March 25: a day of double significance

March 25, 2017 in Latvia is a day of double and contrasting but not entirely unrelated commemorations.

First, it is a day when society remembers thousands of men, women and children deported to Siberia by occupying Soviet forces -- many of whom never returned -- with memorial ceremonies taking place across the country.

One of the most obvious manifestations of the commemoration is the flying of the Latvian flag with a black ribbon attached.

You can read more about the facts of the deportations HERE. Estonia and Lithuania suffered in the same manner at the hands of the Soviet Union and are holding similar commemorative events. 

"25 March 1949 is one of the darkest days in the history of Latvia. We must not forget the events associated with the Communist genocide," said Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis.

But by a coincidence of the calendar, it is also the day marking 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which is generally taken to be the effective starting point of what is today known as the European Union, with Kucinskis taking part in events in Italy to mark the occasion.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Europe was a shattered and divided continent. And while it took until 2004 for the Baltic states to become full members of the European Union after regaining their independence 13 years earlier, their previous experience of oppression partly explains their enthusiastic embrace of the EU and their recognition that belonging to Europe is not only a matter of economics or convenience but a way of standing up for a system of values and a way of life founded upon democracy and cooperation.

Latvia's senior politician in Brussels said something similar.

 

President Vejonis took the opportunity to reaffirm Latvia's commitment to Europe as he prepared to give a speech about the deportations later in the day.

Meanwhile Kucinskis provided a reminder that these two days in history, united by a single date, inform each other.

 

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