Category Archives: Historical Articles

First Latgale Latvian Congress 1917 April 26-27

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The delegates of the First Latvian Congress in Rēzekne April 26-27 1917

The two days of April that according to new style calendar was May 9-10 was one of the most crucial and important days for Latvian nation. On April 26-27 the members of Latgalian Latvian political and cultural elite came to a common congress in Rēzekne and decided that the region of Latgale is part of Latvia and Latgalian Latvians are part of Latvian nation living in Kurzeme (Courland), Zemgale (Semigallia) and Vidzeme. This was crucial decision since Latgale region was separated from rest of Latvia by political means for many centuries. After the breakdown of Russian Empire, Latgale then part of Vitebsk province was in danger of becoming part of Russia, Poland or possible Belarusian state. Latgale that was not ethnically homogeneous region had to decide on their own to whom they want to join – united autonomous or independent Latvian state or Russia and Belarus. And large Russian, Polish and Belarusian minority in Latgale also had their say. In the end despite disagreements within their own ranks the leading Latgalian politicians and cultural workers decided to join with rest of Latvia. But, this act was not made without demands and expectations that Latgalians wanted to receive from rest of Latvia. Many of these expectations were not met, many were misunderstood, leading to new strife and disappointment that was present during first independence and appeared again during our time.

Latgalian tribe (latgaļi) as the largest proto-latvian tribe emerged in 5-8 century. Their area of population was nowadays Eastern Latvia along the right bank of river Daugava, stretching into east and south in present day Russia and Belarus. The Medieval chronicles mention Latgalians as ethnic group that had own statehood’s – Jersika, Tālava (Tolova), Atzele, Lotigola ect. that had extended relations with Russian duchies of Polotsk and Pskov who required to pay them tributes and the ruler of Jersika Visvaldis became Orthodox.

The Northern Crusades of 12-13th century placed all nowadays Estonia and Latvia under the Catholic Livonian order rule who was vassal of the Teutonic order. During the era of Livonian Confederation the Latgale region had no political division as the lands were divided between Livonian knights and the Archbishop of Riga. However, the differences in culture and dialect between Western and Eastern Latvians were present as Curonians in the west had their own distinctions and Latgalians had theirs. However, all of them were united into single state and only vassal and senior restrictions prevented them from visiting each other. Medieval Latvians were mostly peasants tied to their land and senior German land owner either from church or the order.

In 15th-16th century Livonian confederation experienced turbulence caused by Reformation, decay of Hanseatic league and threat from Russia. Large part of population became Lutheran, while others opposed. Livonia became a weak state unable to centralize power and in 1558 Russia invaded Livonia starting Livonian war that was joined by Poland-Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden. On 1561 the Northern Estonia with Reval (Tallinn) became part of Sweden while Livonian Order and Archbishop of Riga surrendered to Sigismund II of Poland-Lithuania. The new rulers divided nowadays Latvia and part of Estonia into Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and Duchy of Livonia (Pārdaugava). Riga, Vidzeme and Latgale became part of Duchy of Livonia.

Polish-Lithuanian rule over these lands were short-lived. In 1600 just 17 years after the end of Livonian war a new war broke out between Poland-Lithuania and Sweden. Sweden took over Vidzeme and Riga. Duchy of Courland remained semi-independent while Poland-Lithuania kept only small part of former Livonian duchy. The border between both countries were sent along the river Daugava and Aiviekste in 1621. The treaty made division between Aiviekste river and Swedish controlled region became known as Vidzeme (Middle-Land). The land on the right bank of river Daugava and Aiviekste was now called Inflanty Voivodeship or Livonian Voivodeship. This province set the boundaries for Latgale region.

Latvian Land map by G. Reyer in 1859 excludes Latgale from Latvian lands

Inflanty was not a duchy, but as simple province of Poland-Lithuania. That meant that religious freedoms and privileges for the German landlords that existed in Livonian duchy was non-existent. Poland-Lithuania was a Catholic nation and it also wanted to send in Polish and Lithuanian landlords. First step was to return the local populace to Catholic faith. While some of the peasants followed their Lutheran landlords, orders simply diverted back to pagan beliefs in absence of landlord or local church. Jesuit order was established and converted the people back to Catholic faith. Lands were acquired by Polish and Lithuanian landlords who also sent in people from Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. Also the Jews migrated in to Latgale and settled in most towns. Meanwhile because of division in Russian Orthodox church the Old Believers settled and made refuge in Inflanty.

 Meanwhile rest of nowadays Latvia was mostly Lutheran, first books in Latvian were published 100 years earlier, despite the Jesuits also teaching in Latvian and publishing books. The peasant conditions are said to be harsher in Inflanty then rest of Latvia. Contacts with rest of Latvia were limited and even contacts within Inflanty was limited because of territorial laws and regulations. In such circumstances Latgalian Latvians made three distinctions – Catholic faith, own special customs and traditional dress and finally the most important the Latgalian dialect with its own regional divisions within Latgale.

In 1772 Russia took over Inflanty and simply joined with Vitebsk province. This did not bring Latgalian unification with rest of Latvians. The rest of Latvia was divided in Courland and Livonian province and was part of special Baltic region that had special rights like abolishing serfdom in 1817-1819, while it was abolished in Latgale in 1861 with rest of Russia. That meant that Latgalians had limited freedom of movement for a very long time, also the Latgalians after the abolish of serfdom as Catholics had limitations to buy land while Orthodox and Lutherans did not. Large part of Latgalians were forced to emigrate to Belarus, Russia and Siberia to get land and often had to convert.

Most crucial was ban on Latin print that was in place from 1865-1904 and multiple russification policies that hit Latgale the hardest because it was simple Russian province. After the ban on Latin was canceled, new Latgalian newspapers appeared, cultural societies emerged and more contacts with rest of Latvia were made. In such circumstances the polonization and russification made crucial advances especially in areas populated by Latvians, Poles, Russians and Belarusians creating identity confusion. A special kind a “nationality” was  tuteiši – the local. These people often know more than one of these languages and their own means of identity was their local village and church they belonged to.

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Latgalian political leader Francis Trasuns

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Leader of the Latgalian nationalists Francis Kemps

New political leaders emerged such as Francis Trasuns, Francis Kemps and Nikodems Raicāns. Francis Kemps made the term – “Latgale” and “Latgalian”  (Latgalietis). Francis Trasuns was elected in the first Russian Duma who actively promoted the Latgalian national revival. As Russification faced defeat, new schools teaching mainly in Latvian and Latgalian emerged. On 1915 German army invaded and split the Latvia in two. Daugava served as front line and Latgale still in Russian control faced unforeseeable future. 10-12 thousand Latgalians served Latvian Riflemen regiments, despite not having any regional representation.

This long intro leads in to early 1917. The Tsarist government was brought down. Germans were on the move and the future of Latvia had many possibilities.  A national autonomy within Russian Republic, soviet autonomy if the Bolsheviks seize power – or part of German empire.

Two main Latgalian factions had different goals. Francis Kemps who lead the Latgalian Peoples committee was against joining with “baltīšim” or how he called rest of Latvians, with no guarantees for national cultural autonomy to preserve Latgalian cultural and linguistic distinction. Francis Trasuns also wanted to keep the distinctions, but determined that first Latgalians must unite and then ask for guarantees. Other faction was Bolshevik supporters – they were also for uniting with Latvia, but soviet Latvia not bourgeois. The very important Latgalian clergy supported uniting with rest of Latvia so it could be protected from Bolsheviks.

It was important that Latgalians join in common event to proclaim their political intentions to all Latvia and for that the First Latgale Latvian Congress was issued on April 26-27. The congress was held in central city in Latgale – Rēzekne. Congress met resistance from Francis Kemps and Bolsheviks. Kemps and his supporters left the congress while angry mob of Bolshevik supporters gathered around the building where the congress was held and threatened to disrupt the event. The Bolshevik delegates who left the congress called the participants “Latgalian traitors” and called to burn down the building. Angry mob started to throw stones, while defiant Latgalian leader Francis Trasuns declared that he will not leave trough side doors to run, but will come out trough same front doors he entered or will be carried out. A sudden rain shower forced angry crowd to leave and congress went on as expected.

The most crucial result of congress was the declaration that expressed will of joining with provinces of Kurzeme and Vidzeme. That was clear signal for Latvian, German and Russian politicians. The congress also decided to held the elections for Provisional Land Council that was realized and many of its members later joined the Latvian National Provisional Council. On December 3-4 1917 II congress was held that was done after Bolshevik takeover in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and the vote was made of leaving the Vitebsk Province. 202 Russian and Jewish delegates voted against. However, the Bolshevik government approved the succession from Vitebsk.

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Latgale Latvian congress in Rēzekne. Painting by Jēkabs Strazdinš 1935. Used for schools and public offices

On November 18 1920 in Riga the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed and Latgale as third star in Latvian coat of arms was recognized as part of new republic. Then month later the Bolsheviks invaded and took control over Latgale. The Latvian Soviet Government wanted Latgale as part of Soviet Latvia, while Bolsheviks in Vitebsk did not respect the earlier votes and started to make their own power structures loyal to the Belarusian soviet socialist republic. So in February 20-25 in various cities of Latgale the communist party workers congress made vote to join Soviet Latvia.

During the War for Independence Poland, Lithuania and Belarusian People’s Republic all made claims on Latgale. In the end on 1920 Latvian army with Polish assistance took over all Latgale, leaving out only small spots of ethnic Latvian majority. Poland and Lithuania dropped their claims for Latgale, while Belarusian Peoples Republic ceased to exist. Latgale now had common border with Soviet Russia and Belarus that later joined in Soviet Union and Poland.

Latgale was finally joined with Latvia, but the divisions continued to persist. During the creation of the Latvian constitution the Satversme, Latgalian political parties with Trasuns and Kemps demanded to permit national cultural autonomy – self-rule, use of Latgalian language in official documents and state funded education in Latgalian. All of these demands were overturned and fiercely objected by Latvian Social Democrats and Nationalists. Latgalians were allowed to have newspapers in Latgalian, hold lessons in school in Latgalian. But, more autonomy from Riga was not allowed. Latgalian leaders including Trasuns were disappointed and continued political efforts for Latgalian cause until his death in 1926. He even joined with his past rival Kemps. Latgalian nationalists also had conflicts with Russians, Poles and Belarusians who wanted their own cultural autonomy and schools. While minority schools for them were allowed, the Latgalian activists saw this as continued means of polonization and russification. Meanwhile Latvian nationalists saw the Latgalian language and culture as simple backwardness and made efforts to “bring light” to the “dark Latgalian people”.

Cross national and cultural struggle continued and was signified by Kārlis Ulmanis regime, who regarded Latgalian nationalism as danger to his idea of “United Latvia”. However, Latgalian language never lost its prominence in the region. Soviet occupation further made efforts to diminish Latgalian language. At first Soviet Union was the only nation that in its national census made entry “Latgalian”. After WW2 this entry was removed and all Latgalian Latvians were counted as Latvians even if they did not wish so. The Soviet era saw large move of people within Latvia. Latgalians moved to Riga, even Kurzeme and mostly assimilated into local Latvian culture. Also Latvians moved more to Latgale then before. Latgale also became more subjected to Russian and Belarusian immigration with many cities and areas having Russian speaking majority. Before the war the Jews made majority in most Latgalian towns. After holocaust the towns were taken over by Russian speakers. Soviets never fully destroyed Latgalian culture and language and after the independence the Latgalian revival started again.

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The flag of Latgale designed during second independence using elements from Inlfanty voivodship and Latvian flag

The second independence brought many of the same issue as during first. While there is no serious talk about Latgalian national autonomy, the efforts of reviving Latgalian language and culture is still important topic. Latgalian historians, cultural workers and folklorists often complain that Latgalian culture is left out of Latvian cultural mainstream and Latvians don’t understand or ignore Latgale. Latgalian municipalities often complain that Riga central government ignores Latgale and leaves it in poverty. While the government is worried about its eastern border especially after the events of 2014.

Latgalian non Latvian speaking population the Poles, Russians and Belarusians always have brought some national political turbulence. During the formation of First Latgale Latvian congress the selection of delegates excluded many non-Latgalian Latvian delegates. Month later Latgale Russian congress was held in Rēzekne and issued clear support for Latgale as part of Vitebsk province. The problematic relations persisted during independence as Poles and Belarusians were accused of separatism.   When Latvia regained independence, according to some historians in early 1990’s Russian secret services had plans for Russian people’s republics in Latgale, similar to Moldova. These plans were never realized, but some provocative forces have expressed demands for national autonomy while these demands have not been supported by Latgalian Latvians. After the Crimea crisis in 2014, there have been various provocations in the internet calling for “Latgalian Peoples Republic”. Even the BBC has made provocation making WW3 movie that starts in Latgale taken over by pro-Russian separatists. Latgale has not been Latvian or Latgalian only for many centuries. However, the Russian speaking separatists do not speak on behalf of even all Russian speakers in Latgale, who want to remain in Latvia.

With its political, ethnic and cultural cross points Latgale is point of interest and very important part of Latvia, its culture and history. For 100 years Latvia has been united with Latgale, many efforts are to be made by both sides to be united forever.

Selected Sources:

Latgales latviešu kongress 1917. Materiālu krājums. Latgales kultūras centra izdevniecība. Rēzeknē 2016.

Zirnis, Egīls. Trešā zvaigznes iedegšana. Sestdiena. 13-20. aprīlis. 2017. 

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Filed under Historical Articles

VEF: The Illustrated History

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VEF stands for State Electrotechnical Factory (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika). From 1919 to early 1990’s it was one of the biggest and most successful state enterprises in Latvia. Its main production was radios, telephones, Automatic Telephone Exchanges, and various electronic gadgets. In first 20 years of its existence it also produced Minox mini photo camera’s and even airplanes. In independent Latvia VEF was example of industrial recovery after the WWI and was highly regarded by the state and society. After WWII when Latvian was occupied by Soviet Union, the Soviet industrial policy makers saw the potential of the VEF and turned into one of the main radio and telephone producers in whole Soviet Union. VEF was not just a major factory it was also a social and cultural service a symbol of the state prosperity. During Soviet occupation Latvia was one of the most industrialized Soviet republics. It had its major backdrop – high workforce immigration that become crucial in late 80’s. During process of regaining independence the VEF leadership and workforce was divided in their views. While many supported the independence, others had their doubts how the VEF would survive the transition to capitalism and separation from the Soviet market.  These doubts proved to be true: the VEF leadership and the state government mismanaged the privatization process and VEF fell into bankruptcy. The breakdown of the Soviet market, VEF secret connections with  Soviet military industry, failure to enter western market and finding western investors lead to collapse. Hundreds of jobs were lost and factories abandoned. Today few companies and basketball club bear the name of VEF. VEF remains as symbol of the state industrial history.

The history in VEF has been discussed in this site before. This article is rather illustrative representation of history of VEF using illustrative material from official VEF publications, memoirs and TV broadcasts. Article aims to show VEF greatest achievements during the interwar period and Soviet period and its demise at the end of the 20th century.

VEF main montage corpus at the Brīvības gatve 19

VEF main montage corpus at the Brīvības gatve 216

On April 1919 as Postal and Telegraph Department’s repair workshops were established in Riga. During that time Riga was controlled by Latvian Socialist Soviet government. However, month later Soviets fled the capital city and workshops were taken over by Republic of Latvia government. The equipment was brought by Soviets from Tver in Russia. During 1915-1916 much of the industrial equipment was evacuated to Russia anticipating the German capture of Riga. The workshop was located in Post and Telegraph building in Aspazijas bulvāris 5 (now home for economic and history faculties). It also became home for Radio Latvia. As the workshop produced more equipment and required more workforce and work space it needed new location. At first on 1924 it was moved to Slokas iela 2 to five story lombard building (now State History Archive). Finally on 1928 the workshops were moved to abandoned buildings of Russian-German factory “Union”. “Union” was electrotechnical factory founded by German citizen Henrich Detman who on 1887 bought a plot of land near Pskov freeway at edge of the city. On 1899 designed by architect Henrich Shiel a marvelous neo-renaissance style building with sculpture of Zeus was built. More new buildings were built around it as the enterprise prospered. On 1915 the company along with its 3000 people were evacuated to Kharkiv.  The company was transformed in to Kharkiv Electromechanical company that still works today.

Former “Union” buildings became ideal place for new state electrotechnical company. On 1929 the Postal and Telegraph company workshops were called the State Electrotechnical factory “Pērkons” (Thunder). Three years later it was renamed simply as State Elektrotechnical Factory – Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika – VEF.

The main factory corpus at the former German-Russian company "Union" at Brīvibas iela 214

The main factory corpus at the former German-Russian company “Union” at Brīvibas gatve 216. Atop the tower a neon sign VEF was installed.

Areas around VEF became highly populated by its workers

Areas around VEF became highly populated by its workers

VEF workforce

VEF workforce

Material storage

Material storage

Extrusion workshop

Extrusion workshop

Material cutter

Material cutter

Extrusion process for creating chassis ans splinters necessary for radio production

Extrusion process for creating chassis ans splinters necessary for radio production

Automatic extrusion presses

Automatic extrusion presses

Workshop for creating extrusion tools

Workshop for creating extrusion tools

Cutting machine and hand polishing machine

Cutting machine and hand polishing machine

VEF steel oven and sharping machine for cutting tools

VEF steel oven and sharping machine for cutting tools

Turning bench workshop

Turning bench workshop

Turnery

Turnery

Automatic turner. The size parts are measured by the microscopes

Automatic turner. The size parts are measured by the microscopes

Cadmium baths for parts and tools

Cadmium baths for parts and tools

VEF abatement oven. Yielding pulling machine

VEF abatement oven. Yielding pulling machine

Wire spining machine

Wire spining machine

Bakelite workshop

Bakelite workshop

Elements workshop

Elements workshop

Zinc bottom pole soldering machine

Zinc bottom pole soldering machine

Zinc pole casing soldering machine

Zinc pole casing soldering machine

Parts workshop

Parts workshop

Transformer coil spining

Transformer coil spining

Transformer measurement equipment. Capacitor thickness measuring

Transformer measurement equipment. Capacitor thickness measuring

Making condensers

Making condensers

Plywood factory for creation for enclosures

Plywood factory for creation for enclosures for radios

Enclosure workshop

Enclosure workshop

Polishing workshop

Polishing workshop

Polisher polishing the enclosures

Polisher polishing the enclosures

Assembling workshop

Assembling workshop

Equipment tuning

Equipment tuning

Assembling the loudspeakers

Assembling the loudspeakers

Radio casing and final check up

Radio casing and final check up

Products are being packed and sent to storage

Products are being packed and sent to storage

Electrical measurement laboratory

Electrical measurement laboratory

Measurement of the sound distortion and receiver calibration

Measurement of the sound distortion and receiver calibration

Measuring the sensitivity and selectivity of the receiver

Measuring the sensitivity and selectivity of the receiver

Material testing laboratory

Material testing laboratory

Special measurement equipment workshop

Special measurement equipment workshop

Radio transmitter in Klaipēda, Lithuania assembled by VEF

Radio transmitter in Klaipēda, Lithuania assembled by VEF

VEF made radio transmitter

VEF made radio transmitter

Transmitter "turning field"

Transmitter “turning field”

Radio beacon for transmitting timed interval signals

Radio beacon for transmitting timed interval signals

VEF Radio Branch library

VEF Radio Branch library

Factory sales bureau

Factory sales bureau

VEF store in Estonia

VEF store in Estonia

VEF stores in Finland and Estonia

VEF stores in Finland and Lithuania

During the interwar period VEF produced mainly radios, telephones and telephone exchange systems that were installed in Riga and other major cities.  Factory produced all electronics that had any market demand – communication devices, phones, light bulbs, cameras, irons, radios, flashlights, as well as photo paper, work-tables, and even airplanes. On 1936 VEF became famous across the world with its Minox subminiature camera designed by Walter Zapp was first of its kind.

On 1940 Latvia was occupied and VEF was nationalized by Soviet government. While some of the factory executives and workers faced repressions, the factory continued its usual work until June 22 1941 when Latvia was invaded by Nazi Germany. Factory was managed by Nazi authorities but was in decay. On 1944 following Nazi retreat from Riga, factory was looted and several buildings were destroyed.

Soviet government made great efforts to restore pre-war factories and VEF became part of enormous Soviet industrial sector. Soviet policy was to assign specialization for its many republics. Latvia became the main producer of radios, telephones and other electronic equipment. Such industry never fully developed in Estonia and Lithuania. Closest rival to VEF and  Radiotehnika was Minsk Radio Factory and several factories in Russia. VEF radio design was so good it was adopted by Minsk and other radio factories in the Union. Radiotehnika was other main radio producer in Latvia that produced more advanced radio receivers, however VEF became the most popular. VEF products were imported to Soviet satellite states  and Western Europe. The five largest state companies were VEF, Radiotehnika, Alfa, Komutators and Elar (which produced components for the other four). In its peak in 1991, VEF employed 20,000 people. However, part of the production went for soviet military needs. Latvian industry greatly boosted the Soviet economy. According to latest researches Latvia as Soviet republic made greater payments for other Soviet republics then Moscow actually invested for Latvia. The fact that Soviet government overextended the Latvian industry brought to need of workforce from other Soviet republics. VEF working force was multi ethnic of Latvians, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, ect. As before the war, the VEF was highly regarded as pillar of state economy and became symbol of Soviet Latvian industry.

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Georgijs Gaile was the first post war factory director

Georgijs Gaile was the first post war factory director

Soviet newspaper Komsolovska Pravda reports patriotic VEF campaigns to reach over production

Soviet newspaper Komsolovska Pravda reports patriotic VEF campaigns to reach over production

VEF old block during Soviet era. Soviets built more new buildings around pre-war area

VEF old block during Soviet era. Soviets built more new buildings around pre-war area

Radio workshop

Radio workshop

From 1945 to 1960 VEF produced lamp radio receivers. On 1961 VEF produced "Spīdola" transistor radio one of the first in Soviet Union (below left).

From 1945 to 1960 VEF produced lamp radio receivers. On 1961 VEF produced “Spīdola” transistor radio one of the first in Soviet Union (below left).

VEF 206 (left) became one of the most popular export products. VEF Sigma (above left) was one of the most popular radio-cassete players in Soviet block

VEF 206 (left) became one of the most popular export products. VEF Sigma (above left) was one of the most popular radio-cassete players in Soviet block

Over the decades various models were made. On late 80's the radio models had stereo sound and FM band

Over the decades various models were made. On late 80’s the radio models had stereo sound and FM band

VEF made creative ways to advertise their products. Author of the photo unknown.

VEF made creative ways to advertise their products. Author of the photo unknown.

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Mass production of radio cassette player models

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VEF made telephones in 50’s

Soviet built building for telephone production

Soviet built building for telephone production

VEF Telephone production

VEF Telephone production

In 80's the round dials were replaced with button dial and telephones became more advanced

In 80’s the round dials were replaced with button dial and telephones became more advanced

Manufacturing the Automatic Telephone exchanges

Manufacturing the Automatic Telephone exchanges

ATE measuring and testing

ATE measuring and testing

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Production of conveyors. automatic assembly lines and other production items

Production of conveyors. automatic assembly lines and other production items

VEF also attempted to use robots for mass production

VEF also attempted to use robots for mass production

While still lacking behind western industry the VEF reached great level technical advancement

While still lacking behind western industry the VEF reached great level of technical advancement

Early computers were also used by VEF

Early computers were also used by VEF

A large dictionary would be needed to list all notable VEF workers and executives

A large dictionary would be needed to list all notable VEF workers and executives

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vef_vefietis

VEF was always closely watched by the Soviet Communist party

VEF was always closely watched by the Soviet Communist party

VEF made contacts with counterparts in Eastern Block. Ideas were exchanged.

VEF made contacts with counterparts in Eastern Block. Ideas were exchanged.

While VEF did not made much contacts with leading Western producers some contacts were made with Asian countries

While VEF did not made much contacts with leading Western producers some contacts were made with Asian countries

VEF was not just a major factory. It offered a vast social welfare possibilities for its workers.  VEF run sanatoriums, kindergartens, sports schools and Palace of Culture and Technology. Being a worker for VEF meant to be member of special social caste who received many advancements and privileges.

Special sanatorium for VEF workers and their family members

Special sanatorium for VEF workers and their family members

Inside the VEF sanatorium

Inside the VEF sanatorium

VEF Pioneer organization

VEF Pioneer organization

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"Vefietis" public catering center located next to new soviet built VEF blocks was one of the most advanced in Latvia. Now demolished

“Vefietis” public catering center located next to new soviet built VEF blocks was one of the most advanced in Latvia. Now demolished

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VEF Palace of Culture and Technology located near central VEF complex was place of various cultural activities

VEF Palace of Culture and Technology located near central VEF complex was place of various cultural activities

VEF palace had library, young technicians learning center and artist workshop

VEF palace had library, young technicians learning center and artist workshop

VEF Palace hosted worker meetings, had VEF history museum and own choir

VEF Palace hosted worker meetings, had VEF history museum and own choir

1989 VEF marks its 70 birthday. VEF veteran A. Bērziņš in charge for finding and creating parts for Minox camera gets awarded

1989 VEF marks its 70 birthday. VEF veteran A. Bērziņš in charge for finding and creating parts for Minox camera gets awarded

VEF celebrates its 70 years of work in VEF palace

VEF celebrates its 70 years of work in VEF palace

Layout of the VEF factory complex

Layout of the VEF 32 hectare  factory complex.

Various VEF badges and pins

Various VEF badges and pins

 

On 1989 VEF celebrated its 70 years of work. Around that time the country affected by Perestroika was ridden with protests against increasing industrialization and immigration. What first started as massive environment protection protests turned to major movement demanding restoration of independence and the end of Soviet occupation. Many workers of the VEF joined the movement. Latvian Popular Front established a branch in the VEF factory. Mostly Russian speaking factory workers opposed this and supported the Interfront. On May 1 1989 flag of Latvia was raised above the VEF tower marking the official factory support for independence.   Almost no one was sure at that time and until very August 1991 that independence is fully possible.  And that’s why most did not consider what will happen afterwards the goal would be reached.

VEF supporters of independence gathers to raise the flag of Latvia

VEF supporters of independence gathers to raise the flag of Latvia

VEF workers in protest. The protest banner reads "Against immigration"

VEF workers in protest. The protest banners reads “Against immigration!”

Flag of Latvia raised above VEF tower

Flag of Latvia raised above VEF tower

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Situation for VEF started to went downhill in 1991-1993. The Soviet market had collapsed, the connections with Soviet military was lost. VEF leadership failed to find efficient ways to enter Western market. In many ways the VEF production was already outmatched by western counterparts. The government instead  of slow transition from communism to capitalism choose to allow the privatization of all state industrial enterprises. There was limited interest from foreign investors and the VEF leadership could not determine their new worth according to Western standarts. A decision was made to split the large VEF enterprise in several smaller companies. One by one these companies entered bankruptcy.   In next decade VEF disintegrated; most factories were abandoned, some small companies bearing VEF name survived. Most successful is VEF Radiotehnika RRR that was born in uniting with Radiotehnika that also suffered major crisis after independence. Few other companies produced phones and electrical equipment but are too small to compete the western importers. VEF products soon became obsolete. The telecommunications provider Lattelecom choose foreign technology for new modern communications service. All governmental services  ordered new foreign equipment and did gave any chance for VEF to modernize. VEF radios and telephones were obsolete in 10 years and now can be found as relics in flea markets and antique shops. Could VEF survived the transition and transformed into new modern company remains a open question. Some say that VEF breakdown was favored by rival companies who wanted to exclude it from free market. Others say that VEF breakdown was result of poor management, in which one blames another for their mistakes. VEF breakdown could also be inevitable – there was too many unfavorable factors that it simply could not survive in 90’s crisis. Similar fate awaited almost every major factory in Latvia. The breakdown of the industrial sector is the most crucial social disaster in Latvian history.

Crisis begins. No pays means empty factory with nothing but the birds

Crisis begins. No pays means empty factory with nothing but the birds

Workshops abandoned

Workshops abandoned

Workers still try to do their jobs while the pays are delayed

Workers still try to do their jobs while the pays are delayed

Last generation VEF phones

Last generation VEF phones

VEF workers gathers in protest

VEF workers gather in protest

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Initial strong support for independence was now shadowed by strong disappointment as decades of work was lost

Initial strong support for independence was now shadowed by strong disappointment as decades of work was lost

The leader of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party Juris Bojārs tried to stand up for workers with little success

The leader of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party Juris Bojārs tried to stand up for workers with little success

Desperate call for government to save the VEF and do not be grave diggers of own state

Desperate call for government to save the VEF and do not be grave diggers of own state

Most factory buildings soon became abandoned

Most factory buildings soon became abandoned

Factory equipment was either sold or stolen

Factory equipment was either sold or stolen

Some abandoned spaces as this sometimes is used to events such as markets or museum nights

Some abandoned spaces as this sometimes is used to events such as markets or museum nights

The main assembly building is used by Goodwill nightclub. On the tower a ham radio transmitter is installed for local UHF radio club

The main assembly building is used by Goodwill nightclub. On the tower a ham radio transmitter is installed for local UHF radio club

This corpus where VEF airplanes were assembled was ruined for many years. Now is in the process of being restored

This corpus where VEF airplanes were assembled was ruined for many years. Now is in the process of being restored

Former VEF factory yard

Former VEF factory yard

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Some former VEF buildings are now used by companies, shops, clubs, even religious organizations. Some still remains abandoned and sometimes are used by artists for their exhibits and workshops

Stairway in abandoned VEF building

Stairway in abandoned VEF building

Largest VEF factory building now serves as Domina Supermarket

Largest VEF factory building now serves as Domina Supermarket

The historic VEF building has been taken over by Latvian company Mikrotiks and has been renovated

The historic VEF building has been taken over by Latvian company Mikrotiks and has been renovated

VEF palace of culture kept his function as place for various cultural festivities and was home for VEF history museum. Since 2016 its been under renovation

VEF palace of culture kept his function as place for various cultural festivities and was home for VEF history museum. Since 2016 its been under renovation

A full worded history of VEF remains to be written.  The pictures speak for themselves and they speak a thousand words of former glory and demise. Its doubtful VEF would ever be restored to what it was 25 years before. The preservation of the industrial heritage is important goal for our and future generations. 25 years after the demise of VEF its starting to become another subject of social memory about Latvian soviet and industrial past. Often full of myths so its important to preserve the history of the VEF, its workers and products they made. This article was dedications to all of them and I hope it will contribute to the memory and research about the VEF.

 Sources:

VEF. Radio fotoattēlos. Rīga : Valsts elektrotehniskā fabrika, [1935].

 Каталог / Рижское ордена Ленина и Октябрьской революции производственное объединение ВЕФ имени В. И. Ленина. Рига, 1987.
Bražis, Ivars, Minoksa mantinieki / Ivars Bražis ; redaktore / korektore un tekstu tulkotāja Alīna Melngaile. Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC, 2013

Deviņdesmitie. Privatizācija. Piķis un papīrīši. 2016 – Dokumentālās filmas

http://spoki.tvnet.lv/foto-izlases/Bijusi-VEF-eka-tgd-drupas/69338/1/2

http://nickwidescreen.livejournal.com/2245121.html?thread=2671873

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Latvia and Ukrainian People’s Republic

unr

1920 map of claimed lands by Ukrainian People’s Republic. Note: Eastern Ukraine – Galicia and Lviv has been already to Poland.

Ukrainian People’s Republic (Українська Народна Республіка УНР or UNR) was first modern Ukrainian national statehood that existed between 1917 and 1921. Similarly to Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) it did not survive the tides of war, however contrary to BNR, UNR received greater support and recognition from Latvia. Latvian officers also took part in UNR national forces and both sides had high hopes towards each other. On 1920 as Ukraine was divided between Soviet Russia and Poland in pursue for peace with Soviets, Latvia had to abandon its support for UNR. Article highlights Latvian – Ukrainian diplomatic relations and Latvian participation in UNR armed forces.

On March 17 1917 after the collapse of Russian Empire Central Council of Ukraine (Українська Центральна Рада UCR) was established in Kyiv. One of its main demands was national autonomy that was not supported by Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd. In response Ukrainian national forces under the command of General Pavlo Skoropadskyi started to assemble to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. On October 25 (November 7) Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and their supporters took over some areas in Ukraine. UCR managed to control much of Ukraine and on November 7 (November 20) the Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed. Meanwhile in Kharkiv on December 11-12 1917 Ukrainian Soviet Republic was founded. Bolsheviks advanced and gained control over much of Ukraine and on February 8 captured Kyiv. Chief Otaman Symon Petliura who commanded UCR armed forces faced gruesome defeat at the battle of Kruty where Ukrainian 1st Student company and Cadet Corps suffered great casualties. On January 9 (22) UNR again proclaimed full independence and severed all ties with Russia. On February 9 in Brestlitovsk UNR signed peace treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary gaining their military support in return for food provisions. German forces entered Ukraine and on March 1 captured Kyiv. On March 3 Soviet Russia ceded Ukraine to Germany in peace agreement in Brestlitovsk. UNR forces of 15 000 men entered Kyiv and Crimea. UNR was recognized by Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Great Britain.

Ukraine was taken over by Germans and Austrians who came in early conflict with UCR who protested against German military courts. German authorities formally dissolved UCR. In response UCR proclaimed new leftist leaning UNR constitution. Ukrainian right-wing rushed to prevent Ukrainian-German confrontation and rise of left-wing on April 29 seized power. General Pavlo Skoropadskyi became dictator under the title of Hetman of Ukraine. UNR faced resistance from Bolsheviks and peasants lead by anarchist Nestor Makhno. More countries however recognized UNR such as Finland, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Persia. As of November 11 1918 when Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed situation changed in Ukraine. UNR elites supporting Allied powers created Directory lead by Symon Petliura, who in December 14 deposed hetman Skoropadskyi and proclaimed second Ukrainian People’s Republic (during hetman’s dictatorship UNR was called “Ukrainian State”). Meanwhile in Western Part of Ukraine a Western Ukrainian People’s Republic on October 19 1918 was proclaimed in attempts to split from Austria- Hungary who controlled Lviv (Lemberg). On January 1919 it united with UNR. The Western Ukraine with Lviv in center was claimed by Poland and both sides engaged each other in battles until June 1919.

Soviet Russia immediately after German surrender to Allies canceled Brestlitovsk peace agreement and UNR had to declare war on them on January 16 1919. On February 5 Bolsheviks again captured Kyiv and reached Zbruch River west of Ukraine and entered Crimea. Ukrainian peasants and anarchist groups resisted Bolsheviks while un summer of 1919 the monarchist White Guard South Russian Volunteer army lead by general Anton Denikin attacked Bolsheviks and captured Kharkiv on the way to Moscow and on August 31 entered Kyiv. As his forces were defeated and chased away Bolsheviks again took over much of Ukraine in March 1920.

Situation demanded an alliance with Poland that was reached by Symon Petliura. On April 26 1920 Polish-Ukrainian forces attacked Bolsheviks on May 7 captured Kyiv. Polish forces reached river Dnipro. Bolsheviks ignited counter offensive and On June 12 Poles abandoned Kyiv, on July 4 Bolsheviks started attack in Belarus and reached Warsaw. On August 12-17 the Bolshevik offensive was finally stopped at the gates of Warsaw. On March 18 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Russia signed peace agreement dividing Ukraine in two. Central, South and East Ukraine was granted to Soviets while Western Part of Ukraine including Lviv (Lwov in Polish) was ceded to Poland. Recognized also by Ukrainian delegation the Riga peace agreement was death sentence to UNR. Symon Petliura dismissed Directory and withdraw his forces to Poland where he was interned. Rumania and Czechoslovakia also gained Ukrainian ethnic lands. Symon Petliura lead the UNR in exile until he was assassinated by Soviet agent on 1926. UNR continued to work in exile in Poland until 1939 and the moved to France where it ceased to exist after Nazi occupation. After the war in western exile Ukrainian National Council (Українська Національна Рада) that existed until 1991 when it recognized new Republic of Ukraine that formed in result of collapse of the Soviet Union.

During dramatic and fast changing events in Ukraine during Soviet-Ukrainian war many Latvians were involved army in state matters. Firs before the First World War and during the war some Latvians traveled to live and work in Ukrainian provinces of the Russian empire and secondly the Latvian officers who served the Russian army were sent on duty there. Large numbers of Latvians ended up in Ukraine as refugees during 1915-1916.  Also campaigners for Latvian independence were interested in Ukrainian independence movement and were seeking for cooperation. On September 8-15 (21-28) in Kyiv the UCR organized “congress of the minor nations” where 80 representatives took part along with 10 from Latvia. Latvians were represented by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics from Vidzeme land council Kristaps Bahmanis from Kurzeme Land council and Staņislavs Kambala from Latgale land council. Z. A. Meierovics gave speech describing the history of Latvian history and present situation and voiced call for Latvian self-determination. Meierovics, Kambala, Bahmanis and lecturer at Kyiv University M Bruninieks were elected in All-Russia Council of Nations. On November 18 1917 in Valka the newly founded Latvian National Council (LNC) also discussed Ukraine and judged that Ukrainian politicians are generally friendly towards Latvians like rest of the small nations. On December the Council received telegram from UNR about their declaration of independence and replied back with warm greetings towards Ukraine and voiced support for Ukrainian freedom and federation of nations.

On January 1918 LNC decided to send representatives to Ukraine to gain support promised by UCR. At first Latvians wanted to travel to Brestlitovsk to take part in Ukrainian-German peace talks to gain things to their favor, however the idea was dropped and Latvian representative K Bahmanis went to Kyiv on February. There he contributed to the creation of Kyiv Latvian Central Committee and spread information about the work of LNC. Because of war activities he could not contact Latvia and his report about his activities was only reviewed in June. Bahmanis became the representative of the Latvian Provisional Government in Kyiv and since 1919 visited new governments in Georgia, Armenia, White Guard Armies in Crimea, Don and Kuban. He returned to Latvia in September 1920.

peteris_radzins

Latvian General Pēteris Radziņš who served in UNR amy

Many Latvians who were at Ukraine decided to join Ukrainian national armed forces lead by General Pavlo Skoropadskyi. Latvian officers also served in Symon Petliura Directory army. Most known was colonel Pēteris Radziņš who was chief of organizational and training department of the General Staff. After hetman was deposed he served as deputy to the chief of General Staff Mykola Yunakiv. On September 1919 escaping UNR defeats against White Guards and Bolsheviks he got himself in Poland and then returned to Latvia. There he was appointed for the Chief of the Commander-in-Chief Staff of the Latvian army. From 1924 to 1928 he was commander-in-chief of the Latvian Army. He also was author of many military history books and died in age of 50 in 1930. Lieutenant Colonel Jānis Ceplītis served Skoropadsyi and then under Petliura was chief of the Operational department of the General Staff and returned to Latvia on December 1919. Captain Pēteris Miķelsons on 1918 voluntarily joined the hetman’s army in the Chief Artillery headquarters and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In Petliura army he served as chief of Inspectional department of Chief Artillery headquarters. On January 1920 he was retired, but as Ukrainians started attack with Poles he was mobilized again. On 1921 he was promoted colonel and was retired few months later. Collegium  assessor  Vilhelms Klotiņš  joined the hetman’s army on June 1918 and served in Petliura army as administrative colonel the chief of the board of main intendancy money and payments. He returned to Latvia on Summer 1919. Aviator captain Nikolajs Jeske on December 1918 joined Petliura’s army as deputy for the chief 5th aviation division later chief of Proskuriv (now Khmelnytskyi) aviation school and commander of 1st aviation detachment. On 1920-1921 he was the head of UNR aircraft purchase commission.  Staff captain Hermanis Klīve on December 1918 served in hetmans army but after coup he was sent to court as hetmans officer but was found not guilty. He then served Poltava regiment until March 1920. Podporuchik Kārlis Drengeris served in UNR army 3th detached engineer battalion until September 1920. Podporuchik Arnolds Drukēvičs from December 18 to May 1919 served in UNR 7th artillery brigade and was captured by Poles. Adrejs Lejasslauss on 1918 took important posts in hetmans Provisions ministry and after coup served Provisions ministry in Galicia and Bukovina later in Ministry of Economics as vice-director Leather industry department and later director. Kārlis Brože served in most effective UNR unit the 1 Cavalry Regiment of Black Zaporizhians as commanders deputy, later in Latvia he served in police and municipalities.

As of diplomatic relations the first contacts between Latvia and UNR  emerged on spring 1919 in Paris Peace Conference. UNR as most politically unstable country of the time was mainly interested in gaining support from Latvia. The Latvian foreign minister Z. A Meierovics considered Ukraine as ally and wanted to include Belarus and Ukraine into Baltic entente that compromised Baltic Sates, Finland and Poland. Belarusian and Ukrainian delegations took part in Dorpat (Tartu) Baltic states conference as observers. In meetings with them it was agreed to create a common military alliance. On September 1 1919 UNR consul Nikifor Bederovsky arrived in Riga. The UNR consulate managed to get some Ukrainians in Latvian army to retire and join the UNR army. Along with new UNR citizens some were Germans as consul deputy Erich Fleisher who asked Latvian General staff to command him to Jelgava for “consulate affairs” on November 28 1919 (Jelgava was just liberated from Bermont-Avalov army) and was granted. His goal was to search for UNR citizen local German Heinnrich Brade who voluntary joined Baltic Landguard on July 14 during his duty in Riga Latvian soldiers confiscate his bicycle that became point of active communications between consulate and Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fleisher himself was local German.

Latvia and UNR consulate sometimes entered situations of conflict during siege of Riga on October-November 1919. On October 24 UNR consulate filed a request to give back horse that was confiscated to consulate coachman Mykola Jukatch however was denied. In result UNR together with Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia filed nota to Foreign ministry where it protested against search-ins in one of the consular buildings and car confiscation by Latvian army and expulsions and mobilizations of their citizens.  The nota demanded to make assertive steps until 8 December 12:00 or else the consulates will inform the representatives of Etente and make similar steps towards Latvian citizens in their territory. UNR was concerned by significant flow of refugees of Ukrainian nationals from Russia into Latvia. Latvian Foreign Ministry mostly supported the consulate and even gave it a credit for refugee transit and organization of the courier service.

Latvia and UNR also had numerous contacts in other countries. In London, Great Britain Latvian representative Georgs Bisenieks and UNR counterpart Yaroslavl Olesnitsky made regular meetings informing each other of the military events in both countries. In Warsaw, Poland the Latvian representative Atis Ķeniņš considered an establishment with UNR a top priority. He reported to Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis that Ukrainians eagerly wants to make friends with Latvia from whom they want to receive support such as military instructors and aides for economic recovery. Ukrainians also hoped that after liberation of Daugavpils, Ukraine could receive a transit of clothing, shoes and ammunition for its army of 200 000 men. Atis Ķeniņš in talks with Ukrainian side suggested that Latvian Provisional government needs to send emissary to Kyiv. On December 10 1919 the head of UNR directory Symon Petliura with UNR foreign minter A.Lvicky gave nota to Keniņš in Poland where they recognized Latvian independence and their Provisional Government.

On January 2 1920 Volodomir Kedrosky arrived in Riga to establish UNR diplomatic mission. The diplomatic mission was located at Antonija iela 6 (presently within the territory of the Russian embassy). In spring a UNR press bureau was established that informed Latvian press about military and political events in UNR. UNR expected that Latvia will recognize their independence in return without delay. However, Latvian priority was to gain acceptance from Poland first as both countries shared important military ties and shared common border. Only after Latvian –Polish relations suffered brief deadlock after failed talks in Warsaw in March 1920 on March 25 Z. A. Meierovics sent nota to Symon Petliura where he recognized UNR independence. Polish emissary Bronislav Boufal expressed disappointment and call it a result of change in relations between Poland and Latvia. A. Meierovics explained his policy in People’s council on March 10 where he rejected Polish demand to restore the Polish borders of 1776 that would include Belarus and Ukraine. He instead accented the need for sovereign countries in Belarus and Ukraine and reviewed the UNR situation as difficult regarding its relations with Soviet Russia who is not looking for peace with UNR and instead has created a rival Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Polish society was generally against Ukrainian and Belarusian independence while Polish government including General Jozef Pilsudsky was cautiously supportive. Meanwhile UNR military representative in Poland colonel general Viktor Zelinsky asked Latvian military representative Mārtins Hartmanis to support the transfer of Ukrainian soldiers within former units of Yudenich White Guard army stationed in Alūksne to Ukraine including Belarusian general S. Bulak-Balahovich of whose 884 men 24% were Ukrainians. While Latvian side expressed support the UNR mission in Riga was not interested and did not make any contacts with Latvian General Staff. As joint Polish and Ukrainian offensive started Latvian side asked to find out if within soviet prisoners of war there are Ukrainians who could be sent to UNR and found 11 men. However, UNR diplomatic mission did not respond.

On June 2 1920 in Vinnytsia UNR governmental declaration stated that it’s in most importance to have good neighboring relations with Romania and gain most positive agreement with solidary Baltic States. For that reason on June 2 all Latvian citizens serving in UNR army were relieved of duty as both countries have recognized each other. In return Latvia promised to work on refugee re evacuation to Ukraine. Latvian government sent the representative of Refugee re-evacuation society to Ukraine Stulmanis who on June 1 arrived in Kovel and June 3 in Zhytomyr  to make talks with Polish military who was widely responsive and then planned to go to Kyiv, but as situation in front quickly changed he was forced to head back to Latvia.

In August 6 1920 in Bulduri the Baltic States conference was opened to discuss foreign affairs between Baltic countries. UNR tried to gain direct entry into conference. Ukrainian and Belarusian people’s republics sent applications and sent a delegation of journalist Alexander Sadikovsky, V, Kedrovsky, A, Shlugin, economist Mykola Dobrilovsky, businessman S, Frankfurt and L, Zadorzhnij. The head of Lithuanian delegation Jons Šaulis on August 19 issued declaration where he expressed concerns over Ukrainian participation as it would cause protest from Soviet Russia and also doubted the need of Ukrainian participation in the Baltic States conference. Lithuanians however, would still participate even if Ukrainians were admitted. On August 20 it was decided that Belarus cannot take part while UNR can take part as full-time member of the conference. UNR issued memorandum about their state history and current demands and interests. On August 31 UNR representatives signed the project for political convention where member states committed for joint de iure recognition and settle their quarrels in a peaceful way. Few days later a military council was made to create a joint military convention (Lithuania stepped out of it for political reasons) UNR representative colonel Danilchuk and lieutenant colonel Didkovsky. The project for military convention was concluded on October 18-30 that had to be approved by all five member states. Both these conventions were never realized.

Month later in September 21 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Union came to discuss peace agreement. Also Soviet Ukraine delegation took part. On October 5 a ceasefire was signed after which UNR senator present in Riga V. Sheluhin and chief of the diplomatic mission V. Kedrovsky gave nota to head of the Polish delegation Jan Dabski where they protested that UNR and Polish diplomatic relations were not taken into concern and UNR had to take part in peace talks. Same nota was also given to Latvian side. Meanwhile Latvia was concerned over the fate of thousands of Latvian refugees in Soviet controlled Ukraine and decided to start talks with Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic causing UNR protest that reminded of joint independence recognition and that Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic is just puppet regime by Soviet occupants. On February 19 1921 Latvia replied that it always supports the Ukrainian strive for freedom, but the real situation demands to hold talks with power presently in Ukraine. On February 21 1921 UNR diplomatic mission left Latvia and closed the consulate. On May 1921 both Latvian and Ukrainian Socialist Soviet representatives met and both recognized each other’s sovereignty. Thus the Latvian and UNR relations were completely canceled even if year later the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic ceased to exist as sovereign state and was included into Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.

Latvian and Ukrainian relations during 1917-1921 was based on mutual sympathy even more than between Latvia and Belarus. Contrary to Belarussian People’s Republic the UNR had more chances to establish independent nation and therefore received more international support. However, similar to Belarus it could not survive the wars with Soviets, Poles and anarchist warlords. Plus it was disturbed by its own inner power struggle. Had the events for UNR inside Ukraine would be more fortunate the relations between Latvia and UNR would continue in positive environment as contrary to Belarus both countries had no territorial or ethno-political issues. However, Latvian foreign policy was based on realpolitik – after the Polish-Soviet peace agreement ­it was clear that UNR has no more possibility to exist and Latvia moved on to start talks with Soviet Ukraine. As Latvian top priority was to gain peace agreement with Soviets and settle the refugee question. Today Ukraine is top priority to Latvia foreign policy. Latvian policy is to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russia and it does not recognize Russian occupation of Crimea. Both sides supports each other in various way. However, one must always beware from times when fates of many are dictated by realpolitik and survival.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons Ēriks. Latvijas attiecības ar Ukrainas Tautas Republiku (1919-1921) Latvijas Vēsture  Jaunie un Jaunākie laiki 2003 4(52)

Miņins, Aldis (2015) Cīņa par varu Krievijas postimpērijas Rietumu perifērijā. 1917-1920

http://garnizonakauss54.blogspot.com/p/pradzins-fotgrafijas.html

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Latvian National Guard: Aizsargi and Zemessardze 1918-1940, 1991-

Left: Latvian Aizsargi Organization badge, left Latvian National Guard emblem

Left: Latvian Aizsargi Organization badge, left Latvian National Guard emblem

On August 23 1991 after failure of Soviet coup attempt Latvia fully restored independence and yet to had begun the restoration of the national armed forces. It was the same situation as in 1918 when the Republic of Latvia was founded – the new nation needed auxiliary paramilitary organization to create order in the new state and defend it against any threat possible. It had serve in every district to preserve state order and help in case of emergency. So Latvia had to create National Guard.  August 23 known in Latvian history  for the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact in 1939 and Baltic Way demonstration in 1989  also became known as the founding day of National Guard in Latvian Zemessardze – “the Landguard”. In many ways they were predecessors of first Latvian National guard the Aizsargi  in Latvian “defenders”, “guardians”. Here is a short survey about both paramilitary organizations, one that played crucial role during first independence and one  that is having crucial role in our national defense.

Members of 9th Madona aizsargi regiment Tirza company

Members of 9th Madona aizsargi regiment Tirza company

Latvijas Aizsargu Organizācija – The Latvian Guards Organization 1918-1940

The collapse of Russian Empire sparked the rise on national independence movements in all Northern and Western parts of former empire. First who founded a paramilitary forces similar to Aizsargi where Fins in 1917. Finland had made tradition of partisan warfare against Russians during Swedish-Russian war when Finland became part of Russia. Large numbers of Fins before 1917 Russian revolution served in imperial German army and afterwards returned to Finland to form guard units to fight for independence, they became part of the new Finland army commanded by general Gustav Mannerheim.  The organization was called Suojeluskunnat – (Protection/Defense corps) known in English as White Guard. In Poland the organization was called Riflemen’s Association (Związek Strzelecki)  based on roots of Jozef Pilsudsky Union of Active Struggle and made from Polish rifleman within Austro-Hungarian army they also made the core for the new Polish army, created a system of military schools and supported the Pilsudsky authoritarian regime.  In Estonia the organization was called Kaitseliit, similar organization was also made in Lithuania.

In Latvia the idea of forming paramilitary organization was made in 1918 by Latvian Minister of Interior Affairs Miķelis Valters in December 16 when he asked all local municipalities to create communal guard squads that would be loyal to the Provisional government. It was needed action however as Bolshevik invasion took and Provisional government abandoned Riga no quick steps were made. On March 20 1919 Provisional government issued “Rules about guardian units in parishes” to create auxiliary police in the country side. At first the enlistment was based on old social class rules and objectives for each member was accustomed to his social level. However, as more territories were liberated from the enemy and were affected by the mobilization all was left in them was old men and very young lads. Interior affairs ministry then removed the social class limitations and made requirements that all men from 18 to 60 years must join the local guard. At first local guard was not entirely auxiliary, but was rather a state imposed practice to install order in rural areas.

The state of war was canceled on February 7 1921, but in border areas was not canceled until October 15 1932. There was no reason now for a compulsory guards organization. The early guards mainly did the police function in areas and did not took part in military actions and did not made the core for Latvian army. During the War for Independence there was other semi-Auxiliary Military unit the Landeswehr  (landguard) that was made mainly from Baltic German volunteers and during war switched sides three times, first served with Latvian army, then fought against it and then was again taken under Latvian control. However, this military unit that took direct part in frontlines is not considered as  root for Latvian national guards. It was disbanded soon after war ended. Latvia needed to form new guard organization that would be based on auxiliary principles.

Latvian Guards Organization or Aizsargi was based on Finnish White Guard. Also the name Aizsargs – defender, guardian was inspired by Fins. Latvians before WW2 viewed Finland as example for Latvia. Finland and Estonia had largest National guard with highest member count. Finland guards had 100 000 members 6,7 % of population, while Estonia 60 000 – 11% of population. Latvian Aizsargi had 45 000 members 3,6 % of population. Contrary to modern national guards, the Aizsargi besides defense and law function also had social and cultural function. Aizsargi had own private property the Aizsargi house where social and cultural gatherings and military courses took place. Such houses were built-in many parts of Latvia. Aizsargi had own libraries and many other extras. Aizsargi was not just paramilitary unit it was mass organization playing high social role in the region. The most members of Aizsargi where from country side and small towns. As their prestige increased it was joined by more people from major cities and higher classes. The organization received funding from Interior Affairs ministry. For some time the state support in Estonia and Lithuania was significantly higher than in Latvia. After authoritarian coup in 1934 the state increased its support. On 1926 state gave 212 503 lats while in 1938 it was now 600 000 lats worth of state support.

Aizsargi also served as partners for Latvian army. During War for Independence around Madona and Jēkabpils the aizsargi served as the “green army” and engaged in partisan warfare against the Bolsheviks. Large numbers of Latvian army veterans after the war joined the Aizsargi. As 60-70% members had military experience the organization became increasingly militant. The new regulations allowed gun carry and keeping guns at home, single variant uniforms, berets and badges and later even medals were introduced. Aizsargi became a second army with rights to practice sport, host events, practice cultural work, organize courses and lectures and raise charity.

Aizsargi were organized in military system – regiments, battalions, companies, squadrons, platoons and detachments. Smaller units acted within the parish borders, while regiments along the districts. Latvian aizsargi 19 regiments. The commanders usually were police chief district with deputy for military matters that usually was officer from the army. The organization was led by experienced military officers like general Ludvigs Bolšteins  (1925-1928) lieutenant colonel Augusts Tone 1928-1930 and general Kārlis Prauls (1930-1940). Independence war veteran general Jānis Balodis served as honorary chairman. While in other countries the guards were subordinated to defense ministry in Latvija aizsargi where subordinated to Ministry of Interior Affairs. Aizsargi had small air units made to educate and prepare pilots. The aizsargi had 28 aircraft mostly biplanes  and 3 sea divisions. There was also railroad support units. Only during late thirties the government started to mechanize aizsargi by making bicycle and motorcycle  units  and gave heavy automobiles and tankette’s.

Aizsargi Air force Gourdon-Leseure (GL-21)

Aizsargi Air force Gourdon-Leseure (GL-21)

At first the society was still skeptical about aizsargi and their role and mission. They had to move from compulsory wartime country police units to organized paramilitary society that functions for the state and society. On 1926 the Latvian Aizsargi Organization gathered in their first congress to discuss the future of the organization and create charter to control and organize the movement. The congress and the new charter was positively regarded  by the society and politicians. Organization started to grow attracting more members. During parliamentary period the aizsargi gained friends and enemies from the political parties. The leftist Social Democrats were always skeptical about giving state funding and fought against their politicization. Another factor that Latvian Social Democratic Workers party also had its own paramilitary organization The Defender and Sport of the Worker (Strādnieka, Sports un Sargs – SSS) nicknamed the locust’s this organization in strength of 1000  members and divided in five battalions and 24 companies were made to defend social democrat demonstrations against radical nationalists and communists and often engaged in street battles. They were armed with low caliber weapons and wore blue color uniforms and had raised right fist salute “Ready to be Free!” as opposed to “Ready to Fight” raised left hand salutes by their nationalist counterparts. The SSS and aizsargi obviously had a rivalry as majority of aizsargi were Latvian ethnic nationalists with only small share of Jewish, German, Russian or Polish members. Also its core members were countryside farmers opposed to social democrat workers and landless peasants therefore they became favorited by Latvian Farmers Union and other right-wing parties. Over the years the Farmers Union gained greater prominence over aizsargi gaining more friction from the social democrats. Meanwhile the SSS and aizsargi also had paramilitary rival organizations like the Zionist Betar and Baltic German youth organizations. While Zionists were loyal to the state, the German paramilitary groups became influenced by Nazism from Germany and became dangerous to the state. As democracy went into decay more radical Latvian nationalists took example and formed Thurdercross movement that tried to be paramilitary party and influence the aizsargi.

May 15 coup 1934 - aizsargi gathers near their headquarters in celebration of the coup

May 15 coup 1934 – aizsargi gathers near their headquarters in celebration of the coup

In situation of economic crisis and political rivalry the aizsargi chose to support Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian coup in May 15 1934. Kārlis Ulmanis promised the aizsargi leadership increased state support, giving them special status above other citizens. Aizsargi who were present in every district were crucial for the coup to gain control over crucial buildings and arrest all who oppose. The rival social democrat SSS was caught off guard and arrested without a fight. German Nazis and Latvian radical nationalists were also unable to resist. As both Latvian army and Political (Secret) Police accepted or even supported the coup it was bloodless and took place without much interference.

Aizsargi became the new Kārlis Ulmanis Praetorian guard. Their role in civil control increased and they also served as role in ideological control and education. The organization became more bureaucratic and authoritarian and became submitted to the president that became the supreme leader of the organization. From 1936 the president title belonged to Ulmanis and so aizsargi were under his full control. The organization became privileged class as it became the only society in Latvia with right to bear arms and wear uniform. Aizargi members received social and financial benefits. Aizsargi received extended rights to acquire residential property. In next 5 years aizsargi build many clubs, stadiums and other buildings. It had its own major newspaper. The state propaganda regularly praised aizsargi and covered their work. From now on Aizsargi were special state elite much praised and appreciated within the society.

Aizsargi of 8th Valmiera regiment from the right: Kārlis Liepiņš, Pēteris Ulmanis and Jānis Grīnbergs

Aizsargi of 8th Valmiera regiment from the right: Kārlis Liepiņš, Pēteris Ulmanis and Jānis Grīnbergs

However, as the strategical and political situation of Latvia worsened the role of aizsargi became crucial and sadly was wasted. Aizsargi were forced to accept the Latvian – Soviet mutual assistance pact in October 1939 that allowed Soviet garrison in Latvia. Unable to question the Kārlis Ulmanis government’s decisions they were forced to accept the new situation and try to convince the fellow countrymen there is no danger to the independence. Officially the regime pretendent that Latvia is neutral and there is no danger of war, however in case of war the army and aizsargi will still be able to defend Latvian people. On 1940 the Latvian Aizsargi organization had 31 776 members – it was sharp decrease caused by disappointment over governmental actions. The state mobilization plan now just made aizsargi as part of Latvian army only with its own weapons. On June 17 1940 Latvia was in danger of Soviet invasion. The Latvian Aizsargi Organization was still in larger numbers than Latvian army, it was made of patriotic men ready to defend their country. In theory they might produce a prolonged military struggle and partisan warfare against the Soviets. But, their weak point was their leader. Aizsargi were taught to obey the orders of leader Kārlis Ulmanis without question. Kārlis Ulmanis ordered not to resist and signed death sentence to aizsargi, to Latvian Army and to his country. Aizsargi showed no resistance. On June 23 1940 the new Soviet power disbanded the organization. The commander of aizsargi general Kārlis Prauls was sentenced to death and shot in January 30 1941. Many of the senior members and all commanders were deported to Siberia. The story of aizsargi came to sad ugly end during the German invasion in 1941 when Germans assigned the ex aizsargi members to Latvian Auxiliary Police battalions that took part in defense operations, front line battles and punishment expeditions. On 1944 July 22 when Germans needed all the Latvian support to defend the Eastern front the Latvian Aizsargi organization was officially restored. However on January 1 1945 it formally ceased to exist. Germans were encircled in western Latvia, there was no hope for restoration of independence. Aizsargi had made their role as preservers of state order and national symbol, but failed to defend their country.

Latvian National Guards at the parade

Latvian National Guards at the parade

Latvijas Republikas Zemessardze – Latvian National Guard

In 1991 the Latvian government seeking to separate from Soviet Union again had the same issue as of 1918. There was no Latvian Armed Forces, there was major presence of Soviet Armed forces, attacks by the Soviet special force OMON causing victims. The government again needed paramilitary force. First seeds of new national guard was January 1991 when Riga was under threat from Soviet reactionary forces. Barricades were built do defend the main governmental buildings and among the barricade guards many civilians were armed with guns. In case of Soviet attack they were ready to resist with they had. Fortunately the January 1991 turned out less bloody than in Lithuania, however as the threat still stayed the need for new national guard was being discussed.

Only after the failure of the soviet coup attempt on August 21 1991 when Latvia became fully independent and recognized by Russia itself the order for new national guard was issued. On August 23 1991 the new law about Latvian National Guard the Zemessardze was issued. Zemessardze means landguard. The law stated that national guard is auxiliary military civilian self-defense unit. In few months 17 000 volunteers gathered creating 35 territorial battalions.  It was crucial time as police, army, border and rescue services were under restoration.  Every each of them required assistance. Criminality skyrocketed, bandits gained weapons from abandoned Soviet military bases, contraband was on the rise. The new national guard was again crucial to create civil and state order. The early national guard was poorly equipped, had no single uniform. As time went buy the national guard became more organized. Contrary to their predecessors the national guard is part of Latvian Armed Forces and subordinated to the ministry of defense. They don’t have the same rights for property as aizsargi did, nor they can keep weapons at home. This limitation is seen for many as obstacle and was introduced do accustom National guard to the NATO standarts. Also modern-day Latvia has strict gun control laws. On 1992 the youth organization – The Youth Guard or Jaunsargi was established.

Currently the National Guard has 8000 members, in 2015 1210 people joined voluntary. National Guard is divided in 3 regions that each holds at least five battalions. National Guard also have cyber warfare unit, special unit against weapons of mass destruction. National guard uses Carl Gustav m/45 SMG rifles, Heckler & Koch G36, Heckler & Koch G3,  FN MAG G3, RPK, rifles. It has anti air artillery and low caliber field artillery. National Guard has its own distinct insignia and badges and uniforms. The commander-in-chief is brigadier general Leonīds Kalniņš. The goals of the national guard is defend the country, take part in international operations, assist guest military units, preform sapper duties, take part in disaster relief and fire emergencies, and take part in cyber defense.

zemessardze

Today’s National Guards suffer from issues of state funding, recruitment problems, also the support from society is not as high as it was before WW2. However, the Latvian Aizsargi organization before the WW2 was different unit. It was a large organization with private property and self funding, while National Guard is part of Latvian Armed Forces and serves as crucial support unit. One thing remains that the main goal of both organizations is to defend the country and its people. On August 20 during National Guard parade the president of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis said crucial words – during foreign invasion every national guard, soldier and common must defend his country without waiting for orders from commanders in chief. This is in contrary of 1940 when Latvian Army and Aizsargi was in trusting subordination of inept, passive dictator unable to issue orders for resistance. Today Latvia again feels the danger from the same neighbor in the east. Now Latvia has strong allies, but still the ultimate power lays in hands of the Latvian people and their military.

Selected Sources:

Butulis. Ilgvars. (2011) Sveiki Aizsargi. Rīga. Jumava

http://www.zs.mil.lv/lv/Par%20Mums/Vesture.aspx

 

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Žanis Lipke

Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna

Žanis Lipke and his wife Johanna

Holocaust was the most massive crime in the Latvian history. About 70 000 Jews from Latvia were killed and 19 000 Jews brought from Western Europe were killed on Latvian soil. It was time of despair for Latvian nation as they had to make a very tough choices. Took part in crime, assist the crime or be a bystander.  Most took the second choice, but there were many who sadly took the first. However, the most toughest choice was to rescue Jews from killings. This action was associated with great risk as it was punishable by death and Nazi authorities carefully searched for any Jew that escaped the murders. So such act of humanity and resistance was rare and brave thing to do. In 1945 in Jerusalem a memorial museum “Yad Vashem” was established to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, documentation and research and special focus for them was the Jewish rescuers. Yad Vashem issues special Honorary Title “Righteous Among Nations” to all Jewish rescuers. A special tree is planted in memorial garden to commemorate them.  65 of them are persons from Latvia. The small number can be explained due to the suspicion by the Soviet authorities towards rescued Jews preventing them to establish connections with Israel and Yad Vashem. Only if the persons were permitted to emigrate they could safely report their rescuers to Yad Vashem commission. According to research done by Marģers Vestermanis 400-500 Jews were rescued during Nazi occupation. Many Jews were failed to rescue and their rescuers arrested. 32 people are known to be repressed for rescue attempts. Museum “Jews in Latvia” has gathered 220 events of Jewish rescue attempts with 400 people involved.  Among the rescuers most known were Roberts and Johanna Sedols in Liepāja who rescued 11 Jews in Liepāja,  Sonja Švarca rescued nine persons in Riga, Elvīra Rone eight, Artūrs Motmillers seven people. Baltic German politician Paul Schiemann is known hosting young Jewish woman before his death on 1944 and gained title “Righteous Among Nations”. The person with the most rescued people count was Jānis (Žanis) Lipke. He helped 55 people to survive the war hiding them in various places in Riga and rest around Dobele in Kurzeme (Courland) region. With assistance of few trusted associates he did frantic work rescuing people during Nazi occupation and was the one of the first of Latvian rescuers who gained international recognition. This story is about him and his rescued ones.

Jānis Lipke nicknamed Žanis for most of his life was born on February 1 1900 in Jelgava then known as Mittau. He finished three classes but was fluent in German and Russian. His parents did not live long, father lost his life in the frontlines of the First World war and mother died in 1920. Žanis himself joined the Latvian Rifleman on 1918 and year later joined Latgale Artillery regiment. After the war was over he came to Riga and met his future wife Johanna Novicka who 17 years old at the time of their marriage.  From 1926 to 1940 he worked in Riga harbor in docks and storage facilities. There he mastered his underground work abilities by giving refuge to social democrats and communists who were persecuted by Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime. He was also called in for smuggling, made private bus rides between Jelgava and Valmiera and owned yacht.

On 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded Latvia Lipke started to work in “Luftwaffe” storage near Riga Central Market. The Riga Ghetto established by Nazis to prison all the Jews in Riga was close. Before 1941 Ghettos were never established in Latvia. Jews lived where they wanted, sometimes in larger concentrations in one place than other. The Moscow district near the Riga Central Market and Railway station was one of the most Jewish populated districts in Riga. Nazis moved all the Jews in Riga there and surrounded the territory with barbed wire and guard posts. Similar ghetto was established in Daugavpils the city with most Jews and many other smaller cities were Jews were separated from other citizens until the time of their death.

Lipke gained Nazi trust by graduating air defense courses and was appointed to transport Jews to forced labor sites and back. That allowed him to start his rescue mission. First rescued was family friend Chaim Slomensky  who was picked up by Lipke during transport from ghetto to labor site. Few others were prevented from returning to ghetto. As the ghetto security became tougher every such attempt became more difficult. Few trusted friends and relatives were involved in rescue attempts. He found people who hosted rescued Jews in various places in Riga and rural house around Dobele. The success of his mission was contributed by his talent of talking people in, bribing the guards or divert their attention by use of alcohol or casual talks. Lipke lived in small house in Ķīpsala an island in Riga. Ķīpsala was located in front of city center separated by river Daugava. During the Nazi occupation Ķīpsala was made of small tensely build wooden fisherman houses that were ideal for covert rescue shelter. There he made small bunker for some of the rescued while others were sheltered elsewhere.

Žanis Lipke shed under which the bunker was made for his rescued ones

Žanis Lipke shed under which the bunker was made for his rescued ones

In such way he and his rescued ones made until October 13 1944 when Red army marched in Riga. Before soviets marched in he also managed to smuggle out Latvians who deserted Latvian Waffen SS Legion. He did so by working in German Forestry service and transported captured trophy vehicles from Riga to Kurzeme. Soviet paratroopers brothers Rozenbergs were also sheltered by him. He was arrested by Soviet secret police NKVD who questioned him about his son Alfrēds who served in German army support service. After finding out that he rescued Jews the NKVD then started to question his reasons and tried to find the hidden Jewish gold and diamonds. During questioning Lipke lost his patience and shouted to Soviet officer that communists are the same bandits as Nazis, Nazis shoot you by looking in the eye, while Soviets shoot from the back. Despite such grave insult he was released by the Soviets and not bothered again.

After the war he continued to live in his house in Balasta dambis in Ķīpsala. His rescued ones who made it to Israel made him popular and on 1977 when he visited the country he was greeted warmly by crowds of people. Yad Vashem recognized him as the Righteous Among Nation   and holds documents related to his actions and planted a tree in alley of heroes within the memorial complex. Those who remained in Latvia visited Lipke two times in a year. He was very popular among Latvian Jewish community. One of his rescued Dāvids Zilbermans wrote a book “As a Star in Darkness” where he gathered the accounts from rescued ones about Lipke.

Žanis Lipke memorial

Žanis Lipke memorial

On May 14 1987 Lipke died from stroke and was buried in Riga II Forest cemetery. Since then actions were made to commemorate his name. A memorial stone to Lipke and his family was placed in Riga New Jewish cemetery,   on 1995 at the location of main Riga Ghetto gate a memorial plaque was placed commemorating him. Lipkes relatives continued to live in their small wooden house in Balasta dambis 8. On 2005 a society “Žanis Lipke Memorial” lead by ex Prime Minister Māris Gailis was established to create a memorial next to Lipkes house. The project was designed by his wife Zaiga Gaile. The memorial was finished on 2012 and was instantly praised for his architectural design and interior. The museum holds permanent exhibition about life and work of Žanis Lipke and his family. The basement levels holds space for temporary exhibits and small guest hall is often used for lectures and presentations. The wooden building was made to recreate the Lipke’s shelter in form of Noah’as ark and the bunker within the lover levels of the memorial. The memorial itself is perfectly hidden between the buildings in Ķīpsala as the original Lipke’s shelter was. To this day is the most modern and popular Holocaust memorial in Latvia. The Lipke museum also has made a project “Underground Riga” to mark all the sites in Riga where Lipke and other rescuers made shelters for Jews, Communists and Legion deserters by erecting small   plaques on the ground next to the buildings. Thanks to the memorial Žanis Lipke has became popular in Latvia and abroad more than ever.

Lipke himself described his actions as purely non-selfish. To question how much he rescued he said he did not count, those who saved he saved without much counting. Lipke was remembered as nice person and a risk taker that contributed to his savior person. His efforts and names lives till this day and serves as example to how to act in times of war and despair.

Selected Sources:

http://www.lipke.lv/lv

PRETDARBĪBA HOLOKAUSTAM LATVIJĀ Marģers Vestermanis

http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/lipke.asp

 

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The Myth of The Horrible Year

Cover of the Nazi propaganda book "The Horrible Year" (Baigais Gads)

Cover of the Nazi propaganda book “The Horrible Year” (Baigais Gads)

June is one of the most tragic months for Latvian history. Three significant dates June 17 1940, June 14 1941 and June 22 1941 took place in short time span over two years and brought great losses. The country lost its independence, thousands of people were arrested, deported or executed. Then the Nazi German occupation brought another brutal occupation and genocide on Latvian Jews and Romas. The first Soviet occupation in many Latvian history books, memoirs and other news media has been described as the “Horrible Year” (Baigais Gads)  The term has also been picked up by foreigners and has appeared in their publications. However, not always we comprehend the true meaning of the term and the problem that this term was created by the Nazis to justify the genocide against Jews in Latvia. For this reason the term “Horrible Year” has come under scrutiny for last few years. Historians question the correct usage of this nazi propaganda concept in popular and academic history texts and examines how much this nazi propaganda creation still affects the Latvian social memory and current political discourse. For Latvian Jewish minority the term “Horrible Year” serves as unjust accusation to them for soviet occupation and justification for the Holocaust. Yet for many especially the older generation it serves as symbol for 1940 occupation and sometimes people tend to ignore the fact that this term was created by Nazis. In word horrible they see all the horrors and repressions that took place from June 1940 to June 1941. While there is a group of people within Latvian society that openly exploits the antisemitic character of the term. One of the first scholars who openly called “Horrible Year” a myth was Dr. Hist. Kaspars Zellis who has written many publications on this subject. This article discusses was “Horrible Year” a myth a construct of Nazi propaganda and how it affects the Latvian society today. This article in no way denies or questions the soviet occupation or soviet repressions during 1940-1941. The facts are not deniable this article questions how facts and made out facts used for propaganda creates a powerful myth that stays powerful for many years to come.

The Latvian word baigs stands for “horrible”, “dreadful”, “fearful” or “terrible”. The term creates a strong emotions like fear, resentment and condemnation. It also stands a metaphor apocalyptic event the soviet occupation of Latvia that is caused by the satanic enemy – Jews and Bolsheviks. The 1940-1941 the Latvian Golgotha a horrific event with many victims and martyrs that ends with ultimate resurrection and liberation as Nazis tried to describe the invasion in 1941. The second coming is followed by judgement day for those who caused the apocalypse on the first place – the Jews and the Bolsheviks. As the events of history turned the myth evolved – the enemies are coming back, the Latvians must rise again to fight them in the ranks of Latvian Waffen SS Legion. After the battle was lost the myth stayed within minds as explanation for all the calamities of the 1940 and showed “who is the blame” for them. Ultimately the myth creates an idea of Latvian genocide, that must be avenged after the restoration of independence and everything must be done to prevent it from repeating again.

1940 was not the first year in Latvian history to be described as horrible. The Baltic Germans and their exiles in Germany in their publications called 1905 as the horrible year. During the 1905 revolution there were numerous events of violent confrontations between  Latvians and the Baltic Germans. Germans accused Latvian nation of violent aggression against them. The fear from the repeat of 1905 was one of the reasons why many Baltic Germans stood against the Latvian independence during 1918-1919 with arms. On June 22 1941 Germans under Nazi banner returned to Latvia that was occupied by the Soviets since June 1941. First time the word horrible was used was July 4 in Nazi controlled newspaper Tēvija (Fatherland). The newspaper begun its text with “Horrible was the year of the red terror in our beutiful Riga”. The variation of baigs horrible was used in many other Nazi newspaper at the start of the occupation. However, the concept of the horrible year was taken from  famous Latvian poet Edvarts Virza (1883-1940) who wrote a poem called “The Horrible Summer” on 1939. The poem describing a bad times ahead published year before the occupation was seen for many as prophecy. Edvarts Virza himself died on March 10 1940 and did not witness how his poem became symbol and was used by Nazi propaganda. The poem was re-published on August 9 1941 in Tēvija and became popular. Propaganda articles used the term horrible even more until pastor from Mazsalaca Alfrēds Skrodelis first used “Horrible Year” as term for all period of the soviet occupation. In his article “The benefits of the horrible year” he talked about the Bolshevik materialism unsuitable for Latvians that was changed by German “culture of soul” that Latvians have found as their savior.

But it was not until the publication of book called “The Horrible Year”. Collections of images and documents about the time of the Bolsheviks in Latvia” The book was accompanied by documentary “Sarkanā Migla” “The Red Fog”. Both propaganda works were published in 1942 year after the Nazi occupation. The genocide against Jews in Latvia was over by then and powerful works of propaganda was needed to justify the extermination of thousands of people. Since then the term “Horrible Year” became central term for soviet occupation of 1940-1941 and after the war made his way into Latvian exile works and encyclopedias.

The needs for this myth can be explained for Nazi goals in Latvia on 1941-1942. Nazi political directives set by Adolf Hitler was clear Soviet Union out of Jews and Bolsheviks. However, the Nazi policy was to create the image that the extermination was done by the locals as revenge against the Soviets. Germans would only instigate the actions with propaganda and assist the locals. Such conception was realized in Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine. However, despite the massive antisemitic propaganda Nazis failed to achieve their goals. While in separate cases in Lithuania or Ukraine there were events of violent pogroms made by Nazi influenced locals, all acts of exterminations were carried under German orders and supervision by local self-defense groups who were disbanded after the extermination was done.  And major massacres like Babi Yar and Rumbula was carried out by German special units. In Latvia no pogroms carried out by simple Latvians themselves did not took place. The events of 4th July in Riga when main Choral Synagogue was burned to the ground was carried out by Arājs Commando adjacent to German Security Police. In all territory of Latvia holocaust was carried out in organized manner by German orders. The German propaganda filmed the execution of Liepāja Jews to make it look that the execution was done only Latvians excluding the Germans observing and controlling it. Of course the guilt of Latvians who took part in extermination are undeniable and condemned and their motivation for taking part in the crimes serves to one each individually.

  Jews were killed in every each city and village of Latvia. Such action never been seen in Latvian history needed to be explained to Latvians. While violent actions against soldiers of Red Army, Latvian collaborators with communists needed less explanation the genocide against Jews required some effort. Many Latvians did not understand anti-Jewish actions, some tried to help others stood by and tried to ignore it. Antisemitism in Latvia before the war was present and widespread mainly caused by social rivalry between two ethnicities.  There however, were no events of pogroms and only few violent excesses between the two. There were forces who accused Jews of supporting communists and people who called for Jewish expulsion from Latvian society based on economic social accusations. Nazi propaganda used all these factors to ignite antisemitic propaganda against the Jews.  Jews were accused as the main supporters of the Soviet occupation, Jews were accused for planning and supporting the  mass deportation of June 14 1941. Jews were accused of looting out Latvia during 1940-1941. While pinning all fault on real crimes, often fake crimes attributed towards Jews were widespread.

Nazis would have carried out Holocaust without this propaganda. However, it was needed spread the false view that it was demanded and carried out by Latvians themselves. The authors of the Nazi controlled newspapers often showed self initiative helped Nazis to pin all blame on Latvians. On winter of 1941-1942 Nazi General directory Interior Authority and personal cases issued order to start searching and assembling sources to write history of the Bolshevik rule. The order was for Latvian cities and parishes. The result was book called “Baigais Gads” published in summer 1942. The book contained selected or faked documents and images many of them highly graphic. The books narrative was that Republic of Latvia because of its weakness and mistakes lead itself to Soviet occupation that was carried by Jews according to their plan of world domination. All main repressions were carried out by Jewish Bolsheviks. Nazi Germany came as liberators and rescued Latvians from the danger of Jewish Bolshevism and now Latvians must do their part for creation of the New Europe. There was never a talk of restoration of Latvian independence – Latvian future only lies with Nazi Germany. As its have been noted Nazi propaganda was very against Latvian independent state before 1940.

To accompany the book a propaganda ‘documentary’ “The Red Fog” filled with powerful slogans, exalted narrator speech and mesmerizing images  was released. Movie used false witnesses that accused Jews of burning the tower of St. Peters church that was actually destroyed by German artillery. Film so as the book heavily focused on victims of Riga Central Prison. During the Soviet retreat from Riga on June 27 1941 shot 78 inmates from June 27 to 29 99 more people were killed including citizens. After Riga was captured by Germans the bodies were discovered and buried large funerals filmed by German propaganda makers. The bodies had signs of horrible torture, many appeared mutilated. Crippled faces and bodies were shown in detail and described as atrocity of the Jewish Bolsheviks.  There are critical accounts that state that because of rather hot summer and dry air these bodies suffered from heavy decomposition making them look worse than when they died. But, these images were so powerful that stayed in memory for generations to come. The movie also a featured rather disturbing scene a zoom in image of the face of the Jewish Bolshevik. In reality the face belonged to the Polish actor.

The Face of the Jewish Bolshevik from Nazi propaganda movie the Red Fog

The Face of the Jewish Bolshevik from Nazi propaganda movie the Red Fog

Nazis moved further by making June 14 the day of mourning marked in churches. July 1st when Nazis marched in Riga was marked as day of celebration. The NKVD (soviet secret police) “torture chambers” were placed for public visits. On 1942 a touring exhibit across Latvia was called the “Year of Red Power in Latvia” with openly antisemitic posters was introduced to the public. During 1943 when front was approaching Latvia, Latvian Waffen SS Legion was formed propaganda focused on danger of return of the Horrible Year. All men was called to participate.  On 1944 when Soviets entered Latvia the Nazi controlled media spread the propaganda tales of new Horrible Year emerging and the return of Jewish killer squads. All was done to convince Latvians to resist Soviets and follow German orders.

Poster for Nazi propaganda exhibit the Year of Red power in Latvia"

Poster for Nazi propaganda exhibit the Year of Red power in Latvia”

The statistics of the “Horrible Year” speaks for itself. 15 424 people were deported. 6 081 of them died (%39,43%) The number of killed in Latvia during soviet occupation is said to be 1355. Number of repressed 20 000- 21 000 people. In comparison during first half of 1941 the amount of repressed people was around 20 000, 66 000 Latvian Jews were killed, 24 000 alone in Rumbula massacre. 2000 Roma in Latvia were killed. These numbers show that Nazis needed to justify their equally murderous actions and gain as much as Latvian support and obedience as possible. This all not to mention that Nazi Germany by signing Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23 1939 with its secret protocols also shared responsibility for soviet occupation of Latvia.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany the “Horrible Year” lived on trough Latvian exiles. It was mentioned in their publications and often became part of their identity. During regain of independence the “Horrible Year” again returned in Latvian public discourse. However, it faced transformation as Jews were replaced with Russians as it was no longer convenient to blame the Jews for the occupations. “Horrible Year” as boogeyman and accusation against Russian speaking minority was used by some forces of the Latvian society. Still there are people who apply the core of the myth that Jews are the blame for occupation and repressions. Antisemitic politicians, anonymous commentators often use the term “Jewish Chekist” against Latvian Jewish community. The book “Horrible Year” was re published and spread trough internet. The movie “Red Fog” is available on youtube.  On 2000 historic movie “Horrible Summer” depicting the events of June 1940 was released. Its name hints in “Horrible Year”, however it refrains from Nazi propaganda narrative and instead focused on other myths.  Antisemitic commentators use “Horrible Year” as accusation against the Jews and counter arguments to Jewish related issues such as Jewish property restitution.   One of the leftovers of the “Horrible Year” is a popular claim that most supporters of Kremlin in Latvia are Jews. While there are few such persons really supporting Russian its question if their self-identity is Jewish or Russian. The picking Jews out of large crowd is similar to recent attempts of Donald Trump supporters to place people criticizing Trump in brackets to outline their Jewish nationality or ethnicity.  Outlining ones national belonging and then generalizing with whole nation was a method of Nazis and sadly still used today.

In conclusion to the question was “Horrible Year” a myth? Yes it was. It was a Nazi propaganda concept to justify their own occupation and crimes and gain Latvian support. The Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 was real, the deportations and repressions took place. But what was the myth it was Jewish collective blame for these events, it was myth and great lie that Nazis was the saviors  of the Latvian people. To break the myth we must call things in their true names. During Soviet occupation not only Latvians were the victims of the Soviet occupation, Jews, Russians many others faced repressions and deportations. Nazis in 1941 came as conquerors and realized a genocide against Jews regardless of their age, gender and political convictions.  There can no justifications for such actions. All rest is propaganda. Latvian nation is slowly moving away from effect of the Nazi lies and it needs to focus on current challenges of the dangerous XXI century.

Selected Sources:

Zellis, Kaspars. “Baigā gada” mīts un tā evolūcija. Mīti Latvijas Vēsturē. Rīga. 2006

Зеллис К. «Страшный год» — миф и его эволюция

 

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Latvia and the Belarusian Peoples Republic

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People's Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People’s Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

On March 25 1918 national and democratic forces representing the Belarusian nation proclaimed Belarusian Peoples Republic (Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika BNR)  It was done in the spirit of other nations proclaiming independence from the collapsed Russian Empire. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were example for Belarusians and Ukrainians who strived for their own unified state. However, during the crucial years of 1918-1920 the BNR did not survive the tides of war and ceased to exist. At the time of its short existence it had established relations with new Republic of Latvia and for a period of time BNR government was stationed in Riga. BNR had military and diplomatic mission working in Riga and its leaders placed hope on Latvian support. Latvia itself was caught in the tough battle for survival in war against Soviet Russia and pro-German forces and had complex relations with Poland so its relations with BNR at start were generally positive, but as BNR went into oblivion Latvia abandoned its support. Latvian main goals was to establish peace with Soviet Russia and settle issues with Poland so in the end BNR was more a obstacle for Latvian foreign policy and its diplomatic mission left Riga forever. This article marks the anniversary of Belarusian Peoples Republic and tells the story of short and forgotten Latvian and Belarusian relations between 1918 and 1921.

Belarusian nation has deep roots from medieval times when its territory was part of Lithuanian Grand Duchy. According to many historians mostly Belarusian ones, the leading elite of the Duchy was not Lithuanians but Belarusian ancestors. Later when Lithuania united with Poland Belarusian lands were influenced by Polish culture. Only after Polish partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795 Belarus was integrated in spiral of Moscow. During these long years a distinct Belarusian language and culture evolved but it had to survive under heavy Russification policies and also Polonization. On 1918 Russian Empire had collapsed and was forced to cede Belarusian lands to Germany according to Brest-Litovsk peace agreement. An agreement that allowed nations within German occupied lands to decide their own fate. Similar to Baltic nations, there were people among Belarusians who saw chance to establish a national democratic state.

On December 5 – 17 1917 in Minsk (Mensk in Belarusian language) in All-Belarus congress a Central Belarusian Rada was formed however the Russian Soviet of Peoples Commissars in Petrograd rejected the rights of Belarusian autonomy. On January 1918 the All Russia 3th Congress declared the Rada an illegitimate. No repressions followed as on February 1918 Germans stared major offensive and took control over all Belarusian lands.  On February 20 a Belarusian Peoples Secretariat was formed with J. Varonka in the lead. On March 9 Belarusian Rada issued the creation of democratic Belarusian Peoples Republic. On March 25 the BNR proclaimed independence.

Germany did not recognize BNR as it regarded it as a Russian territory. Rada nevertheless created a War Affairs Committee with Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau, in charge. In April Germans banned the Peoples Secretariat. Meanwhile Belarusian Rada fragmented in many leftist parties and with some difficulties created coalition government. Right wingers also joined pleasing the Germans and trade, industry and social welfare was transferred to Peoples Secretariat. BNR was recognized only by Ukrainian Peoples Republic so action was taken to get more diplomatic recognition from its neighbors. On October BNR made white-red-white flag as its official symbol and knight Pahonia the symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was made as coat of arms.

Situation became crucial after Germany stepped out of war and BNR had real chances for independence. However, the Bolsheviks were boosting up offensive to retake lost lands. BNR made agreement with Lithuania. Many members of Rada joined Lithuanian Council (Tariba) and Belarusian Affairs Ministry was made within Lithuanian government with J. Varonka as minister. On December 3 1918 BNR moved to Vilnius while Bolsheviks were approaching Mensk. Soon Bolsheviks headed for Vilnius and BNR moved to Hrodno (Grodno). BNR was in conflict with Poland who had territorial claims on Belarus and after deepening tensions its government moved to Berlin.

On May 1919 Polish forces captured Mensk and BNR leadership moved there. Polish leader Pilsudsky urged Belarusians to join in common union with Poland and make Rada an autonomous body with jurisdiction only in education and culture. BNR rejected and asked for full independence. BNR Rada was weakened by breakup into BNR Supreme Rada and BNR Peoples Rada. Both Rada’s were lead by rivaling leftist parties and Polish government suppressed Peoples Rada.  After major issues BNR government moved to Riga. Poland did not recognized BNR while all three Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Turkey had formally recognized.

BNR territorial claims were issue on its own as its included territories claimed by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. BNR would include Smolensk (Smolinsk), some small portions of Latvian Latgale and Sēlija regions and parts claimed by Lithuania and Poland. There were some maps that included whole Latgale as BNR territory. The BNR borders were drawn according to Belarusian ethnic borders that conflicted with all neighboring states. Ethnically diverse Latgale was also under dispute by Poland and Lithuania, while Vilnius was major hotspot between Poland and Lithuania. The western Belarus main centers Hrodna and Brest had large Polish populations that wished to be under Warsaw. While neither Bolsheviks nor White forces of Russia did recognize any national independence at all. This created a problematic situation for Belarusian independence.

On autumn 1920 Polish and Soviet peace agreement talks were underway in Riga. BNR government observed that Poles and Soviets are taking part in partition of the Belarusian lands and were not successful in breaking up these actions. This finally made BNR conflicting sides the socialist revolutionaries and socialist federalists  agreed to form unified government. A government led by V Lastovskau became official representative of BNR and BNR Peoples Rada was renamed the BNR Rada. BNR left Riga on November 11 and made agreement on common military union against Poland and started work in Kaunas. On 1923 BNR government and Rada left Kaunas and moved to Prague where it remains until this day still coordinating opposition efforts against Alexander Lukashenko (Lukashenka) authoritarian government in Republic of Belarus.

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR had high interests in Latvia. First contacts were made on summer of 1919 when BNR Minister of Interior Affairs K Tereshchenko arrived in Riga to establish relations with Latvia. He was interview by local Russian newspaper Rizhkoe Slovo where he issued his plans of creating unified front with Latvians and Lithuanians against the Bolsheviks. BNR had a small armed force incapable defeating Bolsheviks alone. On July 24 he met Kārlis Ulmanis the Prime Minister of Latvian Provisional Government who granted his plea to open BNR consulate in Riga. On August the consulate begun its work with B Shmikovich in charge later replaced by R Kazyachi. Consulate was located in Old Riga at Pils street. BNR flag was raised and consulate begun looking for potential BNR citizens issuing calls in press for Belarusian nationals to apply. BNR tried to level down its territorial claims on Daugavpils district until arrival of military – diplomatic mission to resolve the issue.

 The mission arrived on October 1 1919 with Kastus Jezavitau in charge. He was born in Daugavpils on 1893. On October 3 his delegation met the Latvian Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meirerovics, to whom he assured BNR support for Latvian independence and wished to join the planned Baltic Union. During the siege of Riga on October-November 1919 by pro-German Army of Bermondt BNR consulate remained in Riga. After Estonia made peace agreement with Soviet Russia BNR wanted to move the armed units led by general S Bulak-Balahovich or so called Belarusian corps to Latvia and use as BNR attack force. BNR stared talks with Latvian side to mobilize men within Latvia for BNR army however the talks failed. Only way to enlist people in Latvia into BNR forces was to make them BNR citizens.

During Battle of Riga and afterwards there was a brief positive period of relations between Latvia and BNR because of BNR representatives supported Latvians in many ways. However, soon many became aware of BNR claims on Latvian border areas most prominently the Ilūkste district (it was also disputed by Poland and Lithuania) and started to question the relations with BNR. As most part of Belarus was under Polish or Soviet rule with active combat actions these good relations were declarative that could change if BNR would gain control over Belarus. BNR could not convince Latvians to station Bulak-Balahovich forces in Latvia or include them into Latvian armed forces; Latvians only agreed them to transit to their homeland. A conflict emerged between BNR consulate and Latvian Army command. BNR consulate was on drive to recruit as much BNR citizens as possible without looking much into their motivation and ethnicity. In result some Latvians and Jews applied for BNR citizenship simply to avoid enlisting in Latvian Armed Forces.

On early 1920 Bulak-Balahovich forces of 800 men entered Latvia and stationed near Alūksne at Estonian border. Jezavitau tried to convince Latvians to include them in to offensive against Bolsheviks in Latgale but talks again failed. On January his unit was included in BNR but soon general broke ties with BNR and moved to Poland to join their army. When Latvian and Polish forces liberated Latgale from the Bolsheviks BNR wished to establish consulates in Daugavpils and Rēzekne. However, the talks with Latvian authorities failed. The Latvian military was skeptical about BNR citizenship registers for they served as tools to avoid army and as BNR only existed on paper there was great doubts. At this time much of Belarus was overrun by Bolsheviks and Polish armies on the Western side.

Latvian side became more reserved to BNR claims and requests. To sort out the Latvian and BNR border issues Latvian foreign ministry offered to create a Latvian-Belarusian commission.   Jezavitau requested secretary J Charpulka and consul B Shimkovich to work in commission, meanwhile Latvians did not rush to name their delegates and the commission never begun work. BNR most success in Latvia was laying foundations for national Belarusian minority by creating Belarusian culture and education society “Batjkovschina” (Fatherland) in Riga. Also a journal in Belarusian “Na Chuzije” (In foreign land) was issued, but only made single issue that contained information about Belarusians in Riga and BNR goals.

Latvian authorities started to feel colder towards BNR and Latvian police started to check BNR citizens to see how valid their citizenship is and even made arrests. BNR authorities protested and checks were stopped. Even some official BNR officials were arrested for instance secretary of BNR Rada J Mamonka was arrested at the Latvian border and 14 600 Russian Imperial Rubles he brought to Riga was confiscated. Border guards disregarded his BNR passport and also his diplomatic papers and only after protests he was released and money returned. BNR was not allowed to take part in Baltic States conference in Bulduri, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania voted against, while Latvia abstained. Only Poland this time because of partial loss of the Belarusian territory had nothing against the BNR participation. On August 11 1920 Latvia made Peace agreement with Soviet Union and relations with BNR was now seen as disadvantageous. The Polish – Soviet peace talks also took place in Riga and both sides were splitting Belarus in half. On October 20 after much Latvian pressure BNR started to gather its bags to leave Latvia. On October 27 BNR leader V Lastovsky pledged Baltic States to support BNR both politically and financially and wished that request for BNR war bases in Baltic States would be considered sometime in future.

On November 11 after making successful talks with Lithuania, BNR moved to Kaunas. Last BNR armed units stationed in Latvia left it after Polish takeover of Vilnius. Most of the Belarusian active community left Riga excluding   Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau who became leader of the Latvian Belarusian minority. Belarusian minority received autonomy in education, had their own societies however on 1924 because of false accusation in separatism many of the Belarusian leaders including Jezavitau were placed on trial greatly straining Latvian-Belarusian relations.

The situation in Belarus between 1918 and 1920 was greatly disadvantageous to Belarusian national independence. It was against the interest of both Bolsheviks and Poland who regarded Belarus as their territory. Latvian relations with BNR were based on realpolitics placing Latvian relations with Soviet Union and Poland above BNR interests. BNR certainly had high hopes in Latvian support, but their powers to defend their homeland were too short and in the end BNR became a state on paper. We can only speculate what would happen if Poland would support independent Belarus and ally with it against Soviets. In the result a fourth Baltic State was lost. The Republic of Belarus that was formed after dissolution of the Soviet Union at first tried to relive the legacy of BNR by using its flag as its national symbol. A few years later Alexander Lukashenko dropped all references to BNR and switched back to Soviet symbolism and turned Belarus into authoritarian nation with Russian tanks marching on the streets on Belarusian independence day. But, BNR is not dead. Its Rada still works in Prague. The BNR flag and its coat of arms has become a symbol of the democratic opposition and praised by the Belarusian democratic youth. If democratic Belarus has any future then ideas of BNR will be its guideline for Belarus to become a full fourth Baltic State and member of Europe.

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Selected sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1996) Latvijas un Baltkrievijas Tautas Republikas attiecības. (1919-1920) Latvijas Arhīvi. 1-2. 

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