Latvia Takes the Fight to Fake News  

The Latvian State Security Service (VDD) launched criminal proceedings against a board member of the Latvian Russian Union (LKS) after he justified Latvia's joining the USSR in 1940. Russian media accused Latvia of prosecuting "unwanted individuals."

On June 17, Alexander Filey, a board member of the Latvian Russian Union, published a
controversial post on his Facebook page, where he stated that the Soviet army "liberated” Latvia in 1940 and that the summer of that year gave thousands of people a "long-awaited liberation from unbearable oppression." Filey argued that interwar Latvia had been built on "principles of savage nationalism" and that the USSR "gave hope and second life" to many, which is why the Red Army was welcomed when it invaded. The VDD initiated criminal proceedings against Filey, according to Latvian public media, at the request of Dmitry Golubev, a politician of the center-liberal "New Unity" party. Article 74.1 of Latvia Criminal Law, bars "actions which publicly glorify, deny, justify, or denigrate the USSR war crimes against Latvia and its citizens." For breaking the law, Filey faces up to five years in prison, forced labor, or a fine.

The case quickly gained resonance within the ethnic Russian community. Ria Novosti published an
article, "Why is it better to keep your mouth shut in Latvia,” which listed people who have been accused by the VDD of breaking the law. The article includes such people as Alexander Gaponenko and Vladimir Linderman, and represents them as "civil activists" and "opposition leaders" fighting for ethnic Russian rights in Russian media. In reality, both are well-known pro-Kremlin activists. In a 2018 Facebook post, Gaponenko suggested that American special operations forces would carry out ethnic cleansing of Latvians that are native Russian language speakers during NATO military exercises. Linderman, on the other hand, was previously detained by the VDD for incitement of national hatred and disturbance of public peace. A Ria Novosti article portrayed Latvia as a state run by aggressive, nationalistic politicians and police services who detain ethnic Russians for no particular reason. The outlet went on to claim that Article 74.1 was introduced in 2014 to "hold accountable people who justify international crimes committed by these the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany regimes.” That year, the largest Russian political party in Latvia "Harmony" later filed a claim to the Constitutional Court requesting annulment of the new Criminal Law article, but were unsuccessful.

Filey is well-known in Latvia and has appeared on pro-Kremlin media before. On, September 11, 2018, he
appeared on the outlet News Front, where he accused Latvian authorities of discriminating against the Russian minority. In 2018 the VDD initiated criminal proceedings against a number of persons charged with supporting Russia’s geopolitical interests and against one person suspected of gathering information for Russia’s intelligence service. These hostile Russian influence activities are not unique to Latvia - similar trends have been observed in other NATO and EU member states.

According to the
VDD, these cases reflect the fact that Russia is continuing its aggressive and confrontational policies against Western countries and poses. According to the VDD, activities for maintaining historical memory play an increasingly important role in cementing Russia’s influence. In recent years, Moscow has been intensifying its campaigns in this sphere in two main areas: first, spreading interpretations of history, such as the campaign against Nazi Germany that are favorable to the Kremlin point of view; second, and related, actively conducting a campaign to preserve war memorials honoring the role of the Red Army during the war. In the eyes of many Latvians, these historical narratives pose a sufficient threat to justify the restrictions on free speech.

CEPA StratCom is an online journal covering crucial topics in strategic communications in the transatlantic community. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis. 

Photo: Via Pxhere under CC0 Public Domain.

Anna Ūdre
23 August 2019

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