Tag Archives: Soviet repressions

Latvians in the Soviet Political Elite 1920-1937

Latvian nation has suffered from the soviet repressions like no other. However, among ranks of communist supporters and top officials Latvians took a high position. It happened because of the nature of the times before the Russian revolution and after. On the beginning of the 20th century the New Current (Jaunā Strāva) was most strongest Latvian leftist movement from whom many Latvian future social democrats and communists emerged. The revolution of 1905 was directed by Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. Before World War I some Latvians moved to Russia to look for new farmland, while intellectuals like Krišjānis Valdemārs, Krišjānis Barons, Baumaņu Kārlis and others established carriers in Petersburg and Moscow. The German invasion in 1915 made hundreds of thousand Latvians go on refuge to Russia. Locals in Moscow begun to notice that city is full with Latvians and Jews, who were forced to leave Lithuania and Latvia. The fall of Russian invasion made many previously mistreated minorities including Latvians to believe  its their time to take power for themselves. And since Bolshevism an international movement in its roots seemed the most popular and strongest choice many Latvians chose the soviet way. In future it turned out an ill fated tragic choice, but in 1917 the perspective of independent Latvian state seemed far from reality.

The story about the Red Latvian Rifleman is told here.  This is story about top Latvian communist members during first twenty years of the Soviet Union. After peace agreement with Latvia on August 11 1920 more than 200 Latvians refugees moved back to Latvia. But many stayed either because of problems making impossible to return or because of ideological convictions. According to Soviet census of 1926 151 410 Latvians lived in Soviet Union along with them 9707 Latgalians who were counted separately. 12 thousand lived in Leningrad and 10 thousand in Moscow.  The census of 1939 counted 128 345 Latvians and  13 869 Latgalians. Official data showed the loss of 23 065 Latvians that was just blank reminder of repressions made towards people once loyal to the Soviet system.

After the end of the Russian Civil War, the percentage of Latvians within communist party was rather high. Latvians were second to Russians in numbers of pre revolutionary members. Some Latvians moved back to Latvia and continued to work as communist party members in underground. On 1927 there was 11  680 Latvian communist party members and 1656 party member candidates. From Latvia either being  deported or emigrated 1301 Latvian communists. Latvians were in better situation than other party members especially Russians because of their education already acquired before World war, while there was 5% or non reading members. Readability among Latvians were 79% in Soviet Union. Latvians also knew more than one foreign language mostly German. So it was no wonder that Latvians took posts in many soviet ministries and state enterprises.

Pēteris Stučka

Pēteris Stučka

The patriarch of Latvian   communists was Pēteris Stučka the veteran of the Latvian Social democrats and leader of the Latvian Soviet government on 1918-1920. After 1920 he no longer took any important post, but was regarded as a symbol for Latvian communists. From 1923 he was a chairman of the Supreme Court of Russian Soviet Federal Soviet Republic. He also lead the Latvian Communist Party and its Central Committee Foreign Bureau. Stučka was a a gifted jurist and academician. Stučka often questioned the legal side of the actions of the Emergency Commission (Cheka), however allowed red terror in Latvia during his rule on 1919-1920. Stučka was genuine follower of Lenin and his ideas and after his death his influence started to crumble. On 1925-1927 he edited the first Soviet Encyclopedia of State and Law. On 1927 after reforming the court system he became deputy of the RSFSR Commissar of Justice. On 1929 he was elected as professor of  the civil rights in Moscow 1st University. 1930 was the last good year for Stučka as his 65 anniversary was celebrated in party Moscow committee Red Hall and awarded with Order of Red Banner of Labor. Stučka still hopped that Latvia will be one day again with Soviets.

On 1931 he became director of the Soviet faculty of justice. He was not found of Stalinist brutal policies against farmers and peasants during collectivization campaign. He was known for his radical agricultural reforms that lead to breakdown of the communist order on 1918-1919 in Latvia. Stučka was aware of coming Stalin’s repressions against his party members. The criticism on his past actions and academic views grew stronger on 1931 and 1932. On January 24 1932 the Latvian Communist party made plenum insisting on  investigating the mistakes of old social democratic elite and its inability to follow Bolshevik way. It was also hint on Stučka himself. He died next day from natural causes, escaping the fate of his comrades. Stučka was taken out of history after Stalin’s purge, but later was taken out of the closet a city was named after him known today as Aizkraukle.  His monuments were installed in Rīga and Aizkraukle. Some Russian tourists mistaken his monument for Stalin were delighted that “Latvians still honor Stalin”.

Jānis Rudzutaks

Jānis Rudzutaks

Most prominent Latvian within party ranks was Jānis Rudzutaks.  Born in August 15 1887 Rudzutaks started as member of the Latvian Social democrats in Ventspils. He was arrested in 1907 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was sent to Butirki prison in Moscow and released on 1917. Together with Felix Dzerzhinsky he was released by the revolting workers. Soon he was elected as the chairman of the Moscow Textile trade union and organized resistance against the Provisional government.  After the coup of October he was elected in All-Russia Trade Union Central Soviet Executive Committee and after that in presidium. He took over important posts in economical sector  in All Russia National Economy soviet, Moscow Economical Soviet and Workers and peasant defense soviet. On 1918 he became personally involved with Lenin who regarded him as his right hand man. He was responsible for supply routes trough Volga river after the main railroads were cut.

On 1919 he was sent to install soviet power in Turkestan (Turkmenistan) where he took hostile action against the will of the local Turkmenian communists to create a united Turkic Soviet republic. Rudzutaks was respected for his work helping Bolsheviks taking over all Central Asia. On 1920 Lenin made him a member of National economy Supreme Soviet council. On 1921 in  Russian Communist Party IX congress he was elected for the first time as the member of the Central Committee. Rudzutaks established a trade union policy that was approved by Lenin. Trade Unions with his help were brought under the state control.

Rudzutaks prominence grew as he was sent to soviet diplomatic delegation at Genoa  where he staunchly defended the Soviet foreign claims and backed down any western calls to return the old tsarists debts. Rudzutaks continued to work on fulfilling the  soviet power in Central Asia and took part in making the new borders of the Central Asian republics. The borders still used today by the independent Central Asian countries. On 1923 he was elected as secretary of the Communist Party and worked along with Stalin and Molotov. At 1923 Rudzutaks grew ill and Lenin had ordered him to take time of for recovery, however Rudzutaks fanatically resisted and continued his work.

There were rumors than in his last days Lenin had wanted Rudzutaks to replace Stalin as the General Secretary. Rudzutaks took important role in his funeral, carried is coffin to Red Square making him one of the closest man next to deceased leader. However, despite postmortem Lenin call to replace Stalin as General Secretary, Stalin kept his place. Lenin did not name the replacement for  Stalin. Rudzutaks was criticized among his members for indecision. Also in line for power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin Rudzutaks was caught in the middle. Rudzutaks was Central Committee candidate. Rudzutaks played between Stalin, Trotsky, Buharin making historians struggling on which side he was cause he also praised Stalin. However, Stalin on 1925 suspected him together with Zinoyev and Kamenev in plot to replace him as General Secretary. On 1927 Rudzutaks insisted that Stalin should be re-elected as General Secretary.

On 1931 Rudzutaks became the head  of the Central control commission and Worker-peasant inspection commissariat that was responsible for enforcing stalinist collectivization policies . On 1932 Rudzutaks sided with Stalin on his campaign against Zinoyev and Kamenev. Stalin entrusted Rudzutaks to lead the “party cleansing” within his lead Central Control Commission. On 1934 the commission was liquidated to empower Stalin Rudzutaks was elected as candidate of the Politburo. Rudzutaks was also responsible for restoring railroad tracks as commissar of the roads. By his lead the railroads were restored, new locomotives were built . Also river and sea routes were improved his economic management skills were recognized the most.

Amateur film maker Rudzutaks stayed in power until 1937. Stalin has recognized him as rival and part of old “October guard” that he wanted to replace with his loyal Stalinist nomenklatura. Stalin required a loyal party that would fulfill his  every order without questioning. On May 18 Stalin sent poll letter to Central Committee where he asked to exclude the Rudzutaks from the party together with marchall Mikhail Tukhachevsky for taking part in trotskyst conspiracy and espionage on behalf of the Nazi Germany. With Stalin abstaining the vote was “for”. On May 24 Rudzutaks was arrested along with his brother Voldemārs. After trial which received low publicity Rudzutaks was executed on July 29 1938. Rudzutaks was convinced communist, a potential Stalin’s rival for power but if not executed would follow Stalin until the end. He had lost his connection with Latvia  since 1907 and despite contacts with Latvians in Russia never displayed any sign of national affection, always stayed true to his internationalist convictions.

Kārlis Baumanis who graduated the Kiev commercial institute and took part in Civil War in Ukraine on 1923 made it to Communist Party Central Committee. He was assigned as the head of the Moscow organizational and cadre assignment committee.  On 1928 he became the its first secretary and then on 1929 as secretary of CK and candidate of the politburo. His success however was short-lived next year he was discharged from Moscow committee for difficulties during collectivization. He was chosen as a scapegoat for Stalin’s fallacies during collectivization. He however kept the CK secretary and was sent to Central Asia as the first secretary of Central Asian bureau. As others he ended his life shot in 1937.

Ivars Smilga  on the right side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga on the left side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga was a revolutionary old-timer from 1905. He was in prison in Russia before 1917 and after revolution was member of Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic War Soviet. He took part in the organizing the October coup on 1917 and moved the Bolshevik forces from Finland to Petrograd. From 1919 to 1921 he was the head of the Red Army Political Department. Along with Mikhail Tukhachevsky, he led the Seventh Army during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920. After the end of the war he moved to economical work in National Economical Supreme Soviet and in State Plan Commission. A friend of Stalin at first who lived with his family for a while Smilga on 1927 became convinced anti-Stalinist. On October 7 the day of October revolution Smilga openly displayed large banner from his flat with slogan”Without Lenin, along the Leninist way” with portraits of Lenin and Trotsky. Soviet militsiya stormed his apartment to remove it. Smilga lead the opposition rallies against Stalin, but was deported to Siberia. His deportation was followed by opposition protest at the train station. On 1929 his party membership was restored, but he kept his anti-Stalinist beliefs even when meeting Stalin face to face. After Kirov was assassinated on 1935 Smilga was again arrested and on 1938 shot.

Vilhelms Knoriņš took many posts. He was head of the Central Committee Agitation and Propaganda, and was member of editorial board of the newspaper Pravda and journal Bolshevik. Also lead the Party History Institute. He was convinced Stalinist who followed Stalin’s view that historians who research history in archives are the “archive rats”. History and science as whole should only be according to Marxist – Leninist principles.  That means history could be faked. As others he was erased from history on 1938.

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe born in Dobele on 1890 begun his carrier at the age of 15 during 1905 revolution. He was arrested many times, and then went to England. He returned on 1911 and while doing work in factory he became top member of the Latvian Social democrats. Eihe was moved towards Bolsheviks and supported Lenin. On 1914 he was arrested again and sent to Siberia. He escaped his imprisonment and returned to Latvia on 1917 took part in the Bolshevik took over of the Latvian Social democrats. After Germans captured Riga he stayed there underground was arrested, but escaped again and later moved to Moscow. During the Soviet Rule in Latvia on 1919 he was the Commissar of Provisions and imposed heavy food rations. After Soviets were forced to leave Riga he moved to Russia and took care of provisions on other front sectors.

On 1922 he arrived at Novosibirsk. As man known for his fierce loyalty to the party orders and ruthless way of carrying out them he was the man needed for the job of the chief deputy of the Siberian Revolutionary Committee. In Siberia Eihe to keep low food prices made heavy repressions against the local farmers and dealers. Following the shift from the Lenins New Economic Policy to Stalin’s Gulag Economy Eihe showed how it should be done. Repressions against so-called Kulaks were the Eihe’s preoperative and used “troijka” type tribunals were  three party officials in fast pace made trials and sentences. On 1929 Stalin visited Siberia and was impressed with Eihe’s work. He became the first Secretary of the Western Siberian district. With full power over Siberia Eihe reported to Stalin that he will turn Siberia into industrial and collectivized Siberia. He was fully dependent on Moscow  and had to fulfill every Stalin’s order. But he did them all with ruthless precision. Eihes camps for kulaks were regarded as the best in the Soviet Union by the party leaders. Eihe started to develop concentration camp system in far Northern Siberia that later turned out in Gulag system. 17 525 kulak families were repressed on 1931 39 788 families. Local party functionaries stood against the harsh methods of Eihe and sent letter to Stalin asking to replace him. Instead Stalin punished those who accused his most trusted comrade.

After that Eihe was unquestioned “ruler of Siberia”. Eihe provided camps for deported kulaks and forced peasants to join collective farms. Last great deportation in Western Siberia took place on 1936. He also managed the deportation of the ethnic Germans from European part of Russia.  Eihe was awarded with the Order of Lenin and promoted as candidate of the  Central Committee member of Politburo.

The “Old Guard” of the October coup did all the best for Stalin to reach absolute power. He no longer needed them. Eihe, Rudzutaks and other Latvians were driven to same fanaticism as Stalin. But megalomaniac Stalin after consolidating his  power now was preparing for the next step. Despite the slogan “socialism in one state”, Stalin wanted Worldwide Socialist Revolution to happen and now was preparing for future war. In so he needed the most loyal party cadres who would follow his plan. And he distrusted many of his most loyal old guard comrades like Eihe. In the war where the Baltic States should be annexed, Poland attacked and Germany fought with, Latvian, German, Polish communists were considered as foreign spies a dangerous national element that had to be dealt with. Eihe was arrested on April 1938 and was accused of state treason. On October 1 1939 Eihe wrote the letter to Stalin and denied the accusations: “There is no greater torment, than siting in prison of a country that I had fought for all my life”. Eihe stood strong against all accusations wrote another long strong worded letter to Stalin. He was tortured and   lost his eye from beating but still denied of being a foreign spy. On February 2 1940 Eihe was executed after three years of prison and constant torture.

That was the end of the Latvian communist political elite. These are just few of the many persons who served the Soviet power that turned against them and their homeland in quest for global supremacy. A separate articles about Latvians in Cheka, the Red Army and Latvian Soviet cultural elite that also was doomed by Stalin will follow in the future.


Goldmanis,Juris (Editor) 2013 Latvieši PSRS varas virsotnēs : ilūzijas un traģēdija: 20. gadsimta 20.-30. gadi.  Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.


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Soviet Psychiatry of Punishment. Latvian Example

The Riga Psychiatric Hospital was made to help and cure. But, for some it became a new kind of Gulag prison camp.

The Riga Psychiatric Hospital was made to help and cure. But, for some it became a new kind of Gulag prison camp.

After the death of Joseph Stalin the Gulag was closed down and the numbers of the arrested people dropped significantly over the years. However, the Soviet repressive state apparatus still continued to exists and searched for more refined ways to punish and isolate those who did not agree with the Soviet state. And the psychiatry originally a medical science to help mentally ill persons, now was used to punish completely sane persons for being anti-soviet dissidents. The disbelief for the soviet propaganda or making anti-governmental acts was viewed as a sign of mental illness. Instead of sending to prisons where legal appeals were possible, people were declared mentally unfit and confined in mental wards. In long run this turned out to be even more effective way of punishment. After release from the mental ward, people were unable to get job in many professions because of the official documents that gave them discouraging diagnose. The illegitimate diagnose served as a tool of isolation from the society. Even after twenty years since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Latvian lawmakers only now has made a law that will rehabilitate the victims of the Psychiatry of punishment.

Soviet secret police had taken interest in field of psychiatry before the WW2. On 1939 NKVD the Soviet secret service took control over the psychiatric hospital in Kazan. It became one of the first Psychiatric Prison Hospitals in Soviet Union nicknamed Psikushka’s. After the end of WW2 on 1948 Andrey Vyshinsky first ordered to use psychiatry as a tool for punishment. Russian psychiatrist Pyotr Gannushkin also believed that in a class society, especially during the most severe class struggle, psychiatry was incapable of not being repressive. In so the Punishment Psychiatry was discovered during the Stalinist rule. But, it became prominent after the death of Stalin and denouncement of his repressions. Soviets were unable to maintain open repressions of the political dissenters because of the relative liberalization so they used more sinister methods.  On 1959 Nikita Khrushchev the heir of Stalin declared that persons that resist  the Soviet power are mentally ill. And Latvia as occupied part of the Soviet Union was no stranger to this methods.

Pēteris Lazda was PHD student in the Faculty of Law in the Latvian State University. In his dissertation he discussed the possibility of Latvian breakaway from the Soviet Union as it was granted by its constitution. It was no secret that these rights exists only on paper and the Moscow will never grant such right to any soviet republic by its own will. However, Lazda stressed that statewide poll might help to decide this question  and received the KGB attention. He was removed from the PHD studies or aspirantura as it was called then. Lazda decided not to quit and spread out the leaflets asking the deputies of the Latvian communist government to make decision of breakaway from the Soviet Union until June 1 1974.What he proposed was according to constitutions.

Consequently he was arrested by KGB. His case was made in 33 volumes, however the prosecutors wanted a mental expertise for the suspect could be too sick to face the court. There was n0 other way for in case of open trial Lazda might say the same things  as in leaflets and his dissertation. Asking to fulfill the constitution in trial would be very disadvantageous for the Soviet regime. So instead he was kept in prison camera, while the trial went without his presence. The Law Psychiatrist Ērika Rāta stood as witness and concluded that Lazda is mentally ill and needs to be sent to special mental institutions to be forcibly medicated.

As result Lazda was sent to Gulag of his own. Moved from one clinic to another, together with mentally ill people of all kinds in anti-sanitary environment. Patients were subjected to beating and forced medication. Lazda was forced to swallow capsules containing dubious substances and was checked with a big spoon to see if he had swallowed them. In case of resistance he received injections of Amizonum  a powerful drug that paralyzes the human movement and his senses.  Many of the patients could not withstand the destructive side effects of these medications and became even sicker than before entering the hospital. That was the very point of the forced medication- making sane man insane with use of powerful mind altering drugs.

Lazda was rescued by the alarmed human right groups in the west and Latvian exiles. To escape public international protests Lazda was released and granted asylum. In West  Germany a group of Medicine doctors and one professor made an independent expertise and concluded that his diagnose was made for political reasons.

Jānis Apse was born in Siberia since his parents were deported in March 25 1949. He graduated Polytechnic Institute in Tomsk. However, his anti-soviet views were the reason for diagnosing him with paranoid schizophrenia. For three months he was forcibly medicated with drugs who directly affected his central nervous system. His profession was heating system engineer. With such diagnosis it was almost impossible to work in this field.

Ivans Jahmivočs and Sandris Riga made an underground Christian movement. On 1969 they were arrested and from the prison ended up in various mental wards. The Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher stood up for their release. These are just few of the many hundred such stories. People subjected to such repressions tend to hide their unjust diagnosis because of humiliation and negative view from society.

Today there are many professions that require mental checkups. And if a person for ever what reason was diagnosed as mentally unfit during the Soviet occupation, he cannot work in this profession. And the same applies for people who were diagnosed for political reasons. For many years Latvian lawmakers were unable to design laws to rehabilitate them. To appeal the diagnosis person had to gather documents in archive and go the mental institution. And since many of the Soviet time medical personnel are still working there such task seems unpleasant to say the least.

Many of the doctors who issued these fake diagnoses were forced by the KGB. However, that does not prevent them from defending their actions. Some of them say that mentally fit persons perfectly understood how the soviet system worked and behaved accordingly. In so those who opposed or criticized the soviet occupation were not diagnosed without reason. That does not go far from the Nikita Khrushchev rhetoric. Others say that schizophrenic people often share political views. And that KGB was smart enough to recognize if their suspect is mentally unfit.

On January 2013  amendment for the law concerning the rehabilitation of politically repressed was made by Juris Judins from the Unity party. His amendment was however turned down by the Juridical commission of parliament. A alternate law was made by National Alliance lead by Human rights and Society commission and on June 20 2013 it was approved by parliament. The law still includes expertise report from Riga Psychiatry and Narkology center as its impossible to legally bypass this institution. We shall see how this law will work and how many people will be able to restore their justice.

The biased use of psychiatry during the Soviet occupation has made very negative effect on mental treatment today. People are afraid of mental diagnosis and especially the  mental hospitals. Because of the inhuman conditions in Soviet psychiatric hospitals that in some cases still persists today, they still rather viewed as prison camps than hospitals. Worst part that this psychiatry of punishment is still widely used in modern Russia. There have been many cases of political activists of all kinds ending up in mental wards. The danger still persists in Latvia itself. The freelance journalist Leonīds Jākobsons leaked private email conversations of Major of Riga Nil Ushakov that proved his ties with Moscow authorities. In result Jākabsons was pursued by police investigation and placed into mental ward to check if he is mentally fit. After the expertise failed to prove he has mental problems he was released. Later he was attacked by unknown assailants on the stairway of his house.  This proves that these Soviet traditions of punishment is far from over and may return in full-scale if we are not too careful.

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KGB in Latvia

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The Soviet Secret Service widely known as Committee for State Security or KGB was a direct successor of the All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or simply known as Cheka founded in 1917. Since then the Soviet secret service has changed its name many times. It was known as OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB and finally from 1954 as KGB.  But, the very basis of this secret police has always stayed the same: strict protection of the communist party and its power. The KGB was omnipresent in every part of the Soviet life and it did everything to combat any means of the anti-Soviet movement.  For 50 years KGB also did everything to keep Latvia under the Soviet Iron fist.

During the first years after the war, the Secret police was preoccupied with battling the armed resistance movement. There were even cases of CIA and M16 involvement when Western allies sent special commandos to aid the national partisans. The CIA and M16 had naive belief that the partisan movements in the Baltic States and the Eastern Europe will weaken the Soviet Union and would help to crush it. However, the NKVD was aware of this and all western agents fell in their traps. The national partisan movement was eventually crushed and KGB now was more afraid of the non-violent resistance.

The Khrushev “Thaw” pawed way for more freedoms for the intelligentsia. For instance Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was freed and released his eponymous One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which revealed the Stalinist crimes. This made many to question the Soviet policies and their past. As Khrushchev was deposed, KGB started to combat such authors. On 1967 the new Fifth Department was made in the ranks of the KGB to combat “ideological diversions”. KGB believed that the intelligent anti-Soviet movement is directed by the Western secret service. Before that the task combating the “anti-Soviet elements”  was given to the Second Department of the counter-intelligence. While the Second Department was searching for foreign agents the Fifth Department now was searching for ideological dissidents.

The usual task was monitoring the Latvian emigration and foreign radio stations. The creative intelligentsia – artists, writers, actors and composers were under the KGB watch.  The Latvian nationalist movements like “Helsinki-86”, “Latvian National Independence Movement” and the “Environmental Club” was monitored and persecuted. When “Latvian Peoples Front” became the most active force for independence it was under the KGB watch. The KGB also monitored the national minorities like Germans and Jews. The KGB was involved in youth and student activities and closely watched them.

The nationalism was a prime concern for the KGB. Latvia was overflown with immigrants from the Soviet Union. The cultural differences between Latvians and the immigrants was very visible. Despite the official calls for national equality the Russian speaking immigrants were more privileged than  local Latvians. Also the Russian language was placed above Latvian language. However, Latvians themselves did not do much to force immigrants accept Latvian language and culture. For instance in Estonia, the local Estonians were more reluctant to speak Russian and enforced their rules on immigrants. Immigrants in Latvia took the Latvian passivity for granted and dictated their rules. This all made very bad national micro-climate in the national relations. However, most Latvians understood that the regime is too stable to stood openly against it.

Because of that KGB was occasionally accusing people of “masked actions against the Soviet order”. This usually involved private conversations where people condemned the Soviet power and praised the pre-war Latvian Republic. KGB had informants in many working collectives. The KGB was concerned about people who refused to hang out the flag of LSSR or USSR. The KGB also discovered that in case of foreign invasion the locals cannot be trusted. Two fake groups landed with parachutes near Ventspils. First group head for the city and was discovered and stopped. Other one was heading inland and met many locals, who did not report them.

Soviets destroyed many monuments built-in the time of the Latvian Republic. However, they were unable to remove the Monument of Freedom and the Brothers War Cemetery. At least what could they do was placing trolleybus depot around the monument. However, people still went there and placed flowers. They were arrested by militsya (Soviet police) and taken to KGB. KGB was aware that many people on every November 2 in so-called Totensonntag – the Lutheran commemoration day for the death comes to commemorate not their relatives, but the leaders of the Latvian Republic. People like the first president of Latvia – Jānis Čakste and general Jānis Balodis. Many restrictions were made and cemeteries were monitored day and night.

Soviets were afraid of the international radio broadcasting. Latvian leading companies VEF and Radiotehnika made brilliant receivers, however they could also receive the Western broadcasts aimed at Latvians. The Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America had their Latvian service. From 1948 Soviets built powerful jamming systems. People who listened to western broadcasters were reported and arrested by KGB. For a short time in the Seventies the jamming was halted when the relations with the US improved. Soon after the crushing of the “Solidarity” movement, the jamming was resumed until it was halted completely in 1986.

KGB was suspicious about Latvians leaving Soviet Union for trips and people from the West arriving here. KGB checked every application for visa. Often when large group of tourists went on a trip, a KGB informant was included to control them. KGB was worried about the intentions of the Latvian exiles who entered Latvia to meet their relatives. Actions were made to monitor them and ideologically influence them. In return Latvian exiles started to view their compatriots who visited Latvia with suspicion. KGB installed listening devices in the main hotels, after the collapse of the USSR they were removed in secret.

KGB was also aware of the anti-Soviet literature. Many sailors brought it home and sell it as contraband. Books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or the Latvian exiled authors were confiscated. Local intelligentsia made self published books or samizdat. The restricted books were kept in special funds and could only be viewed with special permission. Sometimes even the most loyal communists were affected by the restricted literature.

  Singing songs with national content was also a crime. Old songs from the pre-war times or even worse the Latvian Legion songs were viewed as deeply danger0us. As new tape-recorders were invented, the possibility of copying illegal songs became widespread. The Latvian famous band in exile “Čikāgas Piecīši” became a fad. Everybody had heard about them, but nobody had seen them. KGB disliked the hippy movement and later rock music. Being a hippy or a rocker was soon understood as a sign of dissent. KGB was unable to stop them. Rock bands inspired by the western music appeared. Although it was unthinkable to write openly critical songs, many had “between the lines”. Rock band “Pērkons” (Thunder)  was the experts in this. Even when they were officially shut down, they reformed under the name “Soviet Latvia” and authorities were unable to stop them. After new perestroika policy, the song texts became more aggressive and  open calling for independence. That’s why many call the regaining of independence as “the singing revolution”.

The youth was viewed as potentially dangerous factor to the Soviet power. Soviet ideal youngster first went trough Pioneer movement, then entered the Komsomol – the Young Communist movement and joins the party in result. But, not all were so perfect. Some secretly embraced the national ideals, others joined punk, hippy and Hare Krishna movement. People caught doing anti-Soviet stuff was put under “prophylaxis” that meant ideological re-education. In schools and higher education facilities informants were placed to report illegal activities. The school teachers and lecturers were also under the KGB pressure.

KGB was eager to fight political dissidents. One of the most famous Latvian political dissident was Gunārs Astra. Despite many persecutions and imprisonments he was far from giving up. In his last court he spoke openly about the russification and occupation and said prophetic words “I believe that this time will go away like bad nightmare”. Astra died in prison. Writer Knuts Skuejenieks spent 7 years in Mordovia prison. Lidija Lasmane Doroņina suffered from many arrests and imprisonments. Latvian dissidents were often stabbed in the back by traitors employed by the KGB. KGB was capable of placing listening bugs in the dissident apartments and also listen to the telephone conversations. The head of the KGB Yuri Andropov even wanted to bug the phones of every Moscow citizen. They told him that its technically possible, but it would require enormous size of workers to monitor all the conversations.

The Jewish minority who survived the Holocaust was thankful to Soviets for rescuing them. However, the Soviets answered by suppressing the Zionist movement and openly condemned Israel. Not only that – the commemoration of the Holocaust was deemed as nationalistic. Soviet propaganda disregarded genocide against individual nations, because everyone in USSR was officially viewed as the “united soviet nation”. The mass murder site at Rumbula forest was the center of the Zionist activities. People gathered there to commemorate the victims and placed signs. KGB chased them away and removed the monuments. Eventually Jews managed to place commemorative stones, if they would not include the word “Jewish” and no Jewish symbolism. If not the Star of David was scrapped or monument was even removed. Many Jews wanted to move away to Israel or US. Soviets were desperately trying to stop this, however because of the international condemnation many thousands of Jews managed to leave.  There was even a case when a group of Latvian and Russian Jews attempted to hijack a plane in Leningrad to leave USSR. They were arrested on spot, the international condemnation saved them from death sentence. Also local Baltic Germans who still lived in Latvia wanted to leave for West Germany sparking KGB resistance.

As the time went KGB found it more difficult to control the masses. The technologies went ahead, connections with the Western world deepened. Even illegal possession of western porn movie was seen as act of anti-Soviet resistance. But, when Gorbachev introduced his democratic reforms the KGB became paralyzed. The work of the KGB was thwarted by many new liberties and the Western eyes were watching on the Baltic State more than before. First nationalistic movement Helsinki-86 in 1987 who heated up the society by openly commemorating the deportations of June 14 and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were halted and their leaders exiled. However in 1988 the KGB was unable to stop people waiving national flags and chanting nationalist slogans. All national organizations were monitored, but even placing informants and provocateurs did not help. The economic failure of the USSR was eminent and large masses now stood against the Soviet order.

KGB now have to answer a tough question – return to Stalinist style repressions or let the country collapse. The return to Stalinism was impossible, Gorbachev had promised too much  to the western leaders. Baltic States and Moscow was full with western media. Everyone wished for Soviets to “go west”. After the communist party lost its monopoly and Latvia declared restoration of the independence, KGB played a desperate double game. By using the “Interfont” movement and special OMON forces, KGB hoped to spark national violence to install presidential order from Moscow. When it failed, the last straw was the 1991 August coup. After the coup failed large crowd entered the KGB headquarters in Stabu street. The KGB agents were forced to handover ID cards and all of their archives. KGB was made illegal. Current law states that ex KGB agents cannot take in the politics. However, many of them owns large businesses like Juris Savickis the head of the energy company Itera, that imports the gas from Russia. The full list of KGB agents are yet to published, however the large part of the KGB archives are available to researcher allowing us to see the real nature of this draconian institution.

Selected History:

Bergmanis,Aldis, Zālīte, Indulis.(2007) Latvijas PSRS Valsts drošības komiteja un sabiedrības ideoloģiskā kontole (1965-1990). In book: Okupētā Latvija 1940-1900. Latvijas vēsturnieku komisijas raksti 19. sējums. Rīga. Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds.

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

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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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Soviet Mass Deportations of June 14 1941

The arrested people were loaded into cattle trains and taken to camps in Siberia

The June 14 was one of the darkest nights of the Latvian nation. Thousands of people were taken from their homes and loaded on freight trains and taken to Siberia. Whole families, women, children and old people were sent to death camps in Siberia. This terrific crime was done by the Soviet occupation regime, ordered by high authorities in Moscow.

In  August 23 1939  Soviet Union and Germany signed non aggression agreement the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact. Latvia was included in the Soviet sphere of interest. On  June 17 1940 Latvia was occupied by Soviet forces. As the Karlis Ulmanis government was removed new illegitimate elections were held in June 21 1940 with only one party list “electing”fake parliament which made resolution to join the Soviet Union. The resolution was drawn up in Moscow already before. Latvia became part of the Soviet Union in August 5  and on 25 August all people in Latvia became citizens of the Soviet Union. The Ministry of Foreign affairs was closed isolating Latvia from the rest of the world.

Occupation was locally administered by a Latvian Communist Party that became part of the main All Union Communist (Bolshevik) Party. From the first days of occupation it loyally carried out all orders from Moscow. The main task was the liquidation of the “bourgeois” state apparatus and establishment of the Soviet state apparatus everywhere. In economical field the task was the elimination the private property.

 From the first days of occupation the campaign against the enemies of the regime begun. The puppet government lead by Augusts Kirhensteins called to wipe out all reactionary and nationalist elements from the state apparatus by all means.

 So the first arrests of  the “people’s enemies” and “alien class enemies” begun. The first victims were members of the Latvian Army and National Guards (Aizsargi). The number of arrests rose from 20 in June 1940 to 300 in August 1941. On August 30 the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic Peoples Commiserate of Interior was established lead by Alfons Noviks. The NKVD officers appointed from Moscow such as Semyon Shustin became the main organizers of repressions. An underground prison was made at Riga Brivibas Street Nr. 37/39 that became the place of torture and death for political prisoners of Latvia.

 Local repressive authorities gathered lists of “people’s enemies” in all Soviet western republics. First deportations already were carried out in the occupied area of Eastern Poland. Polish nationals were first to be sent to Siberia. The decision of mass deportations was made on May 14 1941, by Moscow authorities. The draft order stated that in the Baltic states there is a considerable amount of former members of counter-revolutionary nationalist parties, former policemen, gendarmes, landlords, civil servants of the former government who carry out destructive anti-Soviet activities. Local Interior commissariats were allowed to arrest these people, confiscate their property and deport them to concentration camps for five to eight years. After passing the sentence they will be settled in remote areas of the Soviet Union.   On  May 19 1941  an instruction was sent out to local authorities about how to carry out the deportations. To make the list of the deported people LSSR PCSS central authorities, departments of districts, cities and towns as well as the staff of the Baltic Special Military district prepared the files of the persons to be arrested and deported. The main persons involved in this were Semyon Shustin, Janis Cinis and A. Brezgins.

Shortly before the deportation in  June 14 1941, the Peoples Commissariat established operational groups who preformed arrests, search and seizure of the property. Whole families were arrested and taken to train stations where trains made to transport the cattle awaited them. The arrests took place in all parts in Latvia including rural areas.

The main deportation routes and locations of the camps

  According to research made by Latvian State Archive in 2001, 15, 424 people were deported of them 5, 259 were arrested in 14, June actions in Latvia. Of nationalities 11 418 Latvians, 1771 Jews, 742 Russians, 36 Germans and other nationalities 247 were deported. Of professions 616 merchants, 306 policemen, 29 prison guards, 166 army officers, 7 deputies, 6 diplomats, 31 judges 71 teachers, 24 doctors, 7 clergyman, 15 students, 39 foresters, 1345 peasants, 44 chiefs of pagasts (small rural areas) 13 secretaries of pagasts. The breakdown by nationality and profession of the reported peoples are not completely  accurate  since not all archive files contain such information.

The deported people ended in the Soviet prison camp system also called Gulag. Latvians were sent to Yuhnov, Vyatka, Norilsk, North Uralian labor camp Sevurrallag, Usolye, and to Astrakhan prison. The working and living conditions in the camps were extremely hard. Often there were no light or heating, no possibility to wash themselves or wash and dry clothes in the barracks. People were forced to work to complete exhaustion often 16 hours a day without any proper tools, just hands only. Because of the lack of proper clothes in the bitter cold and extremely small food portions 3 400 prisoners died at their places of imprisonment. Because of that Soviet prison camp could also be called death camps. Unlike the Nazi camps where people were killed systematically, the Soviet camps took their prisoners to slow painful death by imposing hard work and life conditions. Mostly the male prisoners died, families lost their fathers. A large number of children spent their childhoods in Siberia.

On 1948 those who served their sentence in the camps were sent to settlement “forever”. They had no passport, just identity card. The places of settlement were Abana, Achinsk, Bogotol, Boguchani, Dzerzhinsk, Irbeisk, Kansk, Kozulka, Partizansk, Taseyo and other districts in Krasnoyarsk area, also in Novosibirsk, Kazakhstan and Igarka and Dudina in Siberian far north. The living conditions in the settlement were hard as there was no support, the houses and dugouts were not fit for living especially in the winters. Many people again died there.

After the death of Joesph Stalin, the  “thaw” of Nikita Khrushchev allowed the release of the deported persons. Many were rehabilitated and were allowed to move back to Latvia. Many people stayed in Siberia, where they married locals and lived in towns and rural areas. Today there is still few hundreds of deportees and their children and grandchildren living in Siberia.

  Although Latvians were not deported by ethnic means as may Jews and Russians also were deported, it was a heavy blow to the nation as a whole since the those the ones deported were elite members, intellectuals and members of the middle class. The action was done to destroy nationalistic and democratic people within Latvians to cease any possible resistance. They are some speculation that there was another deportation planned shortly after the first but was interrupted by the German invasion in June 22. The deportations of the June 14 sparked a large will of resistance within Latvian people that was shown in the first days of the German invasion.

The memorial site at Tornukalns Train Station Riga where the deportation took place

Selected Sources:

Pelkauss, Elmārs (Ed.) (2007) Aizvestie : 1941. gada 14. jūnijs.Rīga : Latvijas Valsts arhīvs : Nordik.

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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