Senator Helen Coonan Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600

International Crimes and Generic Ethnic Accusations

Dear Senator,

I refer to your otherwise excellent article in the SMH of August 20 except that you describe the alleged war criminal, Mr. Konrads Kalejs, as a "Latvian" - in my view, gratuitously and demeaning to all Australians of Latvian origin, as outlined in my enclosed general information letter to a range of media organizations (list also enclosed). It was distributed with the specific purpose of discouraging such ethnic references also in war crimes reporting - in all other criminal cases our media are careful not to say, for example, " an alleged Aboriginal, Jewish, Latvian or German murderer". I understand that this is covered by the Journalists' Code of Ethics (Clause 2).

In general, any use of such words as Latvian, Ukrainian or German in crime reporting is fraught with political associations, compounded with two interpretations: first, it may mean a citizen of, say, Latvia and, second, being of ethnic Latvian origin.

First, as regards citizenship, I understand that Mr. Kalejs is an Australian citizen and therefore an Australian, whatever his past and ethnic background. If the past is considered of importance, it is relevant to the case of Mr. Kalejs that the independent Republic of Latvia ceased to exist after the occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940. During the subsequent occupation by the German army in 1941, when the atrocities and genocides were committed by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, the territory of the former Republic of Latvia was treated by the German rulers as Ostland, slated as an acquisition for the German Thousand-Year Reich. At that time, whatever crimes Mr. Kalejs may or may not have committed - the presumption of innocence being the difference between this country and Hitler's or Stalin's lawless dictatorships - he was a Soviet citizen under German Occupation. In no way can he be considered as a Latvian citizen.

Second, as regards ethnicity, is it relevant to the dispensation of justice to ascertain the ethnic background of an alleged malfeasant? Would this, in effect, imply racial discrimination? In the Baltic region mixed marriages were quite common - are we sure of the purity of Mr. Kalejs bloodline if the ethnic connotation is implied by describing him as a "Latvian"? In fact, one of the prominent members of the Einsatzgruppen, Viktors Arajs, who was duly and properly convicted of war crimes by a German court, was passed on by Nazi propaganda as a "Latvian". It turned out later that he had, in fact, an ethnic German mother. In general, ethnicity is a slippery customer - few people would realize that, according to Jewish law, Greg Norman is a - Finn! (only a few golf afficionados would know of his mother's ethnic origins). \

On both counts the use of the description "Latvian" can not be justified in this context. The situation would be retrieved by omitting it and adding as the next paragraph the following:

"It is alleged that Mr. Kalejs was recruited by the German Einsatzgruppen which were set up by Hitler's personal order (Fuehrerbefehl) to exterminate all Jews (Endloesung) in the occupied Soviet territories, including the formerly independent Latvia".

In general, the situation itself in the Baltic region was complex and confusing during the alternate Soviet, German and Soviet again occupation. To obtain a reasonable overview, I recommend strongly that you read the extracts from Prof. Ezergailis valuable book on the Holocaust in German occupied Latvia (published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC), contained in my enclosed general media information letter. Your colleague, the Hon P.M.Ruddock, who has a long association with the community of Australians of Latvian origin, should also be able to help you obtain a clearer picture (I am sending him a copy of this letter).

Extending the same justice to all ethnic groups, in my view, it is also wrong to stress, for example, that during the Soviet occupation the head of the NKVD in Riga, Semyon Shustin, was a Jew - he was responsible for signing the Soviet mass deportation orders. I have been told - clearly, I am not a historiographer - that also in six other largest cities in the occupied Latvia, ethnic Jews were appointed by Moscow as heads of the local branches of the NKVD. Is this a coincidence, with very long odds against it, or does it form a pattern of dissimulation by the Russian dominated Government in Kremlin to create the impression that Jews, and not ethnic Russians, were to be blamed for the atrocities committed under the Soviet Regime? Is it drawing too long a bow to suggest that the Moscow Russian apparatchiks had applied the same stratagem to Ukraine and succeeded in creating the perception in Ukrainian peasants that Jews were responsible for the anti-Ukrainian terror of the NKVD? And, in turn, this was passed on to Helen Darville/Demidenko by some Ukrainian migrants in Australia, to be incorporated in "The Hand that Signed the Paper" - in my view, a poor book that got a string of literary awards only in a multicultural frenzy of political correctness. It was Hitler's theme-song of Juedisch- Bolshevismus and the same notion was also promoted by the Russian Bolsheviks!

In a similar manner. Hitler tried to pass on the blame for the atrocities of his Einsatzgruppen to the "natives", be they Latvians, Ukrainians or Poles. And as regards the Stalinists, anybody who resisted the Soviet occupation and atrocities was, by their definition, a "Nazi" (sic!), be they Latvians, Ukrainians, Poles or whatever. It would be a great pity if, falling for Hitler's as well as Stalin's propaganda spiel, say, Ukrainians blamed Jews for all Soviet atrocities and, in turn, Jews blamed Ukrainians for all the mass murders committed by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen as ordered by Hitler himself, his hand not even signing the paper as part of the concealment.

The guiding principle for justice emerges clearly from the above: in all criminal cases, including war crimes or crimes against humanities, only the direct personal involvement of an individual should be considered and the fairness of the judicial process should not be compromised by even mentioning the ethnicity/nationality or religion of any alleged wrongdoer.

Recommendation (I): I should be much obliged if, in the future, you would refrain from describing an individual, alleged of being a member of the German Einsatzgruppen, as a "Latvian", also passing the message to all relevant Government departments.

I am certain that Australians of Estonian, Polish, Ukrainian, etc. origin would also be grateful with regard to the possibility of any member of their communities being similarly treated.

Coming to the central issue of your article, the initiative of the Australian Government and the efforts of our team to bring into existence the International Criminal Court deserve high praise. Justice, to be perceived as such, must be meted out equally to all. I have been told - I am clearly not a lawyer, but, for what is worth, a retired Research Scientist - that our own War Crimes Act was discriminatory in the sense that it only applied to Hitler's Jewish genocide in the German occupied territories, but not to Stalin's mass murders, deportations and Gulags in the same territory, including the former Latvia. I understand that some of the former Soviet agents, responsible for the atrocities, are still occupying positions of power and influence in the present day Russia whilst others have left the country. Please also note the discussion on this point in my letter to the Hon P.M.Ruddock.

Recommendation (2): I should be much obliged if you would intercede with the Australian Government to raise with the ICC the question of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by agents of the former Soviet Union in occupied Latvia, also checking whether any have entered this country.

I understand from an article in the Weekend Australian of July 25-26 1998 by Clare Pedrick that the statute of the ICC contains "a clause which would make it a war crime to settle the occupied territories of another State". Before the occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940, the Independent Republic of Latvia had a total population of about 2 million, including 1.5 m Latvians, 0.2 m Russians, 0.1 m Jews and some other nationalities, all living harmoniously together in a multicultural society. During the second Soviet Occupation from 1945-1991, the territory was settled with nearly one million Russians or Russian speaking minorities. At present there remain in the re-established independent Latvia about 700.000 Russians who are not citizens of Latvia, but would gain automatically Russian citizenship as citizens of the former Soviet Union. Recommendation (3): Since the Australian Government has displayed initiative in prosecuting Nazi crimes in the Latvian territory, I should be much obliged if you would intercede with the AG to take to the ICC the matter of the Soviet Union committing the crime of settling its own citizens In Soviet occupied Latvia with the view of the ICC inducing Russia to accept back to their homeland the Russians who are not Latvian citizens.

Experience shows that in democracies with an open government and an independent judiciary, state initiated genocides and other crimes against humanity simply do not take place and the ICC has little relevance there. On the other hand, dictatorships with their associated lawlessness and secrecy have been the main perpetrators of genocides and other atrocities in the past and can be expected to follow the same course in the future. But experience also shows that dictators are less influenced by the deterrent provided by the ICC - it never entered Hitler's demented head that he could lose the war and have to face the music. The lesson to be drawn is that the threat of future genocides can be reduced by preventing the rise of new dictatorships and also by attempting to democratize the existing ones. As pointed out in the second part of my attached letter, at present, Russia, dispirited be the loss of its former superpower status and ravaged by a near collapse of its economy, reminds one of similar conditions in the Weimar Republic which provided a springboard for Hitler's dictatorships and monstrous crimes against humanity.

Recommendation (4): I should be much obliged if you would intercede with the Australian Government to provide support, whatever is possible, in conjunction with other democratic governments, to the fledgling and vacillating but still more or less democratic government in Russia at present - a new ultra-nationalistic dictator would see a return to the persecutions of the minorities within Russia (Pogroms already seem to be on the increase) and attacks on the surrounding recently re-established democracies, such as the Republic of Latvia.

In conclusion, my motivation is a search for justice and to dispel all the misinformation propagated by both the Nazis (attempting to blame the Latvians and other "natives" for Hitler's Holocaust) and the Soviets (all who oppose Soviet oppression and expansionism are "Nazis"). I have direct personal experience of both the Soviet and Nazi terror and thus appreciate even more the freedoms and the rule of law in this country - the presumption of innocence here versus the condemnation without trial and extermination not only of individuals, but also of entire ethnic and racial groups, deemed undesirable by a whim of a dictator, be it Stalin who signed the paper or Hitler who launched the Holocaust by word of mouth to conceal his responsibility.

The views expressed here are my own and I do not represent any association or pressure group. Judging by your active support for the International Criminal Court, the pursuit of justice is also close to your heart and I trust that you will take the trouble to advance my admittedly challenging recommendations with the same zeal as was displayed by yourself and our Australian Government in creating the International Criminal Court.

One could not agree more with your conclusion in support for a powerful ICC that "we owe the victims of past atrocities and their families nothing less". It goes without saying that the same justice - to be seen as such - must be meted out whatever the nationality or ethnicity of both the victims and perpetrators of all crimes against humanity.

I wish you and your team well for the coming trying time and hope that the Australian people will perceive the long-term benefits of positive reform proposals to make this Country even more Lucky in the next millennium.

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


(1) General media information letter of June 1: Ethnic References in War Crimes Reporting and Propagation of Disinformation on Current Events in Latvia.

(2) List of Media Organisations receiving (1).

(3) Response from the SBS.

(4) Letter to the Hon P.M. Ruddock MP, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs of September 18: Ethnic References in War Crimes Trials and Multiculturalism with some additional comments on the counterproductive effect if the administration of justice is perceived as being selective.

 Noziegumi pret cilvēci   Crimes against Humanity