The Shield of Achilles

By Tomas Venclova

To Joseph Brodsky

I speak alone that on the nerves’ taut screen
I shall see clearly now, as once you used to,
The key lying there beside the empty ashtray,
These railings by the chapels built of stone.
You weren’t wrong: all’s just as it is here.
For now. Even the scope of the imagination.
The same descent of kilometres to the shore-line
Where still the sea

Hears both of us. Beneath the green leafed roof
Gleam,almost as before, the heavy lampshades.
The different tempi that impel the clock’s hands
Are far more dangerous than the bitter wave
Between us. Moving far in space’s grip
You grow as distant as the Greeks, as strange as
The Medeans. In shame we’ve stayed, we others,
On board this ship

Which is not safe, not even for the rats.
And if one looks well, then one realises:
This is no ship, but brick walls, bright roofs, troubles,
A date that all too frequently comes round –
In fact, maturity. This tutelage
Sinks into all our brains. Expanses,
Each day growing emptier, would have come to blind us,
If by the verge

Where, vertical, the rain hovers and roves
A solemn vault of sound had not arisen,
Almost annihilated in this sudden summer,
But giving us the blessed manacles
That probably coincide with, fit the soul –
Exalt and burn, defining outlines, forming,
Because our heaven and our terra firma
Are in voice, all.

Peace be to you. To you and me, both, peace.
Let it be dark. Abd let the seconds hurtle.
Through densest space, that dream of many layers,
I read each character your pen’s released.
Whole cities disappear. In nature’s stead,
A whitge shield, counterweight to non-existence.
In its enrgraving both our different eras
Lie double-etched

(Were there but happiness and strength enough!)
As though in water. Or, put more precisely,
As though in emptiness. Waves beat the beach-head,
Distintegrate the mobile sketch. The squares
Of windows gleam with blackness. Late in dreams
The heated air seeps slowly through the glass panes.
Beyond the towers, a motor faintly rasping,
And into me

Roll day and hours. You see, between each chime,
The bell’s blind swing inside its belfry.
Till the foundations answer its peal dully
There flows an endless interval of time.
The portals quiver, tautened by the beat,
And archway signals out to neighbouring archway,
And souls and continents call out to one another
In living night.

A dirty gloom enshrouds the sails, and sticks.
The sodden quay exhales a pungent vapour.
You see Thermopylae, having seen Troy earlier –
The shield is given to you. You are a rock.
The pillars set above this permanence
Impact the wind with their scintillant metal,
Although the rock, too, stands near sham and swindle
And wordlessness.

Entrusting to each one of us our fates
You cross now to the level of remembrance.
But every mment that exists, exists twice.
Wee accompanied by a double light
Inside the ring that days, nights tighten more.
Low tide. On sand the ebb’s pools glisten.
Boat, stone don’t yet look different on the coastline,
The empty shore.

(translated by David McDuff with the author)

See also:

Nel Mezzo Del Cammin
Night Descended On Us With A Chill


Saakashvili: we will integrate our country into the western, democratic world

Georgia’s President Saakashvili, in Lithuania for the Baltic republic’s Millennium celebrations, said in a televised statement on July 6, following U.S. President Obama’s first meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow:

In recent months we have been hearing from some [persons] – including from some of our compatriots, who are blindly repeating a lie thrown in by the Russian propaganda, that Georgia is in isolation, that Georgia has lost the western support because of this government.

But look, the only major issue, which was named [at the meeting] as the major source of disagreement between the United States and Russia was Georgia’s territorial integrity and the United States has unconditionally expressed support [to Georgia] at this very first meeting – usually showing disagreements at first meetings are shunned away.

We all should understand one thing: the occupants will fail to maintain our territories; we will win in our struggle with the support of rest of the world if we stand together and if we ourselves do not undermine [the country].

What we have been saying is now being confirmed: we have maintained the support; we will have even more support; we will integrate our country into the western; democratic world; we will get stronger and we, together with our friends, will definitely de-occupy our territories and definitely expel occupant forces from our territories.

I am absolutely sure in that and I am also absolutely sure that the democratic world will continue supporting us in this, if we remain wise and if we remain united. “

Via Civil Georgia

The Baltic Deportations of 1941 and 1949

[this is a guest post by Eric Dickens]

A group of Russian activists and their Finnish comrades held a meeting in Helsinki yesterday, in order to protest against the seminar being held to commemorate the deportations that took place in all three Baltic countries in 1949. While this mini-demonstration in central Helsinki was copiously covered in both the Finnish and Estonian press, but hardly anywhere else, the core of the whole issue was sadly obscured, i.e. the deportations themselves. As I am a literary translator from Estonian, and the key Baltic participants at the seminar were principally from Estonia, I will focus primarily on that Baltic country. But the same happened, mutatis mutandis, in Latvia and Lithuania.

We can all laugh at the antics of the would-be subversives who got the press out en masse to photograph them and their inadvertently hilarious banner stating: “Hey, governments, STOP CHANGE A HISTORY!”. Indeed, according to the Finnish tabloid Iltalehti, the Finns were laughing too. Finnish journalists were quick to point out that the Nashi crowd are a marginal phenomenon.

But this led to one very unfortunate result: the whole purport of the book launch and seminar they were demonstrating against was totally obscured, i.e. the deportations of 1941 and 1949.

A quick overview of these two deportations:

When Estonia was occupied by Soviet troops in 1940, by the orchestrations of Andrei Zhdanov, the Russians wasted no time in rounding up the President, the Cabinet and most MPs (i.e. lawmakers) and sending them to Siberia. They dangled President Konstantin Päts on a line for a while, but he too ended up in a Russian psychiatric institution (as if being the President of a “bourgeois” country deserved such treatment). Also the Chief-of-Staff, Johan Laidoner was first sacked by Päts, by now a mere puppet president, and died in 1953 after more than a decade in various Soviet prisons. The names of all the above people are listed on a plaque in Tallinn, not far away from the Dutch Embassy, up on Toompea Hill.
But not only politicians. During what are termed the June Deportations of 1941, while the Soviet Union still occupied Estonia, before being kicked out by Nazi Germany, a recent ally from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a total of around 10,000 people are estimated to have been arrested, about 6,000 of whom ultimately died as a consequence of mistreatment of various sorts.

That was just for starters. The Soviet occupation resumed in 1944. The Germans had already fled in disarray as the Third Reich crumbled. By 1949, the Soviets were at it again. In March, a little earlier in the year this time, they and their Estonian Communist collaborators decided it was time for another bout of deportation. This time they increased the quota, so that around 20,700 people, often branded as “kulaks” because their farming methods were too efficient, were rounded up and sent to Siberia in cattle trucks. So, almost eight years after the June Deportations came the March Deportations. The sixtieth anniversary of the latter will be on 25th March 2009.

What is significant about the Helsinki seminar and book launch is that it was held in Finland at all. The two participants most in the limelight were the half-Estonian prizewinning Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen, and the Estonian filmmaker Imbi Paju. For many years, Finland has been regarded as a hotbed of Finlandisation, where no one mentions Baltic politics for fear of upsetting the Bear in the East. Now, Oksanen has won the Finlandia book prize with her novel about the results of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, and it has sold well in Finland and is being translated. Paju made a film about the Soviet occupation, which was well-received in Finland. And the two together have just launched a book of essays on the topic, with contributors such as Edward Lucas, Anne Applebaum and the Swedish-born, American educated Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves. The book is called Kaiken takana oli pelko / Kõige taga oli hirm (Behind Everything Lay Fear). The seminar itself was sponsored and supported by the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian embassies in Helsinki, the National Finnish Audiovisual Archive, plus the publishing house WSOY.

Rarely has a book launch in Finland attracted some 300 hostile protesters, some from abroad. The protesters included representatives the Nashi (Our) youth movement from Russia, the Nochnoi Dozor (Nightwatch) movement of Russian-speakers from Estonia and their leader, Dmitri Linter, who was active during the Bronze Soldier incident in Tallinn in 2007. And individuals: the Helsinki academic Johan Bäckman who recently published his own book with a small press run by an ex-KGB agent, and the Finnish convert to Islam, Abdullah Tammi.
Estonian ex-Prime-Minister and head of the Estonian conservatives Mart Laar, is quoted in the Estonian daily Postimees as writing on his website: “Two clever women – Imbi Paju and Sofi Oksanen – have organised a seminar on the subject of the March Deportations, where documentary films will be shown about the history of Communism, and the essay collection Behind Everything Lay Fear will be presented.”

Gatayev case

Jeremy Putley has forwarded the draft text of a letter he has sent to the Lithuanian Ambassador in the United Kingdom:

His Excellency the Ambassador
Lithuanian Embassy in London
84 Gloucester Place

Your Excellency

Persecution of Chechen émigrés: Malik and Khadijat Gatayev

I write in order to draw to your attention a matter which I regard as very serious, and of high importance, concerning the treatment of Mr and Mrs Gatayev, who are at present in the custody of the State Security Department in Lithuania.

In case you are not aware of the background to this case, Mr and Mrs Gatayev are Chechens, legally resident in your country, who are internationally very well-known and highly respected as heroic figures, especially Khadijat Gatayeva, for their work in running orphanages in Kaunas and in Grozny. They are the central characters in the best-selling book by Asne Seierstad, The Angel of Grozny. In addition, films have been made about their work, notably the Finnish Melancholian 3 huonetta in 2005.

It has become clear in recent months that, on the initiative of the present ruler of Chechnya, the so-called president Ramzan Kadyrov, and with the active support of the Russian FSB, a campaign of murder and intimidation has been carried out in Europe against members of the Chechen diaspora. I would refer you to the enclosed reports in which it is confirmed or credibly alleged that agents of the government of the Chechen Republic have been active in Norway, Austria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and possibly Germany.

It is, therefore, unlikely to be a coincidence that Mr and Mrs Gatayev have found themselves being victimised by what appears to be wholly unjustified persecution by your country’s State Security Department who, apparently, are carrying out these actions at the request of the security services of the Russian Federation, and on their behalf. I respectfully submit for your consideration that the actions of the Lithuanian SSD are likely to bring your country’s international standing into disrepute.

It appears that the arrest and the ongoing trial of Mr and Mrs Gatayev in Kaunas exhibit violations of human dignity and of the presumption of innocence and right to defence, as spelled out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; violations of the right to a fair trial as spelled out in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as well protection of the dignity of the human being, presumption of innocence and the right to a public and fair hearing of his case by an independent and impartial court, as stipulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

Malik and Khadijat Gatayev were arrested in Kaunas on 15 October 2008. Until their arrest, the couple ran two large orphanages for children from Chechnya, one in Grozny, capital of the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, and one in Kaunas. Mrs Gatayeva first established an orphanage in a refugee camp in Ingushetia, with help from foreign sponsors, and later moved back to Grozny. Her husband, Malik Gatayev, has been residing in Lithuania for the past decade and until his arrest was running another orphanage there. Mrs Gatayeva kept alternating from Chechnya to Lithuania.

The arrest of Mr and Mrs Gatayev was carried out by the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD). Considering the nature of the charge against the Gatayevs, which I understand is that they extorted money from their adult children (out of 17 children of the orphanage, eight are young adults), this was a criminal matter requiring the involvement of the Criminal Police. The extortion charge brought against the Gatayevs does not fall under the authority of SSD, whose main tasks are intelligence, counterintelligence, protection of state secrets, anti-terrorist activities and protection of the national economy and strategic objects.

The SSD has been heavily involved in the Gatayev case ever since the arrest of Mr and Mrs Gatayev and has – in close cooperation with Kaunas Regional Prosecutor’s Office – taken arbitrary measures and thus influenced both the pre-trial investigation and the trial process. The first private lawyer, Mr Dalius Mecelica, who started working on the case in October 2008, dropped it shortly after his spouse was ‘warned’ that she would lose her job if her husband continued working on the case.

The SSD initially blocked any access to the Gatayev orphanage and kept it under strict surveillance. There is evidence that the adult children of the orphanage were subjected to psychological pressure by the SSD officials, and forced to report and cooperate with its agents, which in the end resulted in some of them testifying against their foster parents.

In addition, there is evidence that the Prosecutor in charge of the case, Ms Nomeda Oškutyte, and the SSD, are currently putting pressure on the adult children of the orphanage who are considered to be victims in the case, but who want to provide positive testimonies in defence of their foster parents. One of the adult children, Denis Volkovskoi, expressed his wish to provide positive evidence in person during the second hearing in the case at Kaunas City District Court on 24 February 2009. The court, however, took a decision to have a closed hearing and did not ask the opinion of the alleged victims present at the hearing, Denis Volkovskoi and Magomedsalakh Gabayev. Next morning, 25 February, the SSD agents took Denis Volkovskoi to the SSD Kaunas office, where he was interrogated for six hours by 6-7 employees. During the interrogation session, the agents threatened to imprison the Chechen youth for two years if he refused to provide evidence against his foster parents, or deport him from Lithuania. After Denis refused to change his position, they suggested that the best option for him would be to leave Lithuania till the court trial was over. After the interrogation Denis Volkovskoi was diagnosed with a psychological trauma and started undergoing medical treatment. I enclose a photograph of the young man taken in hospital.

Prosecutor Nomeda Oškutyte and two employees of the SSD visited the orphanage on 13 January 2009, the day of the first court hearing in the Gatayev case. The prosecutor and SSD agents asked the young adults how they had found out about the hearing and, in an attempt at intimidation, the prosecutor vaguely threatened to detain some of the youths.

The SSD has also been putting constant pressure on the friends and supporters of the Gatayev family who showed interest in their arrest and tried to help them and the children of the orphanage. Thus some of the Gatayevs’ friends and acquaintances were detained for short periods and harassed by SSD agents. On 2 February 2009, Prosecutor Oškutyte with two law enforcement agents arrived at the office of a translation company in Kaunas, which belongs to the family friend and supporter Gintautas Bukauskas. Law enforcement agents raided the office and confiscated two desktop computers and all the available files of documents, thus effectively depriving Mr and Mrs Bukauskas from the means to run their business and earn income. The prosecutor remarked that the company of Mr Bukauskas had been “very active” in the Gatayev case and that he had obtained a lot of testimony letters from the acquaintances of Malik and Khadijat Gatayev to be presented at the court. The prosecutor also told Mrs Bukauskas that if she does not want her husband detained for two weeks, he should better stay away from the Gatayev case. Another raid by the Prosecutor Oškutyte and SSD was carried out at the company of Mr and Mrs Bukausksas on 2 March 2009 and Mr Bukauskas was arrested.

The SSD and the Kaunas Regional Prosecutor’s Office also appear to have helped to sustain a slander campaign in the Lithuanian media where the Gatayev couple were presented as abusers of children right after their arrest, and during the pre-trial investigation, thus violating their presumption of innocence. More recently, news portal published a story after the second court hearing on 24 February 2009 in which judge Almantas Lisauskas was quoted as saying that none of the victims – adult children of the orphanage – had arrived at the court, and suggested that after 10 years of life with their foster parents the adult children are still afraid. However, as mentioned above, two of the victims were present at the hearing and one of them had expressed his wish to testify in favour of his foster parents.

At the request of the prosecutor, the judge A. Lisauskas decided to hold the hearing behind closed doors; the concern is that secrecy is required so that a false verdict can be brought by the court without the possibility of public scrutiny.

All of these worrying instances of the manipulation of facts, and the dubious application of law and court procedures, by Lithuanian authorities, suggest a clear intention to achieve a pre-determined outcome of the trial: namely, a finding of guilt against Mr and Mrs Gatayev, and their deportation from Lithuania.
I would like to draw to your attention that their return to the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation would put their lives in the gravest danger. The Gatayev family have previously been harassed by the Kadyrov government in Chechnya.

The measures taken by the authorities in your country, as described above, have resulted in the violation of Mr and Mrs Gatayev’s right to a fair trial – especially their right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law, in a public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and to examine or have examined witnesses against them, and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on their behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against them.

I ask that, in consideration of the serious nature of the case, you will now refer my concerns to your Government. In addition I draw to your attention that Mrs Khadijat Gatayeva has a serious medical condition, requiring treatment, and I request that your Government will take immediate note of the importance of ensuring that her health is taken care of. I repeat that the actions being taken by authorities within the Russian Federation amounting to unlawful intimidation and persecution of Chechens living abroad, including murder by assassination teams within the countries of Europe, are a matter which should be of grave concern to your Government.

I respectfully suggest that it should be of serious concern to your Government, also, that two individuals whose noble concern for orphaned children merits their being regarded nationally and internationally as humanitarian benefactors of heroic stature, are instead being persecuted instead of being honoured, and wrongfully imprisoned by the authorities of your country.

U.S. Congress: Russia should acknowledge illegality of Soviet occupation of Baltic States

Via Postimees:

At a meeting on Tuesday evening, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution which stated that Russia should acknowledge the illegality of Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, RIA Novosti’s correspondent reports.

“The Congress asks the U.S. president and Secretary of State to call upon the Government of the Russian Federation to recognize that the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact pact for the succeeding years was illegal”,  it says in the text of document.

– – – – –

Via email:

Text of the resolution:


2d Session

S. CON. RES. 87

Congratulating the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.


June 9, 2008

Mr. SMITH (for himself and Mr. DURBIN) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations



Congratulating the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.

Whereas, on November 18, 1918, in the City of Riga, the members of the People’s Council proclaimed Latvia a free, democratic, and sovereign nation;

Whereas, on July 24, 1922, the United States formally recognized Latvia as an independent and sovereign nation;

Whereas Latvia existed for 21 years as an independent and sovereign nation and a fully recognized member of the League of Nations;

Whereas Latvia maintained friendly and stable relations with its neighbors, including the Soviet Union, during its independence, without any border disputes;

Whereas Latvia concluded several peace treaties and protocols with the Soviet Union, including a peace treaty signed on August 11, 1920, under which the Soviet Union ‘unreservedly recognize[d] the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and forever renounce[d] all sovereign rights . . . over the Latvian people and territory’;

Whereas, despite friendly and mutually productive relations between Latvia and the Soviet Union, on August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which contained a secret protocol assigning Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence;

Whereas, under the cover of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, on June 17, 1940, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in violation of pre-existing peace treaties;

Whereas the Soviet Union imposed upon the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania a communist political system that stifled civil dissent, free political expression, and basic human rights;

Whereas the United States never recognized this illegal and forcible occupation, and successive United States presidents maintained continuous diplomatic relations with these countries throughout the Soviet occupation, never accepting them to be ‘Soviet Republics’;

Whereas, during the 50 years of Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, Congress strongly, consistently, and on a bipartisan basis supported a United States policy of legal non-recognition;

Whereas, in 1953, the congressionally-established Kersten Commission investigated the incorporation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union and determined that the Soviet Union had illegally and forcibly occupied and annexed the Baltic countries;

Whereas, in 1982, and for the next nine years until the Baltic countries regained their independence, Congress annually adopted a Baltic Freedom Day resolution denouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and appealing for the freedom of the Baltic countries;

Whereas, in 1991, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania regained their de facto independence and were quickly recognized by the United States and by almost every other country in the world, including the Soviet Union;

Whereas, in 1998, the United States and the three Baltic nations signed the U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership, an expression of the importance of the Baltic Sea region to United States interests;

Whereas the 109th Congress resolved (S. Con. Res. 35 and H. Res. 28) that ‘it is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the consequences of which will be a significant increase in good will among the affected people’;

Whereas Latvia has successfully developed as a free and democratic country, ensured the rule of law, and developed a free market economy;

Whereas the Government of Latvia has constantly pursued a course of integration of that country into the community of free and democratic nations, becoming a full and responsible member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization;

Whereas the people of Latvia cherish the principles of political freedom, human rights, and independence; and

Whereas Latvia is a strong and loyal ally of the United States, and the people of Latvia share common values with the people of the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress–

(1) congratulates the people of Latvia on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of that country’s November 18, 1918, declaration of independence;

(2) commends the Government of Latvia for its success in implementing political and economic reforms, for establishing political, religious and economic freedom, and for its strong commitment to human and civil rights;

(3) recognizes the common goals and shared values of the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the close and friendly relations and ties of the three Baltic countries with one other, and their tragic history in the last century under the Nazi and Soviet occupations;

(4) calls on the President to issue a proclamation congratulating the people of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of the declaration of Latvia’s independence on November 18, 1918;

(5) respectfully requests the President to congratulate the Government of Latvia for its commitment to democracy, a free market economy, human rights, the rule of law, participation in a wide range of international structures, and security cooperation with the United States Government; and

(6) calls on the President and Secretary of State to urge the Government of the Russian Federation to acknowledge that the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and for the succeeding 51 years was illegal.

US to guard air space of Baltic States

From the beginning of October the United States will take over from Germany the protection of the air space of the Baltic States, Eesti Päevaleht  and other media report, citing the Latvian LETA news agency. The announcement was made by Roger A. Brady, current Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and  head of NATO Allied Air Component Command, Ramstein, at a press conference in Riga. Brady did not reply when asked if his visit was connected with the conflict between Russia and Georgia. He said he currently sees no military threats to Latvia.

Russia may target Baltic states next

Via The Australian:

NATO must strengthen its defence of the three Baltic countries – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – after Russia’s assault on Georgia, the new US envoy to NATO said in an interview.

Speaking to the Financial Times in Brussels after an emergency summit of European Union leaders there, Kurt Volker said it was important that NATO remained “credible”.

“Those countries are members of NATO; so if there is any attack on those countries we will all respond,” Mr Volker told the business daily.

“They are feeling a little rattled by seeing Russia use military force to invade a sovereign, small neighbouring country. We need to send signals to shore them up a little bit.”

Mr Volker said NATO must send signals that it intends to help the Baltic states, and uphold its Article 5, which guarantees the defence of each signatory by all the rest.