The Hon P.M. Ruddock MP, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600

Ethnic References in War Crimes Trials and Multiculturalism

Dear Minister,

First of all I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude for your continued interest in and support for the community of Australians of Latvian origin, attending regularly our commemorative functions in fair weather of foul, despite the obvious pressing demands on your time.

I have also followed keenly the proceedings in our Parliament and the measures you have introduced as a Minister. I believe that you have done an excellent job, cutting through the thicket of immigration "lurks", conceded by the jellyback ministers of the previous governments yielding to the partisan and selfish - dare I say - multicultural pressure groups.

I feel that most fair-minded Australians, whether Old or New (I prefer Mr. Caldwell's term to the divisive "multiculturalism", smacking of apartheid), will recognize the good work performed by yourself and your team and renew convincingly your mandate "to make laws for peace, order, and good government" for all Australians.

I would not like to divert attention from your all important task at this stage. However, you might scan quickly through what is said below - some of the points may be relevant to the campaign - and give it a fuller consideration when you resume policy development after the election, as I am certain you will.

Equal Justice to all Multinationals

My concern with the ethnic identification of alleged criminals was rekindled by an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of August 20 by Senator Helen Coonan on the International Criminal Court where she referred to the "charges alleging wartime atrocities against Latvian Konrads Kalejs".

I am enclosing a copy of my response to the Senator. "International Crimes and Generic Ethnic Accusations", with four Recommendations which, I hope, will also elicit your support with the objective in mind of promoting multicultural harmony.

The following general comments are intended to set the scene for a discussion of the Recommendations below.

The large influx of postwar migrants can be divided in two groups: economic and political - with some overlap, of course. As political migrants we could describe people trying to get as far as possible from the regimes of terror of both Stalin and Hitler. An observer of our media could readily come to the conclusion that only Hitler's Jewish genocide is of significance by the dominance on our TV screens of both documentaries and feature films depicting graphically the plight of European Jewry, supported by the most informative Holocaust (Shoah) Museum in Sydney.

Unfortunately, there is little or no information in our media on the numerically much larger number of victims of the Soviet Regime - not only Russians but also peoples of countries occupied by the Red Army, such as the Baltic States, Ukraine, Poland, etc. (It is well known that the Jewish people suffered the largest percentage losses, matched only by the lesser known Romanies.) In fact, the bulk of the postwar political migrants came from such Oppressed Nations, whose aspirations and hopes you have always supported - greatly appreciated by all.

Let me digress to the Affaire Pauline Hanson. Before Hanson quite a few in our midst perceived and resented - rightly or wrongly - that Aborigines (without dwelling on the legal definition that embraces persons indistinguishable from the rest of the population either by appearance, survival skills in the bush or language) received privileges and benefits, not available to the rest of the population. In a similar manner, quite a few perceived and resented that migrants received excessive benefits and access to our welfare system without making a contribution to it. Pauline Hanson did not create the resentment but brought out, what was latent, into the open with, for many, a surprisingly large popular support.

In general conversations, many persons - who themselves have suffered under the Soviet Terror or who have lost their loved ones by hunger and frost in Siberian Gulags in conditions as depicted in Schindler's Ark, except that the equally cruel guards wore different uniforms - feel resentment that their suffering remains unknown and unrecognized. Some are led to the perception that the Jewish community has much larger means at its disposal and even enjoy a privileged access to the media - it appears hard to imagine that the many repeats of Hitler's rogues' gallery: Himmler, Heydrich, Speer, Eichmann, Ribbentropp and many more - would be justified by ratings alone. I understand that some members of our Jewish community suggested that the Holocaust Museum should also include sections on crimes against humanity covering other persecuted groups to avoid the perception that only Jewish mothers lament the murder of their children. However, in our free society it is inconceivable that the Government should impose an ukase that every screening of a documentary on, say, Himmler should be followed by one on Felix Dzerzhinsky. A Russian cruise ship proudly carrying his name entered Sydney Harbour some years ago and many Australians may still be under the impression that he was either a romantic Russian poet or a popular composer.

There is one matter where an Australian Government, albeit not the current one, has shown its hand directly, namely, the War Crimes Act, which, I understand, not being a lawyer, takes the exceptional step of covering crimes committed outside this country but restricting its application only to the victims of Hitler's Jewish Genocide. This action is not at fault by what it sets out to achieve but by what it excludes, namely, all the horrendous crimes committed by the Soviet Regime on the relatives and friends of Australians of a range of ethnic backgrounds. Is it unreasonable to perceive that, yielding to special interest pressure, justice has been granted only to one section of our community - but "selective justice" is no justice all! We must acknowledge that our sense and concept of justice can be traced back to the early history of the Jewish culture.

Have we created a perception, albeit unintentionally, of a preferential treatment accorded to the plight of the Jewish people, first, in the media and, second, by a selective War Crimes Act restricted to Jewish victims, thus creating a latent anti-Jewish sentiment - horror of horrors - to be exploited by the next ranting demagogue on the scene?

There is also the danger that a stated search for justice could be perceived as seeking retribution or revenge. The great Maestro and humanist, Yehudi Menuhin, shortly to enrich this country with his visit, made the following comment recently: "There's hardly any part of our civilization which hasn't been touched by revenge. It's one of the most hideous and yet understandable of human reactions".

The International Criminal Court would provide an opportunity to redress the balance, at least to some extent, by extending justice also to victims of the Soviet the bulk of the postwar political migrants came from such Oppressed Nations, whose aspirations and hopes you have always supported - greatly appreciated by all.

Let me digress to the Affaire Pauline Hanson. Before Hanson quite a few in our midst perceived and resented - rightly or wrongly - that Aborigines (without dwelling on the legal definition that embraces persons indistinguishable from the rest of the population either by appearance, survival skills in the bush or language) received privileges and benefits, not available to the rest of the population. In a similar manner, quite a few perceived and resented that migrants received excessive benefits and access to our welfare system without making a contribution to it. Pauline Hanson did not create the resentment but brought out, what was latent, into the open with, for many, a surprisingly large popular support.

In general conversations, many persons - who themselves have suffered under the Soviet Terror or who have lost their loved ones by hunger and frost in Siberian Gulags in conditions as depicted in Schindler's Ark, except that the equally cruel guards wore different uniforms - feel resentment that their suffering remains unknown and unrecognized. Some are led to the perception that the Jewish community has much larger means at its disposal and even enjoy a privileged access to the media - it appears hard to imagine that the many repeats of Hitler's rogues' gallery: Himmler. Heydrich, Speer, Eichmann, Ribbentropp and many more - would be justified by ratings alone. I understand that some members of our Jewish community suggested that the Holocaust Museum should also include sections on crimes against humanity covering other persecuted groups to avoid the perception that only Jewish mothers lament the murder of their children. However, in our free society it is inconceivable that the Government should impose an ukase that every screening of a documentary on, say, Himmler should be followed by one on Felix Dzerzhinsky. A Russian cruise ship proudly carrying his name entered Sydney Harbour some years ago and many Australians may still be under the impression that he was either a romantic Russian poet or a popular composer.

There is one matter where an Australian Government, albeit not the current one, has shown its hand directly, namely, the War Crimes Act, which, I understand, not being a lawyer, takes the exceptional step of covering crimes committed outside this country but restricting its application only to the victims of Hitler's Jewish Genocide. This action is not at fault by what it sets out to achieve but by what it excludes, namely, all the horrendous crimes committed by the Soviet Regime on the relatives and friends of Australians of a range of ethnic backgrounds. Is it unreasonable to perceive that, yielding to special interest pressure, justice has been granted only to one section of our community - but "selective justice" is no justice all! We must acknowledge that our sense and concept of justice can be traced back to the early history of the Jewish culture.

Have we created a perception, albeit unintentionally, of a preferential treatment accorded to the plight of the Jewish people, first, in the media and. second, by a selective War Crimes Act restricted to Jewish victims, thus creating a latent anti-Jewish sentiment - horror of horrors - to be exploited by the next ranting demagogue on the scene?

There is also the danger that a stated search for justice could be perceived as seeking retribution or revenge. The great Maestro and humanist, Yehudi Menuhin, shortly to enrich this country with his visit, made the following comment recently: "There's hardly any part of our civilization which hasn't been touched by revenge. It's one of the most hideous and yet understandable of human reactions".

The International Criminal Court would provide an opportunity to redress the balance, at least to some extent, by extending justice also to victims of the Soviet Regime of Terror. This would include 5000 Jewish citizens of the Republic of Latvia who were deported to Gulags in 1941 after the occupation by the Soviet Union - they perished by starvation and exposure to the Siberian winter as all the other Baltic deportees. Thus, the Shoah started in the territory of Latvia under Soviet occupation and thus well before Hitler's atrocities. There have never been pogroms there - mob violence against a local Jewish community - and even under Nazi provocation there were no attacks by Latvian people. However, it is a shameful episode in Latvian history that some Latvians were recruited in the German Einsatzgruppen - a purposely innocuous name for death squads, as detailed in the enclosed extracts from Prof. Ezergailis research.

I grew up in the pre-WW2 independent Republic of Latvia in the town of Jelgava with about 35000 inhabitants, including a Jewish community of about 2000, dispersed throughout the town. Without making this letter even more prolix, I did not even know what anti-Semitism meant and shared a bench at school with a Jewish friend who during the Nazi occupation faced a firing squad and escaped death by a one in a million chance to tell me his story after the war. I understand that the current Latvian Government is keen to restore the Latvian-Jewish relations to the same harmonious level as enjoyed by all in the independent Latvia before the war. My aim is to make some contribution to this objective by attempting to correct some injudicious statements, based on lack of objective public information in this country and the persistence of Soviet disinformation.

Recommendations to the International Criminal Court

Taking the Recommendations and the supporting argumentation in my letter to Senator Coonan as read, only some supplementary comments are offered here.

As regards Recommendation (1), I also enclose a copy of my general media information letter. "Ethnic References in War Crimes Reporting and Propagation of Disinformation of Current Events in Latvia", which I have sent out to a range of media organisations, suggesting that such references be avoided, as is the practice in all other criminal cases. We would do well to keep in mind Simon Wiesenthal's dictum that "punishment has to be individual, never collective" - as soon as the nationality/ethnic origin of a merely alleged or convicted criminal is mentioned, in effect, his entire ethnic community/collectivity is punished. I hope that you will support this Recommendation and direct your Ministry and other Government departments to adopt it as a matter of policy.

With respect to Recommendation (2), the preamble above amplifies the reasons for extending justice to all Australians who have suffered crimes against humanity under the reign of terror of the Soviet Regime.

Recommendation (3) is admittedly a more difficult proposition as it involves an action not against an individual but against the current Russian Government and how far it can be held responsible for the crimes committed by the Soviet Regime. However, any effort by our Government, even to raise the issue at the International Court, would be appreciated by not only Australians of Latvian origin but Latvians everywhere.

Comparing Recommendation (4) to the three preceding ones - how long should we dwell on the events of the WW2, now 60 years ago? Is there a realistic hope that even a successful prosecution of some geriatrics, former members of either Hitler's or Stalin's execution squads, would act as a deterrent to any tyrants in the future? The current difficulties of bringing to justice the Pol Pot officers, directly responsible for the relatively recent monstrously high mass executions (as reported in some detail by Craig Skehan in the SMH of August 20), reduce the hope for the deterrent value of the prosecution process and there is also the danger that this could be interpreted by some simply as seeking retribution/revenge with a negative effect on inter-ethnic harmony, as discussed above.

Would our emotive and material resources be put to better use by concentrating on the future and protection of democratic governments a on world wide scale, in particular, as regards the current crisis in Russia, covered by Recommendation (4)

With best regards and hoping to see you soon back at your ministerial desk working for the benefit of all Australians.

Andy Bicevskis, 39 Dowding Street, Panama 2213, Phone 9771 4518 18 September 1998

End:

(1) Letter to Senator Coonan of September 18: International Crimes and Generic Ethnic Accusations.

(2) General Media Information Letter of June 1: Ethnic References in War Crimes Reporting and Propagation of Disinformation on Current Events in Latvia.


 Noziegumi pret cilvēci   Crimes against Humanity