Soviet guerilla Vasily Kononov was buried in Riga, Latvia, on April 5. His case, that has reached the Strasbourg Court, became a symbol of history opposition initiated by the Latvian authorities. The question is whether the case Kononov v. Latvia will continue after his death, or the Baltic authorities glorifying Nazism will be able to drop it.
Vasily Kononov passed away on April 1. He was 88 years old. His final resting place is beside his son at the Riga Mathis Cemetery. This is precisely where one of the most famous monuments of the city honoring the participants of the revolutionary movement is located. It was erected in the late 1950's in memory of members of the Communist Party of Latvia shot by the sentence of the bourgeois martial court in 1921.
Vasily Kononov was born on January 1, 1923 in the village of Strauya in eastern Latvia. When the Nazis occupied the Baltic States, he went to the guerillas and took part in the liberation of his homeland. For his combat service Kononov was awarded the Order of Lenin and numerous medals. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the government of independent Latvia looked at the heroic past of this man from a different prospective.
Kononov's name became widely known in 1998. At that time the Latvian authorities arrested him on charges of war crimes of World War II, referring to the fact that they did not have statute of limitations. Main episode of the case against him is the incident that happened in 1944. Then young Kononov was directing operations of his party in the village of Mazie Bati, where shortly before that a guerilla unit was destroyed based on the information provided by local residents.
According to the prosecution, Kononov "illegally" ordered to shoot nine collaborators. Among them were three women, one of them at the ninth month of pregnancy. The latter fact was recognized by Latvian justice as an aggravating circumstance. Prosecutors relentlessly repeated that these were not the traitors and Polizei, but "peaceful citizens." This fit a new ideological doctrine of Latvia - the hero is the one who fought against the Soviet Union and the "Red."
Then a case was initiated that was completely contrary to the results of the Nuremberg trials, which were abolished by neither the European Union nor NATO, nor any other organization Latvia has been a member of for a few years. The results of the Nuremberg trials state that representatives of the victorious powers and anti-fascists cannot be convicted for acts against the Nazis and their accomplices. Nevertheless, the Latvian Themis had a different opinion.
In 2000, Kononov was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Since he already served his sentence in jail, he was released in the courtroom. After that the Russian authorities finally paid attention to the Riga process. In April of 2000 Vladimir Putin signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to the guerilla. (A native of Latvia, Kononov was a citizen of this country).
However, the fact that Russia has stood up for a veteran of the Great Patriotic War only angered the Latvian justice. A year later, Kononov was sentenced to six years in prison. He filed an appeal. On October 3, 2003 Latgale District Court dismissed the guerilla from custody due to statute of limitations. The category of the case was changed from "war crimes" to gang violence.
Yet, the court ordeal of Kononov who was then already 80 years old was not over. In April of 2004, another Latvian court, relying on the "historical truth", sentenced the guerilla to 20 months in prison. This was followed by an appeal. Rejected by the Latvian courts, Kononov appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Legal assistance was provided by Russia.
In 2008, it seemed that justice had triumphed. ECHR recognized the illegality of prosecuting Kononov and ordered Latvia to pay the guerilla 30,000 euros. Yet, Latvia appealed the decision. In spring of 2010, the veteran had suffered a new shock: the European Court granted the appeal to Latvia. This means that the Strasbourg court overturned the decision of the Nuremberg trials.
Nevertheless, Kononov did not give up the fight and was determined to get the sentence revised. "Latvia is threatening the sacred matter. They want to expand their opportunities for re-writing the history of the war. They want to make criminals out of the winners. They want to put an end to the warming between Latvia and Russia and expand the gap between the Latvian and Russian people. They also want to rehabilitate Nazism. I believe in my victory. I can see it already," said the veteran a year ago.
"A strong point was established by German secret services in the village (Mazie Bati. - Ed.). These people were actively involved in the elimination of the guerrillas. They have trapped, shot and burned 12 people. Guerilla Tribunal considered this matter and found these people guilty. They were sentenced to death, "Kononov explained his actions.
Now Kononov is gone. However, his case is still active. Should Russia seek to continue its consideration by the ECHR? Member of Public Chamber of Russia, Alexander Brod in an interview with Pravda.ru expressed his belief that it must be done.
"This is a matter of principle, a matter of honor. Over the past 20 years, Kononov had been subject to severe suffering, this was an insult for him. We very much hope that the court will consider the case objectively. The authorities of the Baltic States say they are fighting against fascism, but in fact our veterans are being defamed. We must seek justice, fairness, we cannot back out. Kononov's case is an indicator of the serious situation prevailing in the Baltic countries," said Brod.
In turn, the chairman of the Moscow Committee of War Veterans Ivan Sluhay told "Pravda.ru" that "it is necessary that a man has a good name, and is not considered a traitor." You cannot put it better than this. "Kononov's case is a litmus test of Russia's ability to defend its past, its present, and future. Latvia, glorifying Nazism with a tacit approval of the West, is testing Russia's international prestige."