Staunton, January 16 – This past week marked the 30th anniversary of the Soviet attack on Lithuanian protesters at the TV tower in Vilnius; and the coming week includes two more anniversaries from the last days of the USSR, the 31st anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan (“Black January”) and the 30th anniversary of the Soviet killings in Riga, Latvia.
Because Vilnius and Baku featured both far more deaths and far more drama and because the Soviet attack on demonstrators in Riga occurred as the international military campaign against Saddam Hussein was in high gear, the Latvian events are far more often overlooked and now forgotten by the two others bracketing it.
That is a horrific mistake. While the Soviet attack on Azerbaijan was so brutal that it can be said to have marked the end of any possibility that the USSR could survive and the one on Lithuania captured the imagination of the world as the death knell of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the attack on Riga was emblematic of the viciousness of Soviet forces.
Coming just one week after Vilnius, the attack on Riga was less deadly but far nastier. Those the Soviet forces killed in the Lithuanian capital were fired on because the soldiers thought they were defending Soviet property. The places where they died were concentrated in a small area.
But in Riga, the Soviet units occupying the interior ministry fired almost randomly into the park, killing people far from one another and thus in no way a threat to the Soviet occupiers. If one walks through the park in the Latvian capital now, one sees the stones which mark where they fell and where any pretense of a justification for the Soviet system fell away.
These stones marking where the Latvians were killed must be remembered forever by all people of good will everywhere of what a truly horrific system the Soviet Union was even at the end and of what Gorbachev, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, did to his own population in his failed effort to keep himself and the CPSU in power.