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“Latvia Kicked Off its EU Presidency with a Ban on a Holocaust Exhibit”

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Latvia, using its status as president of the EU Council, managed to ban the “Stolen Childhood: The Holocaust through the Eyes of Children Imprisoned in the Salaspils concentration camp” exhibit, which was scheduled to take place in the UNESCO building this month. Why did this exhibit scare the Latvian leadership so much? And will the Europeans be able to see it? RuBaltic.Ru reached out to one of the exhibits organizers, the “Historic Memory” fund director, historian Alexander DYUKOV:

- Tell us what this exhibit is about, that it scared the Latvian leadership so much?

- The situation went like this. 27 January marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army. This day is commemorated as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For the anniversary of this event, we decided to have a history-documental exhibit “Stolen Childhood: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of Children Imprisoned in the Salaspils Concentration Camp” in UNESCO headquarters. The exhibit was supposed to show one simple, in our opinion, truth on how there can’t be a Holocaust against just one nation – any crime of genocide sooner or later turns into a crime against all. The exhibit showed how the Nazis built the Salaspils camp, how Jews were killed in it, how the punitive operations were conducted on the Belarussian-Latvian border. On how the victims of the punitive operation were sent to the same Salaspils, already “cleansed” of Jews.

The exhibition had UNESCO support. UNESCO endorsed it. The exhibit was also endorsed by the UNESCO offices in Russia and Belarus. However, in the last moment, a week before it opened, it was blocked by the Latvian office.

I think, this is an absolutely outrageous and scandalous decision. We know that in January Latvia’s six-month Presidency in EU begins. And it started its Presidency with a ban on a Holocaust exhibit on the Salaspils concentration camp on the eve of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day! The most jarring is the Latvian diplomats’ motive for the ban. They stated that this exhibit could damage Latvia’s image during its EU presidency.

- Isn’t the ban of the exhibit going to cause greater damage than the exhibit itself?

They have such backwards logic, that I can’t understand. It’s the block of the Holocaust exhibit that hurts Latvia’s image, not the exhibit itself. Maybe the Latvian government associates itself with Nazi criminals and their collaborators. Maybe they consider the Salaspils concentration camp not just a concentration camp that was on Latvia’s territory, but actually Latvian – I don’t know! In any case, that explanation is beyond my understanding, and I don’t think anyone in Europe will get it either.

But the fact remains. And right now, Latvia has a musical going on that glorifies Nazi criminal Cukurs. And this musical is not banned, the Latvian government has no problem with it. How can we explain that? Honestly, I can’t say.

- If, according to the Latvian government, the exhibit damages the country’s image, then that means that Europe can find out something new about Latvia on this exhibit? What is Latvia afraid of?

- The Latvian side could have seen the exhibits stands and videos and made sure that it speaks only of Nazi criminals. Yes, there were Latvian collaborationists participating in these crimes. However, in my opinion, the current Latvian government should not see themselves in the collaborationists and should condemn them. Maybe the Latvian government was scared that we would talk about the Latvians’ crimes too. But all nations had collaborationists – there were Russians, Belarussians and Latvians. So Latvia’s actions are a confounding mystery to me.

It is also possible that Riga’s decision was influenced by the fact, that the story of Salaspils is told by its underage prisoners and the Latvian government knows that it committed a great injustice upon them. People, who were victims of Nazi punitive operations and brought to Latvia by Latvian policemen in 1943-1944, but managed to survive, in the 1990s were stripped of their citizenship.

Stripped of their citizenship just because they arrived in Latvia after 1940. So the Latvian policemen brought then as slaves into Latvia, and then Latvia took their civil rights away because they were brought there as slaves! It’s a great injustice to these underage prisoners, their children and grandchildren.

- What of the exhibit’s future? Are you going to fight for it to happen?

- Sadly, we won’t be able to have it in the UNESCO building as we planned initially. The Latvian delegation seems to have used levers, which are tied to the EU Presidency. This is sad. It is an act of censorship.

Nonetheless, we’ll be able to show the exhibit in Paris. Show it in the same time as we planned and open on the anniversary of the Auschwitz Liberation. We’ll talk about history, and about the modern aspects of this problem which, as it turns out, are still relevant in modern-day Latvia.

Translated by Pavel Shamshiev.

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