Latvian-Polish Border Dispute 1919-1939

The percentage of the Polish population in eastern Latvia. The largest percent is seen at six parishes of the Ilūktse district claimed by Poland

The percentage of the Polish population in eastern Latvia. The largest percent is seen at six parishes of the Ilūktse district claimed by Poland

When Latvia proclaimed independence on November 18 1918 the borders of the new country were not clearly determined. The general idea was that Latvia should be based on three main regions – Courland (Kurzeme) and Semigallia (Zemgale), Vidzeme and Latgale. However, when it came to actual border setting between various neighboring countries. Latvia has border related issues with Lithuania and Estonia where Latvia lost the dispute. However, the question of the Ilūkste district and the town of Grīva – claimed by Poland and Lithuania – gained and controlled by Latvia remained unsolved for many years. The Polish- Latvian border dispute caused ethnic friction between Latvians and Poles within the disputed territory. In the end on 1931 it resulted tense diplomatic conflict between Poland and Latvia. How this dispute evolved and how it was solved will be discussed in this article.

The Ilūkste district was located in southern part of Latvia, on the left side of the river Daugava. The two main centers were Ilūkste and Grīva. Grīva was located on the left bank of river Daugava right across Daugavpils. Today both cities are joined together, however then Grīva and Daugavpils were administratively  separated by the river.  Also this district was part of the Courland Province of the Russian Empire, while Daugavpils or Dunaburg was within the Province of Vitebsk. As being located between crossroads of Lithuania, Belarus and Latvia the district was ethically diverse containing Latvian, Lithuanian,Polish, Belarusian and Jewish communities. So both Poland and Lithuania considered that they should have this piece of land.

Polish armies entered the district on August-September 1919. On September 27 the Red Army was forced to abandon the left side of Daugava and retreated to Daugavpils fortress. The Polish government decided that the district must be annexed by Poland. It was mainly do to the strategical reasons as Poland wanted the border to run along the river Daugava. Also the significant Polish population was the argument to include this district within Poland. The district was formed in six parishes Borne, Demene,Kalkūni, Skrundaliena and Borovka. They were added to Polish Braslava district.

Ilūkste and Grīva. Areas of the Polish -Latvian border dispute

Ilūkste and Grīva. Areas of the Polish -Latvian border dispute

However, Latvian government regarded this district also with sizable Latvian population as their legitimate land. On December 1919 both Polish and Latvian armies liberated Latgale from the Red Army. The Polish Military command issued to local Polish administration in Ilūkste to prevent any attempt of establishing of the Latvian authority. On February 22 before Warsaw conference the Polish Foreign Ministry decided to issue demand to Latvia to give up its claims on Ilūkste district. On the spot both sides started to bring in their own governing bodies which resulted in conflict. Latvians attempted to issue new Chief of the Police in Grīva while it was de facto controlled by the Poles. He was turned away, same happened with Latvian border guards who were instructed to establish border posts along the Latvian claimed border line. Poles turned them away and they were forced to establish the posts along the river Daugava. Petitions were gathered along the left bank against giving the disputed land to Latvia. If not the person was threatened to be deported to Latvia and was punished with high fees.

On February 26 the chief of Latgale region A Bērziņš reported to Foreign Affairs ministry that this district can only be gained back by guns. As on March 1 1920 Latvian FA gathered delegation to Warsaw, the notion was to convince Poland of restoring the borders of the former Courland province. Meanwhile Polish FA had already decided that Poland will keep the district. In Warsaw the Polish side argued that border line along the Daugava will be effective in case of military assistance to Latvia. Polish foreign minister F Patek even admitted that this territory is rightfully Latvian but still insisted on turning it over to Poland. Latvian side refused to accept this and the question remained open.  Latvians saw the danger of Polish having border along Daugava that would make them easily to influence or even capture Latgale. So the talks ended with no result. It was no secret that Polish nationalists wanted to restore Poland within its 1772 borders that means also Latgale or even whole Courland was under Polish deepest desires.

Latvia was in risk of loosing this territory for ever. Still in June Latvian side even manged to stage a propaganda trip along the district under the guise of Lutheran clergy visit to Latvian churches. The pastor asked people to pray God for “free, independent Latvia, all the regions of our homeland including those not yet liberated and our Constituent Assembly”. According to 192o census the 1500 km² wide area was populated by 18 571 people. 1702 Latvians, 6116 Poles, 758 Lithuanians, 3015 Belarusians, 6612 Russians, 323 Jews and 45 Germans. The Polish made census on 1919 gathered 9207 Poles, 1273 Belarusians, 251 Lithuanians, 5068 Russians, 1396 Latvians and 134 Jews. In so the both data greatly conflicted in numbers of the size of the Latvian and Polish communities. However, they both showed that the Latvia  community is rather small comparing to Polish, Russian and Belarusian communities.  For a long time this land was dominated by the Polish language and Christian church. Many people were unable to determine their true ethnicity and fluctuated between being Polish or Latvian. Also Belarusians had trouble as they were unsure of being Polish, Russian or even Latvian. Therefore there was large room for error or even fraud in these  statistics.

On summer 1920 the situation unexpectedly turned the other way around. Polish offensive in Ukraine was crushed and swift Soviet counter attack begun. The Polish forces in Ilūkste were in danger of being torn off from the main forces. Poland was unsure of the Latvian actions kept one division to protect the north side. Latvia was unable to take direct part as it has signed ceasefire with Soviet Russia and talks for peace agreement was under way.

However, as Polish forces were pushed inwards, the Latvian army started to cross the river and enter the Ilūkste district. At same time the Lithuanians appeared to gain their share of the district. A small gunfights without causalities erupted and Lithuanians had to turn back. With the help of the English military mission representatives the dispute between Latvians and Lithuanians were calmed and Lithuanians backed off. As there was no Soviet forces around and no Poles, Latvian forces took over the territory. Local populace afraid from the Soviets and disorder welcomed Latvian forces.

Latvians had a hard time restoring order in the devastated district  and installing loyal officials as nearly all past officials were Poles. Poland was caught in the war for survival and missed the event. On Autumn 1920 after the Polish victory over the Soviets at the Battle of Warsaw, Polish armies headed back towards the Ilūkste district. Polish forces captured Vilnius and reached the Latvian held territory on November. However, Poland was not willing for the conflict with Latvians and decided to leave by the demarcation line until issue is solved diplomatically.

While some local Poles protested the Latvian power, others like Belarusians decided they are better off with Latvia then with Poland. Despite Polish efforts on March 20 1921 The International Commission lead by D Simpson decided that Ilūkste district belongs to Latvia. However, the commission was intended to solve Latvian-Lithuanian border issues and because of Vilnius conflict it disregarded the Polish claims. Therefore Poland still kept its claims.

In next following years the question remained unsolved. Poland despite formal claims and protest notes did not make strong actions to gain Ilūkste back. Meanwhile the situation in the region stabilized. Latvians schools were opened, the Latvian education in Ilūkste was great concern for Riga. Poles had rights for state funded minority schools. Also the Belarusians gathered to open their own schools.

The issue was raised again sometimes. On 1923 the Polish Sejm (parliament) received 28 people signed memorandum from “the Latvian occupied parishes”. Some of the petitioners had Russian and even one Latvian surenames indicating poloniziation. On 1922 the Latvian Polish Political party declared that it cannot issue their candidates in Ilūkste district because of “sworn allegiance” to Poland on 1919. In the result only one candidate from Latgale was elected into Latvian Saeima. Later they canceled this fruitless principality and issued candidates in Zemgale election district to gain better results.

Latvians placed a great pressure on  Ilūkste resulting national frictions. The leading anti-Polish discourse stated that after the centuries of polonization that has made one large quarter of the Ilūkste Latvians into Poles, the Polish politicians and the Catholic church still try to polonize people of Latgale. The Polish schools were accused of spreading “traitorous spirit”, Catholic Church was accused of boosting separatism. The suspicion affected Belarusians too as  they were accused of separatism and their teachers placed on trial. Incidentally the cause of this trial was map showing Belarusian ethnic borders in one of the schools within Ilūkste district. The Latvian secret police thought that the map was actually map of the future Belarusian state that included Ilūkste district. In the end the Belarusian trial ended in fiasco forcing secret police to free the teachers. Meanwhile Poles in their newspapers accused Latvians of chauvinism and attempts of undermining the Polish language and culture.  Poles also accused Belarusians of attempts of taking away Polish kids and turning them into Belarusians. As matter of fact both Latvians and Poles even questioned if there such nation as “Belarusians”. Another important factor was the resurgence of the Latgalian nationalism. Latvians of Latgale have distinct dialect that some of them considers a distinctive language. As Latgalian nationalists campaigned for Latgalian autonomy and official Latgalian autonomy status, they issued strong messages of confrontation towards Poles of whom the viewed as the representatives of the “dark Polish times”. Polish activists argued back that they rule in 16-18th century was good and more better then the Russian Tzarist rule.

As Poland after 1926 became autocratic dictatorship by  Juzef Pilsudsky the Latvian Poles became more reliant on the Polish Mother State. Poland sponsored Polish minority movements. All the historic dates like the uprising of 183o and 1836 were celebrated making Latvians cringe as these events were made to restore united Polish commonwealth. Latvian Polish Union gained 2 deputy seats in the parliament and even more in local elections. The influence of the Polish state and regime was clearly visible in the Latvian Polish daily paper “Dzwon” (The Bell) where an ode to the president of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky was published. It was written by local from Krāslava a town with significant Polish minority. From today’s perspective that is a clear sign of the Polish “soft power”.

An Ode to President of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky written by local Pole from Krāslava Zofija Rujkowna

An Ode to President of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky written by local Pole from Krāslava Zofija Rujkowna

After many years of passive tension the Ilūkste dispute reached the boiling point. On 1931 the Ilūkste Catholic church tried to increase the number of church masses in Latgalian language. The local Poles were not impressed. On April 26 and May 3 during Latgalian church mass the Poles started to sing their Polish prayers loader than Latgalians. As both sides tried to sing loader then another the mass turned into riot. Many were arrested in result. A scandalous trials followed mostly issuing small term punishments for shouting the church and disrupting the civil order.

In Riga the Saeima parliamentary investigative commission was made and it concluded that the polonization has taken place in Ilūkste district and the Latvian Polish Union is responsible. The commission accused the Union of spreading separatist teachings in Polish schools and spreading school text books from Poland that marked Ilūkste as Polish territory.  1931 was also the election year boosting up the campaign against the rival Polish party. Polish Union split up in the pro-Latvian and pro-Polish block. Despite that two Polish representatives were elected, the Polish Union was temporally shot down and their six owned Polish schools were closed. The main Polish newspaper “Dzwon” was closed. Later do the “formal reasons” the Latvian Polish Union was disbanded. The Polish ambassador from Riga was temporary called off.

After being closed by the Latvian authorities the Polish newspaper issues a one issue call to all Polish voters to defend the Polish national rights and religions against the Latvian chauvinism and vote for the Polish Union that was later also closed down

After being closed by the Latvian authorities the Polish newspaper issues a one issue call to all Polish voters to defend the Polish national rights and religions against the Latvian chauvinism and vote for the Polish Union that was later also closed down

Despite condemnations from Warsaw and rumbling Polish press, Poland did not made any serious steps against Latvia. After all Latvia was one of the main Latvian trade partners and in secret deal between the two states on 1929 Poland by agreeing to pay compensations to  compensations to Polish citizen former land owners (including Ilūkste district) had de facto agreed on Ilūkste Latvian possession.

As Latvian population in the district increased (sometimes it was done artificially, by registering Pole or Belarusian as Latvian), and more Latvians taking over local administrations the tensions cooled down. The Poles made new party and restored their newspapers. However, on 1934 when Kārlis Ulmanis seized power, the new party was again banned. On 1933 both sides started negotiations on the border issue. The commission from the both countries finally reached agreement on 1938 ending the issue once and for all. Interesting event between 1933 and 1938 was the closure of the newspaper “Pēdējā Brīdī”. The newspaper had published article about celebrations of 1836 uprising that did not take place for some reason. Article included reference to the Polish claims of 1772 borders, that angered the Polish ambassador. The Latvian Foreign Ministry received complaints from him and asked to punish the newspaper. Newspaper was  fined for “spreading hate across the society”, soon after that the censors encountered another “bad” article about Baltic Germans and the Latvian Police and was closed down for “the bad conduct”.

That was last of the tensions. Eventually Ilūkste became recognized as a Latvian city. On 1939 after Eastern Poland was occupied and annexed  by the Soviet Union the border with Poland was lost forever. Now the Ilūkste district shares border with Lithuania and Belarus. Still ethnically diverse the Ilūkste district has become an integral part of Latvia.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1995). Sešu Pagastu un Grīvas pilsētas problēma Latvijas Polijas attiecībās. Latvijas Vēstures Instituta Žurnāls. Nr.1

Jēkabsons Ēriks. (1996) Poļi Latvijā. Rīga.

Newspaper “Dzwon” 1931

The Latvian History Archive. Ministry of the Society Affairs. Press and organization fund 3724.f. The “Pēdējā Brīdī” case Nr. 549.

Various Latvian Newspapers 1920-1936

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The Nature of Communism


75 years have passed since the signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact. The pact that triggered the World War II and caused the occupation of Poland and the Baltic States. For decades historians only described this event from the Nazi Germany point of view, overlooking the role of Soviet Union and its leader Joseph Stalin. Now more and more historians acknowledge that Soviet Union just as Nazi Germany was responsible for causing the World War II. And Soviet Union had its own reasons for starting the world war and that was its ideology – communism. An ideology that wanted achieve social and national equality by using war and violence was the driving force for dragging world into war. 75 years later we are witnessing the resurgence of this ideology. Russia is trying to restore former soviet “glory” in grotesque ways by including the elements of Nazism and Russian Czarist imperialism. This new hybrid ideology is potentially even more dangerous than teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. But, the root of this conflict is the communist ideology proposed by these two men. Even 21st century people still believe in these teachings and want to restore former soviet order. These beliefs are based on ignorance and deception. Today, August 23, is the European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of both Communism and Nazism. This article will reveal the deceitful nature of communism and explain why this is a  utopian ideology and philosophy can never be realized and always will turn to dystopia.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels formulated their ideas in their “Communist Party Manifesto”. They made thesis about that social conscience is dependent on the social being, named the laws of the social development and claimed that the means of production defines structure of the society. Social development is dictated by the forces of production. They formulated the idea of the proletarian dictatorship and the leading role of the communist party in struggle for full power. Manifesto clearly stated that the communist goals can be achieved only by force, overthrowing the present political power, taking away all capital from bourgeoisie and centralizing the recourses of production. Thus this manifesto was written by people who could be hardly classified as proletarians and enjoyed bourgeoisie lifestyles.

These ideas were the clear promotion of totalitarianism. The monopoly of one ideology, one party and one class dictatorship and centralized economy. The monopoly of the public sector. Later day totalitarian ideologies as fascism and Nazism that were opposed to communism in fact used similar ways- one party, one national group dictatorship and controlled private sector. For the totalitarian regimes have the same mechanism only the ways of operation differs. The communist ideology had controversial nature- while preaching humanitarian ideals it boasted the use of violence and oppression. That shows that these ideals were nothing more than ideological weapon for the communists to gain and secure power for their desired worldwide socialist revolution. In 19th century Europe communism was ideology made by middle class people who felt shorthanded by the ruling elite and wanted to overthrow it using masses of workers and poor peasants.

The first communist regime came into being in Russia not in Germany or  United Kingdom. Russian Empire was one of the last absolutist monarchies, unable to modernize and reform the Western way. Without fully established middle class as in Europe, Russia was full of people waiting for rapid change to end their injustice. The communists used the Russian defeat in the World War I, gained control over army and large masses of society and gained the power.

Basing on the theoretical generalizations by the Marx and Engels that bourgeoisie exploits the workers caused by the existence of the private property and its owners that causes contradiction between the forces of production and production relations – this most active part of the society was called as the enemies of the people and meant for destruction. Proletariat should now take the leading the role of the society. Their enemies were considered urban and rural businessmen, wealthy farmers, the intellectuals, state employees and the army leadership. In the event of revolution one social group destroys other by using murder and repression that is how the communists wanted to achieve things. And this social warfare continues after full victory of the revolution.

For seventy years this grandiose social experiment was carried out in Soviet Union causing the death of millions. And in the end it proved that communist regime is nothing but utopia, in fact it was dystopia. Communists believed that work productivity must be achieved by communistic job attitude, public property, planed state economy, socialistic competition, scientific work and moral stimulus. However, the soviet praxis proved to be flawed and with small efficiency. In EU and US the main food product production on one hectare was at least 2-4 times higher, and on one person employed in agriculture 8-10 higher than in Soviet Union. That’s clearly visible by comparing the full store shelves in capitalist countries comparing to nearly empty stores in the Soviet Union.

Communists underestimated the importance of individualism and the personal interests. Lenin declared that after the liberation from the exploiters worker can finally work for himself. It is a big difference if one work for himself or for others. However, the communism made this phrase an abstraction as people worked for the society for the proletarian cause. Meanwhile capitalist truly works for himself. However, the employed people in the private sector is limited by his recourses and recourses of the employer. In communism the state employed person is limited by the recourses of the state. So in communism the person is exploited by the state and the ruling elite. If the person has no personal interest in his work and no possibility to gain personal salary the work productivity drops. If people must work only for the state and society with limited salary and controlled life possibilities the interest in work is strained. And therefore the state economy is obstructed and failed.

In Soviet Union the human factor was the main problem of the productivity. As people were not interested in their work the resources were used irrationally, looted and lost. Corruption was eminent part of everyday soviet lives. During the Stalin’s rule this was fought with repressions and executions and constant threats. His successors tried to fight this by civil means. However, neither stimulated socialistic competition, salary according to accomplishments, material stimulation and state awards, could not ensure the needed productivity and amount of consumption. Instead state was forced to regularly write of the debts by the agricultural collective farms. Collective farming – in fact a modern form of serfdom was disastrous and ineffective. On 1959 Soviet minister of agriculture Nikonov reported that 259 weak Latvian collective farms of kolkhozes were unified with the soviet farms or sovhozes. While 59 soviet farms made 52 million ruble worth losses to the state. On 1963 the head of the Latvian Communist party Pelše admitted of having 203 weak kolkhozes and 343 sovhozes. The kolkhoz economy was disastrous for Latvian agricultural society as it was based on Russian village economy, while in Latvia the farmstead economy was the leading one. By deporting the private farm owners and forcing people to live in villages, communists destroyed a centuries of the Latvian cultural tradition.

Despite owning large territories of fertile agricultural land in Ukraine, Baltic States, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia, Soviet Union suffered from chronic food product deficit. Grain was regularly imported from the capitalist countries, while grain taken away from soviet farmers were exported in return. Same goes for industrial sector, despite owning large amounts of gas, oil and iron the same deficit was present. The soviet command economy was no different from feudal czarist economy. The economical plans were issued as laws and directives. The subordinates fulfilled it as orders with no regard to their personal interests. They were just executors in the large soviet machinery who do as their superiors told to. As they were liberated from working for others, they also were liberated from thinking. “Do as I am told” attitude not only lead to completely useless actions like trying to grow cornflakes in Latvia to disasters like Chernobyl and the Aral Sea.

While private property was declared as the main evil of the society it proved that the absence of the private property was the evil of the soviet society. Besides it was never really removed as it existed in various limited forms. During the first years after the Russian Civil War, Lenins New Economic Policy allowed limited state regulated private sector. Stalin to gather absolute power imposed concentration camp economy with almost total absence of private sector. However, his economy was ensured by the repressions. During the rule of Khrushchev and Brezhnev soviets again were forced to allow limited private enterprise. For instance collective farm workers could own small plot of land to grow their own food and even sell it in rural markets. That allowed people to survive, while EU was experiencing severe agricultural overproduction and had to limit it by imposing quotas.  The society is driven by social competition and contradictions in production. The private economy has been proven as best way to manage this. Democracy and non-violence is another effective way to handle such way of things. However, democracy was another thing that communists wanted to eradicate.

Communists believed that contradictions in society are antagonic and not correlative. Therefore violence and dictatorship was the only way of ruling the society according to them. Social classes and political groups seen as hostile to the revolution were to be destroyed. By attempting to destroy the employers the communists attempted to eradicate the very foundation of the social structure. The violent flawed belief that society can prosper without certain social groups lead to great human disasters. On 1919 Latvian Soviet government in short time killed hundreds of thousands people because of their social class and nationality. On 1932 -1933 to impose collectivization in Ukraine, Stalin stimulated famine to get rid of farmers unwilling to join kolkhozes. In result 2-7 million people died in horrible famine across Ukraine. This genocide known as Holodomor had also ethnic character because it killed native Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine. After that Ukrainian Soviet Republic was filled with immigrants from Russia, while Western Ukraine ruled by Poland preserved its Ukrainian population. The Holodomor is the true reason for the “ethnic divide” of Ukraine. During the 1937-1938 great purge Stalin to monopolize his power made certain social and ethnic groups as enemies and destroyed them. Latvian communists and socially active Latvian soviet citizens were accused of state betrayal and destroyed in thousands. Same happened to Poles, Germans. Later even Jews were accused of state betrayal and were considered for deportations.


In international scene the same antagonism was used. Soviet Union was considered as single state fortress against the fascist-capitalist world. However, the political and trade cooperation was allowed. As Lenin said: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”. The cooperation was useful as it was according to soviet imperial interests. Ultimately the capitalist world had to be destroyed resulting worldwide socialist revolution. As Stalin lost his faith in European proletariat unwilling to support the communist revolution, he gave is chance in war. Another teaching by Lenin was that next global war between imperialists will cause socialist revolution.  Stalin’s foreign policy towards Germany actually helped Hitler to gain power. While being officially anti-fascist Stalin did not nothing to obstruct Hitlers gambles in Austria and Czechoslovakia.  When the September 1939 came, Stalin had unique chance to ally with UK and France against Germany to avert the invasion in Poland. Instead Stalin did what the communist ideology required him to do – by signing treaty with Germany initiate the war in Europe. Naturally this alliance with Nazis was only temporarily as Stalin was looking to hang Hitler with his own rope. The Nazi invasion in 1941 was failure for Stalin’s quest for worldwide revolution and despite capturing Berlin and gaining control over Eastern Europe Stalin did not considered himself truly victorious.

In the end the communism proved to be bloody fiction and deception. Soviet Union was not a proletarian dictatorship it was single party dictatorship lead by one man enjoying monarch lifestyle. The new ruling elite or nomenklatura enjoyed bourgeoisie lifestyles while rest of the people were standing in the lines of the empty shops. The so called Soviet Republics had only limited self governing rights as they were dependent on orders from Moscow.  The country boasted about their military might while in reality being technically inferior to its rivals and vulnerable. Despite relative quality of the standard of living, the state limited the trips to capitalist countries to prevent the people see the real life in the West.

This is not only the case of the Soviet Union. Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe, Kuba, Africa and Asia failed the same way. Chinese communists acknowledged the importance of the private property and diverted from the Marxist teachings and kept their power. Laos and Vietnam did the same. Meanwhile Cuba and North Korea still suffers from poverty and isolation because of tyrannical communist rule. To see difference between communism and capitalism you need to see the satellite view of Korean peninsula at night. You will see the South Korea full of light while Northern Korea as one big black hole. And yes the North Korean elite including their leader enjoys the capitalist Samsung smartphones and other gadgets.

Now Russia is heading for this same trap. Not only is that she is looking to draw her neighbors along. Communism is still seen favorable by old generation people and young people affected by propaganda. They may like to wave red flags while enjoying the fruits of capitalism the internet and shops full of their favorite western goods. They communism goes no further as slogan “our country is great and victorious and world fears us”. If they would be thrown back into Stalinist or even Brezhnev realities they would look for way to escape. The Putin and his henchmen are of course are no communists. They enjoy the private profit and luxury; they enjoy vacations in US and Europe and have their investments and bank funds there. Their main concern is keeping the power over their people and people in the neighboring countries. For that they can use neo-communist, nationalist or even Nazi influenced propaganda. They profit on masses of foolish people who thinks Putin will restore the communist Soviet Union. He may actually restore one thing- international isolation and deficit of food products. He can limit the freedom of expression. But, can such neo-soviet state exist for long? Under the reign of Putin Russia will only be a fascist state under the hammer and sickle. As communism is alien to human nature and is anti-human in its character. That is the danger of the nature of communism.

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The Secret War Against Latvia: Latvian Communist Party in Underground 1920-1940

Latvian Leftist Trade Union program with Soviet Symbols showing its allegiance to  underground Latvian Communist Party

Latvian Leftist Trade Union program with Soviet Symbols showing its allegiance to underground Latvian Communist Party

On August 11 1920 the war between Latvia and the Soviet Russia had officially ended. The short-lived Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was dissolved. However, the Latvian Communists were far from giving up. With the main leadership in Moscow, under the direction of the Comintern the Latvian Communist party fought secret war against the Republic of Latvia. In 20 years of underground struggle the party however failed to achieve its goals and was almost destroyed from the inside and outside when on 1940 Soviets tanks marched in Riga.

Latvian Communist Party (LCP) was successor of the Latvian Social democracy  (LSD) – originally a Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party from 1905, that was taken over by the Bolsheviks. On March 1-6 1919 during IV LSD congress the party was renamed to Latvian Communist Party.It was a height of the Soviet power in Latvia and communist minded LSD no longer needed to disguise as social democrats. The three main leaders were Pēteris Stučka, Fricis Roziņš and Kārlis Daniševskis. By their leadership the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic realized a genocidal destructive policy and was defeated and chased away from Riga. Fearing official peace talks between Latvia and Soviet Russia, LCP tried to provoke armed uprising in Valmiera that would be supported by uprising in Riga. Uprising meant to took place on January 11 1920 never took place and could not happen in the first place. On the same time Latvian – Polish united forces liberated Latgale and forced LCP to move to  Velikie Luki in Russia. On January 17 the reluctant LCP was forced to dissolve the soviet government and hand over the authority to LCP Central Committee (CC) On January 25 LCP CC made decision to leave Russian Communist (Bolshevik) party and joined the Communist International. Also called Comintern the Communist Party became the part of the soviet foreign intelligence in their quest to initiate the Socialist revolutions all over the world.

LCP created the CC Russian Bureau and Foreign Bureau. It was lead by Pēteris Stučka and J Lencmanis. After II Comintern congress a Latvian Section was created within the Communist Party Executive Committee it was the only foreign representative of the LCP. LCP gathered its funds from the stolen money and goods during the war. Special party enterprises “Products” and “Prometejs” was made to boost the party treasury. In Pskov district LCP owned two Soviet farms “Beryoki” and “Stretmutka”. “Stretmuka” was later ravaged by the fire. As the LCP started to run out of stolen resources the LCP moved away from Pskov and had over the farms to Commissariat of Agriculture. As stolen goods depleted LCP became dependent on soviet secret service funding and therefore became directed by it.

Until 1922 the LCP was mostly directed by  LCP CC Secret Task department was lead by Jānis Zukovskis who died on January 27 1920, and was replaced by Kārlis Kauliņš. The task of the Secret Task department was to ensure contacts with illegal party organizations and lead the partisan warfare and military espionage in enemy countries. What they were actually doing was to illegally cross the border to distribute communist literature, and escort spies. Also important way of achieving worldwide socialist revolution was to spread out the counterfeited money. LCP agents made trips to Latvia and exchanged the faked Latvian Rubles. It was way to gain more illegal funds. On 1922 the Latvian Section received 2 million faked Latvian rubles and gained back 1 023 000 genuine rubles. Many agents were caught so Latvian security services were aware of these actions.

At first LCP was still enthusiastic about restarting war against Latvia, however after  the end of the Russian Civil War, the LCP started to adapt to reality that worldwide socialist revolution is on the long delay that however will come sometime. Until then LCP had to reorganize and change its tactics. On 1921 Latvian government issued death sentences to communist agents Jānis Šlīfs, Augusts Bērce and Mārtiņš Čuče. They were replaced by Rūdolfs Salna and Jānis Krūmiņš. LCP also had cell in Berlin lead by Jānis Bērziņš whose main task in Berlin was to sell out the stolen goods, he was arrested on 1927 and was released on 1934 and died in Soviet Union shortly after. He as commissar of agriculture during the Soviet rule in Latvia. His college from those times Edgars Zanderfelds operated a secret typography and storage in Krāslava with many secret passages that operated till 1929 and was not discovered until 1940.

LCP sent a myriad of agents in Latvia. Some of them managed to infiltrate in the Latvian state offices and even army and police. Roberts Kalniņš first was arrested in 1921 on suspicion of LCP affiliation. He was found in possession with communist literature and being member of  LCP Cēsis section. On 1923 he took the job as secretary of Sigulda 7th infantry battalion and was accused of LCP connection and arrested. During arrest he confessed of being convinced communist and was sentenced for four years in prison. On 1929 he came back as secretary of the Tukums Healthcare Fund while being member of the LCP Tukums section. On 1930 he revealed himself by publishing brochure “In the prison of the humanitarian regime”. The brochure was banned. On 1930 he returned to Cēsis and was accused again of LCP affiliation. On 1932 he was arrested and then released and was caught of taking part in Valmiera communist circle “Moscow”. It was not enough and on 1933 he made trouble again by issuing satirical magazine that was banned for insulting the president of Latvia Alberts Kviesis. This is just a example of a convinced communist recidivist agent that worked for LCP.

LCP operated the exchange of information and agents, couriers operated on Latvian railways and transported sums of money to European communist counterparts. On 1926 two Lithuanian Poles attacked two official Soviet Diplomatic couriers, one of them was Latvian Teodors Nette who died in the event. Since both attackers also died in the event it was impossible to found out if they were simple bandits or secret agents to halt the soviet attempts of bringing counterfeit money to Europe. Possibly it was done by British Secret service.  

The Red Rifleman - the newspaper of the Liepāja Communist party War section 1920

The Red Rifleman – the newspaper of the Liepāja Communist party War section 1920

LCP also tried to use legal cover to affect Latvian politics. However, the elected members of the LCP legal cover parties were only instructed to work in open opposition as LCP feared that too open cooperation would mean LCP recognition of the Republic of Latvia. One of the leaders of the legal cover was Leons Paegle and Linards Laicens – two novelists and poets, also nationalists at start. Laicēns was one of the first to publicly present the idea of the national state, however fell out with Latvian Republic soon after its foundation. LCP created illegal “Legal work center” to coordinate the legal cover. LCP managed to split the Latvian Trade Union in two making loyal trade union bureaus in Riga and Courland. Leftist trade union members were used for elections in municipal elections and for legal press.

On 1928 Saeima (Parliament) elections two LCP affiliated movements entered parliament The Leftist Workers list and the Independent Socialist Party. On 1931 Workers and Peasant Fraction gained 6 seats. The real harm to Latvian government made by these legal communist party list was minimal. Elected deputies disrupted the parliament job by proposing unreasonable laws and singing Internationale that was official soviet anthem during parliament sections. On 1930 during the long and complicated presidential election process communists used humor to complicate the elections even more. As Alberts Kviesis was the leading candidate, communists proposed their own candidate Miezis. Because Kviesis in Latvian means wheat and Miezis means barley. Kviesis was elected but eventually Latvian Secret Police managed to uncover the Workers and Peasants fraction as LCP front organization and removed elected deputies from the parliament.

The election poster of the legal LCP election list Leftist Workers List

The election poster of the legal LCP election list Leftist Workers List

However, this also happened because LCP was unsatisfied with the fraction and their members who they saw too disloyal and weak. Linards Laicēns as election locomotive was disillusioned about his political mandate and wanted to depart. LCP itself begun to get rid of the fraction by alienating their members and forcing them to give up their mandates. Miezis was called to Moscow which he entered illegally and was commanded to give up his mandate, since he was in Moscow illegally he could not announce it. As he went back to Latvia he was arrested and sentenced in six years in correctional facility. However, that saved Miezis life as all other fraction members who emigrated to USSR perished in purges. Other members being afraid of moving to USSR wanted to live in Europe. LCP CC did everything to get them back. Laicēns accused of insubordination and bourgeois influence in the end was forced to move Soviet Union. On December 14 1938 he shot. Only emigrating fraction member who survived was Emīls Sudmalis.    

During 1928-1929 LCP for some reason was issuing strategy in case of Soviet invasion in Latvia  Talks about combat groups, taking over Daugavpils, sabotaging the Latvian army and cooperating with soviet secret service. On 1930 LCP tried to infiltrate group of communists within Latvian army garrison in Daugavpils. However, the plot failed because the majority of Daugavpils young communists were Jews, who spoke Russian and could not freely communicate with the Latvian soldiers.

Comintern  wanted to install radio transmitter in Riga to ease communication with Latvian based LCP. After long search for proper radio operator Arvīds Sviķis was selected. He graduated the Moscow Energetic Institute, and practiced at Leningrad Radio and learned to transmit in Morse code. As Czechoslovakian citizen Oldrich Adamek on July 1935 he entered Latvia. The code was made by two books – the 1st volume of the collected writings of Andrejs Upītis and Latvian-German dictionary. He was sent to create radio station in apartment in one of the relatives of the chief of the operation Lencmanis. This same person also worked in Soviet Trade Fleet office. LCP could not find better cover for radio building, however Latvian Police missed this too. With salary of 170 Lats and 60 lats for rent and 900 lats to buy radio parts a transmitter was built in October. However, its power was too low for signal to reach Moscow and they had to build a new transmitter. After seeing the real life in Riga, Sviķis on December 1 1935 went to Latvian Secret Police and confessed in everything. The apartment was raided and transmitter was found, all six members of the group was arrested. LCP was unaware that Sviķis was the one who turned in the group until 1939. After 1940 Soviet occupation Sviķis was sentenced for state treason and shot.

As Stalinist regime gained its power the inner struggle within LCP grew stronger. Stučka was old and ill, the new professional top members were looking to replace the old 1919 guard. Strautiņš or Citrons (Lemon) fought against old timer Jānis Lencmanis. Citrons who represented the party in Comintern Executive committee was in high position. Citrons and his supporters lost the power gamble after Stučka’s death on 1932. Then came the 1934 Coup of Kārlis Ulmanis. It was unexpected surprise to LCP. Party begun to search for scapegoats and excluded those who were unable to recognize their mistakes.  

The Comintern was discontent with the LCP work. Alarming criticism about 1919 Soviet Republic in press and books was wake up call. On 1936 Comintern was looking to punish the Foreign Bureau and get rid of unsatisfactory members.   In the end on June 21 1936 Comintern commanded to dissolve Central Committee and elect a new one and dissolve the Foreign Bureau. Also because of disagreement with the Riga Committee that was fired, the contacts with Latvia were disrupted. LCP was in crisis and considered useless to Comintern.

Jānis Kalnbērziņš convinced Stalinist was sent to Latvia to restore the party. After Hitlers raise to power the LCP European cell was moved to Copenhagen. Meanwhile in Latvia Kalnbērziņs conducted party member checkup. In Soviet Union all so called politemigrants – communists emigrating or exiled to Soviet Union was also under survey. Rūdolfs Salna a important LCP functionary who was tasked to sent report about them were too negative calling most of them unreliable and recommended to deport them from USSR. It was excuse for Stalin to call Latvian section full of spies or traitors. As the repressions against Latvians started large numbers of LCP members were arrested and shot. Salna himself, Citrons, Krūmiņš, Krastiņš were “revealed” as enemies. Meanwhile in Latvia most of the LCP members were arrested or placed in deep underground.

After 1937 surviving LCP lost contacts with Moscow and was unsure if they still are part of the Comintern as  Fricis Deklavs recalled in 1956. Party was weak and asked for support that Moscow declined. On 1939 on the eve of the WW2 it was punitive small organization no longer resembling party. Because of this on 1940 when Soviet Union occupied Latvia the Soviet puppet government contained non LCP members like Augusts Kirhenšteins and Vilis Lācis, famous biologist and famous writer, Bruno Kalniņš social democrat, possibly Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vilhelms Munters were recruited by soviet secret service and were the front men in soviet puppet government (except for Munters who was deported to light imprisonment in Russia). The Soviet occupiers had to make new LCP from the scratch using agents from Russia and local new recruits. The party was now completely connected to central soviet system and after WW2 became ruling local power adjacent to Moscow.

The history of LCP resembles the events today. Russia uses myriad or parties and non governmental movements with hidden allegiance to Moscow.  They either directed by locals or Russia sent agents. Sometimes their pro-Moscow stance is obvious, however the democratic laws and regulations allows them to operate further. The effect of such politics is clearly visible in Ukraine and also in Latvia. The main question is how to fight such covert war- with democratic laws or using their own preferred way – by force. The main goal of this covert war is loosing balance and  that is the most danger in defending our freedom and independence.

Selected Sources:

Niedra,Ojārs. Daugmalis, Viktors. (1999) Slepenais Karš Pret Latviju. Komunistiskās Partijas darbība 1920-1940. Arhīvi apsūdz. Rīga. Totalitārisma Seku dokumentēšanu centrs.

Kaņepe, Vija (Ed) (2001) Latvijas Izlūkdienests 1919-1940. 664 likteņi.


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Latvia-Soviet Russia Peace Agreement August 11 1920

Latvia - Soviet Russia peace agreement on August 11 1920

Latvia – Soviet Russia peace agreement on August 11 1920

On August 11 1920 Latvia and Soviet Russia signed a historic landmark peace agreement. For Latvia it was a guarantee for the independence and sovereignty for years to come. For Soviet Russia, later Soviet Union it was only a temporally setback and 20 years later Latvians learned the deceitful nature of the Soviet diplomacy.   How this peace agreement took place and whats the story behind it – it will be discussed in this article.

On late 1918 the Bolshevik hopes for Worldwide Socialist Revolution were in upswing. Bolsheviks broke the Brestlitovsk peace agreement with Germany they signed themselves and now gathered troops to regain control over Baltic States and Poland. The ultimate goal was Berlin and beyond. Soviet offensive on January 1919 was successful at first – Riga and much of the Lithuania was captured and soviet republics were established there. However, their fight against Estonians and Poles were unsuccessful – on February 1919 Estonians already chased out Bolsheviks from their territory and moved in Northern Latvia. Polish forces pushed into Lithuania and Belarus. Therefore Bolsheviks were forced to ask for peace negotiations to Estonia first.  On March 22 Soviet Russia trough the Hungarian Soviet Government  Foreign Minister Bela Kun sent first peace proposal. The short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic was used for contacts with the western countries and Hungarians as Estonian ethnic brothers were specially used for such matter. However, when Estonians received the peace proposal on April, it was turned down because of British interference. The Great Britain placed hopes on White Russian forces and therefore wanted Baltic states to support them by continuing war against soviets. Later on August 1919 Estonians again received peace proposals, but turned down because of further British resentment and being unsure about Latvia and Lithuania who did not receive any peace proposals yet.

On March 1919 the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic still controlled large parts of Latvian territory. The Latvian Soviet government tried to realize fanatic communist ideas in even more radical way then their counterparts in Russia. As the regime begun to disintegrate the genocidal policies of the LSSR begun to affect the diplomatic scene. Soviets took hostages on retreat mainly Baltic Germans and German and Danish citizens. Danes and Germans were unable to contact the LSSR government so the question was undertaken by the soviet foreign commissar Georgy Chicherin. Danish Red Cross sent delegation to Petrograd to negotiate the hostage release. Doctor from Riga L T Lukyanov was sent by Latvian Provisional Government to find ways how to start peace negotiations with the soviets. He was instructed by foreign minister Zigfrīds Anna Meireovics and colonel Jānis Balodis. In Moscow he met the top member of the Soviet Foreign Peoples Commissariat Maxim Litvinov, showing that it was important for soviets to seek negotiations with Latvia.

Only on August 1919 three Baltic States and Finland received peace proposals. Soviets were endangered by the White Russian armies and wanted to stop the Baltic States supporting them. And Soviets were concerned about Poland of who they were afraid of gaining more power over Baltic States and attempting to organize a joint offensive against Moscow. None of this were correct, as Poland failed to establish full power over Lithuania and the attempt by the British General F  G Marsh to organize joint Polish, White guard and Baltic offensive were not approved by the British government. However, Vladimir Lenin took this seriously and wanted to isolate Baltic States from Poland by singing peace agreements.

On August 31 1919 Estonia received proposal for negotiations, then on September 11 Finland and Latvia. Lithuania was asked on the same day, but because the proposals were sent using  juzogramm( a special type of telegram) it reached them on September 15. While Estonia received promises to fully recognize their national borders which they were in control off, Latvia and Lithuania only received note that soviets are ready for talks. Latgale was still under the Soviet control and in Zemgale Pro-German forces were preparing for assault on Riga. Lithuanian borders were still in question. Estonia that fully controlled its territory and was pathway to Petrograd was in better position for full peace talks.

Soviets wanted to negotiate alone with every Baltic State to disallow united position. They wanted to negotiate with Estonia first as General Yudenich White forces approached Petrograd. Estonia rejected and asked to make negotiations with Soviet Russia and all three Baltic States together. A conference in Tallinn on September 14-15 was called to discuss this. Latvia was not sure about this as Latgale was still under Soviet control and Pro-German forces were preparing for attack.  As excuse to turn down such negotiations were the reaction of the UK and France that would dislike such talks. However, British cabinet was moving towards allowing Baltic States to allow peace negotiations  with the Soviets. However, all sides were convinced on signing only ceasefire as peace with Soviets seemed unreal at that time.

As Latvia was unable to gain guarantees on Latgale from other states and Finland suggested not to rush, but wait for UK and French acceptance the united stance on negotiations  with Soviets was not reached. On September 24-25 UK changed its policy and allowed Baltic States to organize negations with Soviets. Estonians who already foresaw this change of policy were impressed, while Latvia and Finland for their own reasons were still careful to start peace talks. On October 6 Latvian Peoples Council first discussed the peace negotiation possibility with the soviets. Foreign Minister Z A Meierovics was insisting on discussing peace only with democratic Russia, gaining wide neutral zone and compensations from Russia. Such way was impossible and was proposed to delay talks. Social Democrats proposed to start negotiations immediately, but on note that Latgale should be abandoned by the soviets and LSSR disbanded. In following days the discussions were halted by the pro-German offensive on the Latvian forces. So called West Russian Volunteer Army  commanded by General “count” Pavel Bermondt-Avalov and Rüdiger von der Goltz was formed from local Germans and ex imperial army German soldiers together with Russian army POWS. For two months Latvian government was caught up in fight with Bermontd army until ultimate victory on November.

On November 11-19 in Tartu all three Baltic States representatives including Poland and Finland met together and again discussed negotiations with the Soviets. Estonia now was ready to sign peace deal separately as Yudenich army was broken and Estonian army was tired. Latvia was still fighting Bermondt and Soviets in Latgale. Lithuania was rather concerned with war with Poland and even Latvia. Poland was unable to have any negotiations with Soviets at all. Finland was not in a hurry and disregarded the Baltic positions. The unity was broken, nor it was possible.

On November 6 Latvian delegation to Moscow including nationalist Arveds Bergs, social democrat Fricis Menders and others were instructed to note soviets that only united talks with all Baltic states are possible with support from UK and France.  This a principal yet unrealistic stance by Meireovics or an attempt to delay talks until Latgale is gained back my military means. On November 17 Litvinov insisted on signing peace agreement on spot and promised to leave Latgale. Despite Menders and Litvinov being old revolutionary comrades from 1905 revolutions talks went nowhere because of official Latvian stance. And also Arveds Bergs despite recognizing Litvinov as  “skillful and clever Jew” distrusted his intentions on leaving Latgale. Only thing reached by all Baltic States was the hostage exchange with the Soviet Russia.

On December 5 Estonians started separate talks with Soviets. Lenin and Chicherin were positive on peace agreement while communist hotheads Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev insisted on second invasion that was rejected by Lenin. Latvia sent their representatives to observe the talks and try to initiate talks with soviets. Estonians were hostile to Latvian delegation and tried to isolate them as much as possible. Menders again used his revolutionary past to approach his old Menshevik  comrade Yoffe and gained soviet confidence on starting secret peace   negotiations with Latvia. Using him Meierovics sent a secret letter to Moscow issuing demands for negotiations – Latgale must be abandoned and LSSR disbanded, and talks must be secret under the guise of Latvian Red Cross delegation. On December 19 Latvian envoy in secret meeting in Tallinn coffee stand gave the letter secretly to Yoffe. The Estonian Secret Police rushed in and arrested them. But message reached Moscow and on December 24 Moscow replied that they accept the Latvian therms.

Despite Soviet promise to leave Latgale, the leader of the Latvian Provisional government Kārlis Ulmanis was sure to regain Latgale by military means.    On December 13 last units of the defeated Bermontd army left the Lithuanian territory. Latvia had to ask either Lithuanian or Polish support for the military campaign in Latgale. Both new countries had ambitions to restore their past empires, that would include significant Latvian parts or Latvia as whole. Lithuanian demands were arrogant and unrealistic, they demanded Ilūkste district and even Daugavpils. Poland despite ambition to restore the borders of 1772 where more forthcoming because of coming military offensive towards the east. They needed Latgale secure from Soviets to aid their attack. On December 29 a Latvian-Polish military cooperation agreement was signed for the Latgale campaign. Some days later on December 31 Estonia and Soviet Russia signed ceasefire. Soviets recognized their independence and borders.

On January 2 1920 Latvia sent the Red Cross Delegation to Moscow and on January 3 Latvian – Polish armies started their assault on Latgale. Fricis Menders and Augusts Frīdenbergs reached Moscow despite going trough front lines and nearly getting killed on January 6. Chicherin was angry about the Latvian-Polish offensive and turned down his old Menshevik comrade. On January 11 Soviets gave unreasonable demands to neutralize Latgale and give it self-determination rights. On January 14 Soviets no longer demanded the Latgale autonomy, but demanded to give a month to leave Latgale and asked Latvians to leave Pytalovo  that was taken by Latvian army. They also refused to disband the Latvian Red Riflemen. Meanwhile on January 15-16 another joint conference by the new states in Helsinki took place bringing no results. Unity was impossible as Lithuania wanted war with Poland and Latvia, they already seized some Latvian border lands they refused to leave. Meirovics were afraid of the Baltic balkanization – driving region to ethnic border wars and proposed a wide alliance. Finland and Estonia were not interested and talks went nowhere.

On January 30 at 3:00 in the night the ceasefire between Latvia and Russia was reached. Latvian army had taken over all Latgale. Parts of the ceasefire regarding the disbanding the Latvian Communist Party in Moscow and halting anti-Latvian propaganda were never realized. Ceasefire should had started on February 1, however Poland insisted to capture the city of Drisa (Verkhnyadzvinsk) for strategic purposes. That was done and new ceasefire on  February 1 was signed making new demarcation line. The ceasefire took effect on 12:00 at February 1.

On February 2 Estonia signed peace agreement with Soviet Russia first of the three Baltic States to do so. Estonians in return for recognizing independence agreed on not demanding financial compensations and allowed full rights for Soviet transit in Estonia. Estonia received 15 millions of gold as reward for being the first to allow such transit privileges.  Estonia also received the territories of Eastern Narva and Pechori (Petseri). Same as later Pytalova they were mainly Russian inhabited regions.

Latvia was reluctant to give such privileges for the soviets and wanted compensations from Russia. Large numbers of factories and equipment were moved to Russia from Riga on 1915 and Latvia wanted it back. And still Meierovics hoped on joint Latvian, Polish and Lithuanian talks despite being completely impossible. Poland insisted on  delaying the talks, Finland too. Meanwhile  UK was now moving towards reconciliation with Soviet Russia and was hostile towards Polish will to fight further. Britain insisted Latvia to stop siding with Poles for it will do no good. Latvians hoped for conference in Riga as follow up for Helsinki conference but it never took place. Poland started marching towards Belarus and Ukraine.

Because of these reasons the talks on peace agreement started two months later. Latvia was issuing high demands on compensations 37,5 million golden rubles were demanded and 72 million rubles for injured soldier families. Latvians were also skeptical on soviet transit rights. Also commissions in Riga demanded to give 40 year concession for Volga -Daugava canal. Such canal has never been built until this day. Such fantastic demands made by commissions in Riga were made in disregard of the real situation in Russia. Soviets were either unable or unwilling to fulfill such demands. Also as the first election took place the peace talks now became part of the party battle. Latvian Green Farmers combated Social Democrats. Menders was removed from leading the talks, A Zēbergs the deputy of the foreign minister was appointed as the head of the negotiations.

On April 10 the delegation finally traveled to Moscow. 34 people delegation in Sebezh, met the first group of Latvian hostages including social democrat V Bastjānis and doctor V Mintz who treated Lenin’s assassination attempt injuries. As all demanded hostages were gathered the exchange took place on April 16. On this day the delegation reached Moscow and was “greeted” by angry Latvian communists who protested against the peace agreement. Despite all attempts to preserve the LSSR in Latgale and convince Lenin to keep fighting, the LSSR was disbanded. LCP despite being still active part of Commnintern was lost and confused. Zēbergs was unsuitable for leading the talks the Yoffe got better of him and rejected all kinds of demands for compensations. Soviets also wanted Drisa and Pytalovo back. Zēbergs who wanted fast talks was angry about this and demanded Meireovics to come to Moscow himself which Meirovics rejected. He was caught up in forming the new government and did not feel no need to head to Moscow.

Then talks went to halt as Poland started major offensive towards Kyiv. While Latvians believed this will make Soviets to sign peace agreement with Latvia faster, soviets regarded Latvians and Polish allies and made aggressive statements. As soviets pushed Poles back they hoped to capture Warsaw and make a difference in Baltic-Soviet relations. Soviets however gave up Pytalova and surrounding areas, but did not want to give up Drisa. In the end Verkhnyadzvinsk a mostly a Belarusian city was given up to Soviet Russia. Pytalova was gave up by Soviets because of war of Poland and Latvian reluctance to give it back. On May 22 Zēbergs unsatisfied with his work left Moscow and later resigned from delegation. He was replaced by Jānis Veismanis.

Talks again were brought to halt after Meierovics was cited in Latvian Russian newspaper about plans about Baltic state military convention against Soviet Russia. Such convention was in plans on this time, but made Soviets halt the talks. On June 17 Soviets rejected Latvian demands on compensating or returning the lost pre WWI industrial equipment. On July 9 the sick and exhausted Latvian delegation asked to head back to Riga and resume talks there. Reluctant soviets worried by the strain on propaganda agreed, but noted that the final agreement must be signed in Moscow. On July 12 after peace agreement with Lithuania soviet delegation arrived in Riga and were met with hostility from the press.

As soviets pushed offensive towards Warsaw that would lead to ultimate capture of Berlin, the soviets openly rejected any economical demands from Latvia.  Lithuania meanwhile signed dubious peace agreement with Soviets, where Lithuania acquired Vilnius, Belarusian Hrodna, Polish Augstowa and Suvalki and in secret protocol allowed to use its territory for soviets against their war on Poland. However, as soon a soviets captured Vilnius instead of giving it to Lithuania they installed a soviet government there. It took month for Lithuanians to convince Russians to evict from Vilnius. During the final faze on Soviet war against Poland the Soviet delegation became even more reluctant and hostile towards Latvian counterparts. Meireovics included multi-party representatives including social democrats that soviets disliked. Social Democrats rejected to take part in the first Commitern congress. Soviets were running out of patience – battle for Warsaw was close. Latvians also had enough. Soviets at least returned a half amount of  locomotives and train wagons taken away during WWI. On August 7 Soviet representative Ivans Lorencs sent message to Moscow that Latvian demands are unbearable and that we need to organize a local invasion, dress up Red Army men as “green partisans”, kill some nobles, kulaks and priests. That was not necessary on August 9 the agreement was reached, Soviets finally agreed to compensate 4 million golden rubles in two months. Latvia gave up Drisa but kept Pytalova later called Abrene.

On August 11 12:40 the peace agreement took place. It was signed in Riga not Moscow as originally intended. On August 12-15 the Polish army sealed this agreement by defeating the Soviets near Warsaw and chasing them away. The peace agreement between Poland and Soviet Russia was signed in Riga on March 18. Without Polish victory the Baltic States would be in danger. Soviets stated in the agreement that “for eternal times to come they will respect and will not endanger the Latvian independence”.   The first article stated that “The state of war existing between the Parties shall be ended as of the effective date of this Peace Treaty.”Article 2 declared the independence and sovereignty of Latvia and Article 3 set the borders of the State of Latvia, while also creating deadlines by which foreign troops should leave. Articles 4-6 dealt with military affairs and war damage, Article 7 with provisions for the return of prisoners of war, should they desire to return. Articles 8 through 9 concerned citizenship, repatriation of refugees, and property claims. Adults aged 18 or older were free to choose either Latvian or Russian citizenship, the default being that individuals were citizens of the state in which they resided at the time the treaty was signed. Articles 11 through 16 dealt with reparations Russia was to make to the Latvian state and its citizens. Articles 17 and 18 dealt with commercial, transit, postal and navigation arrangements and Article 19 with diplomatic relations. Article 20 address nationality issues and Article 21 established a commission to handle issues of mutual interest. Articles 22 and 23 deal with treaty technicalities such as language and ratification. August 11 was celebrated as Victory day.

Latvia could not gain its lost infrastructure, that was however technically belonged to Russian Empire on 1915, but was on Latvian soil. For next 20 years the agreement was guarantee for Latvian independence and sovereignty. German statesman Otto von Bismark stated many years before that its pointless to believe that Russia will fulfill its signed treaties. For next 20 years Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin plotted the next world war. When the chance finally came on 1939 Stalin had no problem breaking the peace treaty of 1920. The “eternal times” lasted only 20 years after Latvia was occupied and annexed. On 1944 Soviet Union took away Abrene and joined back to Russia. Russia only fulfills agreements as long as its up to its imperial interests. The Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine on 1994 was advantageous for Russia as its removed nuclear weapons from Ukraine and also guaranteed its borders.   On 2014 the borders of Ukraine and its sovereignty was no   longer advantageous for Russia, it was advantageous now to violate it. The Latvian – Soviet Russia peace agreement with Russia shows that only agreement Russia accepts is made by blood   and iron  not by paper. Diplomacy is weakness for Russia, the only diplomacy Russia understands is force.

Selected Sources:

Stranga, Aivars. (2000) Latvijas – Padomju Krievijas Miera līgums. 1920. gada 11. augusts. Rīga. Fonds “Latvijas Vēsture”


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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.


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.

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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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