A historian in the Second World War section of the Latvian War Museum, Valdis Kuzmins, has clarified his colleague’s statement.
ClearStory contacted one of the Latvian War Museum’s Second World War historians, Valdis Kuzmins, and asked for assistance in making a series of television programmes about battlefield archaeology.
ClearStory filmed in the museum and interviewed Kuzmins on the battlefield, concerning the ‘general military history of the battles in Kurzeme[/Courland] in 1944-1945 (when, operational plans of both sides, number of men involved, weapons used etc.)’; they were given ‘copies of documents from [the] archives (fragments from corps and divisional war diaries) and copies of the photos’.
Kuzmins stated: ‘I have not seen any series so I do not know how if at all they used our materials or my interview.’
Kuzmins explained that, when his colleague commented that the museum ‘tried to stop Diggers[‘] activities [by] drawing state institutions[‘] attention, but unsuccessfully’, ‘he was referring to the youtube clip posted not the series trailer’, and to ‘unlicensed “black diggers” in general not the series’.
The Latvian War Museum ‘was aware of ClearStory[‘s] plans to excavate key areas of the associated battlefield but [it] did not participate in any excavations itself nor [does it] have any authority [to] allow/not allow/supervise/stop etc excavations or reburials in Latvia’.
We were informed that all was done legally and according to the local practice which means 1) they received written permission from the Brotherhood Cemetery Committee and actual excavations were done according to the Committee’s instructions, 2) they were in close contact with Latvian Army in case the Unexploded Ordnance is found. We were informed that they will donate all non personal findings [non-human remains (that are not associated with human remains(?))] from excavations to the museum and right now we are in the process of the decision making about the value of the artifacts….
Our major concern is to make sure that remains of the fallen soldiers were collected, if possible identified and next of kin informed as soon as possible. Those are the things “black diggers” don’t do – usually bones are left where found and personal items taken away leaving any identification impossible.
It does not look good nor it should be that way but at the moment it is impossible to force strict rules when the territory in question is 100 000 square km in Kurzeme alone and there are still tens of thousands [of] missing persons laying unburied in the woods…. [W]e are trying as much as we can to stop illegal digging, selling or buying of the personal artifacts.
archaeological heritage as a source of collective memory and as an instrument for historical study
Obviously, the remains of the Battle of Courland and other events in the Second World War may not be listed monuments (1), but they are recognised as Latvian heritage. Even if, somehow, battlefield (and other conflict) archaeology is not protected under Latvian-authored law, it is protected under the Valletta Convention (the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)).
The Valletta Convention covers ‘all remains and objects and any other traces of mankind from past epochs: the preservation and study of which help to retrace the history of mankind…; for which excavations or discoveries and other methods of research… are the main sources of information’, and requires that any archaeological investigation must be authorised and supervised ‘a. to prevent any illicit excavation or removal of elements of the archaeological heritage; b. to ensure that archaeological excavations and prospecting are undertaken in a scientific manner‘.
1: out of curiosity, Asst. Prof. Inese Stūre has observed that ‘[t]he list of protected cultural objects shows the values treasured by the ruling political party…. Like in Soviet times[,] all common graves of Soviet soldiers were on the list.’ Does that mean their graves have been de-listed?