Latvia

OPINION EXCHANGE | June 14, 1941: Latvia’s day of infamy, with lessons for us all

Every country recognizes its day of infamy. The United States recalls President Franklin Roosevelt’s words that Dec. 7, 1941, was a day of infamy for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that killed thousands. Latvia, whose democracy was ended by the Soviet invasion a year earlier, had its first day of infamy when Joseph Stalin’s Soviet troops rounded up and deported 15,000 Latvian citizens to concentration camps in Siberia. On June 14 their names will be aired over Latvian media and thus remembered.

The Soviets considered Latvia, a country 40% the size of Iowa with 1% of the population of Russia, a threat. And anyone who was in opposition, who spoke the native language, for example, was a subversive. My father was a journalist who would have been shot; the rest of us would have been sent to the gulag to die in Siberia. My immediate family was fortunate to flee to the West and eventually find a new home and freedom in Minnesota.

When the Soviets deported the 15,000 Latvians to certain deaths in Siberian concentration camps, there was no warning. No indictments, no charges, no bail, no trials; people just disappeared. What happened to Latvia should be a warning to what can happen in an autocratic society. Some people in the U.S. liken government regulations mandating the wearing of face masks to an act of communism. These comments come from uneducated people who have not studied history.

The lessons of what happened to Latvia, now a staunch member of NATO and sharing a 140-mile border with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, should not be forgotten.

Back to the narrative. Under communism, the state owns your house and your business. It forbids religion and a free press and all the media. It allows only its version of history and affects anything/everything to be taught. There is not an independent judiciary, so there is no recourse, and whatever the government says goes. There are no independent unions and no real political parties. And in communism, of course, some people are more equal than others, namely those who are Communist Party members.

Latvians today remember every June 14th with a moment of silence, much like Israeli citizens devote two minutes of silence on each April 27 to remember the horrors of the Holocaust. So, you guys out who complain that you’ve been subject to the horrors of face mask wearing to stop the spread of disease and who say that it is a harbinger of communism, give me a break.

John Freivalds is honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota.

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