Soviet Latvia 1918-1920

The emblem of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic

The emblem of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic

During the 1918-1920 War for Freedom, Latvia had three alternatives- the Republic of Latvia, Baltic German Duchy and Latvia as the Soviet Republic. From the end of 1918 to early 1920 in the various parts of Latvia a communist regime called Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic existed. Despite being dependent on communist government in Moscow and part of the Soviet plan for the Worldwide socialist revolution, it was formed by local Latvian Bolsheviks or lielinieki as Latvians called them. It was a harsh totalitarian regime that could serve as prototype for future totalitarian regimes. In its short time of existence the  regime attempted to make a Stalinist style collectivization and organize its own army. This article will attempt to explain this seldom researched topic in detail.

The roots of Latvian Marxism begun in late 19th century during rapid modernization and industrialization. Socialism became very popular among the working class Latvians and middle class educated circles. On 1904 the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDWP) was founded gathering around a wide spectrum of socialists, from anarchists to radical Marxists. The revolution of 1905 was crucial for LSDWP as it took the main role in local activities and lead the uprising against the tsarist regime. However, the failure of the revolution weakened and split the party. Many active leaders were exiled or sent to Siberia. One small faction by the lead of Peter the Painter took the anarchist route, others moved towards Russian Socialists lead by Vladimir Lenin. The democratic and national minded politicians fell out and were called mensheviks or mazinieki in Latvian and lost the in the power struggle. On 1906 LSDWP joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) becoming an autonomous territorial entity called Latvian Social Democracy (LSD). LSD became more and more Bolshevik and formed the most part of the  RSWDWP.

The First World war was calamity for Latvia. The German invasion on 1915 caused a large masses of refugees to go to Russia. The evacuation of industrial objects lead to the rise of poverty. And Latvian lands were divided in German -Russian front line for two years. The right-wing politicians used to war to raise patriotic feelings among Latvians and convinced Tsar Nicholas II to form a Latvian Rifleman Regiments within the Russian army to defend Riga. Tsar had his doubts about it, he remembered the 1905. Meanwhile LSD took the anti-war position that proved successful. Latvian Rifleman were torn in bloody battles Christmas battles on 1917 January and were angered by the lack of support from Russian army formation and the incompetence of the Russian leadership.

After the February revolution the Bolsheviks managed to  take over the Latvian Rifleman. The LSD despite made legal was weakened by the repressions and the fact that many were forced to emigrate to Russia and Europe. In Russian controled Vidzeme and Riga, Bolsheviks started to organize various soviets that were beyond the Russian Provisional government control. Riga City Workers Soviet and Landless Peasant Soviet were the main Bolshevik ruling organs. On April 29 – May 1 1917 in Valmiera Landless Peasant Congress elected Bolshevik lead Vidzeme Landless Peasant Soviet and were formed in every parish in the region. Soviets issued order to confiscate the lands of church and estates. Since Latvian peasants owned a small portion of land compared to noble estates and church the move was supported.

Similar soviets were organized within the Latvian Rifleman. The Russian Provisional Government was unable to step out of the war. That many Latvian soldiers to protest, however, most still wanted to defend their homeland. Slowly the LSD took over Latvian Executive Rifleman Committee (Iskolatstrel) and gained the rifleman support. LSD promised to end war, gain back lost lands of Courland and Semigalia and give land to everyone. Right wing politician realistic goal to continue war had no real political gains and could not favor the masses.  However, it was a political delusion  that was impossible to achieve. Despite being a totalitarian party LSD took part in four democratic elections, town council, Vidzeme Land Council, regional council, and in the Constituent Assembly. LSD won in all of them achieving a landslide victories. However, the voter activity was only above 30% showing that most people did not understand the point of these elections.

Germans started a grand offensive on September 1917 and captured Riga. Latvian Rifleman in the Battles of Jugla took the most hit, while cowardly and disorganized Russian army units retreated. Germans were unable to move swiftly to take over all Vidzeme. So after the communist coup in November 7 (October) Vidzeme were taken over by Bolsheviks. On November 21-22 in Valka the Soviet power was issued. The Executive Committee (Iskolat) was led by Fricis Roziņš. Iskolat fired all governing bodies – the land councils and town councils. Many democratic newspapers were banned. Revolutionary Tribunals were formed and Red Guard was organized. The Iskolat in Vizdeme and Latgale managed to rule only few months until February 1918. However, the Iskolat was ready to nationalize all rural and industrial property.

Germans resumed their offensive and on February 1918 captured all Vidzeme and Latgale. On they way of retreat the Red Guards took hostages many of them did not survive. LSD was shaken by the events and split in two parts. Fricis Menders and Pauls Kalniņš formed Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. Others were either deported to Russia by Germans or escaped themselves. The LSD now was directed from Moscow. Iskolat was a prelude to future Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.

As discussed in other articles Latvians took significant posts in Soviet government, army and secret police. Latvian Rifleman despite weakened by the loss of their homeland were still ready to fight and helped to form the Red Army. Despite the peace agreement with Germany that gave Baltic provinces, Belarus and Ukraine away, Bolsheviks waited for Germany to lose against the Western Allies and prepared for war. Latvia was to be taken back. On November 18 1918 the time struck when revolution in Germany brought down the Imperial government and forced Germany to end war. Soviets were convinced that socialist takeover in Germany is imminent and canceled the Brest-Litiosvk peace agreement. However, the German communists were too weak to take over alone. The Red Army had to lead the Red Crusade towards Berlin.

For this Bolsheviks needed first to re-conquer Latvia and form a national soviet republic dependent on Moscow. However, the LSD only wanted to restore Iskolat style government – an autonomous Latvia within Soviet Russia. They wanted to form a “United Latvian Commune”, that would include Courland, Vidzeme,Latgale and Riga Commune. The man leading this idea was Pēteris Stučka. He did not want an independent Latvia, nor a formally sovereign soviet republic. Moscow meanwhile pushed for national soviet republic that would fit the popular self-determination doctrine issued by US president Woodrow Wilson. Of course such national soviet republic would be completely dependent on Moscow and annexed in to World Socialist State.

One of the pushers for Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was Joseph Stalin, he condemned the LSD intentions and November 23 demanded to form revolutionary Latvian provisional government, declare its foundation on of the close border posts like Toroshina. He did this on behalf of Lenin, the national question was also Stalin’s prime responsibility. LSD was forced to submit to Stalin’s commands and made a list government members and committee to form manifest.

On December 4 the Latvian Provisional Soviet Government was formed. Red Army had already crossed Latvian borders on November 22-23, on November 29 Rēzekne was captured by the soviet troops. Meanwhile the Estonian Soviet Government was declared already after taking of Narva on November 29. Despite Stalin orders to form the government on spot, Latvian communists delayed and tried to avoid the forming the Soviet Latvia. LSD members in Latvia were surprised by this move as the order to proclaim the republic came from Moscow and was against LSD ideology that denied national sovereignty.

On December 17 1918 the Soviet Power was declared in Latvia. There is common misconception that declaration power in Valka, although it was  captured day later. The Soviet government entered Valka only on December 22. In reality the declaration was issued in press and radio and many received these news many days later. This was done reluctantly while Estonian communists showed great enthusiasm.

Invasion towards west begun on November 15 1918. On November 18 in Riga the Latvian Republic was proclaimed. Supported by right-wing parties like Latvian Farmers Union it was also supported by LSDWP who however, declared Latvian Republic as temporary solution for their goals. Remaining German army and authorities also saw Latvian Provisional Government this way and formed a temporary alliance with them against Bolsheviks. Their goal of  forming the Baltic Duchy failed and now on behalf of UK and France they had to cooperate with Latvians to defend their possessions.

 Latvian Red Riflemen took part in invasion despite Moscow being reluctant to move them to Western Front. Most Latvian units were scattered all across Civil War front and were vital in struggle against White Guards. However, Red Army clearly lacked enough forces to lead a wide offensive towards Baltic region, Belarus and Poland. On December 18 Valka was captured. Then it was ordered to pursue attack towards Riga. However, the Latvian red regiments should instead attack Parnu and then Tallinn, while other Soviet forces lead the attack from Ogre and Pļaviņas from Latgale side. That was a crucial mistake, since the Red Army was unable to defeat the Estonian National Forces that later turned crucial for the Soviet Latvia.

Latvian communist ambitions took over strategic considerations as  they rushed towards Riga. On December 30 crucial victory was held at Inčukalns. Red Rifleman defeated the German formed Landeswerh (Land Guard), Latvian Company loyal to Latvian Provisional government refused to take part in the battle. On January 2 1919 Latvian Provisional Government left Rīga and head to Liepāja. Next day Landeswerh and German Iron Brigade along with few remaining Latvian units evacuated from Riga. On January 3 Riga was taken by Soviets. Massive arrests started and Riga Soviet Militia was formed to keep order.

Pēteris Stučka and his soviet government in Riga

Pēteris Stučka and his soviet government in Riga

With German and Latvian units in retreat the Soviet power was established in Latgale, Vidzeme, Rīga and Zemgale. Soviets sent Latvians back to Latvia to take part in the new soviet state. Russian Bolsheviks were reluctant against massive Latvian will to head towards their homeland in risk of loosing valuable workforce. On January 13 1919 the United Latvia workers, rifleman and landless peasant congress took place. Congress continued until   January 15 and made the constitution and many resolutions. With Lev Kamenev and Yakov Sverdlov as special guests the LSSR Constitution was proclaimed. Since Pēteris Stučka the leader of the Soviet government had helped to write the Constitution of Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic the LSSR constitution was very similar. The United Latvian Workers Soviet Congress became the highest governing body. It elected Latvian Central Executive Committee that served as legislative body.  LCEC elected the 11 member Soviet Government.

Similar to Russia all main sectors were guided by commissariats and corresponding departments. LSSR had no Foreign Commissariat, only Foreign Secretariat showing that Latvian communists had no interest in diplomacy. All power was in LSD and republic was in fact a single party dictatorship.   In resolution about relations with Russia it was proposed that after war Latvian proletariat should unite with their Russian brothers and live in brotherly union. It was according to original reluctance  of forming soviet republic. The flag, coat of arms and even the name of the republic was formed in the same way as RSFSR.

Latvian communists were convinced in their quest for worldwide socialist revolution and saw Latvia as flaming torch against the revolutionary enemy powder tower. Pēteris Stučka declared a steadfast move to socialism. To start this a Red Terror was initiated. At first it was chaotic, made towards former governmental workers and keeping the order. Special local investigative commissions were formed and first revolutionary tribunal in Vecgulbene on December 18. After realizing all these institutions were working independently beyond government control the LSSR Commissariat of Justice   begun to take direct control over them. Revolutionary Tribunals were made in every district. The goal was the struggle and extermination of bourgeoisie.

Armed Latvian communist women. Many women took part in the soviet atrocities

Armed Latvian communist women. Many women took part in the soviet atrocities

The class war started with the removal of political rights for everyone except  workers. Next step was struggle against private property. To assist front line  confiscations of personal belongings  were issued by force. After that the people considered bourgeoisie started were forced to take part in social work. Nobles, land and real estate owners, tradesman, businessman and intellectuals were sent to work on streets and heavy works. Those who resisted were threatened with revolutionary tribunal and concentration camp.

As the front line reports became more threatening, the enslavement was no longer enough. On the frontline communist groups took hostages and cleared the prisons on retreat.  On March 14 first mass execution in Riga took place.  57 prisoners were shot. Next day in Riga Female Prison 30 people were killed. At the end of March 200 people were shot in Riga main prions. Executions took place in country side and in Daugavpils far from frontlines. 98 people were shot there on March 26-27. If that was not enough an order was issued to forcibly move people from Riga Central Districts to remote places such as Zaķusala, Kundziņslala and Sarkandaugava.Hundreds of thousand people were moved, the exact number is unknown. People were sent to ghetto like envoriments

One of the main sufferers of the terror were Baltic Germans. As front came closer soviets begun to take hostages 91% of imprisoned hostages were Germans. More than thousand people were taken hostage. Nationalistic hate towards Germans was clearly present in soviet Latvian ideology and was seen as revenge for the events of 1905 and beyond.

The main terror institutions were Interior affairs commissariat and commissariat of Justice. In contrary to Russia, own Latvian Emergency Commission the Latvian version of Cheka was not made. As Cheka in Russia was autonomous from other state institutions causing problems, Latvian soviets made secret police within Interior Affairs commissariat called Political Department. The “trials” were made by revolutionary tribunals. Soviets managed to build concentration camps  in various parts of Latvia. Largest one was in city of Pļaviņas.

The amount of victims by the Red Terror is not precisely known. One account names 3632 of them 1549 murdered in Riga. Pēteris Stučka later himself claimed to have killed 1000 people during his rule. Various documents deny us to make precise calculations. The Latvian Soviet government had genocidal character as it was clear attempt to exterminate completely various  social and ethnic groups. The terror was disproportional to actual resistance and increased because  of front line problems. The terror only boosted the resistance against the regime.

The reason for this was also radical economic reforms. Steps were taken to completely destroy the private property. First drastic emergency tax was instituted against bourgeoisie and confiscation of the capital. Then in February banks were nationalized. Then on March 1 1919 major step was done to begin nationalization of all rural lands. Land owners became renters and had to sign contract to use the land further. It was done according to teachings of Karl Marx that expropriation and land rent would ensure state income. However, Stučka was planning to create soviet collective farms.  This was the move that made people against the soviet power. Instead of giving land to landless peasants everything was taken by the state and gathered in collective farms. On March 8 last decree was made to confiscate all industrial, trade and agricultural enterprises in value of 10 0000 ruble. Only thing that soviets were unable to ban was money, but they hoped to ban it sometime later.

First of May parade in Riga where now stands Monument of Liberty

First of May parade in Riga where now stands Monument of Liberty

To defend this “paradise” from foreign threat on January 4 a Soviet Latvian Army was founded. While strategically such formation was not needed as it would be made from Red Army units it was a political display to “prove” the sovereignty of the LSSR. First commander was Jukums Vācietis also the Commander in Charge of the Red Army. Formed mainly from Latvian Riflemen it was controlled by the Latvian soviets. More than 7000 people joined voluntarily. Then the mobilization was issued. It took place on many occasions when front line was in danger. Despite large influx of soldiers contributed by mobilization the army soon break apart following military collapse  of the Soviet Latvia.

This long story was ultimately ended by the Estonian army and after that by the Latvian – German forces. While soviets were holding congress in Riga on January, the Estonian army effectively resisted the Red forces. South Estonia was lost and Estonian army headed towards Valka. On January 31 Estonians captured Valka and moved into Latvian Northern Vidzeme. Then Soviet Latvian Army faced troubles in Courland. Soviets captured Jelgava and moved towards river Venta. Despite German – Latvian forces weakened and divided, the offensive stopped as soviets moved forces to Vidzeme against Estonians. On January 29 1919 battles erupted at Skrunda along river Venta.  On February German Iron Division and Landeswerh captured Kuldīga and Vetspils. On March 3 anti-soviet forces begun offensive towards Jelgava. On March 18 Landeswerh captured Jelgava.

One of the ships in the Soviet Latvian War Fleet. Slogan on side says Death to Capitalism!

One of the ships in the Soviet Latvian War Fleet. Slogan on side says Death to Capitalism!

The taking of Riga was imminent, few defeated and in rush formed units defended city for a week. Large masses of soviet soldiers, deserters, officials begun to leave the city. Prison populations were executed. Soviets held Riga all April while trying to push away Estonians facing miserable defeat against smaller enemy force. As in May German and Polish forces chased away soviets from Latvia. Then on May 12 Estonian forces and White Guards marched   towards Petrograd. On May 26 Pskov was captured. Soviet Latvia was effectively in siege from two sides. Soviet High command demanded to leave Riga, however Latvian communists resisted for loosing Riga would mean the breakup of the regime. The Soviet Latvian Army was deserting, the partisan activity on the rise. Because of harsh economic policies the soviets lost their support.

On May 22 at early morning anti-soviet forces begun offensive towards Riga. Latvia 1st Special Brigade, Landeswerh, Iron Divison broke trough the LRA lines and rolled in Riga. Soviet government escaped towards Latgale. As German forces entered Riga a new wave of terror – the White Terror was made against remaining soviet supporters. Germans took their revenge once again. LRA was broken and retreated to Latgale. 60-70% soldiers deserted the soviet ranks. On July 7 it was disbanded and renamed to 15th Army. LSD now known as Latvian Communist Party was in disarray and the question was raised of liquidation of the LSSR. Officially the LSSR still formally existed until January 1920 when Polish – Latvian forces liberated Latgale. Until then the LSSR was under Moscow dictate and its government was powerless. After Latvia was liberated and signed peace agreement, LCP worked in Latvia in underground while old LSSR leaders worked in Latvia and were erased by Stalin’s purges.

The Soviet Latvia on 1918-1920 was a totalitarian regime, that tried to realize the Marxist ideals at full-scale. Its terror and actions were mostly dictated by  ideological beliefs rather than strategical considerations. In its short time of existence this regime managed to realize a limited genocide against middle and high-class members and local German population. If such regime managed to survive and be victorious against its rivals, Latvia would suffer major social and ethnic changes and today would be comparable to Belarus. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic is also comparable to present day “Donetsk Peoples Republic” and “Peoples Republic of Luhansk” both a fake puppet terror states conducting genocidal policy on behalf of Moscow.

Selected Sources:

Šilinš, Jānis. (2013) Padomju Latvija 1918-1920. Rīga. Vēstures Izpētes un popularizēšanas biedrība.

Popoff, George (1932). The City of the Red Plague: Soviet Rule in a Baltic Town. London; New York: George Allen & Unwin; E.P. Dutton & Co

Pētersone, Inga. (Ed) (1999) Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, 1918-1920 : enciklopēdija. Riga: Preses Nams.
Bērziņš, Valdis. (2000) 20. gadsimta Latvijas vēsture. I, Latvija no gadsimta sākuma līdz neatkarības pasludināšanai, 1900-1918. Riga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds.

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First Tank Made in Riga? The Myth of the Russian Vezdekhod

One of the few real photographs of the Russian Vezdekhod

One of the few real photographs of the Russian Vezdekhod

For years in various publications and Internet sites it was claimed that worlds first tank was made in Riga during World War I. In reality it was just a prototype never used in real life nor in battlefield. Many details of its look and functions were exaggerated by the Soviet historians. However, this less known heavy war vehicle,  its unique look and story of its design is worth to be discussed here.

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The man behind this vehicle was Alexandr Porokhovschikov (1893-1941), a 21-year-old technician who came to Riga to present his idea of building caterpillar track all terrain vehicle that would serve the army in off-road conditions. It would also cross the water obstacles as inventor described to Russian Imperial army. It was 1914 when despite many modern inventions the army generals and strategists still thought in Napoleonic war terms where horse cavalry was still played main role. So such idea was original for Russian army officers.

However, the head of the Special Committee for Charity for War Fleet Alexander von Kaulbarss regarded this project as interesting and support worthy. The vehicle could serve army in maneuver war that would transport ammunition and take away wounded in fast pace. Nobody predicted a positional trench war then. After many months of work in the Main War Technical Authority on December 24 1914 the blueprints and calculations for the vehicle was laying on the desk of the North-western front chief of support general Nikolai Danilov.  On January 13 1915 general issued order Nr. 8101 to start the project of the all terrain vehicle Vezdekhod  (Вездекход – all terrain vehicle) and gave 9660 rubles and 72 kopieks to realize it. The project was overseen by the head of the Riga chamber of the troop deployment Vladislav Poklevski – Kozello.

There were two variants of the Vezdekhod. One with single caterpillar track   and other one with two caterpillar track. Second was turned down due to the  financial difficulties. However, the blueprints were never found. Maybe they lay in closed to public Russian State History Archive in Moscow.  Only evidence about the look and functions of this vehicle were preserved in the memoirs of the factory worker V Rabinovitch where he published his cross cut scheme of the Vezdekhod and few photographs in Riga during testing rounds. On February 1  the Nizny-Novgorod infantry regimental  auto repair service begun to construction of the Vezdekhod. The service was located near the Riga Train Factory or “Russo-Balt” as it was called then.

Vezdekhod was futuristic looking machine, weighting three tons, 3,5 meter long, 1,5 meter high and 2 meter wide. However in photographs it looked in the same height as in the width. It had one  all corpus wide rubbered tarpaulin caterpillar track  on four pipeline axis with the frontal axis rosed above to effectively cross obstacles. No guns and armor were included however  Porokhovschikov had presented the idea of multi-level armor but they were rejected because of high cost. However, this was a separate armor project not for the Vezdekhod.

On May 18 1915 the prototype was tested in Riga. Vezdekhod managed to reach the speed of 25 km/h a great speed for those times while French Renault FT-17 could only achieve 7,7 km/h. On June 20 Vezdekhod was publicly shown to the generals of the Russian army. Vehicle suffered from many errors caused by lack of wheel differential, limited road adhesion. On high pressure caterpillar tuned around and maneuvering   was limited. The commission report concluded that Vezdekhod managed to serve its purpose as all terrain vehicle  despite its technical flaws. Porokhovschikov blamed the technical glitches on forced changes in the project.

German army entered the territory of Latvia and forced to move the factory to Petersburg. The work continued there until December 29 1915 when the upgraded variant was tested.Despite achieving speed of 42,6 km/h the January 8 1916 report concluded that vehicle does not serve the purposes demanded in order 8101. The machine was unable to move above 30 cm deep snow and the water crossing testing was never made. Project was halted and Porokhovschikov was asked to repay the spent 18 090 rubles. The prototype was ordered to be sent to  Chief Technical Authority. Until October 1916 a discussion continued on  continuing the project. Meanwhile in Great Britain in deep secrecy a prototype called Little Willie was designed. It was not just meant for all- terrain crossing and support but also for combat.

How Vezdekhod would look

How Vezdekhod would look

On September 15 1916 British unleashed the first tank attack in history. The “land fleet” of armed vehicles who could easily break the enemy lines that would change the combat scene made Russians concerned about their own tanks.  Porokhovschikov was interested to start the project again – after all the main foundations were made only thing to do was to remake Vezdekhod in to combat tank. He published an article in the newspaper “Новове Время” (The New Age) called “Land Fleet was made by Russians” where he boasted his achievements in making the caterpillar transport vehicle and could be developed in to tank. Vezdekhod was now for the first time regarded as useful for combat not just support.

However, in the trench war a vehicle with rubbered caterpillar was useless for it could not cross the barbed wire fortifications. Support was done by horses and automobiles. An armored tank was needed and France and UK sent to  Russia its own Renault FT-17 and Mark tanks. Russia had no time and money to experiment on its own tanks.

On 1917 after failed attempt in Petersburg to create a real tank Porokhovschikov abandoned the land vehicles and turned to aviation. He produced a plane called P-IV airplane. After revolution he joined the Red Army as war pilot. He made more models of P-IV and after Civil War moved to Moscow and founded his private construction office. His most project proposals were turned down by the Soviet air forces. He was repressed and sent to Gulag and worked on hydro technical objects for the Belamorkanal. Before the WW2 he was sent to Autotank authority of the Red Army. On August 20 1940 he was arrested as foreign spy and the anti-soviet agitator. On July 20 he was executed.

Soviets propaganda taking pride in their tanks soon exploited the story of the Vezdekhod to claim that first tanks were made in Russia. On 1942 in a book “Land Ships!” Oleg Drozhin (Nikolai Kodratenko) claimed that already on 1914 the first all terrain vehicle project was made in Russia. On 1946 book “Tank” it was mentioned again together with the name of the inventor.  On 1949 it was now claimed that Vezdekhod was a “combat machine prototype” “first tank in the world”. On 1952 a fake schematics were published boosting the myth of Vezdekhod as the first ever tank.

Russian propaganda fantasies about Vezdekhod

Russian propaganda fantasies about Vezdekhod

Soviet propaganda added movable turret to Vezdekhod although it was never meant to be there in the first place. The WWI type machine gun was technically unable to install on the Vezdekhod. Many details of the “tank” became even more fantastic over the years and made the legend of the first tank in Riga. Could it least called a first all terrain caterpillar vehicle?    Similar projects were made in other countries. And this machine was only used in tests. It was never meant as tank vehicle, it could move supplies to front. We can only speculate if the prototype would not have said technical problems and it would leave better impression on the Russian generals. Maybe it would enter the production and after British demonstrated their Mark tanks it would developed further into combat tank. But, the defeat of Russia was close and there was no time and will to make the Vezdekhod as full combat vehicle. Vezdekhod was a failed prototype for support caterpillar vehicle that could potentially turn into tank if its fate would be different. Vezdekhod did turn into tank in the fantasies of the soviet propaganda and serves as one of the myths of the Latvian and Soviet history.

Selected Sources:

Buks, Artis. Mīts un Patiesība par Rīgas tanku. Ilustrētā Vēsture. 2012. Septembris.

http://www.landships.info/landships/tank_articles/Vezdekhod.html

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Skroderdienas Silmačos – The Most Popular Latvian Theater Play

Decorations of the Latvian National Theater during Skroderdienas Silmačos staging

Decorations of the Latvian National Theater during Skroderdienas Silmačos staging

Roughly translated as a the Tailors Days in the House of Silmachi written by Latvian famous playwright Rūdolfs Blaumanis the Skroderdienas Silmačos always appears at the Latvian theaters every June before Jāņi celebrations on June 23 -24. Why? Because the plot of the play happens before, during and after the Jāņi celebrations. A play with comedy, drama and songs this play has been the most popular Latvian Theater play since the beginning of the XX century. Today it’s mostly played on the Latvian National Theater, but it has been played on other theaters, open air theaters, Russian Drama Theater and even Doll Theater.

Rūdolfs Blaumanis

Rūdolfs Blaumanis

The play resolves around the house of Silmači and surrounding houses. The mistress of the house a wealthy widow Antonija is getting married to much younger Aleksis, who is not too exited about it. To tailor the wedding dress for Antonija and wedding suit for Aleksis the tailors are invited. Tailor Dūdars a Antonija’s love in younger days arrives with his craft student Rūdis and Jewish sewer Zāra (Sarah). And us usual the old Jewish cloth salesman Ābrams comes along to sell cloth for the wedding clothes.  He then by his surprise meets his son Joske who he immediately suspects of him of hanging around Zāra who he forbids Joske to marry. At the same three old servant women Pindacīša, Tomuļmāte and Bebene resolves around the tailors and Jews to get cheaper goods using gossip and blackmail. The tailor student Rūdis makes friends with Aleksis brother Kārlēns and Ieviņa the Pindacīša’s daughter. And then there is young servant Elīna who is unhappy for some reason especially around Aleksis.

Ābrams, Joske and Zāra

As the story goes many unexpected things happen, Rūdis accidentally releases bees from their stocks. Joske is both blackmailed by Rūdis and Pindacīša, who saw him kissing with Zāra and threaten to tell it to Ābrams. Joske is forced to give dynamite to Kārlēns and scarf to Pindacīša. Rūdis placed dynamite in stove to dry it out. However, Ābrams finds that Pindacīša has one of his scarfs and accuses her of stealing it and telling it to her angry husband. She then tells Ābrams about Joske and Zāra and convinces him to get on the stove and spy on Joske and Zāra. Ābrams gets on the top of the stove, but instead the old Bebene comes to have a secret smoke with her pipe. As everyone comes in, Bebene in panic drops the pipe in the stove with the dynamite blowing it up with Ābrams on top of it. With that the first part of the play ends.

Story continues and reveals the true story behind Aleksis sadness about the marriage.  He never really wanted to marry Antonija, instead he loves Elīna. He proposed Antonija after too much wine. After the Jāņi night he finally convinces to Antonija that he cannot marry her. Dūdars then steps in and old love between him Antonija is reborn. Meanwhile with the help of others, Ābrams gets even with Joske and allows him to marry Zāra. A play ends with three marriages – Dūdars with Antonija, Aleksis with Elīna and Joske with Zāra. And so this is a rough summary of this play – what makes it so special in Latvian history?

It all begun in 1901 when Rūdolfs Blaumanis born on 1862 wrote the play and issued it first in a book on 1902. The other intended name for the play was the “The Lost hearts”. Music was composed by Aleksandrs Būmanis a student who Blaumanis met on 1899. The idea for the play was made by other Latvian famous novelist Jānis Poruks, who wanted to write stories about people in the village of Silmači near Druviena in Gulbene district. Poruks lived near the village in Vidzeme region and wanted to write stories about the life’s of the village people. Poruks never wrote any story about Silmači, but he told his idea to Blaumanis who took the inspiration for his own play. He wrote the play in three weeks and in next thee or four weeks made reviewed it.

The play was first held at the Riga Latvian Theater on January 30 1902. While the general public loved the good humor, the realistic characters and natural rural setting. Some of the characters were based on real life- Kārlēns the young rascal was one of the Blaumanis  nephews. Old Jew Ābrams was based on local Jew Ulpītis at Ērģļi and re appeared in other plays. However, the critics were harsh calling it “conglomerate”, a “verbiage of most vivid unfitting scenes”. Blaumanis died on 1908 and the play was yet to witness its fame. Play returned to stage on 1921. Famous attempt to make play according 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte style was made by famous Latvian play director Eduards Smiļģis. It was called a revolution in the Latvian theater. On 1935 another grand director  Alfreds Artmanis-Biedrītis chose the charming Lilija Štengele that some critics considered too elegant to country house mistress. In this play more song words were added like the famous Kārlēns and Ieviņa song “There will be birching after all”.

The 1955 version of Skroderdienas Silmačos

On 1940 when Latvia was occupied it was required to show this play in the Moscow delegation. The final dress rehearsal was done but the German invasion halted it. After the second soviet occupation, the new power was skeptical about  the play. The friendly relations between Antonija and her servants was against the communist ideology of class warfare, after Holocaust it was no longer safe to portray Jews in satiric manner. On 1955 the Riga Drama Theater received rights to held play again under the lead by Alfreds Artmanis-Biedrītis. It was a state-wide success with legendary actors Anta Klints, Žaņa Katlaps, Emma Ezeriņa, Mirdza Šmithene, Alfrēds Jaunušān, Velta Līne and others. Since then it was considered as tradition to show this play every year before Jāņi festival.

Since then in every decade at least two times in a decade a new director and cast is shown. A much know cast was from 1975 with Astrīda Kairiša as Antonija and Ģirts Jakovļevs as Dūdars. Uldis Dumpis played Ābrams making it the most recognized portrayal of Ābrams of all.

Crowds watching Skroderdienas Silmačos at Druviena

On 1986 the play was held at Druviena open air hall gathering 16 000 viewers. A museum dedicated to the play was made there. A year later the Latvian National revival started making this play based on old times even more popular. After Latvia regained independence the play was revived by Edmunds Freibergs on 1994. He begun the tradition to add more younger actors making the characters making more younger. He directed the next cast on 2002. On 2004 Olģerts Kroders the famous director of Valmiera Theater made his own version. The 1994 Latvia National Theater version featured Rolands Zagorskis as Dūdars, Zane Jančevska as Antonija and Ivars Puga as Aleksis. The 2002 version featured new call of actors who are now well known. Dita Lūriņa as Ieviņa, Mārcis Manjakovs – Aleksis, Karīna Tatarinova as Zāra and others. As Eduards Smiļgis on 1924, Edmunds Freibergs also used  commedia dell’arte style.

The play was taken  on other theaters. Viesturs Kairišš in Riga New Theater on 1998 attempted to show play in the most unusual way giving old woman roles to young and beautiful actresses Elita Kļaviņa, Aurēlja Anužīte featuring erotic references. Play was held also in Druviena at Jāņi day. The Riga Russian Drama Theater made their own version. Also Riga Doll Theater made their own version for kids.

Dita Lūriņa as Antonija and Ainārs Ančevskis as Dūdars

On 2010 a latest cast was played and is on the stage now. Director Indra Roga added a new element house spirits watching the charters and sometimes affecting their actions. Also a brave choice was made for the role of Antonija. For the character stereotyped to be in her forties, Antonija was played by younger Dita Lūriņa. As in contrast to example set by Astrīda Kairiša, the younger and more energetic Dita Lūriņa proved her to be worthy of her new role.

The play never made it to cinema adaption, but on 2010 Jānis Streičs made movie “Rūdolfa Mantojums” (The Will of Rūdolfs) that was a prequel to the Skroderdienas Silmačos although the names of the characters were changed.

The play was so successful in the soviet times because it showed the old way of the Latvian country life – destroyed by the soviet collectivization. Also the Jāņi festival in the play was a crucial element as the Soviets tried to forbid Latvians from celebrating Jāņi festival. 23 and 24 June was a working day in Soviet times, although it was never really banned to celebrate  it was urged not to celebrate. But Jāņi were still celebrated and the Skroderdienas Silmačos helped to keep the Jāņi traditions alive. Soviets were unable to erase the Latvian traditional culture, instead they tried to adapt it to their needs. Rūdolfs Blaumanis wrote many other plays as Indrāni, Ugunī and others that were played on theater. Latvian folklore and traditional culture was kept alive during the soviet times and made stunning comeback after the regaining independence. And now every new Latvian generation still likes Skroderdienas Silmačos making this play an everlasting value.

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Latvians in the Soviet Political Elite 1920-1937

Latvian nation has suffered from the soviet repressions like no other. However, among ranks of communist supporters and top officials Latvians took a high position. It happened because of the nature of the times before the Russian revolution and after. On the beginning of the 20th century the New Current (Jaunā Strāva) was most strongest Latvian leftist movement from whom many Latvian future social democrats and communists emerged. The revolution of 1905 was directed by Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. Before World War I some Latvians moved to Russia to look for new farmland, while intellectuals like Krišjānis Valdemārs, Krišjānis Barons, Baumaņu Kārlis and others established carriers in Petersburg and Moscow. The German invasion in 1915 made hundreds of thousand Latvians go on refuge to Russia. Locals in Moscow begun to notice that city is full with Latvians and Jews, who were forced to leave Lithuania and Latvia. The fall of Russian invasion made many previously mistreated minorities including Latvians to believe  its their time to take power for themselves. And since Bolshevism an international movement in its roots seemed the most popular and strongest choice many Latvians chose the soviet way. In future it turned out an ill fated tragic choice, but in 1917 the perspective of independent Latvian state seemed far from reality.

The story about the Red Latvian Rifleman is told here.  This is story about top Latvian communist members during first twenty years of the Soviet Union. After peace agreement with Latvia on August 11 1920 more than 200 Latvians refugees moved back to Latvia. But many stayed either because of problems making impossible to return or because of ideological convictions. According to Soviet census of 1926 151 410 Latvians lived in Soviet Union along with them 9707 Latgalians who were counted separately. 12 thousand lived in Leningrad and 10 thousand in Moscow.  The census of 1939 counted 128 345 Latvians and  13 869 Latgalians. Official data showed the loss of 23 065 Latvians that was just blank reminder of repressions made towards people once loyal to the Soviet system.

After the end of the Russian Civil War, the percentage of Latvians within communist party was rather high. Latvians were second to Russians in numbers of pre revolutionary members. Some Latvians moved back to Latvia and continued to work as communist party members in underground. On 1927 there was 11  680 Latvian communist party members and 1656 party member candidates. From Latvia either being  deported or emigrated 1301 Latvian communists. Latvians were in better situation than other party members especially Russians because of their education already acquired before World war, while there was 5% or non reading members. Readability among Latvians were 79% in Soviet Union. Latvians also knew more than one foreign language mostly German. So it was no wonder that Latvians took posts in many soviet ministries and state enterprises.

Pēteris Stučka

Pēteris Stučka

The patriarch of Latvian   communists was Pēteris Stučka the veteran of the Latvian Social democrats and leader of the Latvian Soviet government on 1918-1920. After 1920 he no longer took any important post, but was regarded as a symbol for Latvian communists. From 1923 he was a chairman of the Supreme Court of Russian Soviet Federal Soviet Republic. He also lead the Latvian Communist Party and its Central Committee Foreign Bureau. Stučka was a a gifted jurist and academician. Stučka often questioned the legal side of the actions of the Emergency Commission (Cheka), however allowed red terror in Latvia during his rule on 1919-1920. Stučka was genuine follower of Lenin and his ideas and after his death his influence started to crumble. On 1925-1927 he edited the first Soviet Encyclopedia of State and Law. On 1927 after reforming the court system he became deputy of the RSFSR Commissar of Justice. On 1929 he was elected as professor of  the civil rights in Moscow 1st University. 1930 was the last good year for Stučka as his 65 anniversary was celebrated in party Moscow committee Red Hall and awarded with Order of Red Banner of Labor. Stučka still hopped that Latvia will be one day again with Soviets.

On 1931 he became director of the Soviet faculty of justice. He was not found of Stalinist brutal policies against farmers and peasants during collectivization campaign. He was known for his radical agricultural reforms that lead to breakdown of the communist order on 1918-1919 in Latvia. Stučka was aware of coming Stalin’s repressions against his party members. The criticism on his past actions and academic views grew stronger on 1931 and 1932. On January 24 1932 the Latvian Communist party made plenum insisting on  investigating the mistakes of old social democratic elite and its inability to follow Bolshevik way. It was also hint on Stučka himself. He died next day from natural causes, escaping the fate of his comrades. Stučka was taken out of history after Stalin’s purge, but later was taken out of the closet a city was named after him known today as Aizkraukle.  His monuments were installed in Rīga and Aizkraukle. Some Russian tourists mistaken his monument for Stalin were delighted that “Latvians still honor Stalin”.

Jānis Rudzutaks

Jānis Rudzutaks

Most prominent Latvian within party ranks was Jānis Rudzutaks.  Born in August 15 1887 Rudzutaks started as member of the Latvian Social democrats in Ventspils. He was arrested in 1907 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was sent to Butirki prison in Moscow and released on 1917. Together with Felix Dzerzhinsky he was released by the revolting workers. Soon he was elected as the chairman of the Moscow Textile trade union and organized resistance against the Provisional government.  After the coup of October he was elected in All-Russia Trade Union Central Soviet Executive Committee and after that in presidium. He took over important posts in economical sector  in All Russia National Economy soviet, Moscow Economical Soviet and Workers and peasant defense soviet. On 1918 he became personally involved with Lenin who regarded him as his right hand man. He was responsible for supply routes trough Volga river after the main railroads were cut.

On 1919 he was sent to install soviet power in Turkestan (Turkmenistan) where he took hostile action against the will of the local Turkmenian communists to create a united Turkic Soviet republic. Rudzutaks was respected for his work helping Bolsheviks taking over all Central Asia. On 1920 Lenin made him a member of National economy Supreme Soviet council. On 1921 in  Russian Communist Party IX congress he was elected for the first time as the member of the Central Committee. Rudzutaks established a trade union policy that was approved by Lenin. Trade Unions with his help were brought under the state control.

Rudzutaks prominence grew as he was sent to soviet diplomatic delegation at Genoa  where he staunchly defended the Soviet foreign claims and backed down any western calls to return the old tsarists debts. Rudzutaks continued to work on fulfilling the  soviet power in Central Asia and took part in making the new borders of the Central Asian republics. The borders still used today by the independent Central Asian countries. On 1923 he was elected as secretary of the Communist Party and worked along with Stalin and Molotov. At 1923 Rudzutaks grew ill and Lenin had ordered him to take time of for recovery, however Rudzutaks fanatically resisted and continued his work.

There were rumors than in his last days Lenin had wanted Rudzutaks to replace Stalin as the General Secretary. Rudzutaks took important role in his funeral, carried is coffin to Red Square making him one of the closest man next to deceased leader. However, despite postmortem Lenin call to replace Stalin as General Secretary, Stalin kept his place. Lenin did not name the replacement for  Stalin. Rudzutaks was criticized among his members for indecision. Also in line for power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin Rudzutaks was caught in the middle. Rudzutaks was Central Committee candidate. Rudzutaks played between Stalin, Trotsky, Buharin making historians struggling on which side he was cause he also praised Stalin. However, Stalin on 1925 suspected him together with Zinoyev and Kamenev in plot to replace him as General Secretary. On 1927 Rudzutaks insisted that Stalin should be re-elected as General Secretary.

On 1931 Rudzutaks became the head  of the Central control commission and Worker-peasant inspection commissariat that was responsible for enforcing stalinist collectivization policies . On 1932 Rudzutaks sided with Stalin on his campaign against Zinoyev and Kamenev. Stalin entrusted Rudzutaks to lead the “party cleansing” within his lead Central Control Commission. On 1934 the commission was liquidated to empower Stalin Rudzutaks was elected as candidate of the Politburo. Rudzutaks was also responsible for restoring railroad tracks as commissar of the roads. By his lead the railroads were restored, new locomotives were built . Also river and sea routes were improved his economic management skills were recognized the most.

Amateur film maker Rudzutaks stayed in power until 1937. Stalin has recognized him as rival and part of old “October guard” that he wanted to replace with his loyal Stalinist nomenklatura. Stalin required a loyal party that would fulfill his  every order without questioning. On May 18 Stalin sent poll letter to Central Committee where he asked to exclude the Rudzutaks from the party together with marchall Mikhail Tukhachevsky for taking part in trotskyst conspiracy and espionage on behalf of the Nazi Germany. With Stalin abstaining the vote was “for”. On May 24 Rudzutaks was arrested along with his brother Voldemārs. After trial which received low publicity Rudzutaks was executed on July 29 1938. Rudzutaks was convinced communist, a potential Stalin’s rival for power but if not executed would follow Stalin until the end. He had lost his connection with Latvia  since 1907 and despite contacts with Latvians in Russia never displayed any sign of national affection, always stayed true to his internationalist convictions.

Kārlis Baumanis who graduated the Kiev commercial institute and took part in Civil War in Ukraine on 1923 made it to Communist Party Central Committee. He was assigned as the head of the Moscow organizational and cadre assignment committee.  On 1928 he became the its first secretary and then on 1929 as secretary of CK and candidate of the politburo. His success however was short-lived next year he was discharged from Moscow committee for difficulties during collectivization. He was chosen as a scapegoat for Stalin’s fallacies during collectivization. He however kept the CK secretary and was sent to Central Asia as the first secretary of Central Asian bureau. As others he ended his life shot in 1937.

Ivars Smilga  on the right side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga on the left side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga was a revolutionary old-timer from 1905. He was in prison in Russia before 1917 and after revolution was member of Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic War Soviet. He took part in the organizing the October coup on 1917 and moved the Bolshevik forces from Finland to Petrograd. From 1919 to 1921 he was the head of the Red Army Political Department. Along with Mikhail Tukhachevsky, he led the Seventh Army during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920. After the end of the war he moved to economical work in National Economical Supreme Soviet and in State Plan Commission. A friend of Stalin at first who lived with his family for a while Smilga on 1927 became convinced anti-Stalinist. On October 7 the day of October revolution Smilga openly displayed large banner from his flat with slogan”Without Lenin, along the Leninist way” with portraits of Lenin and Trotsky. Soviet militsiya stormed his apartment to remove it. Smilga lead the opposition rallies against Stalin, but was deported to Siberia. His deportation was followed by opposition protest at the train station. On 1929 his party membership was restored, but he kept his anti-Stalinist beliefs even when meeting Stalin face to face. After Kirov was assassinated on 1935 Smilga was again arrested and on 1938 shot.

Vilhelms Knoriņš took many posts. He was head of the Central Committee Agitation and Propaganda, and was member of editorial board of the newspaper Pravda and journal Bolshevik. Also lead the Party History Institute. He was convinced Stalinist who followed Stalin’s view that historians who research history in archives are the “archive rats”. History and science as whole should only be according to Marxist – Leninist principles.  That means history could be faked. As others he was erased from history on 1938.

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe born in Dobele on 1890 begun his carrier at the age of 15 during 1905 revolution. He was arrested many times, and then went to England. He returned on 1911 and while doing work in factory he became top member of the Latvian Social democrats. Eihe was moved towards Bolsheviks and supported Lenin. On 1914 he was arrested again and sent to Siberia. He escaped his imprisonment and returned to Latvia on 1917 took part in the Bolshevik took over of the Latvian Social democrats. After Germans captured Riga he stayed there underground was arrested, but escaped again and later moved to Moscow. During the Soviet Rule in Latvia on 1919 he was the Commissar of Provisions and imposed heavy food rations. After Soviets were forced to leave Riga he moved to Russia and took care of provisions on other front sectors.

On 1922 he arrived at Novosibirsk. As man known for his fierce loyalty to the party orders and ruthless way of carrying out them he was the man needed for the job of the chief deputy of the Siberian Revolutionary Committee. In Siberia Eihe to keep low food prices made heavy repressions against the local farmers and dealers. Following the shift from the Lenins New Economic Policy to Stalin’s Gulag Economy Eihe showed how it should be done. Repressions against so-called Kulaks were the Eihe’s preoperative and used “troijka” type tribunals were  three party officials in fast pace made trials and sentences. On 1929 Stalin visited Siberia and was impressed with Eihe’s work. He became the first Secretary of the Western Siberian district. With full power over Siberia Eihe reported to Stalin that he will turn Siberia into industrial and collectivized Siberia. He was fully dependent on Moscow  and had to fulfill every Stalin’s order. But he did them all with ruthless precision. Eihes camps for kulaks were regarded as the best in the Soviet Union by the party leaders. Eihe started to develop concentration camp system in far Northern Siberia that later turned out in Gulag system. 17 525 kulak families were repressed on 1931 39 788 families. Local party functionaries stood against the harsh methods of Eihe and sent letter to Stalin asking to replace him. Instead Stalin punished those who accused his most trusted comrade.

After that Eihe was unquestioned “ruler of Siberia”. Eihe provided camps for deported kulaks and forced peasants to join collective farms. Last great deportation in Western Siberia took place on 1936. He also managed the deportation of the ethnic Germans from European part of Russia.  Eihe was awarded with the Order of Lenin and promoted as candidate of the  Central Committee member of Politburo.

The “Old Guard” of the October coup did all the best for Stalin to reach absolute power. He no longer needed them. Eihe, Rudzutaks and other Latvians were driven to same fanaticism as Stalin. But megalomaniac Stalin after consolidating his  power now was preparing for the next step. Despite the slogan “socialism in one state”, Stalin wanted Worldwide Socialist Revolution to happen and now was preparing for future war. In so he needed the most loyal party cadres who would follow his plan. And he distrusted many of his most loyal old guard comrades like Eihe. In the war where the Baltic States should be annexed, Poland attacked and Germany fought with, Latvian, German, Polish communists were considered as foreign spies a dangerous national element that had to be dealt with. Eihe was arrested on April 1938 and was accused of state treason. On October 1 1939 Eihe wrote the letter to Stalin and denied the accusations: “There is no greater torment, than siting in prison of a country that I had fought for all my life”. Eihe stood strong against all accusations wrote another long strong worded letter to Stalin. He was tortured and   lost his eye from beating but still denied of being a foreign spy. On February 2 1940 Eihe was executed after three years of prison and constant torture.

That was the end of the Latvian communist political elite. These are just few of the many persons who served the Soviet power that turned against them and their homeland in quest for global supremacy. A separate articles about Latvians in Cheka, the Red Army and Latvian Soviet cultural elite that also was doomed by Stalin will follow in the future.

Sources:

Goldmanis,Juris (Editor) 2013 Latvieši PSRS varas virsotnēs : ilūzijas un traģēdija: 20. gadsimta 20.-30. gadi.  Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

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The Lost Latvian Land – Abrene

The District of Jaunlatgale. The highlighted areas were annexed by Russia

The District of Jaunlatgale. The highlighted areas were annexed by Russia

On March 1 2014  Russia invaded the sovereign Ukrainian territory – Crimea. A “referendum” was held and after the “plea from the Crimean people” the Crimean province was annexed by Russia. A 19th century style act that shocked the modern world. Russia stated that Crimea was originally a Russian territory that was vainly transferred to Ukrainian SSR on 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev. However, Russia has forgotten similar events on 1944-1945 when Russia illegitimately annexed part of Latvian and Estonian border territories.  Same technique was used- both countries were occupied, there were “requests from locals” a “plebiscite”  and after that the lands were added to Russian Federal Soviet Socialist Republic. What seemed as simple administrative action for Stalinist government as the soviet republics were sovereign only on paper, turned out as tragedy as these lands stayed within the Russian Federation. With no real hope to return them back and if returned it would cost millions to invest in these lands ravaged by the soviet power.

The lost land Latvian land today is known as Abrene district although before World War 2 it was called Jaunnlatgale (New Latgale) district that also included large areas of modern-day Balvi district. During 9-12th centuries these territories were inhabited by Latgalian tribes who lived as far of west from the river Velikaya, Mudava in Latvian. On 13th century during the Baltic crusades  Duke of Pskov Mstislav Rostislavich and local Latgalian rulers fought wars for this border area. On 1224 the Abrene castle district was taken over by Bishop Albert of Riga and later added to Riga Archbishopric, part of the Livonian Confederation.  On 1431 Pskov Duchy started to wage wars to gain this land. A well fortified fortress of Vyshgorodok was built within occupied parishes of Kacēni and Augšpils. On 1461-1464 while Livonia was caught up in internal rivalry the whole Abrene region was taken over by Pskov and forced locals to give up their catholic faith. On 1481 the Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III also claimed this land. On 1581 during the Livonian war the fortress of Vyshgorodok was captured by Polish-Lithuanian troops. After  the end of the Livonian war the easter part of Abrene region was gained back by Russia.

Until 1772 the much of the Abrene district was part of Poland-Lithuania. After the first partition of Poland the territory was added to the province of Pskov. Later on 1802 it was added to the province of Vitebsk that included Latgale and was part of Ludza district a distinctive Latvian town. Philologists August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein and Kārlis Mīlenbahs, conducting linguistic field research in the area in the late 19th and early 20th century, found that many people, called “Russian Latvians” by the local Russians, still spoke the High Latvian dialect. So these territories although  borderlands had not lost its connection with Latvians and Latgale region that on On 1917 December 14 the districts of Dinaburg (Daugavpils), Ludsen (Ludza), Rositten (Rēzekne) was added to province of Vidzeme.

When the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed its claimed territories were the provinces of Courland and Semigallia  and province of Vidzeme including Latgale. During the War for Freedom on December 1918 Latvia was invaded by the Bolsheviks and the local Latvian soviet government was installed. However, on spring- summer 1919 Bolsheviks were chased away from Riga and controlled only Latgale. After Latvian armed forces defeated the Army of Bermont on November 1919, it was essential to liberate Latgale as Estonia had already signed  peace treaty with the Soviet Russia. On December 1919 both Latvian and Polish armies in joint offensive attacked the Bolsheviks. Most part of Latgale was liberated and the Latvian army headed towards far eastern parts of Latgale. On January 14 1920 the city of Pytalovo was captured by Latgalian Partisan corps. Town first appeared in 18th century and gain its importance after it became the railway station to a railway branch on route to Daugavpils. All parts of Latgale were liberated. On February  1 1920 Latvia and Soviet Russia signed ceasefire.

Some fighting at  Vyshgorodok or Augšpils still went on after the ceasefire. The village was taken by Latvian army. Krasnoye, Glushkova and Pokrovskoye were also taken but were given back to Russia. The whole spring were spent on talks on peace agreement. Soviets were reluctant to give up Pytalova the important railroad route both for trade and army means. However, Latvians were stubborn to return it and in memorandum to the Paris Peace conference on June 10 where it was stated that Latvian inhabited borders stretches to rail station of Pytalova. Soviets were caught up in war with Poland and decided to give up their claims on it. However, Soviets managed to regain another Latvian captured rural center Drysa (Verkhnyadzvinsk) a Belarussian town with Latvian minority of 400 people. On August 11 1920 the Peace Agreement with Soviet Russia was finally signed. The northern part of Ludza district and western part of Ostrova together with Pytalova was added to Latvia. Soviet Russia recognized Latvian sovereignty and promised to not threaten its   independence for “eternal times”. Ott0 von Bismark said that any agreement with Russia its not worth the paper it is written. Bismark talked about treacherous Russian Imperial diplomacy as it turned out nothing has much changed since then.

School in Abrene

School in Abrene

On June 1924 12 northern parishes of Ludza district were separated and included into new Jaunlatgale district. Pytalovo was renamed as Jaunlatgale (New Latgale). On 1933 Jaunnlatgale received citizenship rights. The city had district administration, state land inspection, school inspection, doctor and border area chairman office. Latvian and Russian schools. According to the national census of 1935 the six later lost Latvian parishes, had small percent of Latvians. Augšpils had 4,31%, Gauri 4,36%, Kacēni 16,91%, Linava 4,63%, Purvmala 32% and the city of Jaunlatgle 38%. Majority were Russians or Great Russians as they were called then, Belarusians,  and Jews. Some Latvians settled there to gain new farming lands, some were families of the border guards. Despite the high Russian majority no tense ethnic conflict never occurred, Russians had their own school and gymnasium.  On 1938 the city of Jaunlatgale was renamed to Abrene.

The coat of arms of Abrene

The coat of arms of Abrene

On June 15 1940 Soviet NKVD special forces attacked the Latvian border station Maslenki within Abrene region. 3 border guards and  2 civilians were killed and may taken hostage. The raid was used as pretext for the Soviet Union to force the Latvian government to allow the entry of the soviet troops. On June 17 1940 Latvia was occupied and later annexed. Abrene remained within the Latvian SSR. On Summer 1941 Nazi German army took over the town. Local Jews were murdered.  Abene was included in special German Ostland province within Latvia part of it. On June 1944 the city and surrounding areas were taken by the Soviet Army.

With much part of Latvia including Riga still in German hands, the Latvian soviet government was moved from Moscow to Daugavpils. And after “proposal” from the Soviet government, on August 22 the Presidium of the Supreme Council of LSSR “asked” the   Soviet government to separate known areas with Russian majority. The areas were the parishes of Purvmala, Linava, Kacēni, Upmale, Gauri un Augšpils. On October 5-6 1944 the LSSR SC Presidium approved “the will of the people” within these areas. There however, where no sources that proves there was at least an opinion poll held within these war-torn areas about joining Russian Federal Soviet Socialist Republic.  Instead right after Latvian SSR government moved to  Riga, two delegations of  the local Russian representatives asked the Latvian government to keep local population within the Latvian borders. This was not approved. Most of the Abrene administration was replaced with Russian and Belarusian partisans and functionaries. Soon the old Russian and Latvian inhabitants either moved away to Latvian part or were deported. Population was replaced with immigrants from Russia and other areas. As for 2002 census

 This act is violation of even Soviet law (the 1936 constitution then in force required that changes in internal borders be confirmed by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, not the Presidium). Though the official documents transfer 1075.31 square kilometers, 1293.6 square kilometers were actually transferred. According to census of 2002 690 people calling themselves Latvians resides in Pskov district.

According to the Latvian Constitution the borders of Latvia are according to Peace Treaty of 1920. On the Declaration of  the Restoration of independence on May 4 1990 that restored the power of the Latvian constitution intended to follow the terms of the peace treaty. However, in January 1991 in bilateral relations agreement with Russian Federation (with USSR still in existence), Russian side rejected the reference to 1920 peace treaty. As Russia do not recognize that Latvia was illegally occupied and annexed on 1940 and sees no continuation between 1918-1940 Latvia and present day Latvia, the question became frozen.  On 2005 when Latvia negotiated with Russia on the border agreement, the president of Russia Vladimir Putin called the Latvian claims on Abrene as the ” against the spirit of Europe.”  And also remarked that instead of Abrene Latvia will receive the ears of a dead donkey. However on July 2008 Russia transfered 174 km² area of land to China.

On April 29, 2005, Latvia announced that it would sign an interpretative declaration in conjunction with the proposed border agreement with Russia, noting that the border agreement would in no way affect “the legal rights of the Latvian state and its citizens” under the 1920 treaty. As a consequence, Russia scrapped the border agreement, as it saw this as attempt to prolong debate on Abrene. Despite the heated protests from far right movements on 2007 the border agreement was signed making no open references to the 1920 treaty. It was moral and legal failure for Latvia.

Estonia is in similar situation as Latvia. On the same time as Abrene, Soviet Union took 2.500 km² large area of Veru and Pesteri districts from Estonia. The areas it gave it up the same way as to Latvia with a border agreement. Estonia lost Ivanogord the suburb of city of Narva and the city of Petseri (Pechori). Russia canceled the border treaty with Estonia on 2005 because of references to the soviet occupation. On February 2014 Estonia signed the border agreement similarly to Latvia giving up its claims on occupation and lost lands.

Can we ever gain these lands back and is its worth it? First such thing seems to impossible with the present land grabbing Russian government who shows no respect to international laws or treaties proving the Otto von Bismark statement that its pointless to  believe that Russia will fulfill its signed treaties. If situation in Russia changes, with modern government and if the locals within these districts wishes to join Latvia with a referendum then its possible. But the recourses and the burden will be great, as these areas needs to be adjusted to Latvian and EU laws and structures. And the large Russian majority in these regions will increase the overall Russian speaking minority. They cannot get Latvian citizenship automatically according to laws and their social situation may force them to move to Riga to look for better job. With this all the rejoining Abrene with Latvia seems more a fantasy. But its a another of thousand reminders that Russia cannot be trusted in international affairs. Its interprets the treaties and laws according to their own, they feel no hesitation to break the treaties they signed, but accuses others of “breaking” them. And if Russia is caught right-handed of breaking laws and treaties it will always say – you did it first!   From a country unable to abide even to its own Constitution  we cannot expect nothing more. Abrene or Jaunlagale or Pytalova is a clear example of the century long injustice within Russian external politics.

Sources:

http://www.pytalovo.ellink.ru/history2.htm

http://www.historia.lv/alfabets/A/AB/abrene/raksti/andersons.htm

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The Story of the Man, the Flag and the Radio tower

The Radio Tower where Bruno Javoišs raised the flag of Latvia

The Radio Tower where Bruno Javoišs raised the flag of Latvia

During the Soviet occupation the usage of the Latvian national flag was strictly forbidden. Public display of it would cause arrest and imprisonment. So people kept their flags hidden in their homes away from the watchful eyes of the KGB. Yet one man dared to raise the flag above the Riga radio tower to display his hope of change and protest to the communist order. However, he was quickly spotted by the Soviet patrols and arrested and his act was kept unknown to many. His name was Bruno Javoišs and last year he published his memoirs. Since this site is devoted both to radio history and the history of Latvian anti-soviet resistance this little known remarkable story will be displayed here.

Bruno Javoišs was a student at 10th grade High School at Red Army Street. Wandering around the Riga Central market and shops Javoišs begun to notice the arrogance of the Russian shopkeepers and customers demanding to speak Russian and disdaining the Latvian language. As he grew older in 11th grade he started to read old books before World War 2. He had to be careful because he lived in communal apartment with immigrant family from Bashkiria who always watched his family moves with suspicion. The books were about so-called “Times of Latvia” or as official Soviet education called – “the bourgeoisie Latvia” where everything was bad, but now in Soviet Latvia everything is fine and it will get better. However, his grandma’s books showed everything the other way around – in difficult history filled with wars and suffering the independence was won with country of its own anthem and century old flag.

In search for more old books he came across the book called the “The Horrible Year”. Today this book is rightfully viewed as a piece of Nazi propaganda that was made to justify the genocide against the Jews of Latvia. However, the book was right that on 1940 Soviet Union had occupied Latvia an inconvenient truth that Soviet propaganda tried to hide. Book by book, word by word he begun to understand that everything is not like it is. The Soviet power was rouge not a Latvian one. He made a group of common minded peers and even came across the idea of spreading leaflets. But, nothing happened as his peers were only active of talking not doing.

He decided to act alone – not sure what he will do, but it has to remain secret. What two knows – rest of the world knows. On his way from one school to other he always came past the Riga radio tower. It was built on 1925 near the old radio building on Aspazijas Boulevard. During the Soviet celebrations on May 1, November 7 at the top of the tower the flag of Latvian Soviet republic was always raised. At one time it came across to his mind that the rouge flag should be replaced with flag of Latvia to mark the change. Off course that was naïve thought that it could shake up the strong omnipresent Soviet regime. The partisans fighting with guns in forests were long beaten there was no hope for Western invasion- yet everything must be started from one small step. Without telling his parents he joined the DOSAAF (Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet) courses for military drivers. To learn the military skills for his future act no matter those courses were in Russian – the language skills also can contribute to the fight.

After finishing High School he was conscripted in the Soviet Army. He came to army with joy and applied for the commander courses. After finishing all courses and gaining all necessary certificates he was told to join the communist party and sign an agreement to loyally serve the regime and fulfill every order. He declined. He was sent away with words: “From mud you came, the mud you must stay”. On 1963 with resentment that he was outside the party and gave up the officer carrier he was accepted into Riga Aviation Engineer Institute. But, Javoišs knew every line of the soviet ideology and the party plans to convince the examiners. He begun the studies with excitement, but soon the harassing Russification had enough of him. Not even in school cafeteria he could freely speak Latvian without suspicious looks. The lectures about history of the communist party and the philosophy of Marxism were a hardship to him. In war school and army he heard all this but now it was enough.

He began to ask questions – from whom Cossack Yermak liberated the people of Siberia, why the Caucasian nations lived better under the Tsar rather than Turks. And why nothing was done to fulfill the great Lenin instructions in national policy and why the plague of the “Great Russian” chauvinism still reigns. The teachers asked to prove the last statement. Javoišs said I don’t have to look deep for that: into that in army I was asked to sing along “”Russia, Russia – my fatherland” in Russian and was told to become an aviator I have to know Russian and it’s pointless to speak to local militiaman (policeman) in Latvia. Teacher replied that these questions are difficult and should be discussed outside the classrooms. And he was called to talk with party representative and asked what you don’t like in this institute. “Oh no! I like everything here!” He stayed quiet until the day of Soviet constitution came across. In discussion about the rights of seceding from the Soviet Union as granted by the “most democratic constitution in the world” Javoišs expressed concerns that Latvian nation against her own will is Russianized in “the prime essence of this word”. Teacher became angry and shouted: “What is holding you! Have you not read the constitution of the USSR? Secede if you nations want so!” Javoišs bitted his lips. Sure it was desire of him and many, but does to whole Latvian nation wants so? Could he speak on the behalf of the Latvian nation?

And then before his eyes the mighty radio tower appeared. He will raise the flag of Latvia on it. Then he will see if the nation will support or condemn him. There were some instances in country side where the flag was raised on church tower or on the tall tree. But, that was in the country side – it has to happen in the main city center to all to see and not forgot. In front of the local soviet government and the occupying force. If he falls down let him to be buried on the Latvian soil. If he succeeds and will be arrested he will describe to all publicly why he had done this. In the court he will use all of his knowledge of the Soviet laws and constitution. Let there be plebiscite! Let the nation decide to break away from the union!

He learned how to climb and loose fear from heights. After all the flag of USSR was raised by skillful alpinist. And he had to tailor the flag himself and use the skills his grandma taught him. The flag was ready and was kept in the drawer till the night of December 5. It was the day of the Soviet Constitution.

When the night came he wrote the farewell letter to his close ones, explaining his motives and asked to be buried in the Brothers War cemetery. The young naivety was still strong. In Russian army clothing and military backpack he came to his target posing as army driver coming to his morning shift. He approached the tower trough the empty winter streets of Riga. Near the tower he was ready to climb but noticed someone in the dark looking at him. He was looking at him from the canal bridge. Javoišs noticed a broom and started to pose as a simple street sweeper and sweep the streets until it begun to rain. The stranger went away. The rain would make the tower icy impossible to climb. He decided to risk, and he also forgot to take his grenade with him

He approached the construction and started to climb. He made it to the first platform where shallow iron stairs lead him upwards. He climbed up step by step until he could hear the sound of the waving LSSR flag. But then the surprise came- the construction ended. Tall spires lead upwards to LSSR flag. And then he found the crossbar above it the flag must be changed. He pulled up to crossbar sat on it and changed the LSSR flag to the majestic flag of Latvia.

Bruno Javoišs arrest picture

Bruno Javoišs arrest picture

Resisting his temptation to enjoy the great view of Riga from the top of the radio tower he climbed downwards. The flag should greet everyone in Riga in the morning. As he approached downwards where the stairs ended he was ready to climb only to saw an armed group of militia officers running towards the tower. The militia building was just near the tower. Now it was clear – he will not see the flag from the ground. The militiamen shouted in Russian: “Jump here!” He jumped down and was hit and beaten accompanied by Russian swear words. “Not a single swear word in Latvian!” he remembered. He was dragged to the main building and the upstairs.

Brutal officers then were replaced by two men of who one in clear Latvian said: “Oh my, what they have done to you?” “Mitrofanov quickly bring some water let him clean himself up!” After cleaning up his face in towel the two Latvian officers said can we have a talk now? The two officers were convinced that he was recruited to climb up to tower and did not believe he acted on his own. “No worries, you will tell everything eventually!”. For eight months he spent in KGB basement and was sentenced for seven years for “anti-soviet agitation and propaganda” the highest crime against the state.

Bruno Javoišs today

Bruno Javoišs today

What happened to the flag? Some say that alpinist called to remove the flag was already drunk before celebrations and was unable to climb up until eleven in the morning.

Bruno Javoišs spent his prison days in Mordovia where he met other political prisoners like Gunārs Astra, Juris Ziemelis and others. He worked as driver in Riga on his return was unable to join the Academy of Arts. But, he was helped to join the University of Tartu. He finished it gaining degree in history of arts, married an Estonian and raised family of three children. He stayed in Estonia, worked in art enterprise, later as history teacher in times of independence and now as postman. He is awarded with the Sign of Distinction of the Order of Three Stars. Because of his nationalistic views and political affiliations he was considered dangerous to enter Latvia at March 16th Legion day. Despite this painful accident he came to Latvia last year at the War Museum to commemorate the 50 years since he raised the flag on the radio tower. The radio tower itself was removed on 1994 for it was no longer in working order. But, the flag of Latvia once again is used freely and is a symbol of our national and democratic freedom – a freedom that still needs to be fought for.

Furter reading:

http://www.ir.lv/2013/12/6/mans-karoga-stasts

http://www.kasjauns.lv/lv/zinas/12006/vins-par-latvijas-karogu-devas-uz-legeri

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Shortwave radio monitoring by the KGB in Latvia

Soviet made Shortwave radios were enjoyment for citizens but were headache for KGB

Soviet made Shortwave radios were enjoyment for citizens but were headache for KGB

Soon after the end of the World War 2 the tensions between Soviet Union and United States of America engulfed into Cold War. A full-scale war of propaganda was used by both side including shortwave radio broadcasts. Shortwave radio broadcasts could reach listeners to faraway locations including the Soviet occupied Latvia.  Soviet security services were unable to control the foreign broadcasters so they tried to jam the broadcasts or to punish the listeners. But in either way it was never-ending carousel as Soviet radio industry made shortwave radio receivers in masses and neither the technical jamming or KGB monitoring could not fully block the western propaganda.

Shortwave radio broadcasts were popular among Latvians because many of them were critical of the soviet mass media content and therefore they seek alternative news sources. In first post war years radio was still a rare household item, as may pre-war Latvian and German-made radios were lost and Soviets attempted to register the radio owners. The average shortwave listener needed to know English, German and Russian although some of their news were transcribed in the national partisan underground newspapers and leaflets. However, the circulation of these newspapers were quite low. So radio owners tried to listen to “Radio London”, “Voice of America”, “Radio Luxembourg” and “Radio in American Sector”, that transmitted from Western Germany. After the Winston Churchill “Iron Curtain” speech in May 24 1946 in Fulton the BBC World Service started broadcasts in Russian. From September 2 1948 “Radio Vaticana” started broadcasts in Latvian.

Soviet authorities listened and discussed these broadcasts themselves. Since the content of these broadcasts were beyond their control they started to build powerful jammers. Their technical operation is discussed in separate post. War in Korea triggered the full-scale “campaign of truth” against the communists and decided to boost nationalism within Soviet occupied Baltic republics. On June 3 1951 the “Voice of America” begun to broadcast in Latvian. Latvians at first paid large attention to it, radio played the Anthem of Latvia and called for resistance making many people to believe that US will send its support. However, it took place after the deportation of March 25 1949 and Soviet power had fully established itself in Latvia. Later people got enough of repetitive information and lack innovation.

Soviet Ministry of Security gathered reports about people listening to “Voice of America”. Mostly they were discovered when they unknowingly talking about the broadcasts to a KGB agent or their conversations were overheard. They were added to KGB list as persons as spreaders of the “anti-soviet propaganda”. Soviet bureaucrats were even suggested to stop the production of the shortwave receivers, however it was turned down by the producers. At the start of the sixties Latvian industrial companies like VEF and Radiotehnika were one of the first to produce portable affordable transistor radios in USSR. Radio was no more a large cabinet like standing in room corner it could be battery-powered and taken to picnics.

Despite the relative liberalization after the death of Stalin and limitation of repressions the ideological war with west was far from over. Broadcasts from the west continued and it was forbidden to publicly spoke about the content heard in them. Doing so might result an arrest in “Corner house” of KGB main headquarters in Riga. It was also no secret that shortwave radio broadcasts inspired many dissidents and no wonder why many workers in VEF and Radiotehnika became dissidents. Most known of them were Gunārs Astra. On September 3 1953 in town of Auce locals streamed the Voice of America within local radio broadcasting net. They were later arrested.

During the crisis in Hungary on 1956 people were tuned to BBC World Service and Voice of America. Some young students told they only first learned about Stalin’s cult of personality from the Voice of America. In Preiļi region people gathered in groups to listen to Voice of America. While USSR was reluctant to speak about negative news within the country the US spent an enormous recourses for anti-communist propaganda. President of US Richard Nixon told that its much more useful to spent one dollar on radio propaganda rather than spend 10 dollars on another new rocket. Another massive radio propaganda network also broadcasting in Latvian was “Radio Free Europe” that in its r0ots was a funded by US CIA. It was kept secret until on late seventies KGB funded leftist magazine uncovered it. After that Radio Free Europe was funded by US State Congress. Soviet Union also had shortwave propaganda station “Radio Moscow” that transmitted in various western languages. Shortwave radio jamming in USSR was halted during diplomatic warm-ups on 1963-1968 and 1973-1979 both times restarted because of the Soviet invasions in Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.  Because of relative low numbers of English speakers the broadcasts in English were not jammed. This is also one of the reasons why in schools the English studies were limited.

Radio Free Europe begun its Latvian broadcasts on 1975. KGB foreign branch was tasked to gather information about the Latvian broadcasting staff and their editors and tried to infiltrate their agents in them. KGB succeeded to find information but failed to send agents to subvert the Latvian editions of VoA and RFE. As the soviet power weakened on seventies people were less afraid to speak about the things heard on the radios. KGB still tried to punish some people who were too open, often it was included into official accusation that the crime was influenced by the western radio broadcasts. Last such case was for Rolands Silaraups on 1986 the member of the nationalist Helsinki-86 movement.

On 1987 in the spirit of perestroika the shortwave jamming was fully halted. People now closely followed the VoA and RFE. Some of them heard about the first pro-independence protests on 1987 in the foreign radios and took action on following ones. On political level most influential were the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. On cultural level the foreign pop and rock music heard by youngsters on their Spīdola radio receivers also boosted the Latvian cultural life. The banned Latvian movie “Four White Shirts” included  old conservative party functionary in the censorship meeting talking about the bad influence on the young generations caused by Spīdola radio receivers.

Today the World Wide Web has replaced shortwave radio as propaganda weapon. Voice of America no longer broadcasts in Russian or Latvia. Radio Free Europe however continues to broadcast in Russian and Belarussian over shortwave, because their local coverage within medium waves were closed by Russian authorities on 2012.  Russia itself has stripped their Voice of Russia the oldest international radio station from 1920ies when it was called Radio Comintern. But, now the neo-soviet Vladimir Putin regime has begun a crackdown on Internet calling it a project of the CIA. In such manner it could be possible that if Russia will isolate itself from rest of the world, the shortwave broadcasting to Russia can again became active. There is present example of China and even more extreme of North Korea where controlled Internet has caused extensive shortwave broadcast targeting towards these countries. In return China and North Korea use extensive shortwave jammers to limit these broadcasts from US and Europe. Will Russia will return to an old days of shortwave jamming and arresting their listeners we shall see.

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