Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Castle of Riga

Latvian postage stamp of the Castle of Riga 1938

Latvian postage stamp of the Castle of Riga 1938

On the night of July 20 to 21 2013 Latvia caught the word spotlight. And that light came from the blaze of the burning castle in Riga. The Medieval landmark of Riga, the Presidential residence, home to Museum of the Latvian National history, Museum of Arts and the Museum of Literature went ablaze from the burning roof. In this hot summer whole Latvia including me followed the events on radio, TV and twitter. The biggest worry for historians was the fate of the Latvian National History museum collection. In the end it was the “lesser evil” as the collection suffered not from the fire, but from the water. The reasons for the fire is still unknown and we are still far to fix all the damage. This post is not only about this fire, but the history of this castle and its future.

Riga was founded in 1201 by German Crusaders who sought to Christianize local pagans. The first crusader castles were built in Ikšķile and Salaspils on 1185 and 1186. They belonged to German Bishops Meinard and Berthold who first lead the crusade. After Berthold’s death in the battlefield his new successor Bishop Albert moved to Riga to establish his new capitol. The very first castle in Riga was the Bishops Court in old city between Jāņa Sēta, Skāŗņu, Kalēju and Kaļķu street. The Bishops Residence was first mentioned on 1207 by Chronicler Henry in the Livonian Chronicle. The small residence was damaged by fire on 1215. On 1234 the Bishop Nicholas gave his stone caste and its surroundings to Dominican Order. Dominicans built a Church of St John (Jānis) on the remains of the castle and the church still stands today.

After giving his castle to Dominicans, Bishop Nicholas moved to his new residence on the right coast of the river Daugava north of the Dome Cathedral. The residence survived until 17th century when it was turned into barn as the Bishop of Livonia was no longer in office since 1563.

The Livonian Order was the branch of the Teutonic Order and wanted to take biggest share of the Riga. Livonia was a confederacy ruled by many Bishoprics and the State of the Livonian Order. Riga was shared by the Archbishop of Riga, the Livonian Order and the Riga Town council. The complicated feudal relations caused a lot of stir even civil war. The first Riga castle for the crusader knights were mentioned on 1225.  The castle survived the fire of 1215, however on 1297 when the conflict between the knights and the city of Riga erupted into full-scale war the castle was burned down. The remains of this old castle is seen today as part of the Church of the St George.

The Second castle of the Livonian Order

The Second castle of the Livonian Order

The crusader knights however won the upper hand. Riga was forced to give the city walls, the Smiļšu (Sand) tower, and the tower of Saint Spirit with the gates to the order. Also the stables were given to greedy knights. The act of capitulation signed on 1330 stated that Riga must give space around the Tower of the Saint Spirit to Order for its new castle. First part of the castle was finished on 1340. Until 147o it was used as the residence of the Master of the Order. The people of Riga disliked the castle and tried to remove it many times. On 1454 rebels attacked the Out tower and managed to burn it down. However, the knights forced them to give up. However, on 1481 a war started again and the castle was surrounded and sealed off for 10 years. On 1484 after most of the defenders died from famine and plagues the castle surrendered.

Victorious council of Riga ordered to blow up the castle. Holes were dug in the walls, doors broken and filled with firewood and explosives. The castle was sent on fire and the walls and towers were destroyed all together.  The Livonian Order was far from giving up. On 1491 the legendary master of the Livonian Order Walter von Pletenberg defeated the Riga auxiliary army near Bukulti. Riga was forced to give up and again recognize the treaty of 1452 that made the Order and the archbishop as the dual rulers of the city.

The third Livonian order castle in 1515 according to Johan Broce

The third Livonian order castle in 1515 according to Johan Broce

The new castle had to built on the same spot. And that is the castle we know today. Sources show first signs of the castle building on 1497. According to tradition castle was finished on 1515. It was built for 20 years because city lacked resources and was forced to ask the help from Tallinn. Also local Russian merchants came to help. The master of the Order Water von Plettenberg himself visited castle only once and resided in the Castle of Cēsis. Cēsis was the main base of operation for the order.

On 1558 The Tzar Ivan IV The Terrible invaded Livonia. The last Master of the Order Gothard Ketler was in the castle with 50 man. The Order lost its newly built castle. On 1525 the Teutonic Order to whom Livonian Order were vassals had ceased to exist and transformed into Kingdom of Prussia. On August 2 1560 the Livonian Order was completely defeated in the Battle of Ērģeme. The Polish-Lithuanian allies took the lands of the order for their own. On March 3 1562 the Master Gothard Ketler released Riga from its obligation to the order. On August 5 the representative of king of Poland and Lithuania Sigismund II  Nicolai Radzivill was invited to castle. The order ceremonially submitted to the king of Poland and Lithuania for it was the only way how to save Livonia from Russia. The Order ceased to exist and became the property of Polish – Lithuanian commonwealth.

The people of Riga once again rose to fight against the new Polish rulers. However, after many years Riga was taken over. The Castle was used for local Polish administration and visited by king Stephan Batory himself. On 1617 when war with Swedes attempted to capture Riga, the castle was not much of a help. Castle was in rotten state and citizens of Riga had to support it themselves to keep it from capture. Many parts of the castle were ruined. The siege failed, but on 1621 the Swedish king Gustav Adolphus II again attacked Riga it was guarded only by 25 men. Only by promising great reward two additional companies were added to the defenders. Castle was taken by Swedes and then recaptured until 1622 Swedes finally took over it.

Swedes choose the castle as the general governor residence for the conquered Vidzeme province. On 1656 Russians invaded Vidzeme and bombed Riga with cannons.  The General Governor Magnus Gabriel Delagadi was hurt by the exploding barrel while standing on castle bastion. During the Great Northern War on 1700-1710 Riga was under heavy siege. While the castle itself a little, a nearby Swedish stronghold suffered a heavy explosion. On 1710 Riga surrendered to Russians.

Swedes had made a lot of improvements and modern fortifications around the castle. Riga along the castle lost its medieval feel. On 1713 when the new Russian rulers established the province of Riga, the castle again became the residence of the governor. The castle church was turned from Lutheran to Orthodox. Castle was shared both by army and the civil authorities. Russians added many outbuildings to the castle. During the 18th century castle was restored many times. The clock tower was replaced because the old one was too unstable. Because of the administrative reforms by Empress Katrina II the bureaucracy needed more space and the castle experienced many changes in its interior. The outside looks also changed adding more modern look.

Riga Castle during the Tzarist times

Riga Castle during the Tzarist times

The Napoleonic invasion on 1812 and the unfortunate burning of the Riga suburbs, forced local authorities to modernize Riga even more. Castle was again renovated. On 1817 in front of the castle the Victory column was established. The General Governor marquise Filip Pauluchi took great care to improve the castle. His successor Karl Magnuss von der Palen continued to remake his residence. Many other General Governors were involved in constant repair and modernization works.  After all old walls and fortifications were completely removed  castle was no longer military important.  For many years the castle was the center of the General Province which had special status. Then on 1879 the special status for the Baltic province was removed. Castle became a property of the Riga town council. It was still used by the Governor of Vidzeme province. On 1910 Tzar Nicolai II was the last Russian Emperor to visit the castle. When the First Word war came to Latvia, the castle was still used by the last governor of Vidzeme who fled the city on August 1917. After that the German army staff occupied the castle.

The Castle of Riga during the Battle for Riga in November 1919

The Castle of Riga during the Battle for Riga in November 1919

On November 18 1918 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. German army was still residing in the castle. Soon they were changed by the Bolsheviks, however on May 1919 German Landeswerh took the city back. After the German defeat on June, the Latvian national provisional government returned to Riga. The flag of Latvia was raised on the main tower. On November 1919 when Riga was besieged by the Army of Bermont, the castle suffered artillery damage. After they were defeated, the castle was used by State office and the Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis. On August 6 1920 the leaders of the Baltic States held first meeting.

From August 6 1922 the castle became the residence of the first president of Latvia Jānis Čakste. He lived there until his death on 1927. Castle became the symbol of the Latvian presidency. His two successors Gustavs Zemgals and Alberts Kviesis moved their working office to other room and left the old Jānis Čakste office untouched. On 1929 the Swedish king Gustav V paid visit to Latvia and resided in the castle during his visit. The guard of honor was placed at the castle gates.

The Presidential Castle during 1920ies

The Presidential Castle during 1920ies

On 1936 Kārlis Ulmanis who had taken over the country by coup on 1934, installed himself as president. However, Kārlis Ulmanis only worked in the castle and lived in his mansion. He only lived there during his last months of rule. Castle was also used by Presidential Secretariat, official state newspaper “The Governmental Herald” and the Museum of Arts, Museum of History and the State Archive. State Archive later moved to Slokas street. Castle was in rotten state after the war. New repair works begun to make castle as the first building of the state. The Tzarist attributes were removed and replaced with national symbols. When Kārlis Ulmanis came to power his ambition was to build more Latvian Riga. On 1938 a new symbolic tower called “The Tower of Three Stars” was built to celebrate the 20 years of independence. Castle became more Latvian folk styled and there is no telling how far Ulmanis would go in his desire to scourge out the foreign past from Riga.

On 1940 Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Kārlis Ulmanis stayed in his castle until July. He was then deported and never returned. The new invaders looted the castle riches and vandalized the national symbols. Soviet occupiers stayed in the castle until February 1941. After that it was turned into Palace of the Soviet Pioneers. During the German occupation it was used by German reichcommisariat. When Soviets returned it was again turned into Pioneer palace.

The Soviet Youth Pioneer organization was the Soviet version of the Hitlerjugend. Soviet symbolism was added and rooms revised for youth purposes. However, many of the nationalistic themed paintings were not removed and destroyed. In empty places soviets did added “ideologically correct” paintings. On 1956 Soviets installed central heating. Meanwhile the State History museum also came back to castle. The Museum of Arts moved to Valdemars street. A new addition was the Museum of Foreign arts and the Museum of the writer Jānis Rainis. On 1962 in the castle square a statue of Pēteris Stučka the Latvian Bolshevik leader on 1918-1920 was placed.

On November 11 1988 a great event took place. A flag of the Republic of Latvia was raised on tower of Saint Spirit. This marked the beginning of the great change. After Soviets finally left Latvia, the castle of Pioneers was renamed as the Castle of Riga students. Then on June 7 1993 it was decided that castle must once again became the residence for the president of Latvia. The Castle was visited by president of Poland Lech Valensa and  Bil Clinton from US on 1994. On November 1994 the Presidential office came back. On June 12 1995 the Presidential banner was raised.

Museum of the National History of Latvia and Museum of Foreign Arts remained. The Museum of Rainis was renamed to museum of the Latvian literature. The Soviet years had left the castle in rotten state. The restoration of the castle was one of the main issue for years. National symbols were returned and attempts on  restoring the old look were made. However, the castle still needed major restoration. There were rooms with visible cracks, falling plastering and failing electric installations. Castle was divided into “safe zones” and “unsafe zones”.

The restored Presidential Palace in modern days

The restored Presidential Palace in modern days

However, three presidents Guntis Ulmanis, Vaira Vīķe Freiberga and Valdis Zatlers worked there and welcomed foreign guests. Then on 2012 finally a major restoration works begun. Presidential office with president Andris Bērziņš moved to the House of Blackheads in Old City center. All the museums including the Museum of History still remained in their place and planned to move on 2014. Also since the Museum of the National Arts on the Valdemar street was also under reconstruction it was temporary placed inside the castle.

The Riga Castle on Fire July 20-21 2013

The Riga Castle on Fire July 20-21 2013

On July 20 2013 at 18:45 the restoration workers finished their work and left the castle. The Military Police was responsible for the castle security. Then on 22:21 first calls for firefighters about the burning castle roof were made. It was made not by castle security, but by simple bystander. A huge crowd gathered to see terrific blaze. The castle roof  was burning with a open flame. Firefighters sent large amount of resources. However, the Soviet built water pump failed and broke down. Firefighters had hardships approaching the castle because of the complicated position of the castle. They were also unable to get water from river Daugava because a private yacht blocked the place. Helicopters were intended to be sent, but never came. One firefighter was hospitalized. At 1:00 the open flames were finally brought down. A dramatic pictures of the flag of Latvia amidst the flames terrified everyone. Army Corporal Alvis Brūveris went up the tower and rescued the flag. Next day another Private First Class Aldis Dortāns took the flag to its old place.

The fire left a hole in the roof and gravely damaged the fourth and third floor. The Presidential Office suffered the most damage, the representative halls were burned. The museums who were located at the lower floors escaped the main flames, but were spilled with water. None of the collection items were actually destroyed, but suffered damage.   A temporary roof has only been set up recently. The National History Museum is closed for uncertain time. Its undergoing repair works. Here you can see the damage caused to the museum.

In this long story you might noticed one detail. All other previous castles of Riga suffered from fires. But, this castle had never experienced a serious fire incident in its century long history. Bullet fire, invader vandalism and other calamities could not destroy the castle. However, not even this one fire was not too strong enough to completely end the story of the Castle of Riga. As long there will be people who will care for its historic and symbolic importance the castle will stand for centuries.

The flag tower July 22 2013

The flag tower July 22 2013 after the fire

Selected Sources:

  Caune Māra. (2001) Rīgas pils. Rīga. Zinātne.

Caune, Andris, Ose, Ieva. (2004) Latvijas 12. gadsimta beigu 17. gadsimta vācu piļu leksikons. Rīga. Latvijas Vēstures institūta žurnāls.

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If War Comes Tomorrow 1938 Soviet Movie that predicted the World War II

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On 1938 whole Europe was worried about possible second full scale war. Hitlers troops had already marched into Austria and later Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile in Soviet Union the saw again the possibility to trigger new Worldwide Socialist revolution. According to Stalin’s understanding there were two ways of how do it – first drag the capitalist countries against each other in a full scale war, but don’t take part in it until the most favorable moment.  Other way was to provoke the enemy to attack USSR and then defeat the enemy in their own territory. And that is how it was shown movie made in 1938 called If the War Comes Tomorrow (Если завтра война). The movie quickly became long forgotten after Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and later after the war. However, the movie has been fully preserved and available to us all in here

The movie was directed by Efim Dzigan. He made Stalinist style propaganda movies like We from Kronstatd (1936) and the First Cavalry (1941). However, If the War Comes tomorrow was his most famous work of propaganda art. One of the main features of this movie was the main theme song of the same name composed by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. Later he wrote the legendary song “The Holy War”.

It the War comes tomorrow lacked same artistic and dramatic depth as Sergei Eisenstein movie “Alexander Nevsky” that also had very similar message- he who comes to Russia with spear dies from spear. Dzigan movie characters were shown as simple and brave soviet citizens fully loyal to the Soviet power and the leader Stalin. In fact the movie had no in depth characters in whole. Dramatic dialogs were only needed to illustrate the massive battle scenes that took great part in this movie.

The movie plot starts in the New Year anniversary in Moscow. Since the Christmas was officially removed from the holiday list, the New Yer celebrations became widely popular. A dialog between two retired males about their children in the Red Army is shown. One brags about his four sons who are in the Red Army tank force and forms a family tank crew, other talks about his daughter in the army, who is also a wife of the border guards commander. Occasionally the propaganda voice talks about the great Soviet achievements and  large tall structure that proves the Soviet greatness. It could be that this large structure was the intended Palace of Soviets a gigantic 415 m structure that would became the tallest building in the world. The construction was begun on 1937, but the war canceled this grandiose plans. Right now its foundations have been turned in to worlds largest swimming pool.  But, then the propaganda voice alarms everyone about the uneasy situation in the border areas caused by foreign powers and the growing fascist threat”.

Movie then switches to USSR border areas in the night before the dawn. A enemy troops speaking in German gathers up the forces for the attack. Their symbol is swastika however its displayed different than official Nazi Germany symbol. One of their officers have a mustache just like Adolf Hitler, although the toothbrush mustache was quite popular among many before the WWII the occasional movie viewer would understand what the movie is trying to show. However, the “Fascist’ soldiers whose country and nationality is not shown, but speaks in German looks more like WWI British or French soldiers. A another message – the Soviet enemy is not just “Fascists” but also capitalists. Enemy uses an outdated TS-18 (MC-1) tank that was also the very first Soviet built tank.

The "Fascist" invader symbol

The “Fascist” invader symbol

On 1938 the Soviet Union had no border with Germany or any other “Fascist” country. So according to this movie at least Poland was no longer existent in this war. For many Soviet citizens who were unaware of the European geography or political situation this might be a missed spot. But, from our perspective this detail is pretty important. The fate of Poland was long decided in the Kremlin.

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

Enemy soldier with peculiar mustache

The enemy is striving for a surprise attack however, Soviets aware of the alarming situation have sent reinforcements. And so the first attempt of the border crossing fails – the Fascist infantry lead by Hitler like captain is forced to retreat. The enemy attempt on crossing the border is shown in pretty vague WWI tactic style in heavy contrast to later massive Soviet attack shown in the movie. When the land attack fails, Fascists sends bombers to Minsk and Kiev. According to research made by historian Mark Solonin Stalin had planned to make fake bombing raids on his own cities, to justify his attack on Germany. To fight the enemy aircraft, Soviets sends their fighters. After the enemy bombers are destroyed, S0viet Pe-8 bombers takes flight to bomb the enemy airfields. Pe-8 was one of the heaviest long range bombers of those times. It could reach Berlin and even London. Interesting that the leading pilot of the bomber squad is called “Gromov” Interesting that the Soviet plan for aggression against Germany made in May 15 1941 is also called “Grom” (Thunder).  Actually this name went well with the people of those times, since the idea of fast and decisive strike was very popular both in Germany and USSR. The Soviet concept of the “deep operations” was published in book by N Shpanov “First Strike”.

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviet bomber squad leader Gromov

Soviets issue a full mobilization. A grandiose parade is gathered in the Red Square. This parade actually took place on May 1 1938 with the presence of Stalin and the chief commander Voroshilov Millions are rushing to join the Red Army including 12 old boy and the old man seen in the movie opening. He wants to support his four sons who are already in the army. Many woman joins too. Then movie switches to Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine and other Soviet republics that also joins the  fight. And then the most interesting thing happens: a large movie comment appears declaring that “From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight”. The Baltic States were still independent from USSR on 1938. So we suppose that the fate of the Baltic States was also decided in this movie.

From the Black Sea to

“From the Black Sea, to the Arctic  from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight

Movie then goes back to battlefield showing grandiose scenes of the Fascist attack and the Soviet counter attack. The enemy uses a French Renault FT-1 tanks. They get easily beaten. In return Soviets sends a horde of the BT-7 tanks. BT-7 was one of the fastest tanks of those times. According to some authors, this tanks were only good for the Western roads and therefore were  only used for aggressive purposes.  After the German invasion on 1941 large part of these tanks were made useless, destroyed and abandoned. Here the tanks are shown in their best – in fast speed they escape the enemy cannon fire and break their lines. In one of those tanks all four brothers mentioned earlier attacks. Its quite true that until 1941 the German tanks were quite lighter than the Soviet tanks. After meeting heavier Soviet counterparts Germans switched to more heavier models.

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

Soviet main battle tank BT-7 attacks

The desperate enemy uses chemical weapons to stop the Soviets. Chemical weapons were never used by the Nazi Germany at least in the battlefields. This movie still was in the spirit of the WWI when chemical weapons were occasionally used. However, Soviets have gas masks and all the necessary equipment to survive a gas attack. Under the white smoke they gather up their attack fore.

Enemy gas attack

Enemy gas attack

Fascists sends reinforcements and that is where the Soviet paratroopers comes in. With the help of the Pe-8 bombers they land behind the enemy lines and ambushes the fascist reinforcements.   The enemy staff is alarmed that the paratroopers are near their positions. The Soviet paratroopers were not just an empty brag. Actually the Soviet Union had a force of 1 million of them. Since the paratroopers were almost impossible to use in the defensive actions it was obvious that their sole purpose was  to penetrate the enemy from behind. In the movie showed how it should be done.

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviet paratroopers takes of from Pe-8 bomber

Soviets accompanied by tanks, aircraft and even  cavalry starts a massive attack. Enemy is routing in panic. Cavalry lead by Marshal Budyonni chases them, Fascists sends they own cavalry resulting a bloody battle. Already after the Polish campaign it was clear that the cavalry is useless in this new kind of warfare.

Then something that the Soviets had long desired happens in the main Fascist capital. The “proletariat” the workers starts marching under the red banner. Police and army (interesting that soldiers shown there have a Nazi style helmets while soldiers shown in the front line have a British style helmets) fires at the crowd a desperate battle for red flag erupts. In the end the crowds march in the streets with the Soviet flag. That was according to long time Soviet belief made by Lenin, that the world war will cause a socialist uprising in the capitalist centers before the Soviet tanks reach them.

Proletarians takes over the streets

Proletarians takes over the streets

And the Soviet tanks are marching in masses accompanied by grandiose hordes of bombers. Captured Fascist generals are watching this with the fear and disbelief. In the end the massive hordes of the Red Army is shown. The slogan reads “The First attack of the enemy has been beaten. In such way the war might start that would lead to the destruction of the capitalist world” And the song plays warning that there is no such force to destroy the Soviet Union.

The movie failed to prove its point. Despite the enormous resources gathered by the Red Army, on 1941 Germans managed to advance all the way to Moscow. Red Army needed not two days to beat of the enemy aggression, but four years. But in therms of destruction of Poland and the Baltic States the movie was right. Poland and the Baltic states were in between Germany and USSR. Only way to attack Soviet Union or Soviet Union to attack Germany was to remove these buffer states. And that was done by signing the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact on August 23 1939. But, the main movie slogan the destruction of the capitalist order left unfulfilled.

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Latvia and the 1991 August Coup Attempt

The removal of the monument of Lenin after the failed August coup

The removal of the monument of Lenin after the failed August coup

On May 4 1990 Latvian Supreme Soviet had accepted the Declaration of the Restoration of Independence. However, the declaration set an “interim period” until full restoration of the sovereign Republic of Latvia, after which the Saeima the Latvian parliament would be elected again. Until then the legitimate ruling body was the Supreme Soviet (Council) of the Republic of Latvia. After first free elections since 1934, it was controlled by the Popular Front of Latvia, Latvian National Independence Movement. However, in the opposition there were still many convinced communists who wanted Moscow to help them to stop the Latvian breakaway from USSR. Latvia was still full with Soviet troops and special forces like OMON. So the “interim period” was a dangerous game, since the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev was against the Baltic independence. And there were many around Gorbachev who tried to convince him to use more radical methods to not let it happen.

The main plot to effectively halt the Baltic independence was to impose the Presidential Order in the Baltic States. That would remove the Supreme Soviet from the power and impose direct rule from Moscow. The culmination of this plot was the January 1991 Barricade movement. The enemies of the Latvian independence could not bear their defeat and blamed the “Betrayal of Moscow”. On February 4 1991 the members of the LSSR Prosecutor’s office publicly asked the president of USSR to issue a state of emergency in Latvia, restore the order of the USSR constitution and stop the work of the “illegal state structures”.   On April 9 political organization “The Union of the Baltic Soldiers” issued a statement that it will with the use of arms will ensure the Soviet power within Latvia.

The series of provocative acts started once again. An explosion took place near dormitory rooms of the Latvian Ministry of Interior where Soviet soldiers and their families lived. Also an explosion on the bridge over Gauja where the Soviet troops were heading to their base in Ādaži. As in previous occasions these explosions were too weak to actually hurt anyone, but were intended to blame “radical nationalists” for the attacks on the Soviet forces. From May 23 to August 12 the OMON special forces responsible for bloodshed in January, started a series of attacks on Latvian customs posts. 21 such attacks were carried out. The customs points were burned down, the custom officers were beaten and their arms removed. In Lithuania on July 31 seven officers were killed by OMON and one paralyzed. On May 25 1991 the Soviet Army carried out a drill where they learned how to block the way to the center of Riga. Apparently the Soviets wanted to prevent a situation in January when people managed to move large amount of tractors and other agricultural transport and made barricades from them.

However, the local Soviet radicals were not informed about the plot to overthrow Gorbachev. On 19 August 11:00 after learning the news about the coup the main leader of the Soviet radicals Alfrēds Rubiks in the press conference issued the support for the coup. Alfrēds Rubiks was a carrier communist whose highest point of success was the chairman of the Riga Executive committee it can be compared to the title of the Major of Riga. Before the Latvian independence movement many remembered Rubiks as progressive communists supportive of the Gorbachev ideas. However, his ambition to build the metro system in Riga was halted by massive protests. Since the protest movement against the metro project involved certain national character the fear of more Soviet immigrants, Rubiks now turned completely into Soviet hardliner. He was the First Secretary of the breaking Latvian Communist party, and now took the leading role of the local coup supporters.

Meanwhile the Latvian Republic Supreme Soviet lead by Anatolijs Gorbunovs on 10:00 issued a statement that the State Council of State of Emergency that took over power in Moscow is illegal and has no power within Latvia. Meanwhile the head of the Soviet Baltic War region general Fjodor Kuzmin informed them that he is charge of the realization of the state of emergency in Latvia. Latvian Popular front stated that the coup has taken place in the neighboring country and it should be treated that way. At 18:00 the Latvian National Independence Movement made a decision to ask the Supreme Soviet to fully establish the Latvian independence.

Even when the Latvian national leaders declared that coup in August is not in effect within Latvia, in reality it was much more complicated. Western countries only had expressed sympathy and support for Latvian independence, but had not fully recognized. They wanted to that only in the most certain moment and if Moscow herself allows it. In this situation the Soviet Army and OMON had everything to remove the Latvian government from power. On 19:15 OMON and Soviet paratroopers raided the first floor of the Latvian TV center. On 20:30 OMON invaded the Riga Interior affairs administration and in 20:45 OMON again took over the Latvian Ministry of Interior. On 22:30 OMON raided the Popular Front headquarters and vandalized it. On 22:15 OMON men murdered the driver of the Jūrmala Creative house Jānis Salmiņš near the Riga Interior affairs administration.

On 4:30 at August 20 OMON took over the Riga International telephone central and telegraph station. Then OMON took over the Latvian Radio building. Latvian Radio restored its work in the airwaves in illegal transmitter station in the city of Salaspils. On August 20 Estonia had fully declared its sovereignty. Meanwhile in Latvia the OMON was still on the run and raided the Latvian training camp at Kauguri and disarmed the security of the Latvian Council of Ministers.

OMON armored cars heading to center of Riga

OMON armored cars heading to the center of Riga

The fate of the Latvian independence was decided in the White House square in Moscow. The Soviet army and the Special forces refused to attack the RSFSR parliament defended by thousands of Russian citizens. On August 20 it was clear that the coup had failed. However, on August 20 four OMON armored cars entered the Dome Square in Riga. They were heading to Latvian Supreme Soviet where people finally gathered to vote for the full sovereign status of the state of Latvia. As the sound of helicopters roared above and tanks moved even closer, elected deputies stopped the discussions and voted to end the interim period and restore the Latvian Republic de facto. 111 voted for, 13 against. In 13:10 the Republic of Latvia had become a sovereign country once again.

OMON did not received any clear order to assault the Supreme Soviet building. At 14:10 they left the scene. At the end of the day Soviets left the TV and Radio house. All who officially supported the coup attempt was removed from their office. In August 23 the Republic of Island officially recognized the Latvian independence first one to do so. On the same day Alfreds Rubiks was arrested. On August 24 the president of Russia Boris Yelstin officially recognized the Baltic states independence. The Latvian Communist party and all the Soviet security structures including KGB was made illegal.  On the night of August 24-25 the Lenin monument was demolished.

Soviet power was fully removed in the following months. In 1994 all Soviet forces were removed from Latvia. However, the people who in the critical days of August wowed to “arrest and shoot all the nationalists” still plays role in the Latvian politics. Alfrēds Rubiks leads the Latvian Socialist party and works in the European Parliament despite his imprisonment in nighties. Many others of his allies are trying to revenge the defeat of the August 1991 under the guise of the human rights and social democracy. We must understand that August 1991 was a close call for Latvian independence and if it succeeded we won’t be reading this. So our duty is to guard our country in every way we can.

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The Kremlin Conspiracy August 1991

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

On August 18 1991 the conspiracy by the high rank officials of the Kremlin and the KGB took place. A group of Soviet hardliners tried to avert the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end because of their incompetence, cowardice in contrary to the bravery of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yelstsin and the defenders of the White House their plot failed. Soviet Union collapsed anyway and Latvia could once again regain its independence.

The KGB 9th division was responsible for guarding and escorting the Soviet leaders and high rank officials. In Foros, Crimea where the president of the USSR resided, his guard Vasili Kravets was in his usual duty. His everyday duty was fulfilling the needs of the officials who rested in this governmental resort. Like sending back to Moscow two jackets that the Minister of the Interior affairs Boris Pugo forgot. Or arranging a limo for one guest to visit another. Suddenly in his control system the red alarm signal of the radio station “Alternativa” (Alternative) begun to flash. This meant that there is a failure in the communication line with the mansion of the president of the USSR. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Kravets immediately made contact with KGB 21st division responsible for governmental communications. They said: “We will check!”. The red signal continued to flash even more. Kravets again made contact he received the answer: “The communications have been disrupted by hill landslide, the repair works have begun!”. It was Sunday August 18 1991.

At this same moment the gates of the presidential mansion opened. The KGB codenamed this mansion as the “object Zarya”. Five Volga limos entered the mansion without invitation or announcement. The security guards could not allow such trespassing, but from the first limo the head of the KGB Security Service Yuri Plehanov and the major Vyacheslav Generalov the chief of the technical authority and the Crimea KGB chief from 9th Division colonel Lev Tolstoy stepped out. From other cars many more important Soviet officials came out. The security guards where ordered to lay down their arms and not to forget Romania where the guards defended their dictator Ceausescu and how it ended. The guards were in complete incomprehension- what it had to with Romania? There the president was deposed and the guards defended him and perished with him altogether. But here everything was suppose to be alright?

The mansion was sealed with additional guards from Moscow. The telephone lines were disrupted. Unimaginable, but the presidential mansion guarded by 500 well armed men, three defense lines, 34 border guard posts, special task force Alfa and air fleet in the Black Sea. However, all this defense personal was not really subordinated to the president himself. They were the employees of the KGB. And it was the KGB that decided to turn the tables on the Mikhail Gorbachev who got him effectively trapped in the “Golden cage”.

The president was worried about this sudden visit. He either thought they going to put a pressure again, or try to depose him from power. The two men who trapped the Gorbachev were: Vyachelav Generalov the head of the KGB special maintenance and technical authority. His task was to take over the presidential mansion and keep the president imprisoned there. He knew everything about the mansion and was fiercely loyal. His chief was Yuri Plehanov general lieutenant the head of the KGB security service.

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The main spokespersons of the conspirators were secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee Oleg Shenin and Oleg Baklanov the head of the Military Industrial complex. According to plan Shenin was to speak first, but Gorbachev seized the moment and started to talk with Baklanov who he thought was their leader. They wanted to convince Gorbachev to step down by his own will, implying on his bad state of health and fatigue. Gorbachev said that this was out of the question and reminded about the planned signing of the New Union Treaty on August 20. The Union Law was a last straw for Gorbachev to save the USSR, but everyone knew that the Baltic states will not going to sign it. They said to him that there will be no such treaty and the head of the Russian Federal Socialist Republic Boris Yeltsin is arrested. He then corrected himself: will be arrested! The conspirators shamefully asked “Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich! We don’t ask nothing from you. Remain here for some time. We will do all the dirty work for you!” Gorbachev insisted that he will not resign and go into any ventures. Then the chief of the USSR Land forces general Valentin Varenikov lost his patience and shouted “Resign!”. He shouted angry remarks about the bad shape of the army, the shameful retreat fro East Germany and the nationalists that do what they want. In the end Gorbachev stood firm against the plotters and asked to inform their masters in Moscow to call the Higher Council or the Party Congress. Plotters in shame left the mansion. Despite the enormous force they had, they could not force their president to resign.

The conspirators  in Moscow were anxious.  The Soviet defense minister Dmitri Yazov informed the army command and issued that the state of emergency is possible. Yazov announced that all resources had to be taken control of. All  state services and the civil security. The Moscow Guard 2th mobile riflemen division  and 4th guard tank division had to take over the city. The 106th Tula paratrooper division was called to Moscow. The conspirators who called themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (SCTE) (Государственный комитет по чрезвычайному положению, ГКЧП) with the Minister of the Interior an ethnic Latvian Boris Pugo and the chief of the KGB Vladimir Krychkov issued a state of emergency.

These people were the hardline communists or even neo-Stalinists. Dmitri Yazov a WW2 veteran and Soviet patriot could not bear with the changes made by Gorbachev and the direction the Soviet empire is heading to. Soviet army was forced to leave East Germany and other former Eastern European satellites. Soviet army was unable to stop separatism in the Caucasus and in the Baltic states. Both the KGB and the Soviet army were ready to suppress them with extreme force. But, no direct order from Gorbachev ever followed. Gorbachev himself was against the independence of the Baltic states or other republics. But, he was caught up with the promises to the western leaders, his own mistakes and in belief that things can be solved diplomatically. After the events in Riga and Vilnius in January 1991, he was no longer trusted both by the west and his aides. His principal mistake was to fire the liberal reformers with who begun his Perestroika policy and surrounded himself with hardliners from KGB and the army.

The chief of the KGB Valentin Krychkov was constantly afraid from the “influence agents” from abroad who wants to topple the Soviet Union. He blamed them for the rotten state economy. His most paranoid belief that the western countries are trying to artificially downsize the number of the Soviet citizens. According to his “information’ the CIA plans to lower the demographics of the USSR by 150-160 million people. The Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov considered his western counterparts a “saboteurs”. The Soviet Vice President Genady Yanayev was an ambitious man who felt himself endangered by the incoming changes. All these men feared the signing of the New Union Treaty that would make for some of them to lose their jobs.

The New Union Treaty would replace 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and replace the USSR with a new country Union of Sovereign States. It would be a less centralized state with more freedoms to participating republics. However, the Baltic States, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia were not going to sign therefore fully breaking away from Moscow. Also people such as Yanayev and Pavlov would lose their jobs. After Gorbachev had removed the Communist party monopoly of power, on March 1990 a plot was born to remove the liberal reformers and encircle Gorbachev with hardliners. They succeed by removing a Gorbachev long time ally Alexander Yakovlev. Other two enemies the Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin  Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR were far tougher enemies and was on the arrest list.

After the conspirators learned that Gorbachev had rejected a plea to resign by his own will, the conspirators wanted to remove his power because of his illness. After long hesitation Gennady Yanayev wrote the directive of taking the presidential office. They had lost the legitimacy they hoped to get from Gorbachev now they were playing a dangerous game. The speaker of the Soviet parliament Anatoly Lukyanov also was dissatisfied with the New Union Treaty, however when the conspirators informed about their actions and asked to join, he denounced their actions. However, he merely just asked them to remove him from their plotter list.

First arrests begun on the morning of August 19. The head of the Human rights “Schit” Nikolay Pavlenko met the SCTE men with a tear gas canister and an ax and managed to hurt them before his arrest. However, they could not arrest Yeltsin. He was able to leave his house and with his collage Ruslan Hasbulatov open the extraordinary meeting of the RSFSR Supreme Council. Soviet tanks were present at RSFSR building also called White House, but were not willing to shoot at anyone. Yelstin used this and stepped on one their tanks and declared that the coup has taken place and the legally elected president has been deposed. He asked for all Soviet citizens not to listen to the SCTE. It was a definite movement, the conspirators now encountered a serious enemy. Meanwhile Gorbachev was sealed off from all radio and TV sources and heavily guarded. The head of the Ukrainian SSR   Leonid Kravchuk accepted the coup and did nothing for the president who was imprisoned on his territory.

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

However, on August 19 things were still looking bright for conspirators. Except the Baltic States no serious protests took place. Radio stations and newspapers considered rouge were closed. In theory they had enough force to suppress any kind of resistance. But, then on 15:00 first reports of protests and strikes within mainland Russia begun. Yanayev with a shaking hands took a press conference in front of Soviet and foreign journalists. He lied about Gorbachev health state. Meanwhile in the Crimea the major of Yalta where the Gorbachov lived warned Generalov who was responsible for the mansion, that since Gorbachev is no longer in office, the mansion will no longer receive food supplies. To solve this issue, Generalov summoned his employee to Yalta. There Gorbachev ordered to send a letter of two demands – 1) give an airplane to return to Moscow 2) restore communications. This packet was sent and reached Yanayev.

Meanwhile Yelstin had issued that all Interior forces, army and KGB units should subordinate to the president of RSRSR that was Yelstin himself. On the night of 19-20 August the commander of the Taman tank division major Sergei Yevdokimov was not informed why his tanks are in the city center. He only learned the true reason from the crowds that started to gather in thousands. People asked him and his men to join the Yelstin side. They placed metal bars in the tank tracks to make them immobile. He then soon met the RSFSR parliament members who convinced him that this is a conspiracy and Gorbachev is trapped in Crimea. They asked to help him to defend the White House against the possible assault. Major Yevdokimov agreed and when he went back to his men he heard the news on the radio about him joining the Yeltsin forces. He only managed to move six tanks out of 10 because first barricades were built and to escape accidents he left the remaining tanks on the bridge. He himself never acknowledged that he actually joined the Yeltsin ranks, but just agreed to move tanks closer to the White house to escape the civilian causalities.

After watching the infamous press conference on TV Gorbachev asked if Yanayev has received his demands. After not getting any affirmative answer he decided to make an unusual and a desperate step. Since all communication equipment was confiscated he used an amateur TV  camera to record his message to the world. He stated that the reason for his removal was false and its an unconstitutional coup. The message was recorded perfectly, his wife and son in law then dismounted the VHS cassette and planned the way on how to send it to Moscow.

On the morning of 20 August the SCTE was aware of their worse situation. They were unable to impose order in the streets of Moscow and the main rivals were free to whatever they want. Yeltsin who was still free because of the incompetence of the capturing team, was now set to be arrested. Also the parliament building of the RSFRS had to be attacked. The plans were thought out how to do it. The operation was called “Thunder” coincidentally a same name was given to unrealized Stalin’s plan to attack Germany in 1941… However the Generals were worried about the large crowds and barricades and the armed defenders of the White House. The attack was set to start on August 21 at 3:00. The attack would involve regular soldiers, tanks, special forces and snipers.

Yeltsin had called a large rally at 12:00 despite the ban on public gathering thousands came. The Whole Soviet Union was alarmed by the never seen before manifestation. At 20:00 the SCTE held a meeting and realized they are standing on very thin base. Many soldiers joined the protesters. The Eho Moskvi Radio station was not closed because one colonel defended it and now it became the main voice of opposition. The whole square of the White House was filled with large crowds, many were armed with Molotov cocktails.   Then at 21:00 a woman entered the barricades and claimed she has very important information. She was taken to the headquarters of the defenders of the White House.  She claimed her husband a KGB officer has received orders to take part in the attack that would begin at 3:00. Later he masked in hood appeared himself and warned about the special task force Alpha attack. Radio issued all women to leave the square. Defenders gathered in companies and squads made a living defense line. The element of surprise was lost.

Soviet tanks near the White House

Soviet tanks near the White House

Meanwhile the Alpha team was uneasy about their given task. Many did not want to kill their own government and the people. Such an attack would cause enormous losses of life’s on both sides. And the mass media attention from the whole world was more than ever. The SCTE order was insane, and even the Alpha team understood this and in the end asked to cancel the order. At 24:20 a brief battle erupted between the Taman tank division and the protesters in the Sadovoje koļco tunnel on the way to the White house. The curfew was issued to prevent the people from entering the White House square. The Taman tank division was tasked to ensure the curfew. As they moved towards the Smolensk square, they were attacked with stones. Armored vehicles broke through the trolleybus barricades. But, a war journalist first rank captain Mihail Glovlko was standing in the way with the raised hands, he was hit by the fast moving vehicle.  At that moment a 23 year old Afghan war veteran jumped Dmitri Kromar on the BMP 536 vehicle and tried to cover its sightseeing hatch to make it “blind.” The BMP tried to steer its turret to get him off and succeed. But by the hitting the  pole the hatch  opened. Kromar chased the BMP and jumped in it trough the open hatch. BMP made a swift move and threw him out, but his clothes get stuck in the open hatch dragging Kromar on the ground as the BMP moved backwards. 37 year old Vladimir Usov rushed to help and was shot dead by the warning shots from BMP crew.  Another protester throwing rocks Krichevsky was also killed.

All this made the General Yazov to finally cancel the order to attack the White House. It was a suicide for him and the whole coup, but it was the only possible solution. Two KGB mobile brigades was just an hour from the main target. Meanwhile, a special task force landed in the Crimea and was ready to storm the Gorbachev mansion. On August 21 Yazov decided to miss the SCTE morning meeting, making things worse. Now the last chance to save something was flying back to Crimea. On 14:15 Yazov, Baklanov, Lukyanov and others took the plane to Crimea.

However, Yeltsin also wanted to visit Gorbachev. Krysckhov chief of KGB did everything to prepare the SCTE visit in time. He received a message that the SCTE time for the Gorbachev visit was over and at 16:00 the Yeltsin delegation will fly to Foros. Krychkow said that he would join the delegation and asked to postpone the flight until the evening. It was a lie and it was only discovered once the SCTE plane was already in the air. Yeltsin was unable to get there before them and only could bring the plane down which he refused. Conspirators landed at the airfield filled with marines ready to strike the presidential mansion. However, they were convinced that they will be greeted peacefully for a cup of tea.

Instead they were greeted with AK-47′s and Gorbachev refused to talk to them before the arrival of the Yeltsin delegation. Meanwhile the Yeltsin TU-154 airplane made circles around the Belbeck airfield. They were refused to land. After Gorbachev’s communications were restored, the plane landed. KGB special forces silently left the airfield. The Russian government were the ones who brought back Gorbachev home to Moscow. But this was no longer the country he once ruled.

The Baltic States declared full independence and were officially supported by the majority of the world countries. All other Soviet republics followed suit. On August 29 the Communist Party was officially shut down and made illegal. On December 8 the USSR was officially dissolved.

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

The August Coup attempt was a heavy defeat for the KGB and the ultra patriotic army officials. However, the  KGB survived   and transformed into FSB the Federal Security Service. For many years these people sought to revenge on those who managed to break down the Soviet empire. In the end they succeeded – an ex KGB officer and the director of the FSB Vladimir Putin took over the modern Russia. Since then the Russian policy is based on revenge and revision. It’s a question if a similar situation  where the army and security forces will choose to support the people or to attack the White House like in 1995 by the Yeltsin orders. The Putin’s Russia has not yet reached this critical point and lets hope it will not reach it the same way.

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Latvia and the Nuclear Scare

Nuclear mushroom as shown in the Soviet Latvian Air Defense instructions book

Nuclear mushroom as shown in the Soviet Latvian Air Defense instructions book

On August 6 1945 United States of America dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The world entered a new age – the atomic age. Suddenly the popular slogan of the WWI “the war to end all wars” got a new meaning. The next world war with the use of nuclear war would definitely end all the wars. Or at least as Albert Einstein said: I  do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks! After US lost its nuclear monopoly in 1949 the world society was put in endless nuclear scare. Both superpowers not only spent large resources on nuclear weapons, but also took great time to invest in civil defense. United States civil defense was known for its emergency drills, the Conelrad radio broadcasts and fallout shelter building. While from today’s perspective, all these actions seemed pointless, the USSR was doing just the same. In fact USSR was just as scared from American nukes, as Americans from Soviet. The USSR had its own civil defense units, drills and radio broadcasts. Latvia at this time was under the Soviet occupation and was filled with Soviet troops and rockets. The start of the nuclear war would mean that Riga, Ventspils and Liepaja would be targeted for nuclear bombing. Luckily such event never took place, but people were taught to be prepared just as American citizens.

Before we go into the details about the civil defense in the Soviet Latvia, let’s take a brief look into NATO-USSR nuclear race. US was the first country that managed to build and detonate the nuclear bomb. There were a limited German nuclear attempts on getting the bomb for themselves, but it was halted by lack of resources and Hitler’s disbelief in such weapons. Also many former German scientists, some of them Jewish escaped to US and took part in the  Manhattan Project. USSR knew about the American nuclear program and started their own in 1942. However, their progress was slower and uranium deposits were lacking. When on 1945 in the Potsdam the US President Harry Truman wanted to surprise Joseph Stalin about the US nuclear weapon, Stalin did not show any emotion at all. Truman even thought that Stalin had no idea what he is talking about. But, Stalin was well informed about the Manhattan Project from the very start. There was a ring of spies within the project. While US may brag about their nuclear bomb, they were unaware about the strongest Soviet super weapon – the foreign intelligence.

And it was the Soviet Foreign intelligence that helped Stalin to acquire his own nuclear bomb that was based on American blueprints. While the Soviet scientists insisted to make their own design the chief of the secret service Lavrenty Beria rushed them to build and test the bomb with the stolen US design. On August 29 1949, RDS-1 the 22 kiloton bomb was tested in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. After Americans discovered this on September 23 the nuclear race begun. In 1952 US tested the first hydrogen bomb. Year later Soviets tested their own. During the war in Korea US and USSR was at the closest point to start the nuclear war. While US de iure fought both communist Korea and China, Soviet Union secretly sent pilots against the US counterparts. US general Douglas Maccartur was ready enough to drop the nuclear bomb on China, but he was stopped by president Truman. Some authors suggest that end of his life Stalin himself secretly planned to trigger world war three.

The Nuclear blast wave

The Nuclear blast wave

The situation got even hastier when the Soviets got new leader Nikita Khrushchev, who believed that modern technology can help to defeat the capitalist block. He managed to achieve first hand in the space race: on 1957 Soviets launched first satellite Sputnik -1 in space on 1961 first man in space was Russian Yuri Gagarin. On 1962 Soviets detonated the strongest nuclear weapon the 57 megaton Tzar Bomb. The Western world was scared of the Soviet space advancements and the ballistic rockets. Nikita Khrushchev added tone to the fear with the phrase: “We will bury you!”.

However, the Soviet threat was overestimated: despite the general belief the USSR never had majority of nuclear rockets. US had Atlas D rockets with 14 500 km radius, next E and F rockets were placed in underground silos, that were capable of surviving a preventive strike. Soviet 8K74 rockets had no silos and in the event of nuclear attack they were vulnerable to preventive strike. US managed to make Titan -2 and Minuteman rockets. Americans were also not too concerned about the continental ballistic missiles, because they could attack USSR from East Germany and Turkey and other sites. Soviets could not and that’s why they needed such missile that also could send man in space. While the Soviets bragged about their nuclear submarines of which K-19 was nicknamed “Hiroshima” because its many accidents, Americans could produce two times more more qualitative nuclear weapons. And also the Soviet TU-95 bombers and MIG fighters looked scary. The US could produce dozen times more such weapons. The answer why was simple: US weapons were produced by private companies, while the USSR produced the weapons with 100% state resources.  And because of this USSR was unable to diverse their civilian production and ultimately ruined their economy. The Cold war a losing game for the Soviets from the very start.

However, both sides did not understand this. US had very scarce intelligence information about the USSR military potential, their greatest achievement was the Soviet double agent Oleg Penkovsky who gave a precise account about the Soviet forces and the approaching Carribean Crisis. However, the eccentric threats by Khrushchev the shoe beating noise was a good point for the American weapons companies to make more rockets. And the Soviet Union drastically followed them all the way until Gorbachev even after the Cuba fiasco in 1962. And Civil defense had to be always ready in case of the zero hour.

Diagram showing how home fallout shelter should look

Diagram showing how home fallout shelter should look

Civil Defense had headquarters  in every major city. A special civil defense committee was in order. It had many departments, communication, medicine, supplies, engineer, transportation ect. The CD also worked in regional level. In case of nuclear attack, people were instructed to have well stocked supplies. A blackout was required. To protect homes from radioactive fallout all cracks had to be sealed. In case of evacuation, the people would be informed by local authorities. Only most vital belongings had to be taken to fallout shelters. The Air attack alarm was to be issued by radio and sirens. All electricity and heating had to be shut down. Only the battery powered radios could be used.

Instruction how to get out of the damaged shelter

Instruction how to get out of the damaged shelter

After the strike wave of the nuclear weapon had gone away, people were instructed to wear the protective suits. If they weren’t any of them, noses and mouths had to be covered with everything by hand. Special instructions were given incase if the fallout shelter had craved in and people are unable to get out.

Most scariest part was the radioactive fallout. All factories, schools, hospitals and other facilities were supplied with gas masks. Also special medical kits were produced in the thousands. Medics had dosimeters. Radio stations and sirens would warn about the nuclear fallout danger. People were also instructed about the chemical attacks. Civil Defense instructions were present in every school, university or college. Preschool children were scared about the possibility of the nuclear strike. Later Civil Defense was a compulsory subject in most educational facilities. Special books were issued and spread among the civilians.

Instruction of how to use the dosimeter

Instruction of how to use the dosimeter

However, on 1986 when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded all these well thought out instructions went into chaos. The sheer truth is that when the real disaster strikes only a few knows what to do. People were thought of how to protect themselves from NATO nuclear strikes, but nobody expected the breakdown of their own nuclear technology.

On 1991 when USSR collapsed there was 980 Civil Defense structures. Most of them fell into private hands and used as basements. Many of them became abandoned and used by homeless people. Now there are 311 Civil Defense structures remaining, 177 belongs to private owners, 46 municipal authorities and 88 state authority. All of the remaining fallout and bomb shelters need serious renovation. They are flooded with water, has no electricity and filtration system is outdated. Large sums of money are needed to renovate these buildings. Only 5% of the Latvian population could take shelter in them.

Even if the nuclear scare is long over (or is it?) today the Latvian government has done little to improve civil defense. Most shelters are abandoned. The large underground bunker in a Grīziņkalns park in Riga is used by the DEAC data center. The top secret Soviet government Bunker in Līgatne is used as a museum. A nuclear attack is not the only real threat to Latvian population. The changing weather and storms are the lightest part. A recently built fertilizer plant in Riga that uses the same design as recently exploded plant in Texas, in theory could destroy large area of the city. Nuclear plants are projected in Kaliningrad, Russia and Belarus. And the possibility of war cannot be ruled out completely in these turbulent times. Today the Civil Defense is seldom taught in schools, although I had a special Civil Defense subject at the University.

Gas masks in case of fallout

Gas masks in case of fallout

Under the Soviet occupation Latvia had nuclear rockets within its territory. Rockets were placed in Zeltiņi, in Alūksne district, there were many nuclear arms in the Soviet airfields. The Early warning radar at Skrunda tried to locate the enemy rockets before approaching the USSR. Despite the US declared support for Latvian independence its unlikely that Latvia would be spared in the nuclear war. According to  http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap3d/ if Riga would be hit by US Titan II warhead of 9 Megatons 703,580 people would perish, 132,560 would be injured.  Radioactive fallout could even reach Leningrad, (St. Petersburg). That would be ultimate destruction of this country. Nuclear power is the Pandora box that man has opened and he must do something to prevent it from destroying its creator.

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