Tag Archives: Soviet occupation

Great Myths of Latvian History

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As years, decades and centuries pass most important events like wars, regimes and cultural events are starting to lose their initial sharpness. In social memory these events are becoming either more dull, either romanticized or condemned and seen in black and white palette. There is no black and white in history, as events, past, present and future are created by various people regarding their interests that have various means and justifications for their actions. Events are also dictated by circumstances often beyond people’s control. Historical timeline is moved by perpetual rivalry within mankind, when various interests clash in personal, group, state or international scale.

In the process of interpreting these events no matter how old or new, people often create myths, falsehoods and outright lies. This can happen unintentionally as the knowledge about past events is often limited, this is especially relevant to prehistory and ancient ages, when there is lack of good archeological or written material. This also happens because over the decades, many events like wars or despotic regimes are becoming more romantic in people’s memory. Events like Crusades that was a harsh, controversial and bloody struggle, now is even a subject of comedy and the Crusader knights or their Muslim or Pagan foes are idolized. Similarly, many events are made darker than they were seen people at that time. For instance Russian history century long obsession with “Mongolian –Tatar yoke” and general idea about Dark Ages between 5th and 10th century.

Then again history is mythicized on purpose to gain important political goals in the past. “Who controls the past, controls the future, who controls the past, controls the present” a George Orwell quote from “1984” summarizes this need. Nationalist forces in 19th century on purpose idolized the ancient and medieval past, the Nazi and Communist regimes made great efforts to construct new historical understanding. It’s even present in democratic countries like British nostalgia for great imperial past and US American nostalgia for pre-1950s social order.

There words define historical myths. Nostalgia – for the past that was better than present and bringing it back would improve our present and future. Legendary – that makes events and historical personalities glorified. Condemnation – making events and people worse than they were, making these events and people as a warning from happening again. Also this reflects certain groups of people, like nations, religions and movements whose actions were made blacker then they were a warning from them in the present.

This article attempts to name and describe some of the myths in Latvian history, and seeks answers why they are wrong and what are the reasons for these myths.

Before 12th century ancient Latvians and Livonians had own countries, recognized by Christian countries and brutally uprooted by them.

It’s true that Catholic chronicles like the chronicle of Henry called some of the leaders of the early Latvian tribes kings – rex in Latin and some of their ruled territories –  kingdoms – regnum. Their micro states were set around their wooden fortresses. The civil societies were not as advanced as in other nearby lands like Lithuania and lands of Rus. Some historians compare the early Latvian statehood to Celtic society prior to Roman invasion. Also the Baltic tribes Latgalians, Curonians, Semigallians and Selonians had no common perception that they lived in Latvia and must unite to create such country. In Lithuania the unification of Lithuanian and Belarusian tribes was forceful event by strong warlord Mindaugas. In ancient Latvia there was no such leader. However, even if these rulers were called as Rex in Catholic chronicles does not mean they were fully acknowledged and regarded as sovereign rulers. They simply were not Christian. They had no recognition by Rome and even their conversion to Christianity placed them in vassal status rather than senior. The reason why Lithuanian Grand Duke Mindaugas was recognized was because he converted to Christianity and was strong enough to be accepted as senior. While in case of ruler of Jersika Visvaldis who was Orthodox his conversion was not respected by Catholic crusaders and he lost ownership of his land. So as pagan rulers the Latvian tribal warlords were certainly seen as second-hand rulers to Catholic crusaders, Holy Roman Empire and the Papal State. Their conversion was not enough as they could not be strong enough to hold their senior status. While there was early form of states in Latvian territory it was more a tribal microstate not recognized by Christian countries as weak Pagan states with no hope to gain recognition as senior kingdoms.

Latvian Pagan religion was brutally destroyed by Christian invaders and conversion was forceful

Archeological and written sources gives very light details about religion in Latvia prior to 12th century. There are examples of burial traditions, some items that were used in religion. Often the early Latvians used Christian regalia traded from Christian countries for their own needs. The chronicles give very light details about Latvian pagan beliefs. Apart from Baltic Prussians there is no evidence of ancient Latvian priesthood. The Latvian Mythology as it is known is based on writings, beliefs and folksongs from 15th to 19th century as gathered by folk song studies and observations. That means the pagan religion if such was, rather a tradition was kept for centuries and experienced transformation. And not always the conversion was enforced. In 11th-12th when Latvian territory was visited by traders from West and East many of the local rulers and their families converted to Christianity for benefits that came with it. While their subjects mostly did not or embraced Christian faith rather passively. That just shows how important were the traditional views as they could be easily replaced by another religion for material benefits. Also for many centuries most of Latvian ancestors has very light understanding of Christianity as all rites and writings were in Latin. The Reformation and Enlightenment in 15th -18th century started teaching Christian beliefs in Latvian and Bible and other Christian works were translated into Latvian. Also in many cases the true cause of resistance to Christian conversion or moving back to Pagan beliefs was because becoming Christian meant becoming vassal to Crusaders.

Some authors argue that initially the mostly Germanic traders and Bishop Meinard had no initial intention to baptize Livs and Baltic tribes by force. In 1170 from Segeberg Bishop Meinard first came to Liv land around Daugava and started peaceful mission. He also asked permission to Duke of Polotsk (knyaz) Vladimir who imposed Livs to pay tributes to him, to build small church in Ikšķile. In 1184 such was build and small congregation of freely converted Livs were made. However, Meinards was attacked by Lithuanian and Semigallian riders so he asked permission to Liv leaders to build stone castle in Ikšķile in exchange for baptism. It was done and one part of the Castle belonged to Meinards others to Livs. Livs soon broke the agreement and dropped Christianity and attacked Meinards. Meinards tried to leave Ikšķile, but received warnings of Liv attempt to kill him and remained in castle where he died. Then a monk Theoderich came to Ikšķile and assessed that small Christian congregation is in danger and called for military support igniting the Baltic crusades. The Crusades led by more ruthless Bishops as Berthold and Albert were violent, as Crusaders used force to baptize tribal Balts and Livs if there was no other option. Soon it turned out that the war was not about faith but about the land. Becoming Christian meant becoming Crusader vassal and subject and many resisted resulting permanent loss of land. While it did not mean that Crusaders managed to completely uproot ancient Baltic beliefs, they stayed within peasantry and Crusader seniors did very small effort to counter them. More efforts were done by Lutherans in 15th -18th century. First by educating Christianity in Latvian and second by exporting witch trials that were mostly carried out in Lutheran Swedish Vidzeme. Also Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine movement managed to fully convert Latvian peasants. In 19th century Pagan beliefs were weakened by Christian education. A revival was made by Latvian nationalists who as their commoners in Germany and elsewhere looked for symbols in the ancient times creating a legend of old peaceful Latvian pagan religion destroyed by while Crusaders. In reality the situation was far from simple and the religion, tradition, education and land ownership each played its part.

Battle of Saule was joint victory by the Baltic tribes over German invaders

Voldemārs Vimba created an epic painting to please nationalistic authoritarian ruler Kārlis Ulmanis. In the painting soldiers carrying Latvian and Lithuanian flags charge Crusaders in the Battle of Saule in 1236. While first mentions of flag similar to Latvian national state flag dates to 1279 when Latgalian soldiers came to assist Crusaders who were attacked by Semigallians, the Lithuanian flag as well as Latvian flag itself certainly could not be used in the Battle against Crusaders. Because Latgalians and Estonians fought together with Crusaders against Lithuanians and Semigallians. There was no Baltic unity in the battle, as such unity was not possible. Lithuanians regularly raided Latvian territory and even Estonia. Each tribal leader had their own interests and Semigallians were not always allied with Lithuanians. Lithuanians viewed Latgalians and Estonians allied with Crusaders as enemies and had no intention on liberating them from Crusaders. And the battle was mainly Lithuanian victory as it halted Crusader advance in Lithuania while it not do much for Latvian territory. However, nationalistic minded people has made September 22 as Baltic Unity Day. A day that is required, but September 22 is not Unity Day. Its Victory Day for Lithuania only.

Latvia is native Russian land. Before the arrival of Crusaders many ancient Latvian micro states were vassals of the Russian duchies and converted to Orthodox

It’s true that Russian and Belarusian duchies held influence on Latgalian, Liv and Selonian tribes. In return for protection and trade rights they made them pay tributes and some ruler families like Visvaldis of Jersika converted to Orthodox. Russian traders lived in Koknese and visited other small castles and Crusader Riga. Crusaders often had to deal with Duchy of Polotsk and Pskov because they recognized them as seniors over these tribal leaders. But, it seems hardly that these duchies recognized these micro states as their land. Other than tribute paying and building the church and sometimes hosting a war party, there was no limitations to their sovereignty. Latgalians, Livs and Selonians were simply a client that paid tributes and traded with them. A very limited effort were made to reclaim them from Crusaders and Duchies only cared for their own safety from Crusaders. As yet of 12th centuries the Duchies of formal Kyivean Rus had no Russian or Belarusian identity rather than Orthodox people of Rus. Also amount of people from present Russia and Belarus were very small to call Latvia a native Russian land. The duchies of Rus were in complicated situation as they were invaded by Mongol hordes and were vassals to Golden Horde themselves. There was no interest in conquering the Baltic lands. This interest showed up during the reign of Ivan IV The Terrible who first aspired to seize control over Catholic Livonia.

The Swedish rule in Vidzeme between 1629 to 1700 was generally better for Latvian peasant population

During the Crusader order rule in Vidzeme the Baltic Germans gradually seized all top positions in politics and economy and became the major land owners. Latvians had only few full titled senior land owners in Courland, most were subjects to lands belonging to Livonian Order and the Church. Gradually in 14th -16th century the changes in economic order and advances in agriculture forced the land owners to empower their rights over their peasant subjects and limit their rights of movement and land ownership. Land owners needed full control of the agricultural workforce and that created serfdom that sometimes were exceptionally harsh. This serfdom remained after fall of Livonian Confederation and became harsher under Polish rule. In the result of war between Poland and Sweden in 1621 the Northern Latvia and Riga was annexed by Sweden. What Sweden did in contrast to Duchy of Courland and Polish Latgale was the reduction of agricultural lands. 40 percent of land was given to Swedish nobles limiting the monopoly for Germans. About five-sixths of estates in Vidzeme were reclaimed by Swedish crown. This was done to increase the revenues for Sweden and it succeeded because tax incomes grow substantially. While Swedes tried to improve the life of peasants of building schools, allowed to translate Bible in Latvian, they did not fully abolish serfdom as in 1681 it was rejected by Livonian Knighthood that represented German interests. Swedes also imposed heavier tax and corvee burden and created harsh physical punishments for failing to pay them. Swedish Lutherans also increased witch hunts in Vidzeme. In the end the Sweden managed Vidzeme for their own interests that weakened German nobility, but kept the relations in balance. The serfdom was only abolished in Latvia by Russian Empire in 1817 and 1819 after very long and complicated negotiations with Livonian Knighthood while in Latgale it was only abolished in 1861 with rest of Russia as it was not considered part of Baltic provinces.

The Duchy of Courland is first form of Latvian statehood. 

The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was outcome of collapse of Livonian Confederation and its subjection to Poland-Lithuania. The leadership of Livonian Order sought agreement with Poland and the last master of the Livonian Order Gotthard Kettler became Duke of Courland and Semigallia. It was a vassal state of Poland-Lithuania led by Baltic German nobility where Latvians had their secondary roles with no say in politics. In their rule the Duchy was quite independent and also could create their own fleet and colonize lands in Caribbean sea and Africa. While all these colonies were hopelessly lost some romantic inclined people want to claim them as Latvian property. The ownership of Tobago and Gambia may improve Latvian standings in Olympic Field Athletics and Football, but that is more a joke. The Germanic dukes of Courland while sending Latvians to their colonies never saw their Duchy as Latvian state, it was impossible in 15th-18th century. For them the Duchy was sovereign part of former Livonia associated with Polish throne. Even Poland cannot claim these colonies as Polish government did not care about Couronian efforts and did not gave any support and hardly noticed that Duchy had lost them.

The period between 1200 to 1918 was 700 years of slavery, afterwards Latvians won full political and economic freedom

In 1920 when Latvia become independent many noticed very grim appearance in economic and social statistics – while ethnic Latvians held 80% in agriculture, they were minority in finance and industry where major players were Germans, Jews and Poles. Obvious answer was to blame the 700 years of slavery. A time when foreign powers enslaved Latvians, took away their land and abused them in economy and politics. While in 12th -16th century the various peasants and small traders and craftsmen did not identity them as Latvians as whole and saw their subjection as unfortunate social reality that in many cases was not so grim as they still had lot of freedom in income gathering and movement, later in 19th century in result of nationalism a ethnocentric thinking emerged placing Latvians against other nations as victims. This victimhood was even boosted by some radical German thinkers as Garlieb Merkel who in 1796 wrote his epic work “Latvians” where he protested serfdom and accused Germans of gravely abusing poor dark Latvian peasants. As controversial book was it contributed to the abolishment of serfdom and greater German efforts to educate Latvian peasants.

While Latvians were never only a peasant nation. There was small Latvian nobility in Courland, there were Latvian traders, craftsmen and house owners. Latvian only congregations appeared only in 16th century in the result of reformation. Latvian traders had their own guilds and trader unions.

The hash times for Latvian peasants in 16th -18th centuries were favorite subject for nationalistic and Marxist authors while despite of all Latvian peasants had their own schools, churches and some peasants could also gain relative wealth. It’s because Germans cared that Latvians receive education and live in relative wellbeing so they can work better and live according to their standards of modernity. Before abolishment of serfdoms Germans viewed Latvians as their lower-class neighbors, workers and occasional rivals in commerce. In 19th century as Latvian nationalism and social democracy emerged Germans now felt threatened by the Latvians both politically and economically. And it was not because they suddenly became stronger after serfdom was abolished – it’s because they were rivals to Germans all the time and gradually became stronger as their economic and political situation improved.

The confrontation between Latvians, Germans and other nationalities were required for nationalists and Marxists for their own goals. For that the myth of 700 years slavery was essential. In 1905 when in many places Latvian peasants attacked German mansions the revenge for serfdom was called the main reason for these atrocities. That also boosted German hate towards Latvians and this mutual confrontation expressed itself in War for Independence in 1918-1920 while also some German units served for Latvian cause. Latvian fear of German knighthood continued in political battles with Baltic Germans in 1920-1939. Finally, in 1939 Nazi Germany called for repartition of Baltic Germans to Germany and it was greeted by nationalistic Latvians. Later the Soviet Latvia historiography continued to exploit the 700 years of slavery by showing serfdom as feudal atrocity in contrast to progressive communist society.

The idea of independent Latvian state was born even before 1905 and strengthened in the ranks of the Latvian Rifleman during First World War

The idea that four historical regions Courland (Kurzeme), Semigallia (Zemgale), Vidzeme and Latgale forms united land called Latvia formed in late 19th century. Before for most the land was known as Livonia that Estonia was part of. For Latgalians it was also not so clear as Latgale was part of Vitebsk province and only in 1917 they fully determined themselves to Latvia. Generally the first Latvian nationalists the New Latvian movement fought for Latvian education and culture, equal rights and some local political say within unified Russian Empire. Such demand was high enough for those times as independent small nation in the age of empires was unthinkable. Latvians first needed to improve education, fight against Russification and reluctant German nobility. Russian Empire as senior ruler was only as bad that it first secured the rights of Germans and later tried to impose Russian language. But, independent country was only some could dream off. The early 20th century was filled with Marxist ideas and the New Current movement demanded major reforms for workers and peasants and were one of the first who made claims for Latvian autonomy within reformed Russia. In 1905 the social democrats were the main fighters for autonomy together with anarchists while most nationalists actually demanded to keep current order or at least make Russia constitutional as promised by Tsar Nicholas II in his October manifesto. As revolution was crushed, many came to conclusion that only way for autonomous Latvia is the collapse of Tsar family rule.  The people creating first plans for autonomy were social democrats like Miķelis Valters, Linards Laicēns, ect.

1915 was crucial time as Imperial Germany invaded Latvia and took over Courland and Semigallia and were close to capture Riga. This was a time of nationalistic fervor to call for Latvian Regiment within Russian army to chase Germans away from Latvian lands. Now also nationalists started to call for national autonomy and hoped that Latvian rifleman will serve as example to the Russian throne. Among Latvian rifleman there was nationalistic enthusiasm, but it was as mainly aimed to defeat Germany and rest will follow. After the crushing defeat in 1916 many of them drifted towards Bolshevism as it called Tsar responsible for the great losses and no friend of Latvians and called for peace. In 1917 after the fall of Riga the most of them moved to Russia and fought for Soviet cause.

What happened in Latvia in 1917-1918 was confusion. In February 1917 Tsar was deposed and Russia became democratic republic. If so then Latvia can now ask for national autonomy, however Russian Provisional government never approved this. Future president Jānis Čakste claimed that while he and his commoners were against Tsar they were never against Russia and never wanted to secede and do not want their own parliament, but want to live in common western influenced democratic Russia.  While others like Latvian National Democrat Party called for fully established autonomous  state within democratic Russian federal republic. Social Democrats also called for autonomous Latvia within unified social democratic state of Russia. In 12 August (July 30) Vidzeme Peoples Land Council called for unified autonomous democratic Latvia.

All these calls for autonomy suddenly became obstructed when German army captured Riga on September 3 1917 and gradually took over all Vidzeme and Latgale. Russia had promised nothing and Germany was more willing to create Livonian Duchy. Then Bolsheviks took power in Petrograd. The Latvian right-wing bourgeoise politicians and social democrats had very few options now. In December 2 1917 Latvian National Provisional Council made declaration calling for creation of national autonomous state its important that this declaration no more talked about being together with Russia but Latvia as autonomous state not saying from whom. As such it was pre-declaration of independence. In November 11 1918 Germany had capitulated. Bolsheviks gathered forces to invade Baltic States. There was no more variants for autonomy – Estonia and Lithuania already had declared independence in February 1918. The right wing parties and social democrats gathered in November 18 1918 to declare independence.

Independence was won by solely Latvian efforts/Latvia gained independence only because of foreign countries

When in 1930 Latvia demonstrated historical epic Lāčplēsis on movie screens the Estonians complained that despite showing Estonian army at one episode the movie grossly downplayed Estonian assistance for Latvians. While this movie showed the support from British and French navy. Then in 2008 movie the Guards of Riga completely omitted both Estonians and Allies from the war effort.

Estonian army pushed away the Bolsheviks from their land and marched in Northern Latvia. There at Cēsis in June 22 1919 they together with Latvian forces defeated the renegade German Iron Division and Landeswehr that staged uprising against Latvian Provisional Government. Months before that these same units together with Latvians made advance against Bolsheviks and took back Riga. The Allied navy was stationed in Liepāja and contributed fighting Bolsheviks and later opened fire against rouge Bermondt forces. Then Lithuanian and Polish army helped in Latgale front. Latvia was never alone in the war and without allied forces it would have significantly harder time to gain independence.

Then again was it only because of allied support? The answer is that independence was gained in the chain of events and circumstances. Allied navy was sent to Baltic sea not to support Baltic independence but to stop the Bolshevik advance. Allied countries mainly wanted unified Russia free of Bolsheviks, the new Baltic States and Baltic German factions from there was only temporary allies and the question of Baltic independence should had been settled out with Russia.  Baltic States were only legally recognized in 1921 when it was clear that these countries will actually exist and not be thrown into oblivion like Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. Estonian forces came deep in Northern Latvia and fought against Germans, because first they needed to completely destroy the Bolshevik threat and defeat hostile German forces. Polish leaders wanted restored Poland as big as possible to the extent of 1776 borders. But, Poland needed to completely defeat Bolsheviks so they agreed to take part in liberation of Latgale. So all parties involved had one major interest – defeat Bolsheviks. Latvia until 1920 was question mark – what if Bolsheviks would be defeated by White forces – would they approve such republic? The German forces in Latvia are quite strong – can weak Latvian army defeat them? But, Bolsheviks is a menace so as long this Latvia fights against it we help them – let’s see how long they will last. So in the end it was also up to Latvians themselves to prove their worth in combined battles in Cēsis, Rīga and Latgale. And with Latvians we must not forget Germans, Russians, Jews, Belarusians, Poles and other national minorities fighting in Latvian army.

The Kārlis Ulmanis regime was fascist

In 1960 Latvian soviet historian Aleksandrs Drīzulis published book called “Latvia under the helm of fascism” at first it may look as a book about Nazi occupation. When you began to read it’s actually about the authoritarian Kārlis Ulmanis regime. Kārlis Ulmanis regime was radical in the way that is fully self-centered. All parties including his own Latvian Green Farmers Union was banned. There was no parliament, constitution was stopped. All was in hands of Prime Minister then President Kārlis Ulmanis. There was no party made after the coup, there was no new constitution it was just Kārlis Ulmanis and his government and his bureaucracy. Along with that loyal army, police and National Guard. Was that enough to be called fascist? There were concentration camps for short time in 1934-1935 but the arrested were eventually released. Secret police fought political opponents among the real Latvian fascists and  Baltic German Nazis, but scale or repression was never severe. Press was censured, while one of the themes banned in media was anti-Semitism. While left-wing Jewish movements were banned the  Zionist movements were untouched. Ulmanis government severed rights of national school autonomy but most of national autonomy schools were kept.  While the economy became more controlled by the state the private sector was never fully abolished. In these terms Latvia resembled more an absolute monarchy.

Then there are plans and tendencies that shows Ulmanis Latvia could become fascist. In late 1930’s Ulmanis started planning of creating national party under his name. He also emulated some of the actions of Benito Mussolini like creating chamber (camera) system to control various sectors of economy and similar to Mussolini he made severe changes in Old Riga by destroying city street quarters to create new square around Dome Cathedral. Mussolini did the same when he destroyed whole city district in Rome to create a new grand entry street into Vatican City. Plus Ulmanis also planned to create new massive monumental buildings like Victory Arch similar to Adolf Hitler vision for Berlin. In the end in 1939 -1940 when economy was in shatters and unemployment was growing Ulmanis made steps to create labor duty that would engage large number of people in forced labor camps. His law specially targeted Jews who were less involved in agricultural labor and wanted to force them to work in the field. Ulmanis Latvia had potential to becoming fascist if it would last for another twenty years.

Before the Russian rule Latvia was undeveloped rural economy, most Latvians lived in farms. Russians brought industry and culture

This claim is sometimes seen in some of the Russian forums and comments. The Russian nationalists claim that Latvians before 1940 where low cultured poor people who lived in farmsteads (hutor) with almost no industry in the cities. This is one of the most absurd myths as Latvia had already well-developed mercantile industry in 17th-18th century and yes the industry gradually grew under the Russian empire which by the logic would grow under Sweden, Poland or any other country. Latvian industry suffered a massive blow when in 1914-1915 large portions of factory equipment even whole workers were evacuated to inner Russia. But in first ten years during independent Latvia the industry gradually recovered and it was not just owned by Germans, Russians and Jews – there was lot of successful Latvian owners. One of the most successful Latvian industrial company VEF made a variety of products from nails to airplanes. What is reality that many of the most successful Soviet Latvian enterprises was nationalized and kept by the Soviets in 1940. And about the hutor – the Latvian agriculture while facing issues in workforce fared no worse than later Soviet collective farms that were imposed on people and those who resisted were deported to Siberia.

Before 1940 all Jews in Latvia called themselves žīdi (yids) and not ebreji (Hebrews) and there was no problem with that. Ebrejs is word imposed by Soviets

There are three common names for Jews in Latvian. Biblical Jews are called jūds. Then there are two words. One is ebrejs that is close to word Hebrew and Russian word evrei. And then there is word žīds. Žīds was the most common way the Latvians called Jews, in Poland and Lithuania a similar word is Żydzi and Žydai. However, this word resembles word Yid that is considered offensive. It’s even more offensive in Russia where it’s also means cheapskate and niggard. During the times of pogroms  a popular slogan was “Spasai Rossiju! Bei židov!” (Save Russia! Beat the Yid!) n 1940 the Soviets banned the word žīds and made ebrejs as only word to describe Jew.  What happened a year later was a Pandora’s box. Invading Nazis on quest to exterminate all Jews used the ban of žīds in their propaganda to prove Soviet occupation main power was Jews. As this word was controversial as it was it now got a very dark tone in the light of the Holocaust. After the return of the Soviets the žīds dropped out of common vocabulary and ebrejs was and is common word in Latvian for Jews. While exiles in west still used žīds and for nationalists in underground it was the true word. Then independent Latvia these people came out and asked to restore the Latvian žīds and drop the soviet ebrejs as it was never used before Soviet occupation and Jews themselves did not used to call themselves. While others started to theorize that there is difference between žīds and ebrejs.

What was in reality that word ebrejs was quite common word among Jews themselves before the war. In most official documents written by Jews themselves the word ebrejs is used. While there was no protests against the žīds word, it seems that Jews really preferred neutral word ebrejs because žīds reminded them of Tsarist time anti-Semitic oppression.

Jews were mainly responsible for Soviet repressions of 1940-1941

There are comments in Latvian main internet news sites. And when a news item regarding Jewish issue is published there is nice bet that at least one of them will mention the word
Šustins. Semyon Shustin was Jewish national from Moscow who worked in NKVD was a ruthless soviet officer who took part mass deportations of June 14 1940. He was never from Latvia and during the repressions hundreds of Jews from Latvia were deported to Siberia. Soviet government closed all Jewish organizations and arrested most social and political activists.

In June 22 19141 Nazi Germany invaded and massive anti-Semitic campaign started. Nazi German propagandists many of them willingly Latvian activists like Ādolfs Šilde made countless accusations of Jews as main perpetrators of the soviet occupation. Year later when killing of the Latvian Jews was mostly finished to justify a propaganda book and movie was made to fully summarize Jewish guilt the occupation. The book the Horrible Year was so successful that still this day many including parliamentary speaker describes the 1940 as Baigais Gads  a name for book mainly about imagined Jewish atrocities in 1940.

In reality while many Jews saw Stalin as lesser evil compared to Hitler, if we start a detailed outlook on Jewish participation in Soviet occupation it shows that Jewish presence especially local was limited and marginal. Important people like Semyon Shustin was from Moscow. Majority of the party members, members of various municipalities and soviet organizations were Latvians. Jews were also prevented from reaching high ranks. Jews were involved in repressive structures, but not  in high percentage and are responsible as Latvians who took part in them. While these words may seem pointless for some people for whom seeing two or five Jewish surnames in the list means approval for their world of conspiracy.

During the WW2 large masses of Latvians actively took part in Holocaust without German orders in revenge for Soviet occupation

This claim was first created by Nazi propaganda who wished to portray mass killings as purely local initiative as revenge for Jewish Bolshevik atrocities. After the war some Jewish survivors continued this theme and published dramatic books fully accusing Latvians who killed Jews without German orders or took part in the shootings willingly. Soviets picked this up and published books directed towards Latvian exiles where they accused them of taking part in Nazi atrocities. Russian propaganda continues this narrative.

So far academic research has failed to prove that in time of so-called interregnum – the period between exchange from Soviet to Nazi power a Jewish killings have taken place. This interregnum happened because Soviets were quick to retreat and in many places Latvian national partisans took power. They regarded Germans as their allies and gradually returned authority to Germans. However, most cases show these partisans were involved in attacking retreating soviets while there were events attacking Jewish refugees from Lithuania, however most of these attacks took place after Germans had taken power and ordered Latvians to attack the refugees.

Holocaust in Latvia has been documented very well and shows that killings took place after the Germans had full installed power and taken control over Latvian national partisans or Self Defense groups. These groups and two main Security Police commandos Arājs and Valgulāns group did the most job of killing Jews while all these murders were directed and observed by Germans. As for the tragic events in July 4 1941 when Arājs men burned down the main synagogue that German propaganda portrayed as major pogrom; the official Nazi documents states that local participation was insignificant and unsatisfactory.

However, no light words are said for Latvian propagandists from Pērkonkrusts (Thundercross) movement who voluntary published hundreds of anti-Semitic articles in the press and before the war some of their publications state that they favored the removal of the Jews from Latvia. After the movement demanded Germans to create Latvian national forces, they were all arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Nazi occupation was far better than the Soviet occupation

The massive deportations of June 14 1940 and many other repressions were grave image of the soviet occupation. During the Nazi occupation the national flag of Latvia was flown only for few days and was banned as well as the national anthem and other symbols. In 1941-1942 there was no German intention for restoration of independent Latvia. Instead plan was drawn to colonize Latvia and integrate into Nazi Germany. Rhetoric changed after Stalingrad and Germans needed Latvian support for continuing war effort. Latvian Waffen SS Legion was formed and promises were made of Latvian national government. Never fulfilled.

As off repressions – Nazis killed 9000 Jews in Latvia and also sent Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Nazis killed about 2000 Roma’s. Nazis killed people supporting soviet partisans. Nazis deported whole families from Belarus to Latvia, where many children died from sickness and starvation. Nazis repressed and killed people calling for independent Latvia. There is no need to compare.

Salaspils camp was a death camp

Germans had diverse classification list for their camps. For instance the Kaiservald (Mežaparks) was called a concentration camp while Salaspils was called simply a camp. They also had camps called extermination camps and death camps. Salaspils was simply called camp. It’s this just a guise? During the soviet occupation in sixties some people were inspired by the new memorials in Auschwitz and Dachau so they wanted similar in Latvia. Salaspils was chosen for a new memorial and thousands of people who died there deserved this. However, soviets published books where they called Salaspils a Death camp. Soviets made claims that there was gas machines in the camp. Another claim that camp served as blood repository, that children from Russia and Belarus were used to collect blood for German soldiers.

There are no proof that there was ever a gas machine used in Salaspils.  There was no logical reason for mass blood collecting without determining the blood type that would make blood transfer out of question. On 1943 because of issues the German medical authority canceled the use of blood doses in the Eastern Front instead preferring direct transfer. Also the blood transport to Western front from Latvia would be costly and unreliable process.  Blood collecting took place, but not in large-scale and mostly for medical reasons as doctors tried to limit the spread of diseases that would endanger not only children but also adult workers. The camp was for most as punishment camp for people of various sorts also soviet prisoners of war, anti-nazi resistance and unemployed. People died there because of harsh work conditions, sickness and starvation. It was a horrible place, but soviet claims and their given death toll is gravely exaggerated.

Latvian Waffen SS is responsible for war crimes

Latvian Waffen SS was formed in 1943 after most of Jewish killing took place. Its two divisions 15th and 19th division and smaller adjacent units  took part in combat from Leningrad to Berlin. The Police Battalions, Security Police commandos are not Latvian Waffen SS Legion. Some of the former members of the criminal units later were enlisted into Latvian Waffen SS legion. That is their individual responsibility. Similarly every Soviet soldier who made war crimes or allied soldier holds individual responsibility.

Latvian Waffen SS truly fought for independent national Latvia. The Latvians within Soviet army or Latvian soviet partisans were either just conscripts or trained saboteurs

Latvian Waffen SS carried out German orders. It fought hard battles and many times stopped great soviet offensives and allowed German units to escape onslaught. They never really had time and chance to fight for independent Latvia no matter how each of them wanted it. Only thing they achieved is that they helped many refuges to escape Latvia by halting and stopping advancing soviets.

Most of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion were conscripts. War was seen to each of his own eyes. So as the soldiers in the Latvian Rifleman divisions in the Red Army. Many of its members truly wanted to liberate Latvia from the Nazis. The Latvian Jews in the Latvian Rifleman division had a clear motivation. While there was practice of trained Soviet partisan drops in Latvia, some of them also did war crimes their motivation was either sense of duty or motivation to fight Nazi’s. Both of these sides had plenty of wrong; Latvians had to take part in both sides. There was no Latvian side in the Eastern front.

Latvian national partisans were bandits created by German secret service and then submitted to the allied secret services

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. After the end of world war hundreds of people did not accept the soviet occupation and went into woods. There was hope for allied war with soviets and these people hoped their guerilla will be short. Instead it resorted to hopeless battle until 1956. Soviets called them bandits and accused of atrocities, murders and looting. In some events it was true as partisans were vicious towards local soviets and attacked shops to get supplies. One could say that it was false to wait for allied war with Soviets, however the allied rhetoric made such hopes. In reality the US and UK leadership was always afraid of Soviet attack and feared to attack first. Soviets also made claim that these partisans were created by Nazis to work behind enemy lines. It’s true that Nazis really created such battalions like SS-Jagdverband-Ost that however was almost completely destroyed by the end of the war. Prior to Nazi invasion in 1941 Nazis made contacts with many members of Latvian anti-Soviet resistance and exiles and also direct Nazi supporters and then trained for operations. However, its doubtful that Nazis managed to train large partisan force as large it was during 1945-1956.

Allied secret services CIA and SIS both made efforts to assist the Latvian partisans. These efforts were soon uncovered by Soviets and used against the allies. People were lured in Latvia and captured. Soviets even created fake partisan units to lure allied agents mostly Latvians into the trap. Since the start the allied secret service operation in Latvia was controlled by Soviets. Did partisans regarded CIA and SIS as their superiors? In their desperate war against soviets they needed every help they can get, but since allied efforts were hindered by the KGB there was no significant way to help them.

Russification during Tsarist times were harsher then in Soviet times

Sometimes in mostly Ukrainian twitter shares an old exhibition piece – a pillory sign – “he spoke Latvian” as punishments in school for speaking Latvian during Tsarist times. In the late 19th century such pillory signs and really did exist and Ukrainians use this to their argument against Russian influence. While Russian would probably say that this shows that Russification in Tsar times was more harsh than in Soviet times when it was always nonexistent. During the harshest period of Russification the Latvians had answer – private Latvian schools that became popular. People tried to avoid official state schools where Russian language was imposed. Russification gradually weakened after 1905. During the soviet occupation, Latvian language was taught in schools, Latvian language was on TV and Radio and there was no fines for its usage outside official use. Officially all documents were in Russian, it was official language in army and police. But, was the most crucial – soviets did not forced thousands of immigrants from Soviet Union to learn Latvian. It seemed useless for them and that made heavy shoulder on Latvian language. It was regarded as a language only for Latvians, it was not needed for Russian speakers and Russian speakers did not speak with Latvians in their language. Of course not all of the new soviet residents were ignorant of the Latvian language, but that was long gradual diminishing of the Latvian language rather than brash suppression that only creates resistance.

During the soviet rule, the Soviet government invested millions in Latvian economy and received very less in return therefore its Latvia that owns debt to Russia

When Latvia speaks about large amount of losses created by Soviets and asks for large refund, Russia always reminds of their massive investment into Latvia. Until now such claim was let to pass however now studies conclude that from 1946 to 1991 Soviet Union spent 24,684 million rubles in Latvia while gained 40,645 revenue from Latvia. 15,961 million were spent less than gained. The money gained from Latvia was used for poor areas in Russia and support other soviet republics. Latvia had valuable agricultural and industrial products and was very valuable and profitable captive nation for Moscow. For this reason there is regret for loss of Latvia and plans always in place of how to return it.

During the Soviet times large part of Latvian intellectuals and cultural workers were involved with KGB

Soviet secret service KGB was the most powerful and biggest spy agency in world history. It both held responsibility of foreign and interior intelligence. And as of interior intelligence it was not just counter intelligence it was complete control of the society in every its aspect to counter anti-Soviet activity. That involved recruitment of people from cultural, academic and artistic circles. There are people who are known and who have confessed, then they rumors. The issue is that even partial list of agents is still classified. The KGB documents research commission has made demands to publish the database, however Latvian Constitutional Defense Bureau   is still against it. This claim will stay unverified as long as the lists of agents that is available in  Latvia remains classified. And people will say that there is a reason why it’s still classified.

Soviet times were generally worse than now

The most harshest years of the Soviet occupation was 1945-1953 during last years of Stalin. These years were characterized with another mass deportation in 1949, enforced collectivization, war with partisans and painful economic recovery. Level of living improved in sixties and level of repressions dropped. In sixties and seventies the soviet technical advancement was lacking in comparison of Western level of technology. However, in most part soviet production was still able provide people with good level of living and welfare. The cultural level despite censorship was reasonably high, advancements were made in arts, literature, cinema and music. Censorship even made artists, writers and musicians to be more creative to express themselves so hidden messages were shown. As of all even despite Nikita Khrushchev vulgar attack on modern arts (he later regretted and said he was just confused) and stagnate conservatism of Leonid Brezhnev the culture in Soviet Union was prosperous although it could not completely avoid the banality of the soviet propaganda. In similar way the education while plagued with obligatory soviet ideology managed to provide good level of knowledge.  Medicine was state funded, while it was often slow and not as technically advanced as in west it served its purpose. Also Soviet Union was not fully closed from the west and many of the western culture and education reached Latvia and influenced the people.

The most negative aspects of the post Stalin years was mass immigration, increased pollution created by industry and the military. Still fear from army and KGB was all the time present, the Latvian men were sent to Afghanistan and later Chornobyl. Latvians could not freely travel the world, the contacts with west was limited. In 80s the Soviet economy went into decline resulting deficit of products, increased corruption and technologic backwardness. It seems that if Soviet Union did not collapse in 1991 and never took any reforms it would go into deep recession and would not be able even to challenge the West. If Soviet Union would try to make approach similar to China, by keeping the state order but introduce free market things may turned out differently, but Soviet elite seemed to completely mismanage their reforms and the empire collapsed from the actions of their own rulers.

Comparing to our days while technology is way advanced, almost none of is made in Latvia. The state and private sector cannot provide jobs to all people in Latvia resulting emigration. Culture is almost free from any sign of censorship, but the main issue is state funding that is always lacking and privately funded culture is of many things. Same as education and medicine almost every sector lacks proper funding. Independent state cannot even fully funds its police and army. Cost of life has increased and issues in education and medicine has created discontent in society. Much of this was evident in 1920-1940 and that is a cost for being independent senior state rather part of large empire.

During the restoration of independence the old soviet communist elite made transition to democratic elite and still rules the country

This is claimed by the nationalists some of them members of Helsinki-86 and the Citizens Congress who wanted more radical way of restoration of independence rather than conventional way that was made by Popular Front that cooperated with Latvian communists who reverted to support the independence. That shows how weak and impotent the communist beliefs had become and most of the communist party members except hardliners steadily approved new reality and became capitalists and sometimes nationalists. This claim is partially true, however it seems that hardline nationalists were in no position to fulfil things their way and live on this accusation for rest of the two decades. What is unfortunate that no proper lustration was done and it was not done in any of the former Soviet Union. In Russia and Belarus it led to a rise of Soviet revisionism, in Ukraine and Georgia it lead to revolutions. In Latvia it simply created an unfortunate situation when some of the old elite tries to operate the country the old soviet way, some of not the best of their ability. Some of these people still tries to maintain good relations with Russia or are their agents. Larger issue is post soviet thinking that is characterized by fake nationalism and fake democratism and economic inability.

Majority of Russian speakers supported independent Latvia from USSR and were betrayed by Latvian government later by creating an apartheid state

In March 3 1991 a poll was made asking for supporting the independence from USSR. 1 227 562 voted for 411 374 against. In 1989 there was 1 387 757 Latvians, 905 515 Russians, 119 702 Belarusians, 92 101 Ukrainians, 60 416 Poles and 22 897 Jews. Surely it could mean that large part of Russian speakers were in favor. And Popular Front made posters asking Russian speakers to vote and try engage them. However, 24,69 of people voted against they were mostly ethnic Russians and military servicemen. Those who supported where mainly people who or their ancestors lived in pre war Latvia or who saw possibility of national cultural revival like some of the Jews.

Still  411 374 was large number and Latvian parties started to dwindle away from Russian speakers. After the independence the new ruling parties had a tough decision. Latvia could either start accession to  EU and NATO as difficult it seemed or try to stay close to Russia. And they feared that Russian speakers will not support course towards NATO and EU and vote for pro-Moscow parties. There already were such and wanted Latvia to stay ‘neutral’. Also in 1989 only of citizens were 52,0% were Latvians and it was obvious to try to preserve. So tough citizenship law was made to give Latvian citizenship to people who were born or had parents in pre war Latvia. Thousands of soviet immigrants became non-citizens.  Russia with its new support policy for Russian speakers abroad immediately condemned Latvia and called the situation in Latvia an apartheid.

Ironically the NATO and EU pressured Latvia to ease the citizenship law and it was gradually done. In result every year more non-citizens gained citizenship. In 2015 there was 262 030 non-citizens. Seems most of the Russian speakers do use their citizenship to support pro-Moscow parties as their support has increased since 2010 and in Riga there is ethnic Russian mayor. Was this support caused by staggering citizenship law? That is one of the reasons, while there some another referendum – in 2012 a referendum for two state languages were initiated. 273 347 people voted for. From 1 098 593 overall voters that is as much as opposition to independence in 1991 poll. It shows that for some people their views had still not changed since 1991 and the Latvian political forces were generally right about their weariness of the Russian speaking voters.

During 1990-1999 the government and ruling elite destroyed the Latvian industry and agriculture inherited from Soviet era on purpose

The first decade since regaining independence was hard one for thousands of workers. Large soviet inherited factories like VEF went into bankruptcy. Government in odds in being unable to maintain all post soviet industry decided to give away to privatization. In various cases the new owners were unable to maintain these factories, while others were simply looted. Many believed it was done on purpose for personal wealth of the new national elite. While some persons involved it was true, the collapse of the soviet industry can be explained for myriad of objective reasons. First soviet industry was all tied to Soviet marked that had collapsed, second the Soviet military had lot of grey orders from these factories that were now lost. Third that soviet industry was hopelessly backwards and foreign investors had no interests in them. A vile version that foreign companies saw new rival in Latvian industry and wanted to destroy it. However, it was so weak that they possibly could not rival Western companies for decades. It was far better to be bought by them for low price, but most like VEF old leadership refused. Fourth factor that new Latvian government that for two years was concentrated for almost impossible task of restoring independence now got in whirlwind of economic and social fallout that was caused by collapse of the soviet economy and rapid transition to free market. The government and new state intuitions were amateurs, often clueless of how to save the industry and made mistakes and fell for bates. Nevertheless it was a major social disaster that has not been fully recovered.

European Union continued to destroy Latvian economy, for instance it closed the Latvian sugar industry

When Latvia joined EU many hoped for immediate prosperity that did not come after 1992. However, many were disappointed by many regulations, directives and recommendations. Also EU investment was and is always under regalement and bigger countries still get the bigger cut. Not only that EU contributed to the closure of the Latvian sugar industry. This action however was not done because EU had vile intentions but because in 2004 it lost a case to World Trade Organization that allowed 49 poorest countries to export sugar into EU without fees and tariffs. To rescue EU sugar industry and compensate those who would be now dropped out of the market. EU offered the companies who can’t produce ton of  sugar for 404 euro were asked to leave the market and received compensations for their closure. And Latvian companies of centuries of experience were one of them. Now most sugar in Latvian stores are from Poland and is one of the most expensive in EU. It is rather unfortunate situation, but EU did that for many other countries because it was forced to.

As much of the EU positive and negative effect to Latvian economy there is many factors. EU has contributed to some sectors of economy and has hindered others. EU tries to work for common good and tries to keep balance and that balance is not always good for some countries. However, EU has no vile intention to sabotage Latvian economy if it had such it would let Latvia go bankrupt in 2008-2009, but obviously that would be against the common good and balance.

These were the some of the myths of the Latvian history. Every nation has its own historical myths and explaining them helps understanding the history better.

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Latvia under the Soviet Union. Politics and economy 1945-1987

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Soviet Union defined itself as a Socialist country that is on her way to communism. The official name – The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was actually “four words, four lies” as Cornelius Castoriadis called it. The Soviets were not democratically elected, it was not a Socialist, and union for in reality it was Unitarian state not union. The main points for the Soviet order was 1) communist party monopoly, 2) Democratic Centralism, 3) Complete state control over resources and production, 4) Communism as the desired goal of the government, 5) Strive for international victory of the communist order. The word “soviet” or сове́т (council) was intended as democratically elected workers and peasants governing body. However, when in 1922 the official USSR name was declared all power in the hands in the Communist party and the Soviets were under its direct control. This means that whole ideology and politics of the Soviet Union were based on double thinking, lies and imitation. The USSR was just a totalitarian single state centralized dictatorship. The double faced absurd system that actually survived for more than 80 years is still a mystery for many.

Latvia was included in the Soviet system as a full time socialist republic. The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic had limited rights of her own: constitution, own laws, own borders and administrative system. However, it was only on the paper as the Soviet Union was a federal country with the main orders coming from Moscow. However, it was still better because as a full time Socialist Republic Latvia could break away from Moscow more easier. For Autonomous Socialist republics like Chechnya or Tatarstan this proved to be impossible.  The LSSR constitution approved on August 25 1940 was a duplicate of the USSR 1936 constitution. Despite the constitution had promised that the republics may break away from the USSR, there was no mechanism defined how to do that. And even mentioning such possibility in private may cause the repressions from the KGB. There was LSSR passport that was given to all who lived in its territory. But, it had no legal effect , because one could legally live in Kazakh SSR with LSSR passport and with KSSR passport in Latvia. But, if someone wanted to travel outside the USSR, he received the USSR passport.

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Soviet Order was based on the single Communist party. LSSR has its own Latvian Communist Party (LCP) that was subordinated to the Soviet Union Communist Party (SUCP). The main governing bodies were the LCP Central Committee (LCP CC) and LSSR Soviet Council. The Supreme Council of the LSSR sessions was only called in case of  LCP CC appointment. Usually most political decisions were made in informal meetings and later officially issued. LCP CC was responsible for every sector of the republic. But, it was completely loyal to the SUCP CC in Moscow.

The party had committees in every village, city, factory that controlled everything under the guidance of the Central Committee. The Soviet Army had its own system of committees. Slowly the Soviet bureaucratic apparatus grew in enormous sizes, with numerous institutions and various rank officials making the bureaucratic chaos. The most prominent officials were the CC Secretaries who formed the Politburo. The Politburo was the main body above all.Moscow had her own bureaus summoned by Moscow and representatives sent from  Moscow. Local communists often had quarrels and disagreements that ended in the repressions. Moscow sent inspections to Latvia.   Moscow leaders were reluctant to meet directly with the local leaders. Stalin did this only once in 1949 to inform about the deportations, and Khrushchev and Brezhnev were also very distant.

The Latvian membership in the LCP was always quite mediocre comparing to the Lithuania. Lithuanian membership in 1953 in their party was only 37% but in 1965 it was 63,7%. This helped the Lithuanians to have more sovereign say in their local matters. Meanwhile in Latvia in 1959 there were 59% Latvians and in 1989 59% Latvians. The reasons for such low support was the high influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union that was more eager to join LCP. Latvians meanwhile viewed LCP as a rouge Russian party  that they could not join. The main motivation for joining the party was the advancement in carrier and more social privileges. But, the high Russian influence in the party meant that Latvians suffered greater pressure from Moscow and was unable to make nationally beneficial decisions like Lithuania and Estonia did. Estonians and Lithuanians took active part in the system to keep the foreigners away, but Latvians either refrained to work with the foreigners  or submitted to them. Also most Latvian communist leaders like J Kalbērziņs, A Peļše and A Voss where the survivors of Stalinist purges and obeyed every order from Moscow in the result.

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

Despite the official slogan for USSR as a completely socially equal country it was divided into complex social castes.  Above all were the nomenclature. It was a party apparatus of the party, administrative, financial and interior security workers. They enjoyed greater social guarantees than simple soviet citizens, better homes and better supply of food and household goods. They enjoyed special secret shops and supply system. The nomenclature was the Soviet bureaucratic elite that was more equal than other equal soviet citizens. While others stood in long lines for a slice of bread and toilet paper the elite communists had the first hand for everything. This was the root of the widespread corruption that slowly teared the USSR apart. After 1965 also WW2 veterans became a socially privileged class.

The Soviet propaganda always pointed the poverty, oppression and low economic advancements in the pre war Latvian Republic. The superiority of the Soviet centralized economy over Latvian trade economy was justified by the enormous Soviet industry. Also Moscow even now says that it invested enormous sums in Latvia.  In reality income gathered from Latvia from 1945-1950 was enough to cover the costs of maintaining the Soviet Army bases in Latvia. From 1945 to 1950 six billion rubles were transferred from Latvia to Moscow. From 1950 to 1959 LSSR gave more income to the USSR than USSR gave back. Money from Latvia was invested in Central Asian Republics and Siberian development. Since Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union this also can be seen as enormous looting of the Latvian resources in a long period of time.

Latvian industry was also advanced before the WW2. After the war much had been looted and destroyed. However, the Soviets managed to achieve great industrial breakthroughs by immigration. From 1945 to 1959 large numbers of people from Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine moved to Latvia. Their original living places were torn apart by the war and Stalinist terror. In 1940 there were 355 200 people living in Riga, but in 1958 489 100. To accommodate these people factories and living blocks had to be built in masses. On 1989 the citizen count in Riga nearly reached million people. Without such immigration Latvia would be unable to achieve such full scale industrialization. The Moscow did little to halt this immigration, because the moving the nations around the Soviet Union and the russifacation was one of the political principles.

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The Soviet agricultural system was disastrous for Latvian country side. For centuries Latvians had developed a system of private farming. During the period of freedom from 1920-1940 Latvian agriculture was booming. However, Soviets nationalized all agricultural lands and repressed the rich land owners. The deportation of 1949 finally forced everyone to give up their land and join the collective farms- kolkhozs. The state took most production away from the collective farms, making farmers poor. Eventually to find a way out of this people were allowed to keep strictly normed “nearby gardens”. People could grow their own vegetables and potatoes that were taken away. Strict norms on keeping private cattle made people to device ways to hide their cows and pigs. Soviets changed the usual countryside, by making city like villages and filled them with residential blocks.  People were kept together as possible. Before the war people usually lived in their private households away from each other.

The standard of living in the first years till the death of Joseph Stalin was quite low. Despite the availability of jobs, the pay was low. The countryside was depopulated, people moved to the cities. Riga lacked apartments, in old nationalized apartment buildings built by Baltic German nobles, Soviets made collective flats or communal flats.  Many families shared one living space. In mid fifties new residential blocks were built and building of the new suburban residential areas continued until the end of the USSR. Many were concerned that the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe have a greater standard of living.

After the death of Stalin, his successors understood the danger of the unproductive Soviet system. The Soviet leaders slowly gave up the Stalinist means of repression, but were unable to give up centralized state economy. Khrushchev was a pioneer of many new social and economic policies, but he was unable to change all thing. Khrushchev firmly believed that the modern technology and progressive welfare policies will bring country closer to communism. The pension and payment system was improved, possibility of getting a flat or car was made more greater. People were motivated to work to get advancements. Slowly such things as TV, Radio and the washing machine entered every household. People finally could live more comfortably and enjoy some luxuries. However, Khrushchev also pushed for heavy arms race with US. The Soviet advancements in space and nuclear rocket technology made USSR more prominent. However, the quality and real count of the Soviet super weapons was far lower than the US ones. The US was scared of the Khrushchev threats and weapons therefore greatly overestimated the Soviet military power. That opened doors for mass production of weapons in the US and the reckless Soviet attempts to beat it. US had better chances to survive the arms race because the weapons were made by private industry, while Soviet made more and more weapons at the cost of everything else.

When Brezhnev came to power the Soviet economy faced regression. But, the Soviet politicians were “saved” from making new economic reforms. The Middle Eastern conflict caused the rise of the oil prices. Soviets years before had begun the building of gas and oil pipes, that exported the vast Soviet reserves to the Western world. Stalin had declared that the selling out the nation’s resources is a national treason. Now however, the rising oil prices that were comparatively high until the mid eighties kept the Soviet economy stable.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

Some authors claim that on 1975 Latvia reached the highest standard of living than ever before. However, comparing to Italy, Canada or even Poland it was still lower. Soviets tried to prevent Latvians to go abroad. However, those who saw world outside the Iron Curtain or even within it was shocked by the great difference. Consumer goods were still under deficit, having a car was regarded as the sign of personal wealth. The deficit of food, consumer goods and all kinds of products became eminent for years to come. The statewide Black Market emerged. It was called blat (блат) – the informal agreement between people to gain access to deficit goods. It was a system based on social status and profession. People exchanged goods for favors. The pseudo private trade market became so eminent that in many cases it was legalized. Legal trade like vegetables and flower selling emerged. Soviet leadership officially condemned the grey zone market or black market, but in reality did nothing much to stop it. Police fought illegal trade of currency and jewels.  Also book selling, audio copying of vinyl or cassette records was limited. Also antique collectors had to watch out.

The positive side of the Soviet occupation was the culture. Soviets understood that boosting culture and entertainment can keep them loyal an satisfied. The traditional Song and Dance Festival that had already begun on 19th century was kept by the Soviet ideology. Despite including some propaganda songs, the overall folk tradition was kept. However, there was a certain hostility towards Līgo celebrations. No holidays were set there and people were encouraged not to celebrate them. But, people still celebrated them.  In every five years Song and Dance festivals made Latvians again feel like national Latvians. In the sixties and fifties Latvian popular stage music boomed, composers like Raimonds Pauls and Imants Kalniņs were considered as pop icons. As the western records and video tapes entered Latvia, rock, disco and electronic music groups became popular. Despite some restrictions the Latvian music became more western. The Latvian Cinema was making high quality movies every year and artists also enjoyed relative freedom. There was a certain code of “do nots” for the artists, movie directors and the actors, but they received greater state support.

A negative side in the culture was the suppression of the national themes. Nationally driven writers were persecuted by the KGB. Soviets banned any kind of national minority movement. For instance Jews had double feelings about the Soviet power. From one side Soviets rescued them from the Holocaust, from other side any kinds national and cultural movement were suppressed.  Zionist activity was banned, all Jewish cultural life was based around few legal religious congregations. Because of this many Jews emigrated from Soviet Latvia making a bad image on the USSR. Other national minorities suffered from this too.

Education was sufficient, however students had to go through months of boring lectures about Marxist theory. In humanitarian sciences there was a high pressure of the Soviet propaganda and double speak. Books were widely available in Latvian and Russian. Western authors were translated. The youth spent their time in the pioneer movement, all kinds of sport activities were available.  Latvian sportsman brought golden medals from almost every Olympic games.

Meanwhile all that, the corrupt, infective and absurd soviet system was heading for collapse.  Brezhnev decided to do nothing about it since he knew the danger of reforming the totalitarian system. Gorbachev wanted reforms when it was too late. While Brezhnev was slowly sinking in a pool of the marsh, Gorbachev wanted to get out of it fast – in result he was sinking even faster.  And that brought a great chance for Latvia to finally break loose and restore independence.

Selected Sources:

Bleiere, Daina. (2012)Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

Grava-Kreituse, Ilga. (2009) Pagājušo gadu Latvija 1945-1990 : kā dzīvojām, no kā iztikām, ko apsmējām, par ko priecājāmies.Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Prikulis, Juris. (Ed) (2012) Starptautiskā konference “Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā”. Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā : Rīgā, 2011. gada 17.-18. jūnijs : starptautiskās konferences materiāli.Rīga : Latvijas Okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

Pavlovičs, Juris. (2012) Padomju Latvijas ikdiena : mūsu vienīgā vakardiena.Rīga : Jumava.

Суворов, Виктор. (2011)  Кузькина мать : хроника великого десятилетия : к 50-летию Карибского кризиса, новое историческое расследование от автора супербестселлеров “Аквариум” и “Ледокол”. Москва : Добрая книга.

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Soviet Mass Deportations of March 25 1949

The bags have backed, goodby dear fathers house, pain breaks her heart, she must leave the homeland!

The bags have been packed, goodbye dear father’s house, pain breaks her heart, she must leave her homeland.

Mass deportations to remote faraway places in Siberia, was one of the most used tools, by the Soviet leaders to take complete control over the society and strengthen their power. Deportations to Siberia, was already practiced by the Czarist government, but on much lower scale. Joseph Stalin was sent to Siberia many times, but could leave his captivity without getting caught. However, the Soviet deportations were on a much larger scale; whole families were deported to tightly guarded camps in places with horrid weather, with no chance to escape.

Latvia faced the first deportation in June 14 1941, when 15 424 people were sent to GULAG. Most of them were members of the national elite, statesman, scientists, artists and businessman. The goal of this deportation was to remove all potential anti-Soviet elements from Latvia. On 5-6 February 1945 the so-called “German operation” took place, where German nationals from Riga and the countryside were sent to the Komi Autonomous Socialist Republic.

The next and largest deportation of the Latvian people took place in the winter and spring 1949. The target of this deportation was former wealthy farmers or “kulaks” as the Soviets called them. The goal was to prepare Latvia for complete agricultural collectivization and also get rid of the national resistance.

Agricultural collectivization was carried out first in the Soviet Union in the early thirties, causing famine and large decrease of the agricultural production. However, this kind of Stalinist model managed to survive and now at the end of the forties such model was enforced in Latvia. One of the elements of this model was the elimination of kulaks as a class that got nothing to with the deeds of the single person.

Stalin himself explained the importance of the fight against the “kulaks”. “But what to do with the kulak expropriation policy – should we in regions with full collectivization allow the kulak expropriation? Many sides are asking that. Funny question. The kulak expropriation was impossible, as long as we kept restricting the kulak exploiting tendencies, as long as we were unable to make a decisive strike on them, as long as we were unable replace the kulak farms with the kolkhozes. Then the policy that forbids any kulak expropriation was rightful and needed. But now? Now it’s different. Now we have the chance to begin the decisive attack against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their farms with kolkhozes. Now the kulak expropriation is no longer a simple administrative step. Now the kulak expropriation is part of the founding and developing the kolkhozes. No less funny is the second question: should we allow kulak in kolkhoz? Of course, he must not be allowed into kolkhoz. Cannot because he is the deadliest enemy of the kolkhoz movement” Stalin said this in thirties and his vision in Russia and Ukraine were realized causing great destruction. Now it was the Latvian turn for this.

In the spring of 1947 The Central Committee of All Russia Communist party made the decision to begin the collectivization in the three Baltic States. Until March 25 1949 1443 kolkhozes were established. That was far too small for the Soviet needs, because Latvian farmers resisted the entry into collective farms. Latvians had centuries of private farming traditions and the Soviet collectivization been rouge for them. Kolkhozes could only suit the needs of the countrymen who had no land of their own or paid servants in the private farms who wanted to take away the property from their masters.

On  August 27 1947 the LSSR Council of Ministers imposed heavy taxes on the kulak farms. 10 432 such farms were put on the pressure. The reason for this was to make the private farmers bankrupt and force them to join the kolkhozes. Until  February 1 1949 713 kulaks were jailed for not paying taxes. On 1948 444 horses, 6282 cows  were taken away by the state.

But, that was not enough as more horrid plans were set to deport kulaks to Siberia. Until  September 15 1948 10 127 kulak families were counted and so-called 5000 legalized bandits (members of the national resistance movement), but overall 14 206 people with anti-Soviet past were found in the countryside. On September 21 1948 the LSSR attorney Mishutin suggested to the first secretary of the Latvian Communist party Jānis Kalbērziņš to make preparations for deporting the anti-Soviet elements. On January 17 1949 the First Secretary of the Estonian Communist party Nikolai Karotamm reported to Stalin that at the time of spring sowing the kulaks should be deported from all three Baltic States. In January 18 Kalnbērziņš along with his Lithuanian colleague were called to meet Stalin in private. On January 29 USSR Council of Ministers made a top-secret decision nr. 390-138 to make mass deportations at the end of the March 1949. The responsibility was given to the Soviet Ministry of Interior. The intended number of deported people was more than 29 000 families from all three Baltic States.

In Latvia the list was prepared according to agricultural census in 1939 and the war tribunal verdicts for the nationalists. The list was approved by the LSSR State Security Minster Alfons Noviks and LSSR attorney Mishutin. In  March 17 the top secret order was given to deport the kulaks from Latvia. Later the nationalists were included. Their property was meant to be confiscated and chosen place of captivity was the regions of Amur, Omsk and Tomsk.

On the night of 24-25 March at Riga and provincial centers the last instructions were given to local officials. Operative groups were assembled and spread out in every region.

Red wagons, hatches in stings. In some just men, others just woman, drift together like bacon for pigs, their faces looms in obscurity with bloody wrinkles.

Red wagons, hatches in stings. In some just men, others just women, drift together like bacon for pigs, their faces looms in obscurity with bloody wrinkles.

On  March 25 the deportation was carried out in all Latvia. Whole families were taken away from their homes and loaded in the cargo and cattle trains. According to the Latvian State Archive data 29 252 kulaks and 12 832 nationalists were deported in a single day. By that more that 42 thousand people with many of them children were taken to Siberia. The deported people were told that they will be placed at the new location eternally. Their new homes were kolkhozes at faraway poor lands at Siberia.

After the death of Stalin in 1953 slowly the GULAG system was abolished. Deported people could return in the middle of the fifties, some were allowed to return much later. Not all returned and there are still some Latvian villages in Siberia. Those who returned could not gain back their lost lands, as they were taken by kolkhozes.

The mass deportation of  March 25 was intended to speed up the collectivization and suppress the national resistance. And it proved to be successful as those who stayed were too frightened to resist the collectivization and joined the kolkhozes. By deporting all the successful farmers a massive strain was inflicted to the Latvian agriculture. The collectivization was against the historic and natural way of Latvian farm economy. The extremely flawed concept of the kolkhozes ruined the Latvian countryside for generations to come.

By such the deportation of March 25 1949 is one of the most devious Soviet crimes done in Latvia and should be commemorated.

Selected Sources:

Bleiere, Daina (Ed.) Aizvestie : 1949. gada 25. marts. (2007).Rīga : Latvijas Valsts arhīvs : Nordik.

Bleiere, Daina, Reikstiņš, Jānis. (2008) The second mass deportation of the inhabitants, March 25, 1949. Riga : Latvian State Archive.

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Litene – The Latvian Katyn

Memorial place to arrested and killed Latvian officers at Litene

Memorial place to arrested and killed Latvian officers at Litene

Once again the massive Soviet crime of the Katyn massacre has entered the media spotlight and finally the court. Lets, hope the jury will be on the side of the victims not defenders of the criminals supported the present Russian regime. But Polish army was not the only army that suffered this kind of fate. It was also Latvian Army who after the occupation and annexation of Latvian state in 1940 became subjects of Soviet repressions. On June 14 1941 in Litene army camp hundreds of officers of the Latvian army were either set to Siberia or shot on the spot. It was our own “little” Katyn massacre that also needs to be mentioned publicly and receive justice.

The occupation of Latvia begun on June 17 1940, Latvian army was told not to resist the invaders. The new Latvian communist puppet government liquidated the Latvian Army as the national forces and renamed is as the “Peoples Army”. Army circles were flooded with political activists and soviet agents. All officers were commanded to write their biography, many of them wrote it too honestly exposing all their details, that certainly backfired on them later. Perhaps many of them were not used to lying and did not know what to expect from the new Soviet power.

On August 27 1940 after Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union, the Peoples Army was officially disbanded and inintod in to 24 territorial rifleman corps in the Red Army. 55 Latvian officers were already fired and repressed. Officers and soldiers were called for interrogations from many of them did not return. Many were forced or talked into to become informers for the Soviets.

There are many categories of the Latvian officers in this situation- first were the officers that had resigned from the army until 17 June 1940 and was in the status of the civil person. They were persecuted by Soviet secret police the NKVD. Others who were fired after  June 17 also fell victim to the NKVD. The third category was the Latvian officers who remained in the 24 TR Corps until June 1941, and the last the ones that were arrested on June 14 1941.

First who were arrested were persons with active anti-soviet past, like taking part in battles against the Red Army in 1919-1920 war of liberation. After disbanding the Peoples Army 820 officers were fired, one part of them repressed. The climax of the repressions reached June 1941. They took place in the summer camps made by Latvian Army. Their locations were Carnikava, Lilaste, Litene, Daugavpils, Liepāja and others. Every one of these camps only a regiment or rarely a division could gather since there were no bigger camp spot and the military exercises were rare mostly in the last years before the war. Now Soviet command ordered all 24 TR Corps to gather at one Litene summer camp.

Litene is located at the Gulbene district halfway between the town of Gulbene and Balvi, 19 km from Gulbene. A place notable for its beautiful estate and also railroad were nearby. It was a good place for training base. The army had built barracks and tent spots and roads for supply gathering.

Although the 24 TR Corps command had originally planed to send their man to many different places, all of them were ordered to go to Litene. That made the firsts doubts and suspicion as the camp was too small to hold all the officers and soldiers about 8000 – 10 000 men. Despite the order of getting there at May 15 most of the men only arrived on  June 1 since the climatic conditions were too bad to hold a camp. Plus the camp needed to be upgraded and cleaned after it was left by one Red Army unit that had vastly polluted the place.

The Litene army training camp

The Litene army training camp

Along the men of the 24 TR Corps rumors spread that they will be sent to Russia instead. The corps was filled with conscripts from the Soviet Union, the size of the ethnic Latvians in some units dropped by 2o percent. On the night of the June 14 1941 more than 150 000 Latvian civilians were sent to Siberia, same in Lithuania with 180 000 and in Estonia 10 000 people.

On  June 14 all ex Latvian Army officers serving in the 24 TR corps were arrested on the spot at Litene. The operation was carefully planned. Camp was carefully guarded by the NKVD men, and all the necessary transport equipment was gathered earlier. Camp guard duty was given to Russians and Asians, Latvian men had their guns removed. The officers were told to gather at early morning of June 14 to prepare for tactical training.

The officers gathered at 8:30 in the open air cinema. A lecture by the chief of the staff N Miljevski his assistant Kirilov was announced, the topic was battalion attack. After a half hour lecture the list of training participants were issued.  Strange to all, the list included those in hospitals, on vacation or on missions. Also since only the names and surnames were called not army ranks as it should be, showed that the list was made by the NKVD. For the army surely would list officers by their ranks.

It seems there was some slip ups in the Soviet plans, since officers had to wait for transport until 14:00. Probably it took time to gather all the officers and put them into trucks. The convoy was led by armored jeep. After driving 1-5 km from the town of Gulbene, officers were told to leave the car and stand in two. They were escorted to a nearby forest, disarmed and arrested. The forest was full of camouflaged NKVD men and their armed cars. Most of the officers were arrested. However those who resisted were killed and buried on the spot. A mass graves were already dug out  for such occasions. Some of those who resisted managed to kill or wound the Soviet captors but were outnumbered.

After arresting all the officers they were taken to cattle trains and sent to Riga. After bringing extra deportees and searching all the captives, the train took route to Russia. Approximately 560 Latvian officers were sent to Russian Gulag camps at Siberia. After the regaining of independence Latvian archeologists found a grave of 11 Latvian officers killed on the spot by the Soviets.

It was complete destruction of the Latvian Army. From all 2193 officers of the ex Latvian Army  299 were arrested, at one 14 June 562 officers were arrested and deported, 247 officers went missing. In all 1100 Latvian officers from June 17 1940 to June 14 1941 was repressed by the Soviets. The amount of killed officers on Litene still is unknown and could be more that 11 men.

While in Katyn the most Polish officers were simply executed, Latvians were sent to Gulag camps in Dudinsk and  Norilsk. While certainly it was better than be shot on the spot, the conditions in the Soviet camps were beyond any civilized man could imagine. Not all could survive and not all could return to Latvia, only 80 Latvian officers returned to the Latvia, the rest of them stayed in Siberia. Latvian army officers were the elite of the Latvian society that were caught up in the Soviet injustice and treachery. It’s our duty to respect and commemorate  these men.

Selected Sources:

Zvaigzne, Jānis. (2012)   Jūnijs. Litene, 1941. Rīga : Jumava.

Starptautiska konference “1941. gada 14. jūnija deportācija – noziegums pret cilvēci”. 1941. gada 14. jūnija deportācija – noziegums pret cilvēci : starptautiskās konferences materiāli, 2001. gada 12.-13. jūnijs, Rīga = Deportation of 14 June 1941: crime against humanity : materials of an International Conference 12-13 June. (2001). Riga. Latvijas vēstures institūts.

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The Soviet attack on Latvian border station Maslenki 1940

Burned down Maslenki guard house

Burned down Maslenki guard house

One of the usual interpretations by Russian historians that in the events of 1940 no military force was involved and Latvia was annexed voluntary.   However they tend to forget the events on the June 15 1940 when Soviet special forces raided the Latvian border guard station Maslenki, killing and capturing many borderguards and their wives. With all known rules of military warfare this can be seen as act of aggression and invasion, as the Latvian border was crossed and its soldiers and civilians attacked. It was intended as a provocation to force Latvia submit to Soviet demands and allow unrestricted entry into Latvian soil. Also it was a clear warning of what would happen if the Latvian government would not accept the Soviet demands.

Maslenki today is a  part of Russian Federation as it was located in Abrene district that was part of the Latvian Republic from 1920 to 1944, after it was included in the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic. After the fall of the Soviet Union it remained as part of the Russian Federation with no great chances of ever returning it to Latvia.

The border between Latvia and Soviet Russia was established in 1920 according to peace treaty. The Abrene district was mostly populated by Russian nationals, however Latvia saw this territory as important for its railway routes and special geographical situation making easier to defend the eastern border. Also it was earned in blood as Latvian army chased the Soviets away to this point. The Soviet government was forced to sign a peace treaty and give away this district. In next two decades Abrene became important part of the Latvian state. Latvians moved there to establish farms and towns and army fortifications and border bases.

The border protection law was issued in 1928 and the task was entrusted to Border Guard (Robežapsardzība), in 1935 it was renamed as the Border Guard Brigade that was split in three battalions. The third was the Abrene battalion. Battalion worked in guard stations that overlooked every kilometer. Later cordons were established. The border guarding was a tough work, as the Soviet spies and illegal immigrants  and also criminals tended to cross the border.

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

After October 1939 when Latvia signed mutual assistance pact with Soviet Union a greater importance was put on the border protection as every incident could mean accusation of breaking the pact. Latvia was already in undesirable situation as Poland was occupied both by Germany and Soviet Union and sizable Red Army garrison already stationed in Courland. In the summer of 1940 Germany opened the Western front and Stalin was sure that is the right time to “fix the Baltic problem”. For this a small provocation was required.

The 14 June 1940 was a peaceful day for Latvian border guards and civilians of the Abrene district. Many came to Latgalian song and dance festival at Daugavpils. 24 choirs with 1101 singers and 55 instrument players went there forming the second largest delegation. With the presence of the president Kārlis Ulmanis the song and dance festival marked the last normal day for Latvia for many years to come. Meanwhile the border guards organized the sport instructor courses. In the same time in Paris the German army marched on the main streets, but in Estonia two Soviet bombers shot down the Finnish civil airplane Kaleva (Junkers -52) over the Strait of Finland. Soviet submarine prevented the rescue or search of the crash site and collected all the remains. Estonian government made no protest to USSR. Meanwhile  the Soviet documents falsely stated that the plane was shot in June 23 meaning that it was done after the occupation of Estonia and therefore not an act of international piracy  but a defense move by Soviets. At 23:30 in Moscow the Lithuanian ambassador was summoned to Kremlin to meet Molotov, where he gave the ultimatum that Lithuania had to accept until 10:00 at morning.

The Maslenki or Lejnieki border station was one of the first border stations since 1920. The guardhouse was a wooden building built in 1929/1930. The commander in charge was senior officer Frīdrihs Puriņš who was notorious for his drinking and brawls with Russian locals. Soviet border guards often tried to provoke him because of it. Despite that his experience in the war of freedom brought a great respect from his senior colleges.

At Midnight a border guard brass band rehearsal took place. The night unusually cold, on guard post were Jānis Macītis and Pēteris Cimoška, one was patrolling other was hidden post. Kārlis Beizaks was resting on wait his shift to replace Cimoška.

On 2:30 25 special soldiers of the NKVD the Soviet secret service managed to cross the border at river Ludza. NKVD had surrounded the border cordon from all sides. Around the guard-house a bags of grenades were placed excluding the main doors meaning that NKVD men intended to capture the border guards without a single shot. The attackers were discovered by patrolling Jānis Macītis. He followed the instructions that if the stranger is spotted, he must let him closer for 20-30 meters and only then call him to stop, so he will be surprised and wont use arms. However, this instruction did not bear the fact that stranger may have an automatic weapon. And precisely at this moment the NKVD men opened automatic fire at the Latvian border guard. Latvians only had shotguns that were useless in thick fog and bad visibility.

NKVD realized that they were spotted and turned to burn down the guard-house and kill all the border guards. Macītis was badly wounded and tried to reach the guard-house and stepped on the hand grenade and lost his left foot. Border guard on the disguised post Pēteris Cimoška opened fire, enemy tried to locate his position to surround him. Cimoška retreated back to guard-house cause he heard other border guard Valdis Grīnvalds resisting. But he stepped on bag of grenades and were torn in pieces.

In the guard-house Valdis Grīnvalds was desperately trying to hide from Soviet bullets that fired trough the walls. As the visibility was bad he fired back without no aiming. Kārlis Beizaks also in the house decided to flee and jumped out of the window. He managed to run 199 meters passing house of Žanis Krieviņš that also was surrounded by NKVD men who killed Beizaks. They even threw grenades at him. Since some resistance was shown from  guard house the NKVD threw inside burning liquid and house went on flames.

In the apartment room of the guard-house the commanders Frīdrihs Puriņš wife Hermīne and his 14-year-old son Voldemārs were caught up in the middle of the firefight. Hermīne jumped out of the window with pillow in his hand to protect herself from the bullets. She was shot dead and later found in strawberry plants. Voldemārs run out of the doors and escaped and hided in nearby pile of firewood. Soviet attacker had been under cover there and shot Voldemārs in stomach and foot. Valdis Grīnvalds left the house on the same moment and made way to river where he was captured by the soviets.

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

NKVD also assaulted the border guards Žanis Krieviņš house. He was there with his wife Lida, son Artūrs and five year old Rita. Two grenades were thrown in. Lida was wounded as Soviets broke in  took away his husband and children.

As the resistance was put down, the Soviets started to evacuate their killed and wounded men. However, because of the poor visibility they left many of their displaced war equipment. Soviets also abducted two civilians Olga and Dimitry Maslov. As Latvian reinforcements arrived at the scene the Soviets had left with guard-house burned down, three guard men killed, commanders wife shot, his son wounded and many people abducted.

At the same time Soviets attacked other guard post at Šmaiļi. Here Soviets managed to capture the border guards without a fight. Also local civilians were taken as hostages. Also another attack was planned at Žuguru station. However, the plans were thwarted because the border guards wife Marianna turned 25 and border guards threw a big party. This became known by commander Voldemārs Gailītis and he came there with his men to inspect. At the night the border guard Kronis fired the signal pistol alarming the guards on duty and the guests. In 16 June they found a Soviet camouflage suit and wire breaking scissors nearby. It could be that Soviets were scared away by the sudden arrival of the commander himself and his men. The guard Kronis who spotted the Soviet intruder fired a signal rocket and loud talking by alarmed guests confused the NKVD men and made them turn back.

Soviets had taken away 37 men and women and children. Latvian border guards were put on alarm. But, Latvian government made no direct action or even protest against USSR. In 15 June Lithuania submitted to Soviet demands and allowed entry of the Soviet forces. Lithuanian president Antan Smetona fled to Germany. Worlds eyes were on France it seemed hopeless to make any significant move. Latvia made investigation commission on the incident but that was it.  In 17 June Soviet forces entered Latvia. Border guards were told not to resist, they had plans for it, but now the border became open to the enemy. At the night between 16 and 17 June all main roads to Latvia were cleared of mines. If Latvian border guards showed some resistance there would be no myth of peaceful occupation of Latvia and the removed district of Abrene.

In 7 July 1940 Soviets sent back to Latvia their 37 hostages. The captured guards were submitted to interrogation. The later events, the occupation and war put them on the extremes again.  The only one who did not return was Dimitry Maslov who was agent of the Latvian Secret Service. He was executed in  1942 at Astrakhan prison.

The attack on Maslenki was intended to force Latvian government to accept the Soviet demands. Soviets blamed Latvia for this tragedy and interpreted as a breach of mutual agreement pact, that was one of the reasons why Soviets demanded the full entry of the Red Army. Also it was a revenge by NKVD to Latvians for the actions of their secret service on the Soviet border. The attack was also made to test the Latvian army leadership, fearing it may order full resistance, instead Latvian leaders showed confusion and weakness. However, the attack on Latvian border station must be seen as act of aggression and treachery that shows that the occupation of Latvia was brutal and bloody not peaceful.

The border guards of the Maslenki and their families before the tragedy

The border guards of the Maslenki and their families before the tragedy

 

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Latvian industry during the Soviet times. Myths and reality

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All that is left of the Soviet industrial monster the Sloka paper factory

The period of the Soviet occupation of Latvia (1944-1991) has been controversial subject among Latvian historians and Latvian society. It’s either shown too much in negative aspects or gets too much idealization from certain members of the society. The critics of the Soviet period usually sticks to repressions, forced mass immigration, lack of free choice and low standard of living compared to west at those times. The apologetic minded people usually praises the high level of employment, ethnic harmony and lack of poverty. The present day economic crisis has made the voices of these people more stronger. Among many left and far left parties and their supporters a desire of revision of the Latvian democratic capitalist system is getting stronger. One of their arguments to praise the socialist system is soviet time Latvian industry that was described as productive and strong and gave people jobs and social security. The great bankruptcy of this industrial complex after regaining the independence often is put on blame solely to Latvian government and privatization. However, the greatness of Latvian soviet industry is surrounded by many myths that will be discussed here. The facts come from the newest research published just recently by authors who study the economical and demographic losses done by Soviet Union.

The Soviet propaganda machine made a large effort to promote communist model as the best for industry and as a great contribution in industrial development and raise of the standard of living for the working people. However, the facts show that after the occupation Latvian economic development was lot more slower than on average Soviet Union level.

Despite that, until the collapse of the Soviet Union so-called “old republics” (union members before 1940) continued to fall behind the Baltic states. But comparing to Western powers, Latvia, along with other parts of USSR and its satellite states were on deep stagnation and in rapidly growing disproportion between various regions of the Soviet Union. These facts were hidden from Soviet society.

The thing worthy to note is the specific growth of the Latvian industry in first years after the war that was far more greater than the rest of the Soviet Union. These differences were caused by economical and demographic disaster in so called Nechernozemye region (non black earth region in contrary to black earth region in South Russia and Ukraine with distinctive fertile soils) that covers vast areas in European part of Russia including St. Petersburg, Pskov, Novgorod, Moscow, Smolensk, Ryazan and other areas. The damage done by Stalin purges and World War II made large masses of people to escape to Baltic States mainly to Latvia from these areas. Most of them came from poverty driven soviet state collective farms (kolhkhoz’s) and poor small towns, despite the actions trying to preventing to escape from these places these people found ways to do it. Also large parts of soviet soldiers stationed in Latvia did not wish to come home and choose to stay here instead and bring their whole families with them. The regions in Russia was so badly devastated by Stalinist actions and war that they did not will to go  back there.

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Factory workers from Latvia and all over Russia

The numbers of these people were so great that in Latvia and Estonia the main cities faces enormous sufficiency of the employment. Already in  1950 the population in Riga was two times higher than in 1945. With such worker sufficiency in Riga resulted in never seen before overfulfillment of industrial plans many times faster than set dates. According to industry five-year plan (1946-1950) the 1940 amount of product had to rise to 180% but in reality it rose up to 303%. Comparing to regions of western Russia  the Nechernozemye areas were industrial plans were never fulfilled the Latvia was industrial metropolis. But it was at the expense of the people who came from these regions, the Latvian post war population without immigrants could never achieve such productivity. Despite that the Soviet authorities ignored this and their attempts to fix the bad situation in Latvia close regions failed mainly because of the lack of desire.

Latvia was already a highly industrial country before the war. Despite the great WWI damage Latvian industry in private means could develop faster than agriculture. Latvia was a place for radio equipment, photo product, telephones, bus, bicycle, cement and electroenergy production. Comparing to relative slow industrial growth in most Europe Latvia was a leader in industrial development. It was even greater comparing to many areas of the Stalin’s Russia. So Latvia was sustainable to achieve industrial success without the help of USSR and their immigrants.

After the WWII Latvia lost the quarter of  its population in 1939, 1 million 885 thousand  people in 1945 1 million 48 thousand people. The first five after the WWII in Latvia was time of great losses as the Soviet government depleted Latvian economy bringing in equal situation with rest of poor Soviet areas.

In Cold war situation the Soviet leaders promised to pull ahead the US and Western Europe. In reality the Latvian industry in technological level was far behind the western counterparts. Also the investments from Moscow for many years was far behind in investments made in old Soviet Republics and Russia itself. The resources and production made by Latvia was largely allocated to Russia and old republics. The investments were two times lover than average in USSR and Moscow according to official data published in Khrushchev times.  Latvia donor for Soviet Union not Soviet Union to Latvia.

The great rise of industrial production in Latvia was only achieved by mass immigration from Russian regions of  Nechernozemye. Surely also a significant number of intellectual and middle class Soviet immigrants came but the main part was played by lower class uneducated people from poor Soviet regions whose culture and lifestyle greatly differed from Latvians.

Another important thing to note is the great military involvement in the Latvian industry. Soviet Union started arms race already before the WWII and because of the Cold War the arms production mania was greater than before. Soviet Union invested in military equipment and nuclear weapons many times than needed. Despite the fact that both sides had already a significant amount of nuclear weapons to destroy one and another many times and conventional weapons would be useless in such war, Soviet Union continued to invest more and more in all military fields. By this the more than half of actual civilian state-run industrial enterprises  were allocated to Soviet military industrial complex. That was one of the main reasons for stagnation of the soviet economy and its collapse later on.

According to modern-day research 70% of Latvian industrial productions were allocated to the military. We know that State Electrotechnical Factory VEF produced great civilian products such as radios, telephones and other things but 80% of its production was made for military. The Soviet military was like octopus that stretched its tentacles around every Latvian factory. Even pharmacological factories made substances for chemical weapons.

By this its no wonder why the Soviet built industry collapsed so quickly after the regaining of independence. There was no longer a soviet military complex to relay on. Also as the Soviet technological level was greatly lover than the western these factories could no longer compete in international market. And that was the fault of the deeply flawed Soviet model of economy. However, the incompetence and often avidity that was present in first years after the regain of the independence was also to blame.

As mentioned before Latvia could reach prosperity without Soviet help and with soviet help it only reached it in artificial way that was deeply devastating for Latvia. The massive flow of immigrants has caused more losses for years to come than productivity of Soviet industry. It completely changed the Latvian society and has made only problems in social and national level after regain of independence. So when driving past the deserted factory blocks people should remember that advancements made by these factories were achieved in a faked way that could no longer work in independent Latvia.

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The Soviet Occupation of Latvia 1939-1940

Soviet tanks enter Riga on July 17 1940

June 17 is  another sand anniversary of the start of Soviet occupation of Latvia. It was the time that was deepest scar in the heart of Latvian nation, a scar that has not been vanished ever since. This article will describe how it happened and what consequences it made.

The ultimate fate of Latvia was settled on August 1939 23 in Moscow. Germany and Soviet Union signed a non aggression pact. The Germans needed this to have a one front war against Poland, the Soviets needed the agreement to regain lost territories of the Russian Empire and draw Europe into war where Soviet Union can join in when it’s ready. The prize of this agreement was a secret protocol that divided Poland in German and Soviet sphere of interest and gave Estonia and Latvia to Soviet side. Finland was also in Soviet sphere as much as a Romanian province of Besarabia. Originally Germans wanted its part of the Latvia- mainly Courland and Semigallia, but with the pressure of Stalin they gave up the claim. Later a new agreement was made that gave Lithuania to Soviet sphere. Stalin’s will was clear- Soviet Union must regain the lost path to Europe.

Soviet plan to occupy Baltic states was set in three parts. First sign a “mutual support agreement” that will force Baltic states to allow to establish a Soviet army garrison in their land, then force them to allow full entry of Soviet troops and after that stage a “peaceful socialist revolution” to take over the administration and annex the three states. Agreement was first signed with Estonia. The Red army mobilized across the Estonian border and was ready to attack if Estonians would refuse to sign an agreement. 25 000 Red Army troops were stationed in Estonia. In October 2 Soviets started the talks with Latvia. Latvian delegation was led by Foreign Minister Wilhelm Munter who was confronted by Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov and Stalin. Stalin’s tone was rude and straight- “If you do not sign this agreement we could occupy you!”, also Molotov gave straight warning to Munters- “You will not leave Moscow until you will sign this agreement!” In such circumstances Munters was forced to sign it and 25 000 Soviet soldiers may build their bases in Courland. After that the same was done with Lithuania.

Germany was aware of radical changes in Latvia so ordered an expatriation of German nationals from Baltic states. From 1939 to 1940 49 885 Germans were moved from Latvia to German annexed territories of Poland. Along with them many Latvians sensing the danger left Latvia. Latvian president Kārlis Ulmanis condemned them, but it was a clear indication of coming danger.

It has been discussed was there any chance to resist Soviet aggression?   Latvian army was well equipped with good discipline and morale. However they lacked the modern armor weapons, air weapons and artillery. Their 100 light tanks and airplanes were an insufficient to counter large masses of Soviet armor and infantry.  Already in 1939 the Red Army was completed with the best weapons, tanks and airplanes. Latvian militarily stuff had no real plans for defense against Soviet attack. If mobilization would occur Latvian army could gather 180 00 men, but practically only 130-135 000 men could be conscripted because of lack weapons and ammunition. At the same time the Red army had 170 000 men and 756 tanks across the Latvian border. They had 437 235 men and 3 635 tanks gathered across the borders of all three Baltic states. It seemed hopeless to withstand such horde.

Even if the Soviets had their troops in Latvia, it was still independent with a sovereign government. However Latvian leader Karlis Ulmanis was under high influence from Soviet leadership. Sadly the leadership showed cowardice and constantly crawled to Soviet leaders. Ulmanis made speeches assuring that Latvian and Soviet relations are at their best and praised Soviet leaders. If that was not enough Ulmanis send a beautiful book of Latvian  folk songs as a gift to Stalin. Ulmanis kept quiet about real situation and Latvian press only showed to positive side of the events. It tried to show that nothing bad is going on and life in Latvia continues. In fear from Soviets the Latvian government did such shameful acts as the removal of Latvian consulate from Poland hours after the start of the war. Also when Finland was attacked Latvia and Estonia allowed the Soviet fleet and air force to take action against Finland.

Stalin had decided that the Baltic states are needed to be occupied in April 1940.  To do this he ordered to make a provocation on Latvian border. In the night from 14 to 15 June the NKVD (Cheka) special forces raided the border point of Maslenki. In uneven brutal fight Soviets killed all the border guards and their wife’s and children. Also they’re captured and held captive some of them. In their old fashionable way Soviet propaganda declared that Latvian “fascists” had attacked the Soviet Union. Before Latvia, Lithuania first received an ultimatum that ordered to make changes in their government and allow entry of Red army so that mutual assistance pact can be fully fulfilled.   Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona wanted to resist the Soviets so that the world will see what happened to them. However he was not supported by the majority of the government. The Red army entered Lithuania and headed to the Latvian border. Smetona was the only Baltic states president who evacuated from Lithuania to Germany.

In  June 16 the same demands were issued in Latvia. Latvia was accused of breaking the mutual assistance pact and conspiring against the Soviet Union. All these accusations were false. Latvia subdued to Soviet demands and in June 17 Red Army entered Latvia. Main Soviet vanguard came from Lithuania, Soviets speedy took over all strategic points of Latvia.

Soviet propaganda showing Red army as the friends of the Latvian people

In 13: 00 Red army reached Riga. Red Army tanks entered the Riga Railroad station square. A large crowd of supporters in a size of 1500-200 came to great Soviet tanks. They were poor citizens that mainly came from Moscow district- a poorer district in Riga. The majority of them were Russians and Jews. In their ranks were provocateurs who heated up the crowd that started to attack Latvian horse mounted policeman. 2 rioters were killed, 80 were arrested and 60 policemen were wounded along with their horses. In all Latvia the main supporters of the occupation were lower class people from all nationalities. A large portions of Russians were generally poor and saw the rescue in the Soviet Union. The lower class Jews had illusions in the Soviet Union that it will treat them better than Latvian state. Also along with Latvians were many people who saw advantages in the occupation. The majority that disliked this event was either middle class people from all nationalities or nationalists.

The actions of Latvian government were cowardly and futile. There was no outspoken protest against the events that would reach the western governments and media. Only thing what Ulmanis did was rather shameful speech where he asked people to remain calm and not to resist the Red army. In the end he said infamous words “I will remain in my place, you remain in yours!”. Ulmanis did not step down from his presidential seat and did not resist any Soviet actions. So he helped the Soviets to take over Latvia without any problem or unneeded attention.  In this same days world was watching the fall of France and occupation of the Baltic states was beyond their attention. There was some reaction mainly in American media. In official only country that expressed strong condemnation was US. Great Britain at the same time kept quiet because they wanted to remain cool with the Soviet Union in hopes of future alliance.

Caricature from New York times 1940

Soviets send special foreign emissaries to the Baltic states to lead takeover. In Latvia things were controlled by Andrey Vyshinsky, famous for his lead trials against Stalin’s enemies during the purges. His task was to form the new government. He choose the professor of microbiology Aleksanders Kirhensteins. He was a man with a weak character and bad appearance but with big ambitions. Because of his throat operation his voice was high- pitched not suitable for public speeches.  For Interim Minister a famous writer   Vilis Lacis was chosen. He was beloved for his novels and movies that were made from them. These people were recruited by the Soviet secret service a long ago. The new government ministers were all Latvians and only two of them communists. The real rulers were behind the scenes.

Next step was to form a “Peoples Parliament”. Elections were to happen in 14-15 July. A special party “Working people’s bloc” was formed to run for elections. The government attempted to prevent other parties from running  by giving only 6 days to make a new party list. However an ex diplomat and ex minister of justice Atis Ķenins, court senators Voldemars Zamuels and Mintauts Čakste, lawyer Peteris Bergis and proffer Konstantin Čakste managed to form a list called “Democratic Block” with slogan “For free, independent, democratic Latvia”. Communists were aware of  their low popularity in Latvia and feared victory of the Democratic Block.  They did everything to prevent DB from to print their political platform. However DB managed to do that and printed 100 000 copies of their goals. Soviets reacted swiftly and arrested Atis Ķenins and sent him to Kazakhstan. Five years later he returned to Riga.

In so there was only one runner for elections. In communist controlled press   warnings were given to those who did not want to participate in elections.  On election day a special checkup was done on all vote ballots before they were dropped into the ballot box. They checked if the ballot has no crossed out names only then allowed to cast them. Official result was 97% votes for Working Peoples Block. However Soviets did a mistake by declaring the election result to English press when the elections were still underway. That means that election result was defined in Moscow even before the counting begun.

In July 21 “Peoples parliament” gathered in National Theater and declared the takeover of the Soviet power. A Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed. On the same day Karlis Ulmanis was arrested and deported to Russia. Before he was promised to be allowed to leave Latvia when the takeover would end. Ulmanis was sent to Stavropol and to Turkmenistan where he died and was buried in an unknown place in the city of Turkmenebashy (Krasnovodsk) in 1942.

On August 5 a delegation of “Peoples government and parliament” went to Moscow to officially “ask” LSSR to join the Soviet Union. With Stalin himself present Aleksander Kirhenstein gave a speech in the Kremlin. Stalin decided to “grant” the Latvian request and Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Soviet propaganda machine did its best to show that the events that were happening in Latvia were in fact a “socialist revolution”. A large parades were held along with manifestations. No doubt there were persons who enjoyed to take part in these activities. Others were involved with force.

The occupation of Latvia is a proven fact. There are many documents that prove that and accounts by witnesses of that time. The Russian denial of this fact is based on fears to take responsibility for the actions of their past leader. It also can change the status of soviet immigrants that live in Latvia. No matter what Russia and their supporters abroad will say the time could not hide what happened in Latvia during 1939 -1940. Lets hope that something like this will never happen again.

Communist supporter demonstration 1940

Selected Sources:

Nollendorfs, Valters (Ed)(2005) The three Occupations of Latvia, 1940-1991 : soviet and nazi take-overs and their consequences. Riga : Occupation Museum Foundation

Dītrihs, Andrejs, Lēbers (Ed.) (1995) Latvijas okupācija un aneksija, 1939-1940 : dokumenti un materiāli.Riga.

Bleiere, Daina, Feldmanis, Inesis, Butulis, Ilgvars, Zunda, Antonijs. (2008) Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā : (1939-1945). Riga: Jumava.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda. Vol.2.

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