Monthly Archives: March 2014

Nazi Germany and the Putin’s Russia: The Grand Parallel

“But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On November 11 1918 the German Empire witnessing economic problems and facing revolution was forced to sign armistice. The German armies were still within the frontiers in France and Russia. Not a single enemy soldier had occupied any quarter of the German lands. Germany was unable to win the World War I, but was only partially defeated. There was no major fighting in the German land except the early battles on 1914 in East Prussia. German army was still intact, the political system witnessed major shift from monarchy to parliamentary democracy, but most imperial elite were not persecuted and still played major role. All the radical communist uprisings were stopped at early start. However, Germany lost many territories were ethnic Germans lived many new countries formed with large German population including Latvia. The severe reparations imposed by the Allied states at the Treaty of Versailles and inter political rivalry made Germany suffer from heavy inflation and unemployment. And with this from a early start a group of people – past imperial elite, war veterans and nationalists who believed that Germany was not defeated, but betrayed by inner rouge forces. And their goal was to avenge the humiliation of  November 11 1918 and restore the former German Empire which collapse was a catastrophe of their lifetime. Also most Germans did not felt any guilt for its part in WWI. The goal of the historians was to prove that Germany was not responsible for causing WWI.

73 years later the Soviet Union could not gain the upper hand in the Cold War, plagued by economic problems and revolutionary changes the major superpower collapsed. Soviet Union was defeated in long exhaustive war that was fought mostly by proxy in the Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and elsewhere with the Western block. In result the Soviet Union broke in to various new countries with large Russian population. The painful economic reforms lead to severe economic breakdown and poverty. Single party state was replaced with unstable multi-party rule. Separatist movements showed up within Russia. Communist uprising on 1993 was defeated with tanks. However, the past soviet elite, the KGB forces and army still intact kept its position and were convinced that Soviet Union was betrayed by the traitors sponsored by foreign enemy. And so they joined ranks to restore the former glory of the Soviet Union and revenge on those who by their minds made the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of their lifetime. And the Russian people still saw the Soviet past as glorious and did not see any wrongs in the Soviet actions in the past.   Despite some attempts to revise the soviet past the mainstream Russian historiography has been based on old Soviet ideological guidelines.

The German economic situation was critical trough out the early twenties. Hyperinflation, bankruptcies and high unemployment made the German people look for radical solutions. There were strong communist movement in Germany and various radical nationalist movements. A great rise of esoteric movements who integrated old pagan beliefs into new racist Aryan doctrines. Generally on second half of the twenties the economy stabilized until 1929 the start of the Great Depression the situation went into downwards spiral again. And all this was accompanied by the rise of antisemitism  and conservative radicalism when regarding art and sexual matters.

Russian Federation suffered a state default in 1998, chaos in economy at the edge of banditry. Russian politics were filled with old time communists, ultra nationalists,various radical religious movements. Old Slavophile theories of Slavic unity and Russian racial superiority were brought back to life. National hate towards Jews, Caucasians and Central Asians raised up to new level. After 2001, following the general economic growth and the rise of oil prices made Russia recover and reach new heights until 2008 the start of the economic crisis.

The German politics even before Hitler, were based on the revision of the Versailles treaty. The treaty of Rapallo on 1922, the diplomatic pressure on Poland and the Baltic States were dictated by the will of restoring the power over the German speaking Easter Europe.  Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was not far from Hitler in his revisionist policies only in less radical anti-democratic manner.

Russian foreign experts already on 1992  devised a Russian foreign conception based on defending the rights of the Russian speakers in the former soviet republics. The main tactics was the use of international treaties, human right charters and support for Russian organizations outside the Russian Federation. Diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Baltic States begun already before Putin. Boris Yeltsin despite less radical than Putin was pursuing the same revisionist policies.

After failed coup attempt and short imprisonment the decorated war veteran Adolf Hitler managed to gather the radical nationalist forces and win elections on 1933. However, his rise of power was not dictated just by the common will of the people, but the inner intrigues and the weakness of the German leadership who allowed Hitler to take power. After the president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg lost his bets on two rivaling politicians Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleiher, he was forced to choose Hitler as chancellor hopping that his power will be limited. But, Hitler managed to use the burning of the Reichstag as excuse for complete takeover of the power. Shortly after that old and sick Hindenburg died unable to change anything.

Just as Hitler was disappointed to see German Empire to collapse, the KGB agent Vladimir Putin who on that time served in Eastern Germany was clearly traumatized by collapse of the Soviet Union. As there was no lustration of the former party and the intelligence elite, the man slowly but pragmatically climbed up the top of the political elite. The sick and tired Boris Yeltsin was forced to accept him as his replacement as Putin was supported by various Kremlin power circles. Same as the German conservatives thought of Hitler, they also thought that Putin will be limited in his powers and support their interests. However, while still as acting president Putin was gifted with terrorist acts in Moscow and the new conflict in Chechnya. In the same matter as Hitler gain upper hand by placing on the communist threat, Putin used the terrorist threat to win elections and gather his power. Boris Yeltsin was retired and unable to change anything.

Despite Hitlers long propagandized radical intentions, most countries in Europe met him with enthusiasm.  In contrary to sick old Hindenburg and his unstable governments, Hitler seemed a promising figure who will lead Germany into peace and prosperity. And Hitler at his first years of rule implemented his radical aggressive policies at small pace. Leaving good impression on British and American leaders, astonishing everyone with the economical success of Germany, Hitler meanwhile made complete single party leadership, made repressions against the political opposition and started to head against the German Jews. Hitler staged a grand Olympic games on 1936 and on the same year sent his forces to Rhine de-militarized zone and from that moment started to rebuilding his army. UK and France trying to preserve peace accepted the anschluss of Austria. And then Suddentenland of Czechoslovakia and then whole Czechoslovakia itself was added to Germany by the Allied support. A common excuse then not to react – its too far away and there is Germans anyway both in Austria and   Czechoslovakia. And then Hitler believing that allies will play the same passivity on Poland started his path to WW2.

Putin was welcomed by many across the world, despite his KGB past. US president George Bush Jr. was convinced at start that Putin has a soul  of a man of who he can trust. Putin was slow in early politics, however economic growth made him to start suppress his political opponents and restrict freedom of speech. In contrary to Hitler, Putin until this time managed to make a pseudo democracy, even formally making his accomplice Dmitri Medvedev  as president for 4 years. Many tried not to notice what was happening in Russsia, the business and investments played the upper hand.

Putins foreign policy of supporting the Russian speakers in former Soviet Union became more aggressive, just  as Hitlers policy on the volksdeutche in Eastern Europe. The Latvian Secret service from 1933 to 1939 constantly fought against the legal and illegal pro-nazi organizations. Now the present day Latvia is constantly fed up with the pro kremlin organizations operating in Latvia. Putin’s foreign policy was soft based until it opened fire on 2008. The Western reaction was rather self pathetic as they recognized that Georgia opened the fire first (although they were provoked to attack first) and accepted the de facto annexation of  Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Putin invaded and annexed Crimea many western media especially CNN  made flawed arguments that Crimea is Russian anyway, while ignoring long Crimean non-Russian history and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on 1944. Still US and EU are slow to increase sanctions and political pressure on Russia. The reasons for this are understandable, however if we follow this grand parallel then Putin might move further in Ukraine and only will be stopped when he attacks the country that has some real guarantees like  Baltic States and Poland.

And this where the Grand Parallel between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia ends. The very point of this parallel is will for revenge and revisionism. A will that lead the Germany into full collapse and destruction. It took many years for Germans to understand the consequences of irrational revenge based policies which made Germany gradually a better place. The Russian nation needs to learn this also to became a better place. Will this lesson be so bloody and destructive as for Germany, its only up to Russian leadership and its people.

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Ukrainians in Latvia

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Latvia despite somewhat far from Ukraine has always shared common connections with Ukrainian people. In the Middle Ages the Vikings or Varyags came down from river Daugava to river Dnieper to the Kievan Rus. The territory of Latvia and Ukraine were united within the Poland -Lithuania and the Empire of Russia. Some Latvians moved to rich Ukrainian lands to gain their own farming land. Many Latvian nationals were sent on military duty to Ukrainian lands. In the same matter the first Ukrainian people appeared in Latvian lands on 19th century.

Ukrainians served in Russian garrisons, students went to Riga Polytechnic Institute  and various specialists and teachers. According to national census of 1897 1000 people called them as Ukrainians, most of them were from Russian  army. On 1910 Ukrainian students  in Riga Orthodox cathedral held a church service on the day of death of the Ukrainian writer Taras Sevchenko. This became a tradition until 1940. On 1911 first Ukrainian national organization “Gromada” (Alliance) was formed. Despite being short of members it had its own choir, dramatic ensemble and support cash desk. On 1914 Tsarist authorities forbid Ukrainians to  celebrate openly the 100 birthday of Taras Sevchenko and the celebration was held privately at the Gromada office. Latvian organizations were invited also.

On 1915 the German army invaded the Latvian territory.  The work of the national organizations were stopped. Factories were evacuated and the Riga Polytechnic institute was closed. Many Ukrainians were  sent to Latvian rifleman battalions. After the February revolution of 1917 within 12th army stationed within Riga of whom many Ukrainians served, created their national organizations. The newspaper “Ukrainian voice”, the Ukrainian socialists-revolutionaries  (esers), and the Ukrainian Rada of the 12th  army with Aleksandr Blonsky as the leader. On May 6 the congress of the Ukrainian soldiers were held in Riga. A nationalistic goal was set to “Ukrainianaze” the 21 Corpus of the 12th army and send it to Ukraine. The congress ended with march trough the streets of Riga with Ukrainian songs.  The Rada worked until January 1918 when most of the Ukrainian soldiers came back to homeland.

On November 20 1917 in Kiev the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Ukrainians tried to make contacts with Latvian counterparts. From 1919 to 1921 a diplomatic and consular connections between UPR and the Republic of Latvia were established.  On September 1 1919 the UPR  Consulate in Riga begun its work. Consulate supported the Ukrainian refugees. Also the Ukrainian as well as Belorussian Peoples Republic citizenship served as a loophole for some who wanted to avoid serving in the Latvian army during the War for Freedom. Both national countries did not survive the Russian Civil War. In result on August 3 1921 a treaty with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic recognizing its sovereignty was established.  The treaty regulated the exchange of refugees and disregard any other form of government within Ukrainian SSR. Therefore all relations with UPR were canceled and their citizens within Latvia had to find a new citizenship. Ukraine was divided between Soviet Union, Poland and Romania.

Ukrainians in Poland had uneasy relations with the nationalist minded Polish government, in Romania the existence of the Ukrainian minority was officially denied. In Soviet Union at first the politics were quite friendly towards Ukrainian language, but after start of the Stalin’s collectivization it turned into national genocide or Holodomor killing at least 5 million people.

Latvia meanwhile has its one of the most liberal national minority policies. Jews, Germans, Russians and others enjoyed an autonomy in their schools and took part in politics. On 1925 there were 512 Ukrainians, on 1930 – 1629 and on 1935 1844. Most lived in Daugavpils district – 166, at Rezekne district and Liepaja 90. The rise of the Ukrainian numbers can be explained by the fact that first national census of 1920 counted Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians together as Russians, and also many who before were unaware of their nationality counted themselves as Ukrainians.

In contrary to vast masses of Russian and Belorussian peasants, the Latvian Ukrainians were city dwellers and middle class citizens. Most of them not born in Latvia, with good education worked as businessman and state employees. Some took important posts within Latvian Army like Captain Vladimir Romachenko in Topographical department. Andrei Cibulsky from 1919-1935 was deputy of the chief of the Riga Police District. Before 1934 some Ukrainians took part in Latvian politics, Latvian Tuberculosis hospital nurse Olga Markovich was active within Latvian Social Democratic Workers party, while Lubova Lejiņa within Latvian Farmers Party. Retired Riga District Court chief executive joined the Democratic Center on 1932. Some Ukrainian intellectuals like Jakub Kastiluk worked with the Belorussian culture society “Batyakaushina” and took lessons in the Belorussian schools.

From 1921 to 1922 the Ukrainian political refugee – emigrant committee was  established but closed after the pressure from the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs. On 1932 a “Latvian-Ukrainian society”was established by Ukrainian nationals mostly business owners.  On 1938 it had 111 members. On 1934 it established library and organized culture events. At the end of the 3oies the Latvian authorities wanted to limit the number of the national organizations and requested to join it with “Cultural contacts establishment with the nations in USSR”. It was never done as after the Soviet invasion the society was closed.

Soviet power restricted Ukrainian national life as much as other national minorities were repressed. On August 6 1940 the former leader of the Ukrainian political refugees Maxim Didikovsky and other past UPR representatives were arrested. Most people who had some connection with UPR were sent to Siberia or executed.

On 1943 Nazi German occupation made local cenus and counted 11339 Ukrainians within  Latvia part of Ostland. The sharp increase was made because of deported Soviet prisoners of war and people sent on compulsory  work. Nazi occupation had no special policy towards Ukrainians due to their small numbers. Captain V Romachenko on 1941 joined the anti-soviet partisans within Ventspils to fight against Red Army. Pyotr Abramchenko was one of the first to join self-defense unit to assist German invaders. It was because of the common belief that Germans will give back independence both to Ukraine and Latvia. Many Ukrainians were mobilized in Latvian Waffen SS Legion. At least 549 Soviet Ukrainian POW’s joined or were forced to join the German Army support service. Some Ukrainians took part in Soviet underground resistance.

During the Soviet occupation the amount of Ukrainians sharply increased. On 1959 294, 4 thousand, on 1989 92, 1 thousand making them 3,5% of the Latvian SSR population. This was because of the unrestricted immigration boosted by forced industrialization.  Ukraine was devastated by Stalin’s genocide and WW2. Those who came from Eastern Ukraine deeply affected by Russification could not speak Ukrainian and only added to massive amounts of “Russian speakers” in Latvia.   The Russification of the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews disguised as creation of “unified Soviet nation” with one common Latvian language left deep scars within Latvian society.

However, already on  1988 as the independence movement started the Latvian Ukrainian national cultural society “Dņipro” was founded. With the leadership of Viktor Prudiss and Volodomir Stroy the society had 300 members. The politically active Ukrainians joined in society “Slavutich” and the Ukraine patriotic organization “RUH” Riga branch for the first time in Soviet Union went to streets with the Ukrainian blue and yellow banner. The flag of Ukraine first flew in Riga before it appeared in Kiev.

Despite that large parts of the Latvian Ukrainians did not support the Latvian independence, 8 elected Ukrainian nationals within Latvian Supreme Soviet ranked with communists in who voted against the Declaration of the restoration of the independence. After 1991 24 thousand Ukrainians left Latvia for Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian integration in Latvian democratic society was obstructed by the fact that large part of them became non-citizens. At first Ukrainian organizations made mistakes by cooperating with pro-Kremlin political parties. Gradually the connection with Latvia was established however it caused rift within Ukrainians as many still supported pro-Kremlin opposition. On 2006 the many Ukrainian national    organizations joined within Union of Ukrainian Societies. On 2012 the Latvian Ukrainian Congress was formed as part of the World and European Ukrainian congress.

According to 2011 national census 45 798 Ukrainians are living in Latvia. However, only 1 774 people are using the Ukrainian language at  their homes. That means that most of them use Russian language as the size of the Russian speakers greatly exceeds the size of the ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians have very loose national identity and are still part of former “Soviet nation” with different national outlook. However, in last 20 years the connections with independent Ukraine has greatly increased. During the events in Ukraine the Latvian Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian Congress organized many support actions and showed support towards Ukrainian revolution. On March 2 2014 after Russian invasion in Ukraine the Ukrainian society organized anti-war protest gathered about thousand people most of them Latvians. This is a sign of a Ukrainian national revival and great support from Latvian society. As mainland Ukraine is under foreign invasion the more support and unity between Latvians and Ukrainians is essential to  the survival of the both nations.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (2007) Ukraiņi Latvijā 19. gadsimta beigās – 1988. gadā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

Dribins Leo (2007) Ukraiņi atjaunotajā Latvijas republikā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

http://ukrlatvian.lv/%D0%BE%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BB/

http://www.ukrkongress.lv/lv/

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Latvia and the New Cold War

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

On 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev started his perestroika policy few could imagine that after few years we will live again in independent state of Latvia. And after some 20 years again few could imagine that we are heading towards new kind of Soviet Union. The president of Russia has fully exposed his covertly long run anti-western agenda by annexing Crimea and unleashing a rhetoric of confrontation. We are entering an era of instability and security chaos possibly resulting in war. To answer who is to blame for this? We all by our own.

When Soviet Union collapsed on 1991 the new government by Boris Yeltsin was unable or unwilling to make cardinal revolutionary changes not just in Russian economy, but within every aspect of Russian society. The old soviet elite kept their position the so-called nomenklatura adapted to  new “wild capitalism” environment. In result an oligarchy controlling Kremlin politics  appeared that made the things the old soviet ways and were above anyone else. Truly a shock reform policy was needed to switch to free market economy, but in society with less experience of free market policy the reforms served only small part of the society. A shock reforms were needed in Russian political ranks- complete de-sovietization – where all forms of communist parties are forbidden, the communist rule is condemned and unmasked at full-scale. Instead for many the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster not a beginning of the liberation for the Russian people.

An important thing that was not achieved was the shake up or even liquidation of the KGB – the Soviet Secret Service. Also old soviet army leaders kept its positions. The KGB a guardian of the Soviet power did everything to save USSR from collapse even 1991 August coup. After it was shamefully divided as Federal Security Service (FSB) and the External Intelligence Service (SVR) its employees were scared of being persecuted or fired. But Boris Yeltsin administration did nothing – on 1993 Yeltsin brutally crushed his political opponents with tanks and year later started war in Chechnya against  national separatists. True the 1993 White House defenders waved Red Banners and Chechnya separatists used terrorist tactics, but this again made the Russian security services on the top. Yeltsin was dependent on so-called siloviks – the security elite and the oligarhs and to gain his reelection a lot of he had to sacrifice. On 2000 to keep his family safe from corruption charges he had to succumb to security elite and choose Vladimir Putin a ex KGB agent his new successor.

We may say that Putin has no personality and he seemed plain and shallow. So they spoke the same about Stalin and Hitler. What he and his close KGB veterans wanted is to regain the lost legacy of the KGB and the Soviet army. They did not believe that the collapse of the Soviet union was a result of the peoples will for freedom and democracy – no it was done by the western secret agencies and shallowly forces of the western capital elite. Putin on 1996 in TV interview had warned about the dangers of over powered security apparatus as a threat to civil liberties. Now he was working to prove this.

Meanwhile the Western world looked at Russia with either amusement or positive interest. Some political annalists like Francis Fukuyama rote major books about the end of the history, where the whole world will turn to liberal democracies and reach greatest progress. The US president George Bush issued a time of the New World Order where US will take the leading part. Instead the 1990ies were marked strong US will for isolationism. US Democrat President Bill Clinton wanted to avoid the direct force of the US military. In result the failed military actions  in Somalia and Afghanistan showed the Islamic radicals that US is vulnerable to  attack. US still had abnormal fears about Russia, based on the lack of insight and understanding. Both US and EU wanted from the former soviet countries to do things they were unable off. The point made by Samuel Huntington that eastern countries can successfully modernize, but not necessarily westernize became the ultimate reality. Macdonalds in Moscow, Russians riding German BMW’s and using Microsoft Windows did not change the fact that Russian politics are still ruled by ex-soviet elite. Who also modernized – mansions in UK and Italy, children in western schools, but the same old anti-western view.

When on 2000 Putin came to power his hands were still too short on establishing a dictatorship. Russia still had economic problems from the economic default. But, after 2001 9/11 the oil and gas price started to rise up. When the Republican administration in contrast to light democrats unleashed two full-scale wars in Middle East the oil prices skyrocketed. An invasion in Iraq proved to be unnecessary and poorly planned in the spirit of the Neo-Conservative Tom Clancy novel thinking where US forces easily crushes the enemy and makes democracy failed. But, it was a gift to crisis driven Russia, dependent on  oil and gas exports. It worked for Leonid Brezhnev once and it worked for Putin also- oil price boosted economic growth gained within Russian people. Also the restarted war with Chechnya allowed the FSB to start attacking free press and civil liberties. In the same manner as Stalin purged the members of the Leningrad elite and replaced them with his friends from Tsaritsina front, the Putin purged the Yeltsin supported oligarchs like Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.   Using the legal nihilism – the abuse of laws, Kremlin elite took over nearly all TV, Printed press and radio. However, the old soviet elite underestimated the power of the Russian internet. By capitalizing on oil and gas companies the Putin regime made an authoritarian regime with formal elections and opposition.

At first such situation was ideal for restoration of the Soviet Union. However, Russia was unable to prevent NATO military intervention former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia, Kirghistan and Ukraine.  We can speculate that the western countries did funded the opposition and made foreign funded NGO’s. But, when Russia indiscreetly funds pro-Kremlin movements in post soviet countries and install many pro-Russia NGO’s its described as “brotherly support”. On 1920-1939 the Communist Internationale  made a network of communist parties and legal cover movements within Europe and US looking to overthrow the capitalist governments. And after 1991 the same was done in the name of the Russian speakers outside Russia. This scheme worked in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus. But, it failed in Ukraine on 2004 where large part of people with education and modern outlook managed to prevent ex gangster from Donetsk Viktor Yanukovych to take power. But, according to Kremlin it was not the general will of the people it was the US dollars that caused this. According to soviet leader the people are not supposed to stand against the ruler and are to week to decide themselves.  But, such thinking is generally wrong. If the large numbers of people are ready to stand against tyranny and injustice, support from abroad only boost their will. But, the will to fight against injustice is made by the one who creates injustice.

On 2008 Putin and Medvedev devised a plan to punish Georgia for wanting to join EU and NATO. By making provocations Georgia was pushed into war and lost large part of their territories. But, the goal to cause the downfall of the Georgian government failed. And even the new Georgian leadership has not changed its goal to join EU one bit.

2008 war should had opened the western eyes. Instead last year president of US George Bush who knew the Putin’ s soul only managed to stop Russians from advancing Tbilisi by sending US fleet and the French president Nicola Sarkozy sacrificed Abhazia and South Ossetia to Putin.  The new democrat US president Barack Obama who again tried to make a soft appeasing effort only showed to Russia his weakness and ignorance. First by failing to understand that Medvedev is only de facto ruler of Russia and avoiding Putin, then issuing a “reset” policy. Barack Obama policy was more inclined towards Middle East and the Arab Spring failing to understand the heavy Russian involvement there. Russia was interested in both keeping the Arab dictators and both in disorder as it continually boosted the oil prices. The extensive support for Iran and Syria is needed to keep US in the Middle East as long as possible and have a free hand on the Eastern Europe.

And now we came to Latvia. What Latvian elite and society has done to understand the Kremlin threat. As a country with largest Russian speaker population and Soviet armed forces until 1994, Latvia juggled between harsh nationalistic policies and liberal multiculturalism. In such way the great divide was done within Latvians and Russian speakers and within Latvians themselves who were divided in national conservatives and liberals. Such political divide has kept until this day. While Latvian political elite has successfully managed to prevent from pro-Kremlin forces to take power, the inner struggle has weakened the Latvian political elite. In result a constantly unstable right-wing coalition in contrast to unified pro-Kremlin opposition. Many Latvian parties no longer serve their names they hold. Reform party made no real reforms, Unity failed to unify Latvian politics and the National Alliance serves against the national interests. Green Farmers serves the interests of oligarchs and various radical sectarian movements on both sides only adds to struggle. Latvia is a “small Ukraine” with divided society, corrupt ineffective administrative bureaucratic apparatus  and weakened army.

 In such situation when Kremlin uses force against its neighbors what will happen to Latvia? It’s a rather interesting that despite such divide we have managed to avoid violent outbursts like in 2006 Estonia. But, then again Estonia is a step forward in national policy than Latvia. Latvian army devoid of basic APC’s, airfield still in construction and most of the focus on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan can protect its own citizens. It  always strikes me when on national parade Latvian infantry marches on desert camouflage uniforms – if according to some officials Latvian Army only is needed for missions in the Middle East and Africa then they are at least incompetent. In case of invasion can we only relay on Estonia, Lithuania and Poland and far away NATO forces? But, can our neighbors relay on us? And can our soldiers and people relay on politicians some of them who have very doubtful political views that will make appropriate decisions in case of emergency? These questions are very serious.

US, EU and Latvia must place end to wishful thinking  and deception. Russian investments have overfilled the capital of the UK Londongrad (London) and reached the Westminster palace. Brussels and Strasbourg is full of Russian agents. The sacrifices must be made to prevent further KGB regime advance to Western Europe. Today it is Russian bribes in Paris, tomorrow it will be tanks marching trough the Arc of Triumphe.  The Crimea, Kharkiv and Riga are not that far. A mobilization of society like in Cold War against the common threat against the western values are vital to our survival.

Now about the “common Russian threat”. No the whole Russian nation are not our enemies. Large masses marched in Moscow to protest against the invasion in Crimea. Russia has growing large educated society who wants to enjoy the same way of life as in EU and the US. No doubt that even without the EU and US sanctions Russia will face great economic difficulties. And these people will not want to give away their personal freedoms and money to regime willing to reset to Cold War. The civil resistance against the shallow and old-fashioned neo soviet regime is needed to be supported by Latvia, US and EU. And countries like Ukraine and Belarus that are on the frontline of the new iron curtain requires or support to gain freedom from pro-Kremlin thug regimes. The Putin’s policy of mixing Third Rome idea with Soviet imperialism leads Russia and its neighbors in to collapse. So for next years to come Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states should and will became the field of struggle between new forces of democracy and personal choice and old forces of totalitarian regimes and collectivism.

We are living in times of great changes. It is our personal responsibility in  every way big or small to take part in these changes, and work for the benefit of the free world. The first Cold War was a fundamental fight between two political systems. This New Cold War is a fundamental fight  to defend what had conquered many years ago and prevent from the return from the empire of evil.

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Ciltvaira – The Lost Ship of The Latvian National Navy

Ciltvaira_ship

Ciltvaira before WW2

During the times of the Soviet Occupation the Soviet propaganda made movies like “Tobago Changes its Course” (1965) that depicted the mutiny on the Latvian trade ship Tobago on the behalf of the new Soviet government. The story was based on real Latvian naval cargo ship “Hercogs Jēkabs” (Duke Jacob)  whose captain choose to subordinate to the new Latvian Soviet government and from Cavalyo, Peru tried to sail back to Latvia. Despite the attempts of the Latvian Embassy in Washington to cancel its route to USSR and the temporary arrest, it made its way to Vladivostok. It was renamed Sovetskaya Latvia  and used for ammunition transfer. After the war it was used as prisoner transfer ship in the Sea of Okhotsk.  But, this was one of the rare examples that soviets could use. In fact most Latvian trade navy ships defied the soviet order to turn back to occupied Latvia. They still kept its allegiance to the Republic of Latvia and stayed on the western shores. Despite the fact that Latvia had no government in exile, only legitimate diplomatic embassies in US and UK, the western powers refused to turn over these ships to USSR. Most of these ships could not survive the war.  One of them was Ciltvaira.

Latvia as a country with long coast line with the Baltic Sea had long naval traditions. Before the arriving of Crusaders , the ancient Curonian and Livonian tribes made first trade voyages and raiding parties. At the start of the 19th century when serfdom was abolished, Latvians started to form their own naval schools and built their ships. At the start of the 20th century  under the flag of the Russian Empire Latvians had some 550 vessels, stationed at the ports of Ainaži, Rīga, Roja, Pāvilosta, Liepāja and Venstpils. The main Latvian shipbuilding company was Austra, at Ainaži the well-known Latvian intellectual opened a naval school. Liepaja had constant passenger routes to New York. On 1914 within the Latvian ports 333 ships were registered.

The World War I made great damage to Latvian ports, as Germans captured the Liepāja and Ventspils harbors and limited access to Riga port. Third of the Latvian ships were lost. Then on 1918 after World War I ended and Russian Empire had ceased to exist, Latvian sailors had chance to raise the flag of the new-born Republic of Latvia. First vessel to do so was a steamship Maiga, next was Saratov that was used by the Latvian Provisional government. After the end of the War for Freedom, Latvia regained 8 ships from Petrograd (St. Petersburg), but all ships taken by Germany were lost. Latvians begun to form their own trade fleet. Most Latvian steamers were used before WWI, only new built one was icebreaker Krišjānis Valdemārs.   Latvian vessels carried Latvian goods – wood, flax, butter and many other products. Passenger lines went to London, Hamburg and Stockholm.

Latvia was just beginning its naval modernization when the World War I broke out. Latvia had 103 trade ships on January 1939, leaving the ship on duty was forbidden.  On 1939 no ship was lost as many them carried their duties across the seas as usual. On June 1940 Soviet Union occupied Latvia and started took over all Latvian navy. Those who were stationed at Latvian shores had no real chance to resist. But, those who were sailing at the oceans had a choice – go back to Latvia and became part of the USSR navy or keep the Latvian banner within western shores. Both choices were grim. The Soviets could arrest some of the sailors and send the ships far away, but as there was no Latvian government in exile, only still acting diplomatic envoys, staying on Latvian side was dangerous because Latvia was no longer recognized as de facto sovereign country.

The freight steamer Ciltvaira was built on 1905 at the Sunderland, Great Britain. Before it came under the Latvian banner it was known as Twyford, Vironia for Estonia, President Bunge for Belgium and Endsleigh for Great Britain again. On 1935 it was acquired by Latvian owners J Zalcmanis, J Freimanis and K. Jansons. The first captain was K A Kaktiņš, later M A Osis, A P Galdiņš and K Šķenbergs. Ship made numerous long routes to North Sea, Mediterranean Sea ad Soviet Northern harbors. When Word War II started the ship stayed within the waters of the Western Hemisphere.

When Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union, none of the Western powers did not rush to acknowledge this as legitimate act. The most strongest response was from US , that issued a resolution that condemned the annexation of the Baltic States. Latvian gold assets  worth of 17 890 422 was frozen and Latvian consulates continued their work. 8 Latvian ships were within the American shores and stayed under the Latvian flag-  “Everasma”, “Abgabra”, “Reģents”, “Everelza”, “Evaragra” and “Ķegums”. And also Ciltvaira.

The captain of the Ciltvaira M A Osis received an order from Latvian Soviet government to head to Murmansk, Soviet Union. Osis decided to follow this order.  However, Latvian consulate demanded to stop the ship until the change of the captain. This was done at the port of Rio de Janeiro and ship was taken to US. Captain Osis and 12 other sailors went back to Soviet occupied Latvia and were involved in the World War II activities.

Captain of Ciltvaira Augusts Galdins circa 1945

Captain of Ciltvaira Augusts Galdins circa 1945

The new captain of the Ciltvaira was Pēteris Augusts Galdiņš. Born in 1904 at Mazsalaca – a small port town at Vidzeme region. Took part in the War for Freedom within Latvian ranks, wile being only 14-year-old. Was a steerman at Evarlda, and Ķegums from 1939. While at Argentina, he received order from Latvian US Envoy A Bīlmanis to head to Uruguay and take over ship of Abgara, that also was prevented from leaving off to Latvia. On 1941 he was called to captain the Ciltvaira. Galdiņš acquired US  residence permit and later US citizenship and had US long freighter captain diploma. After Word War 2 he worked in Panama-Scandinavian lines and on Chinese ships.

Photo from NY Times - 1/22/1942

Photo from NY Times – 1/22/1942

The Ciltvaira was operating under the US commands, but as Latvian ship. After Germany declared war on US, the German U-boat submarines started to hunt for US trade ships that sent goods to Great Britain and USSR. Since Latvia was occupied then by Germans, they had no respect for the Latvian banner if it was within allied command. On January 19 1942 Ciltvaira was heading from Norfolk to Savannah with a load of paper. At that point the new captain was Karlis Šķembergs. The German U-123 sub led by captain Reinhard Hardegen spotted the ship and struck it with a torpedo at 5:00 AM. Boiler room and room N0.2 was flooded. Two men were killed instantly –  firemen: Carl Gustaefssen and Rolf Semelin. Radio Operator Rūdolfs Musts was left stuck in his room due to the door being after the hit. The ship had no escorts and no arms to defend itself and was not part of the lend-lease program.

Captain Šķembergs ordered to abandon ship. The survivors abandoned ship in both port lifeboats when she settled by the head with a list to port after the boiler room and #2 hold were flooded. About 14.00 hours, the wreck was sighted by the northbound Coamo which avoided the area at full speed as she was in danger of being torpedoed herself, but the American steam tanker Socony-Vacuum stopped and picked up all survivors. Because the Ciltvaira had remained afloat, the master and eight volunteers returned to the ship while the tanker brought the rest of the crew to Charleston, South Carolina. At 16.00 hours, the Brazilian steam merchant Bury arrived and her master agreed to take the ship in tow for Norfolk. Four men from the Brazilian ship went aboard to help the few men with the ropes after the tow parted several times and they finally got underway. However, the following evening the salvage operation was stopped because the ships were only proceeding at 2 knots or less and all men taken off and eventually landed at New York.

The USS Osprey (AM-56) arrived and stood by until the ocean-going tug USS Sciota (AT-30) could resume the tow. What happened next is somewhat sketchy. One report indicates it remained afloat and drifting for two days. Another report states a number of different variations from it be torpedoed a second time to ship while being towed lost in heavy seas. The current location of the wreck is unknown.  Its claimed to be 120 feet under near Nags Head diving center and filled with marine life.The community of Nags Head has a street named after the Ciltvaira.

Latvian sailors who refused to leave the doomed ship as still wanted to save her, were greeted as heroes.  New York Times 22 January issue wrote that Latvian men being two years on the sea still wants to go back to the ships, no matter how many of them could be lost as long as Latvia regains its freedom. The Charleston newspaper “The News and Courier” made interviews with rescued sailors who showed no fear of German subs and said that  next time their ship will be armed. Meanwhile the Nazi controlled Latvian newspapers in Latvia, condemned the Americans for using Latvian ship and placed it on the another successful German U-boat hit list.

The Ciltvaira was not the last German victim. Five of the eight Latvian ships were sunken.   One was sunk by Italian submarine. Many Latvian and foreign sailors abroad the Latvian ship lost their lives. Only two Latvian ships made it to the end of the war. The ship “Regent” lost 14 out of 35 men. Everelza was sunk taking 19 men with it. Ķegums survived the war as convoy ship, but crushed at thick fog on 1948 at the Bay of Biscay. The Evaragra was hit by torpedo on 1943 but survived.

This was a price for lost Latvian independence and the non recognition policy. While US was unable to liberate Latvia from Soviet occupation, it did anything it could to defend  the Latvian patriots and their property from the Soviets. Many of them did not live till 1991 when Latvia regained independence. In the pictures are the personal belongings of the Ciltvaira captain Augusts Pēteris Galdiņš. A silver platter that the crew of the Ciltvaira gave to Gustav in honor of his leadership and heroism for standing up to the Russians, a platter hastily but skillfully engraved by hand with a knife, dated before the Ciltvaira made it to the US but after it defected. It was presented at a time when quite literally the Ciltvaira, the 7 other vessels and the Latvian Embassies in Washington, DC and London were the only elements of the Latvian sovereignty. The platter is stamped and I think purchased in Newfoundland, perhaps as they made their way to the US, and was hand-carved and presented to Gustav before they landed in the US. It now belongs to his close family friend in US. Galdiņš retired on 1970 and lived in Santa Clara California where he died on 1988.  Pictures are posted by his permission. Latvians are said to be a farmer nation, but Latvians are pretty much can be called as sailor nation. The Ainaži naval school was one of the beginnings of the Latvian national awakening and naval carrier was a motivation for many young Latvians to explore the world and gain education. Today Latvian sailors sail on board of many countries ships. Many Latvian owned vessels are under third party country flag like Panama and Cyprus. But Latvian naval life is still active and its history of the heroic Latvian sailors of the WW2 is story to be remembered.

The Ciltvaira silver platter

The Ciltvaira silver platter

 

Ciltvaira platter 3

Selected Sources:

Ilze Bernsone, Inta Sīpola. (2003) Latvijas jūrniecības vēsture : 1850-1950 . Riga.Rīgas vēstures un kug̦niecības muzejs

http://www.diena.lv/arhivs/sos-glabiet-musu-dveseles-11643392

http://sunkenshipsouterbanks.com/ciltvaira.html

http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/1267.html

http://www.uboat.net/boats/u123.htm

https://latvianhistory.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2609&action=edit

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