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24 Jul, 2008 10:14

Court orders Latvia to compensate war veteran

A Russian WW2 veteran convicted and imprisoned for genocide by a court in Riga has won a rights case against Latvia in the European Court of Human Rights. The court has ordered Latvia to pay Vasily Kononov 30,000 euros i

Mikhail Ioffe, Kononov’s lawyer, told RT it was “a great victory”.  

“I am happy that in the European Court of Human Rights they have people of law, not politics. In Latvia, Kononov’s arrest was purely political, just like other cases there. Latvia recognizes the Soviet Union's presence as an occupation, so now they treat any case linked with its activity as a crime,” he said.  

Ioffe said when they asked for compensation, they were not thinking of the money; they just wanted the Latvian government to take them seriously.

“I do not think this is the end of the matter. Latvia now has three months to follow the court’s ruling or appeal to the Grand Chamber of the European Court,” he added.

During the Second World War, when the Latvian republic was occupied by the Nazis, Kononov was a Soviet guerilla.  He says he derailed 16 German trains in his fight to liberate Latvia.  He later received 27 state awards for his efforts, including one of the highest – the order of Lenin.

After Latvia gained independence from the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s, Kononov was accused of ordering the killing of nine Latvian villagers in 1944. Kononov insists they were Nazi collaborators.

He was sentenced to six years in prison on genocide charges. In 2004, after years of litigation, the sentence was cut to 20 months and the charges changed to “war crimes”. As soon as the 80-year-old was freed he appealed to the European court of human rights.

Kononov’s lawyer Mikhail Ioffe says Vasily’s actions during the war, as well as those of the whole guerilla movement, cannot be considered criminal. He says the guilty verdict of the Latvian court was totally unfair:

“It was obviously a political decision not a legal one. And it was a violation of human rights,” he said.

Kononov is now writing his memoirs which will be entitled “My Three Wars”.

“The first is the bloodiest – the Great Patriotic War, the second is about criminal Latvia after the Second World War. And the third is the most painful – it’s all about the courts and prisons I have been through,” he said.

Events and circumstances at the beginning of the Second World War are still disputed between Russia and Latvia. Along with the other Baltic States, Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia officially recognises the Red Army's defeat of the fascists as the beginning of Soviet occupation.