MOSCOW (Dec. 9)
Latvia has agreed to halt distribution of a controversial history book, but human rights activists are questioning the sincerity of the move.
In response to a campaign led by the Washington-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and local activists, which had demanded that Janis Karklins’ “Latvian Eulenspiegel” be withdrawn from schools, the Latvian president’s office apologized for its distribution.
Jewish and human rights activists in Latvia charge that the book contains statements insulting to the Baltic nation’s minorities.
“Latvian Eulenspiegel,” a reference to a popular jester-like character in German and Latvian folklore, contains references to Jews as “zids,” a pejorative term.
The book, which describes pre-World War II Latvian history, also contains “terrible insults” about Russians and Poles, according to Mikhail Avrutin, director of the Baltic-American Bureau on Human Rights, an affiliate of the UCSJ that is based in the Latvian capital of Riga.
Last spring, copies of the work were delivered as a gift to the country by people of Latvian heritage living in the United States.
The Latvian Education Ministry subsequently ordered that each school in the country receive copies of the two-volume work.
The ministry recommended that it be used as a companion to history textbooks, according to Grigory Bikson, a teacher at the Dubnov Jewish Day School in Riga, which received copies of the book.
The president’s response reversed the stance taken in letters to the UCSJ in October, when Latvian Education and Science Minister Juris Celmins defended “Latvian Eulenspiegel” as satirical rather than xenophobic and described the book as a “monument of Latvian literature.”
Despite the presidential apology, the book remains on school bookshelves, Bikson said in a phone interview from Riga.
Avrutin said Latvians were unaware of the government’s decision.