Letter From Latvianby Kelly CherrynChoosing IndependencenThere are those moments in which yountravel back to some time and place younvisited earlier. A trick of light, a confluencenof sounds on a summer evening.nSometimes I am fooled into thinkingnthat I am back in Latvia, where Augustnnights around a white wrought-ironntable on the grass lasted the length of ancandle.nFor a moment, then, I imagine whatnlife would have been like hadnBrezhnev’s regime not been determinednto prevent the marriage of anLatvian citizen and an American womannwho intended to live there. Marriagenis one of the rights protected by thenFinal Act of the Helsinki Accords, butnthe KGB, which devoted many manhoursnto confiscating our love lettersnand recording sweet nothings, evidentlyncared nothing for marriage. Or for thenHelsinki Accords.nMany of those nights we spent, mynfiance and I, in a room whose woodnfloor was painted blue and whose threenlarge windows were edged with vines asnif they were a gift wrapped with a greennribbon. The room had been turned overnto us by the daughter of a family withntheatrical ties to Bertolt Brecht. Followingnin the family tradition, she has gonenon to establish herself as a stage director.nSometimes she would visit us, bringingnanother friend or two, and we would allnhave tea at a wrought-iron table on thenother side of the windows, whisperingnour ideas about art, music, drama, poetry.nWe kept our voices low becausenthere could be microphones. Already,nmy fiance had been threatened by thenCentral Committee, warned of whatnmight happen to him, his family, hisncareer, if he continued to see me.nFutilely, we had tried to reassure Sovietnauthorities that he had no intention ofnemigrating.nIn fact, the man I was going tonmarry, the composer Imant Kalnin,ncould not think of leaving his country.nCORRESPONDENCEnFor one thing, it was his country — annation whose independence the SovietnUnion recognized in the 1920 Treatynof Riga, declaring that the Soviet Unionn”for eternal times renounces allnsovereign rights over the Latvian peoplenand territory.” (I could think ofnliving there, because the U.N. charternspecified that I could retain my U.S.ncitizenship and passport.)n”Eternal times” lasted until 1939,nwhen a secret pact between Hifler andnStalin placed Latvia, Lithuania, andnEstonia under Soviet domination.nThough the spirit of glasnost hadnprompted the Kremlin to admit thenexistence of this secret and illicit protocol,nand though the August coup resultednin Soviet recognition of Balticnindependence, litfle over a year ago thenNew York Times quoted Mikhail Gorbachevnas saying that the entrance ofnthe Baltic republics into the SovietnUnion was “the choice made by theirnpeoples.” Choice? Was it a choice tonvote when, if you did not, you were notnpermitted to work? Was it a choice tonvote when you were escorted to thenpolls by eight hundred thousand RednArmy troops? Was it a choice when,nslipping up, the Communist Party announcednits candidates as winners innforeign newspapers an entire day beforenthe votes had been counted?nThat there was no choice had beennacknowledged all along by the UnitednStates and other Western governments,nwhich refused to recognize, legally, thenincorporation of the Baltic states intonthe Soviet Union. Alas, our publicnpolicy on this issue for all these yearsnwas a tragic contradiction of preciselynthose democratic principles PresidentnBush avows to uphold. How could wennot accord full diplomatic recognitionnto nations whose independence weninsisted on? Not to do this was tonviolate logic — and human lives.nThere was a moral fault line here, ancrack through which the hidden villagenof realpolitik could be glimpsed, beneathnthe fine-sounding surface ofnspeeches about democracy. But recently,nfollowing the August coup, wenwere in a remarkable position to cor­nnnrect ourselves: not only the Balticncountries, but we the people, too, hadnbeen given a second chance.nWe the people — and they the people,nfor many Russians and other Sovietncitizens, disagreeing with Gorbachev,nbelieved the Baltic nationsnwere legally independent and quicklynvoted to acknowledge the fact — hadnbeen given a chance to accord fullndiplomatic recognition to these smallncountries without running any risk ofn”destabilizing” the world situation.nCould we reject this great gift, this giftnthat was like a view through greenribbonednwindows opening onto thenpast, this gift of an opportunity tonstand, peacefully yet firmly — andnmore wonderfully still, firmly yetnpeacefully — for ourselves? Because tonaffirm Baltic independence was to reaffirmnour own.nWaiting for President Bush to take anstand — after Iceland! after Russia! afternMongolia!—I watched television,nas did so many others. And I watchednas a cameraman panned the interior ofnthe KGB headquarters in downtownnRiga. Then: a close-up of coff^ee cupsnabandoned on a table, and an announcer’snvoiceover explaining thatnemployees had fled just seconds before.nThe half-drunk coffee, said the announcer,nwas still warm. File drawersnwere open or turned over; some of thenemployees had taken some of the filesnwith them. I stared at the screen,nknowing that somewhere in that buildingnwas the file the authorities had keptnon Imant and me. It was a file that hadnbeen waved in front of Imant by anKGB colonel during repeated interrogations.nIt contained photographs,ntranscripts of telephone calls, the confiscatednletters. Maybe, I thought, withna rising sense of triumph, it’s been putnthrough a paper shredder.nThose were stolen words, stolennpictures; at the same time, it occurrednto me that the KGB had never evennreally succeeded in stealing thesenmemories from our lives, no matternhow thick their file was, because, asnImant had asked me to do, I had savednthem in my book The Exiled Heart, annMARCH 1992/41n