Continuing Symposium Between Japan and Russia

We, Japan Association of Forced Internees, “Zenyokukyo”, and the SovietUnion,now represented by Russian Friendship Association, have been holding Japan and Soviet, now Japan and Russia, symposium almost every year.  As a president of Zenyokukyo, I have been attending it with case officers oftheForeign ministry, Army ministry, Internal Affairs ministry, and central public record office of military affairs from the Russian government with the main purpose of requesting the facilitation of the Japan-Soviet agreement in regards to the formerly interned Japanese (executed in 1992 when Gorbachev visited Japan.)  

Mr. Kiritchenko, the president of Friendship Association and the former KGB, is taking care of this matter from the Russian side.

Participants of the symposium ontheRussian side are mainly friends of Mr. Kirithcneko, who are mostly scholars. The purpose of the symposiums has been clarifying the conflicts between two countries and nurturing mutual understanding through the continuing discussions.  In the past several sessions, the point has been in regards to the status of the Japanese.

The Japan side consistently stated that the Japanese were not prisoners but internees, but most of the Russian side did not stop insisting that the Japanese were captives except for a very few including Mr. Kirithcneko who agreed with our view.

They even stated that our insistence of the status of internees will take the right of captives stated in Hague Convention Respecting the Law and Customs of War on Land away from us. The Sovietssigned on to the law in 1912, andthe Geneva Convention in 1953.

I remember one incident where I spoke a bit too much in a loud voice in one of the symposiums in Moscow.   Staring at their faces, I said, “ We stopped fighting because our emperor told us that he would stop the war.  We obeyed giving away all the weapons and bullets following the agreement.  If that was not the case, we would have continued to fight against you until we became the last soldiers to fight.”

August 15thof 1945 is the date the war ended.  I remember the phrase “we are no longer in the period of after war” became popular, but for us, it is not over yet.

We are making it a rule to have the symposium at the beginning of September.  In August, case officers often go away from Moscow for vacation, and after the middle of September, it becomes cold, and it often snows.  That’s why the beginning of September is appropriate.

We had the twentieth symposium this year. In the beginning, there were not a lot of participants from the Russian side (Soviet side because it was shortly before the demise of SovietUnion), but the numbers kept increasing, often reaching more than twenty people.  Sometimes, there were more than fifty at the get-together meeting.

Discussion of the formerly interned Japanese on the basis of non-governmental standpoint was, I believe, effective in order to enhance understanding between Japan and Russia.  However, due to the fact a lot of participants onthe Russia side were members of the institute of research of the Orient, they often went too muchinto a politicaldiscussion. 

What I thought was a problem was the difference of terminology.  The Japan side kept using “formerly interned Japanese,” but the Russian side kept defining them as “prisoners” (war time captives.)  Because of such a difference that never changed, I began to think the endless discussion like this would not be meaningful.  

Based on that perception, the focus shifted to the topics such as the requests of lists of names that have not been shown to us from the Russian government and the maintenance of cemeteries. Since we needed to negotiate directly withtheRussian government for those issues, we did not need the participation of Russian researchers any longer.  Thus, we decided to decrease the numbers of Russian participants.

Last year, the symposium was held with seven Russians including Mr. Kiritchenko, and the get-together meeting continued with the same members.  Regarding the locationfor this Japan-Russia symposium, we are not only holding it in Moscow.  When we have the central memorial service for the formerly interned in Siberia in Japan, we hold another symposium.  Namely, the symposiums are held twice a year, once in Moscow, and the other time in Tokyo.  According to the law, the foundation of Peace Memorial that was founded for three groups of people who were affected by the war, former internees in Soviet, those who did not qualify for pension, and the repatriates from overseas, is going to discontinuedin 2010.  I realize there are many issues that have to be discussed.  The remaining years are limited, but I am firmly determined to continue to make my last efforts for solutions.