -- an admission of culpability, an expression of regret, something, anything -- from Moscow to the many nations and nationalities it has wronged. But Russia just continues to spit in the eye of truth and history, and will have none of it. So an impasse ensues.

But back to the Latvians. The more you delve into it, the more amazing it becomes: the large number of Latvians who held high and very high posts in the Soviet Russian government in the 1920s and through much of the 1930s. No need to name names; a few titles will be revealing enough. At various times, Latvians served Lenin or Stalin as commander-in-chief of the Soviet Army, second-in-charge of the Cheka, commander-in-chief of the Soviet Air Force, Red Army tank corps commander and so on. Were these noble people? Unfortunately, they were, for the most part, naive and even cruel. They assisted Stalin in liquidating real and imagined enemies of the Soviet Union, until their own turn came in the late 1930s, when they got a bullet to the head from Stalin's executioners. Laughably, Khrushchev, when he came to power, "rehabilitated" almost all of them.

Perhaps the trouble is that Russia does not know how to apologize or express regret, having so much to regret and having made so few apologies over the years. The answer to the dilemma is obvious: Someone has first to set an example. And why not the Latvians? The Latvian government could issue a statement that, while these misguided Latvians in Russia had no relationship to the Latvian state and were acting on their own, today's Latvia, nevertheless, rues and condemns their pursuits.

It would be a noble act that would only bring honor to Latvia. And it just might squeeze the Kremlin a bit more to react in kind, with an expression of contrition of its own. It is worth a shot, at least.

And just when and where should this kind of statement be made? Why, of course, in the merry month of May, in Moscow.

Janis Bolsteins, a writer based in the United States, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.