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22 May, 2010 06:41

European Court decision on WWII veteran– attempt to rewrite history

Russia’s lower house has harshly condemned Europe’s Court on Human Rights verdict to uphold Latvia’s war crimes conviction of Soviet WWII veteran Vasily Kononov. The State Duma dubbed the case “purely political”.

According to the statement issued by the State Duma on Friday, the Strasbourg court’s ruling “is not based on the recognized principles and rules of the international law.” According to the parliament’s deputies, the decision “can be viewed not only as a dangerous court precedent and changes to the legal approach to the assessment of World War II, but also as an attempt to initiate a revision of the decisions made by the Nuremberg Trials."

On May 17, the European Court on Human Rights delivered its Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Kononov versus Latvia. The former USSR republic’s accusations date back to the Second World War, when the Latvian-born man fought against the Nazis as a Soviet partisan. On May 27, 1944, in a group with other resistance fighters, Kononov killed nine residents of the town of Mazie Bati, as they were suspected of collaborating with the Nazis.

Several decades later, in 1998, Kononov was arrested on charges of war crimes for murdering nine innocent – as the Latvian side maintains – people. Following that, Kononov’s life turned into a nightmare: he has been tried six times and spent two years behind bars.

In 2008, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the Latvian judges’ ruling to send the veteran to prison had no basis in international law and awarded him 30,000 euro in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

Back then, the top European court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 7 of the European Convention of the Human Rights that says: “No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.”

However, the Latvian government appealed the decision. On May 17, the Grand Chamber of the same court ruled that there was no violation of Article 7 in the original verdict.

The ruling was welcomed in Riga, but met with fierce criticism in Russia – citizenship of which Kononov was granted in 2000.

"Regrettably, some of the world's politicians side increasingly often with the political forces which are making attempts to justify the Nazi ideology, to destroy the post-war world order and to encourage aggressive nationalism,” the Russian lower house’s statement reads as quoted by Inrterfax agency. “This tendency is dangerous, as it leads to a revival of fascism and justifies war crimes committed during World War II."

The parliamentarians also warn of possible negative consequences of the Strasbourg court’s decision “for soldiers of the Allied Nations, which could manifest themselves in the persecution of veterans and in blaming them for war crimes."

The lawmakers have called on the international community to give the ruling on the Kononov case an impartial assessment. The statement was approved unanimously by 443 deputies.

The discussion of the document, however, was rather heated, with some Duma factions suggesting even further steps be taken. The Liberal-Democrats voiced an opinion that Russia should temporarily suspend its membership on the Council of Europe, and also “recall the Russian judge from the European Court, if he does not admit that the ruling was mistaken.”

The majority party, United Russia, deputy, Sergey Zheleznyak, according to Interfax, named the Strasbourg decision “not only biased, but also immoral.”

”The statement that [Kononov] eliminated civilians is false,” he stated. “Why should we co-operate with a body that turns into an instrument of frenzied fight against Russia?” he wondered.

The Communists said that they support the Duma statement, but believe it is not enough. The faction deputy, Nikolay Kolomeytsev, noted that it is likely that some Western countries, in particular the Baltic states, are about to raise financial claims against Russia demanding the revision of the assessment of the victory in WWII.

The Fair Russia party suggested that propaganda work should be stepped up in order to tell the truth about the events that took place during the war.