Mass deportations to remote faraway places in Siberia, was one of the most used tools, by the Soviet leaders to take complete control over the society and strengthen their power. Deportations to Siberia, was already practiced by the Czarist government, but on much lower scale. Joseph Stalin was sent to Siberia many times, but could leave his captivity without getting caught. However, the Soviet deportations were on a much larger scale; whole families were deported to tightly guarded camps in places with horrid weather, with no chance to escape.
Latvia faced the first deportation in June 14 1941, when 15 424 people were sent to GULAG. Most of them were members of the national elite, statesman, scientists, artists and businessman. The goal of this deportation was to remove all potential anti-Soviet elements from Latvia. On 5-6 February 1945 the so-called “German operation” took place, where German nationals from Riga and the countryside were sent to the Komi Autonomous Socialist Republic.
The next and largest deportation of the Latvian people took place in the winter and spring 1949. The target of this deportation was former wealthy farmers or “kulaks” as the Soviets called them. The goal was to prepare Latvia for complete agricultural collectivization and also get rid of the national resistance.
Agricultural collectivization was carried out first in the Soviet Union in the early thirties, causing famine and large decrease of the agricultural production. However, this kind of Stalinist model managed to survive and now at the end of the forties such model was enforced in Latvia. One of the elements of this model was the elimination of kulaks as a class that got nothing to with the deeds of the single person.
Stalin himself explained the importance of the fight against the “kulaks”. “But what to do with the kulak expropriation policy – should we in regions with full collectivization allow the kulak expropriation? Many sides are asking that. Funny question. The kulak expropriation was impossible, as long as we kept restricting the kulak exploiting tendencies, as long as we were unable to make a decisive strike on them, as long as we were unable replace the kulak farms with the kolkhozes. Then the policy that forbids any kulak expropriation was rightful and needed. But now? Now it’s different. Now we have the chance to begin the decisive attack against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their farms with kolkhozes. Now the kulak expropriation is no longer a simple administrative step. Now the kulak expropriation is part of the founding and developing the kolkhozes. No less funny is the second question: should we allow kulak in kolkhoz? Of course, he must not be allowed into kolkhoz. Cannot because he is the deadliest enemy of the kolkhoz movement” Stalin said this in thirties and his vision in Russia and Ukraine were realized causing great destruction. Now it was the Latvian turn for this.
In the spring of 1947 The Central Committee of All Russia Communist party made the decision to begin the collectivization in the three Baltic States. Until March 25 1949 1443 kolkhozes were established. That was far too small for the Soviet needs, because Latvian farmers resisted the entry into collective farms. Latvians had centuries of private farming traditions and the Soviet collectivization been rouge for them. Kolkhozes could only suit the needs of the countrymen who had no land of their own or paid servants in the private farms who wanted to take away the property from their masters.
On August 27 1947 the LSSR Council of Ministers imposed heavy taxes on the kulak farms. 10 432 such farms were put on the pressure. The reason for this was to make the private farmers bankrupt and force them to join the kolkhozes. Until February 1 1949 713 kulaks were jailed for not paying taxes. On 1948 444 horses, 6282 cows and 10 579 were taken away by the state.
But, that was not enough as more horrid plans were set to deport kulaks to Siberia. Until September 15 1948 10 127 kulak families were counted and so-called 5000 legalized bandits (members of the national resistance movement), but overall 14 206 people with anti-Soviet past were found in the countryside. On September 21 1948 the LSSR attorney Mishutin suggested to the first secretary of the Latvian Communist party Jānis Kalbērziņš to make preparations for deporting the anti-Soviet elements. On January 17 1949 the First Secretary of the Estonian Communist party Nikolai Karotamm reported to Stalin that at the time of spring sowing the kulaks should be deported from all three Baltic States. In January 18 Kalnbērziņš along with his Lithuanian colleague were called to meet Stalin in private. On January 29 USSR Council of Ministers made a top-secret decision nr. 390-138 to make mass deportations at the end of the March 1949. The responsibility was given to the Soviet Ministry of Interior. The intended number of deported people was more than 29 000 families from all three Baltic States.
In Latvia the list was prepared according to agricultural census in 1939 and the war tribunal verdicts for the nationalists. The list was approved by the LSSR State Security Minster Alfons Noviks and LSSR attorney Mishutin. In March 17 the top secret order was given to deport the kulaks from Latvia. Later the nationalists were included. Their property was meant to be confiscated and chosen place of captivity was the regions of Amur, Omsk and Tomsk.
On the night of 24-25 March at Riga and provincial centers the last instructions were given to local officials. Operative groups were assembled and spread out in every region.
On March 25 the deportation was carried out in all Latvia. Whole families were taken away from their homes and loaded in the cargo and cattle trains. According to the Latvian State Archive data 29 252 kulaks and 12 832 nationalists were deported in a single day. By that more that 42 thousand people with many of them children were taken to Siberia. The deported people were told that they will be placed at the new location eternally. Their new homes were kolkhozes at faraway poor lands at Siberia.
After the death of Stalin in 1953 slowly the GULAG system was abolished. Deported people could return in the middle of the fifties, some were allowed to return much later. Not all returned and there are still some Latvian villages in Siberia. Those who returned could not gain back their lost lands, as they were taken by kolkhozes.
The mass deportation of March 25 was intended to speed up the collectivization and suppress the national resistance. And it proved to be successful as those who stayed were too frightened to resist the collectivization and joined the kolkhozes. By deporting all the successful farmers a massive strain was inflicted to the Latvian agriculture. The collectivization was against the historic and natural way of Latvian farm economy. The extremely flawed concept of the kolkhozes ruined the Latvian countryside for generations to come.
By such the deportation of March 25 1949 is one of the most devious Soviet crimes done in Latvia and should be commemorated.
Bleiere, Daina (Ed.) Aizvestie : 1949. gada 25. marts. (2007).Rīga : Latvijas Valsts arhīvs : Nordik.
Bleiere, Daina, Reikstiņš, Jānis. (2008) The second mass deportation of the inhabitants, March 25, 1949. Riga : Latvian State Archive.