Monthly Archives: September 2013

Mordehai Dubin The Leader of the Latvian Jews 1889-1956

For a nation that lost its homeland many centuries ago and was stranded in many countries a unity and strong leadership were needed. When Latvia gained its independence on 1918 Jews were living there for many centuries. The new democratic country although based on the national will of the Latvian nation offered equal possibilities for all national minorities. Latvian Jewry was never united in its cause. One part of them were Zionists, among them right and left wing ones. Some Jews embraced leftist and even communist ideas. Others stick to orthodox Judaism. On every parliamentary elections Jews submitted various rivaling party lists. Even at the municipal level their views often conflicted. Because of that many great personalities emerged among the Latvian Jewry. One of the most notable Jewish leaders were Mordehai Dubin. He was a Rabbi, businessman, political and spiritual leader. Despite being religious orthodox he often managed to find a compromise between various conflicting Jewish views and was well favored among Latvian politicians. Doing so achieved many humanitarian victories by saving lives and gaining great respect from many. Some have called him Shtadlan the intercessor a meditative figure between Latvians and Jews. This is a story about this remarkable person who deserves its eternal place in history.

Mordehai Dubin was born on January 1 1889 presumably in Riga. His father was a Rabbi Zalman Ben Dubin who made prayers at synagogue in the Marijas street. Dubin himself also frequently attended this synagogue for the most of his life. He received education at the Riga Heder. The First Word war was traumatic for the Latvian Jewry. During the German invasion in the Latvian territory in 1915, the Tzarist authorities ordered to expel all the Jews from front-line areas. This action was based on biased belief that Jews support the German invasion and may act as spies. During the long tsarist times, Jews living in the Russian Empire were subjected to various forms of discrimination. No doubt some of them hoped that the more progressive German Empire may bring positive change to their status. However, the forced move of nearly all Jews from Courland and Semmigallia was an ill fated act. The Tzarist laws for many years restricted Jews to live outside the former borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That meant that living in places such as Moscow and Petersburg was mostly restricted. Now as large masses of Latvian and Jewish refugees, locals wrote in their diaries that Petersburg is full of “Latvians and Jews”. That seriously effected the revolution in 1917 when these masses were quick to support the revolutionary movement.

Mordehai Dubin was 26 years old at the time. Already a successful wood salesman Dubin also moved to Russia and joined the Jewish refugee supportive committee. That was the beginning of his social and political activity. There he met Mordehai Nurok - his future rival from Tukums, educated in foreign universities. From 1913 to 1915 he was already the main Rabbi of the city of Jelgava. Nurok was  a religious Zionist who believed in a Jewish return to the Promised Land-  Eretz Israel (Palestine). He was deeply affected by Teodor Herzl the founder of the Zionist movement of who he met personally. Dubin on the other hand was Lubavitcher Hassid who believed that Jews must stay were they were born and improve their culture on the spot.

On March 1917 a revolution took place in Petrograd (Petersburg) and Tzar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne. The new provisional government lead by Alexander Kerensky on March 20 made a historic step – all past restrictions to national minorities were abolished. Jews, Latvians, Estonians and many others were free to participate in politics and social affairs. However, many Jews and Latvians used this freedom to join Bolsheviks and on November 1917 deposed the provisional government.

Mordehai Dubin was not one of them. In 1917 he moved back to Riga. On November 18 1918 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. The Latvian national leader Kārlis Ulmanis declared equal rights to all disregarding their ethnicity.  While many Jews were weary of the new government, Dubin  was one of the first to support it. At the end of 1918 Latvia was invaded by the Bolsheviks. The Latvian Provisional Government moved to Liepāja and was forced to ally with Baltic German Landeswehr because it lacked enough forces to stop the Bolsheviks themselves. When the Bolsheviks captured Riga, Dubin remained there. He almost managed to achieve approval to get flour to bake matzo. However, Bolsheviks saw this as a contra-revolutionary step and wanted to arrest him. However, Dubin was infected with typhus that made the Bolsheviks to think that he will die anyway.  However, Dubin managed to survive and was back on his feet just as Bolsheviks abandoned Riga.

After the harsh times of the Bolshevik terror and the defeat of the German armies near Cēsis, most Latvian Jews understood that Kārlis Ulmanis Latvian government is their only friend. On July 13 1919 The Peoples Council was called and had 6 Jewish representatives. 2 were from the social democrat Bund, 1 United Jewish Socialist party, and three Jewish National Party members. Dubin was one of them. While the Latvian government made many promises to support national minority rights, they did not accept calls for complete national autonomy. Demands for Jewish national parliament and Cadastre was impossible to meet. However, the national autonomy for Jewish schools was achieved. However, the Jews had arguments about the way the Jewish education must be taught. Zionists wanted to reintroduce Hebrew to make children ready to leave for future Israel. Orthodox Jews wanted a strict religious education with gender separation.  Socialist Jews wanted to teach children just Yiddish the local Jewish Ashkenazi language that most Latvian Jews spoke. Others insisted that Jews must have modern education and there is nothing wrong to get an education in Latvian, German and Russian schools. In 1934 there were 119 Jewish Schools with 14 gymnasiums. While Dubin stood up for religious schools he did not resist other schools since the orthodox education was not widely popular.

As the war for freedom ended with Latvian victory, Dubin rushed to form his own political party. His party was called Agudat Israel and was mainly religious conservative. It was also against Zionism and Bolshevism. His supporters mainly resided in Riga and Latgale. He had many rivals, the Jewish Bund, left wing Zionists Cerei Cion lead by Maxis Lazerson, Mordehai Nurok Mizrachi. Dubin managed to enter all four Latvian parliaments. His magnetism is expressed at best by the fact that the Jews of Jēkabils in the election day came over river Daugava to the city of Krustpils, because Dubin was listed in the Latgalia election district where Krustpils was located. As a man of willpower and ambition he received conflicting views of his personality. Mendel Bobe and Maxis Lazerson his rivals called him a man with “convinced Jewish hearth and soul that did not discriminate anyone regarding his class and political affiliation”. His distant relative Herbert Dubin called him a ruthless and intolerant towards others. Many Latvian politicians praised him for his support and cooperation. Nationalist Latvians feared him and expressed that Dubin holds too great power over Latvian governments. Kārlis Ulmanis was often criticized for his friendly relations with Dubin.

His close aide was Ruben Vittemberg from Daugavpils. He was later replaced with Simon Vittemberg who was not related to Ruben. His secretary was Abram Godin who managed to survive the  war and wrote his memoirs about his time with Dubin.

Dubin stood out as  a strong defender of the Jewish national rights. During the anti-Jewish riots in the rooms of the University of Latvia in 1922 Dubins along with his counterparts appealed to parliament to stop the beating of the Jewish students. The University administration and police was unable to stop angry hateful Latvian students from attacking their Jewish study mates. After main condemnation from the parliament the riots finally stopped.

In his quest for defending the rights for Latvian Jews, Dubin made many departures from his political and religious ideals. He helped the Jewish communist to get out of prison. He rescued the Jewish theater from closure by the state despite his disapproval of such free form of art. Not only that the theater worked on Saturdays, that was forbidden for religious Jews. When the director of the theater asked Dubin why he helped them despite of his disapproval,  he answered: “Yes, I truly never had attended your theater, and will not attend in the future and that does not mean that I like what you are doing there. However, we Jews must receive equal state support as others do!”.  From this on the Jewish theater no longer worked on Saturdays. He also socially supported the Jewish soldiers and veterans despite his pacific beliefs.

But, one of his main achievements was the rescue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson from the Soviet repressions. In 1927 the spiritual leader of the Hassidic Jews was imprisoned by Soviet secret police. At the same the Latvian leftist government was making talks with the USSR about trade treaty. Dubin used his political influence to use the release of Shneerson as condition to sign the trade agreement. Shneerson was arrested and  sentenced to death, however the sentence was dropped and he was moved to infamous Solovki Monastery prison camp. Later he was moved to Kostroma prison and later released. But, it was apparent that he would be arrested again. Since the left wing coalition lacked support and had only one vote majority. The Dubin who was in right wing opposition the situation where his single vote could affect the vote for trade agreements. Dubin himself went to Moscow in risk of being arrested himself. Soviets who wanted the treaty to be signed, agreed to release Lubavitcher Rebbe. However, since he was released on Saturday that was a Sabbath, Rebbe refused to leave his prison cell angering the soviets. With nearly dooming all the Dubins efforts, Rebbe left the prison when the Sabbath was  over. He moved to Riga and gained Latvian Passport. He stayed in Riga until 1929 when he moved to Warsaw Poland.

Mordehai Dubin visits the US president Herbert Hoover  From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

Mordehai Dubin visits the US president Herbert Hoover
From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

The influence of Dubin was so grand that on 1929 he was privately received from Hebert Hoover the president of the United States. Many Latvian politicians including the president himself could only dream of such possibility. However, on May 15 1934 Kārlis Ulmanis took power by coup and dissolved  the parliament. All political parties were banned including Dubin’s party. In anger he called Ulmanis and declared: “If I am no longer needed here, I will leave!” Ulmanis however, talked him out of it and instead insisted on more personal cooperation. Kārlis Ulmanis limited the Jewish school autonomy and removed the Jewish school authority. He replaced it with the single senior administrator for each minority and that was Dubin for Jews. Dubin used his powers to enforce religious lessons in every Jewish school. He also insisted on teaching Hebrew rather than Yiddish. That lead to disappointment for many.

On 1933 Dubin along with other Jewish leaders took a stand against the rise of Nazi Germany. They organized a boycott of German products. In return Germany blocked Latvia butter exports. Latvia exported 59% of butter to Germany and such block was highly disadvantageous. Dubin sparked concerns about rise of support for Nazism and national radicalism. In return many Latvians started to boycott Jewish shops. In the end Germany dropped the restrictions on Latvian butter.

Soon however the deeply antisemitic Nazi Germany started to make even greater concerns for Latvia and Dubin. Large masses of Jews emigrated from Germany and emerged in Latvia. Many only considered Latvia as half-way to Palestine that was mandated by British or other safer places. Fearing national protests Ulmanis did not want to allow them to stay in Latvia for good. Instead he allowed them to remain here until they find safer destination. And Dubin was the man in charge to find a safe destination for them. Dubin did everything for each of the refugee and even worked with Zionist organizations to get them to Palestine. In 1935 there were 159 Jewish refugees, at the end of the year 55, and in 1937 only 48 remained in Latvia. The situation became much more difficult after Arab uprisings in Palestine that made the British authorities to limit the entry of Jews. In 1939 it was completely banned to enter Palestine.

In 1938 Austria was annexed by Germany. There were now 118 Jelws from Germany in Latvia. When a ship containing 77 Austrian Jews reached the port of Riga. They were told to leave despite Dubins efforts. His son Zalman’s wife was an Austrian Jew. On 1939 559 Jews from Germany and Austria remained in Latvia. Dubin could not sent everyone to a safe place as the international situation worsened and moved to world war.

On September 1 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. It was the beginning of Shoah – the Jewish catastrophe. Lubavitcher Rebbe who Dubin rescued from Soviets now was in prime danger since he was living in Warsaw. Dubin again rushed to rescue him. But, all contacts with Latvian embassy had been broken. Rebbe however had Latvian passport. At first it was considered to transport him with a car, but the main route to Riga was under German bombardment. Then Latvian Foreign Ministry managed to get German agreement to transport Latvian citizens from Poland. Since the railway was also bombed the refugees had to  go trough Koenigsberg. However, at the evacuation day a Yom Kipur festival was more important for the Rebbe and he again refused to leave. In the end Rebbe managed to reach Riga on December. On April 1940 he moved to US. Dubin had rescued him both from Soviet and Nazi genocide. Rebbe lived a long life and became famous worldwide.

However, after two months Soviets occupied Latvia. There was no one to rescue Dubin. Dubin declared: “I will go nowhere!” and vowed to remain in Latvia despite the possible Soviet arrest. Dubin in despair tried to keep Jewish youth from taking part in the pro-soviet demonstrations. They only laughed about him. The leader had lost his power. On February 1941 he was arrested and deported. After the pleas from international Jewry he was released and lived in Kuibishev (Samara) where he again helped the Jewish refugees. His whole family, wife and son perished in Riga Ghetto.

In 1946 he returned to Riga. His beloved synagogue in Marijas street was destroyed. He was told to leave by other surviving Jews. And he did so and never returned to Latvia, his homeland. He moved to Moscow suburbs and supported local Jews. He then was arrested again and died in  prison in 1956.

During his captivity he was imprisoned in the same cellar with German soldiers. He said to them: “Should it be known that I feel no hate against you and the German people, despite the fact that your compatriots destroyed my family. I understand that it was the will of the God and you fulfilled it”. He kept his religious traditions in prison and refused to open package that was sent to him on Saturday. Angered Soviets placed him in the locker room. Only when midnight approached he opened the package sent by the Russian Jewish community. Dubin said to the Germans that the cause of his suffering is carelessness towards his mother. After his father died, she asked him to stay with her, of what he answered that I must daily commit to 150 people not only her. He now viewed this a punishment for placing the interests of others rather than her own mother. He was buried in Russia, Malahovka.

Mordehai Dubin has been Latvian patriot since the very beginning until the very end. He was also a staunch defender of the Jewish rights and crossed many barriers for it. For his heroic and rightful deeds he is one of the most exceptional persons in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

The Jews in Latvia / Ed.–board Mendels Bobe, S. Levenberg , I. Maor . – Tel Aviv: Assoc. of Latv. a.

Годин Абрам. Память о праведнике. Воспоминания о Мордехае Дубине. Иерусалим: Шамир, 5761 (2000).

Bobe, Mendels. Ebreji Latvijā. Rīga : Biedrība Šamir, 2006

Stranga, Aivars. Ebreji un diktatūras Baltijā (1926–1940). Latvijas Universitātes Jūdaikas Studiju Centrs. 2002.

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Konstantīns Raudive The Latvian who discovered the Electronic Voice Phenomenon

raudive

Today on our Smartphones and computers an applications called “Ghost Radar”, “Spirit Vox”, “EVP Recorder” ect. have became widely popular. There are certain groups of individuals who try to communicate with “spirits from the afterlife” using modern equipment like tape recorders, microphones or voice recorders. There are even “Ghost Boxes” for sale that claims receive voice messages from the afterlife. It’s interesting enough that the man behind this is Latvian exile Konstantīns Raudive the husband of the famous Latvian poet Zenta Mauriņa. He was one of the first to discover the Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) and bring the world’s attention to it.

Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) are the sounds found on electronic recordings which resemble speech, but are reportedly not the result of intentional recording or rendering. EVP are commonly found in recordings with static, stray radio transmissions, and background noise. Recordings of EVP are often produced by increasing the gain (i.e. sensitivity) of the recording equipment.

Konstatīns Raudive was born in April 30 1909 in the Asūne parish in Latgallia not far from the town of Dagda. Born in farmer family a devout Catholic as the majority of Latgalians in those times. Raudive attended the Krāslava Gymnasium and the Riga Catholic Theological Seminary, but did not graduate it. He then started to look for education abroad at the University of Parma, Madrid, Edinburgh. He lived in Italy and Finland. During his studies he became a student of Carl Jung. In 1938 he returned to Latvia and became active publisher and lecturer. He was untouched by the Soviet occupation in 1940, during the Nazi occupation he expressed deeply sympathetic views towards national socialist ideology in his publication For the culture of life. Problems of the Modern Day Man. There he spoke about the importance of the racial purity and health.

His wife Zenta Mauriņa was however known as humanist, philosopher and talked about spiritual purity rather than racial. Since she was disabled by poliomyelitis from early childhood she was bound to a wheelchair. The marriage union between two however lasted until the very end. In 1944 they both moved to Germany to escape returning Soviets. In 1947 he moved to Sweden and gave lectures. In 1965 he returned to West Germany at Bad Krocingen and remained there with his wife until his death in 1974.

The literal talent of Zenta Mauriņa was well known in whole Europe. She received the Konrad Adenauer Prize, for literature and Officer Cross, of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Some call here one of the greatest Latvian philosophers. Raudive had to find another way how to enter history and in 1964 this chance came.

Friedrich Jürgenson was well known Swedish opera singer set up a microphone on the windowsill of his country home outside Stockholm, intent on recording bird songs”  He thought, however, that he heard voices when he played back his tapes. He also heard voices even when he wasn’t playing back his tapes; he thought of them as telepathic messages. After the first such event in 1959 he started extending research and on 1964 made a book Voices from Space. Raudive read his book and became heavily influenced by it.

He arranged a meeting with Friedrich Jürgenson and soon started to record his own tapes. And he too managed to record what he thought was the voices of the dead. These voices are embedded in other sounds on the tape usually. They are very short and require a trained ear to detect and interpret them. Direct voices on the other hand can be heard as any other sound by everyone present, be it that they emanate from a point in space. The attraction of the EVP registrations is, however, that they can be received by anyone. With the help of various electronics experts he recorded over 100,000 audiotapes, most of which were made under what he described as “strict laboratory conditions.”

Raudive developed several different approaches to the recording of EVP, and he referred to: – Microphone voices: one simply leaves the tape recorder running, with no one talking; he indicated that one can even disconnect the microphone. – Radio voices: one records the white noise from a radio that is not tuned to any station. – Diode voices: one records from what is essentially a crystal set not tuned to a station. Interestingly enough he transcribed some voices as Latvian, French, Russian while recording them in Germany. He attributed some of these voices to recently passed friends.

In 1968 he published his conclusive research called Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead . In 1971 this work was published in English and reached a wider audience. After his death in 1974, his legacy prevailed with the help of his book and voice recordings sold as LP’s. Paranormal researchers have used his methods and improved them. To many he is known as the patriarch of the EVP research.

The cover of the original Raudive book Breakthrough in German

The cover of the original Raudive book Breakthrough in German

The discoveries of the Jürgensson and Raudive have not been widely recognized by the mainstream science. The voices on the empty radio spectrum was just random radio  interference interpreted as voices by the human brain. It could be Interference from CB Radio transmissions and wireless baby monitors, or anomalies generated though cross modulation from other electronic devices, are all documented phenomena. It is even possible for circuits to resonate without any internal power source by means of radio reception. In child days after reading about EVP I also made tape recordings of empty AM frequency. I did not hear any messages, however there was 0ne intriguing noise that resembled a sound of marching soldiers. What ever that was is unclear, but it also leads to another explanation: Raudive was a victim of the wishful thinking.

Many of the Raudive recordings do resemble human voices, however in some cases its not easy to transcript them in the same way as Raudive does. For instance when Raudive claims that he heard voices in Latvian, for me as Latvian speaker is somewhat hard to recognize it as Latvian voice. For the recordings in many cases are faint and unclear leading to many explanations. For instance if the voice is claimed to be French, some Russian speaker may recognize as spoken in his own language. Below is a video of the Raudive recordings showing how complicated is to recognize these voice messages. And both Jürgensson and Raudive really wanted to discover ghost voices and these random sounds lead them to interesting conclusions. For instance if you use the Tarot card deck to foresee the future, the cards you pick in most cases show what you want to see not what they really might show. If one writes down his Tarot card reading and reads it again after some time, the reading may seem surprisingly different and even closer to reality.

However, that does not mean Raudive and other paranormal researchers were delusional. EVP is still not fully explained. The very problem lies within the fact if a man has not experienced a paranormal event he will never fully understand those who have. Albert Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy.  The important information that we get from Einstein’s theory is that this energy always exists. The electrical nature of this energy could explain the disruptions in electrical equipment and unusual readings on EMF detectors that often accompany paranormal events. Whatever is the truth we must recognize Konstantīns Raudive as one of the many Latvians who influenced the whole world.

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The Foreign Aspect during the Latvian Restoration of Independence 1987-1991

USSR-LV-US

In 1945 the Soviet Army occupied Latvia for the second time. Despite the fact that the Republic of Latvia did not exist, its annexation by the USSR was not legally recognized by the most Western powers. During the long Cold Wars in US and UK Latvian diplomats in exile still continued their work. Also the Latvian organizations in exile did everything in its power to put pressure on the Western governments to keep its non recognition of the Soviet occupation policy. However, the exiles themselves were not strong enough to achieve the restoration of independence. The main impulse had t0 come from Latvia, and with the western support. When the political changes begun in the Soviet Union after 1985 that lead to independence movement the local leaders had to find ways for their own foreign policy. They had many tasks: first make contact with the Latvians in exile, gain the western support and start direct talks with Moscow. Later when the juridical and practical process for restoration of independence had started, Latvia had to restore its Foreign Ministry and build its diplomatic service from the scratch. It was a hard and complicated work knowing the experience and knowledge of the independence activists.

Before we start to talk about the Latvian diplomatic activities we must take a look at the global diplomatic situation from late 70′s to the end of the 80′s. The Cold War a stiff competition between the Western Block and the Soviet Union and its satellite states. The political and ideological struggle erupted in conflicts within the so called Third World Countries, Middle East and Asia. Soviets spent enormous resources for their diplomatic and military activities, but the results were questionable at best. The Soviet centralized economy was unfit to survive this arms race and that eventually lead to its collapse. However, the Western powers lacked proper knowledge about the exact scale of the Soviet problems and they could not predict the Soviet collapse. However, there was a hope to win the Cold war or at least peacefully end it.

To do this a great powerful leaders were needed. And coincidentally at the same time both opposing countries USA and USSR  got two such men. Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev. Both remarkable men with a  great will power. The goal of the Ronald Reagan was to restore the lost greatness of US during the Democrat rule. Gorbachev wanted to make grand reforms to end stagnation and restore the greatness of the USSR.  At first Reagan challenged the USSR with strong remarks like “The Empire of Evil” speech that heated up the arms race. However, at the same time he hoped to make equal dialogue with Gorbachev. And the pressure made by US against the Soviets achieved this. Gorbachev who himself started a cardinal reforms in his interior policy also wanted to make a change in the Soviet foreign policy. His goal was to reach strategic balance between the West and East to ensure the survival of the Soviet state. To achieve this he had to cut down the arms race and end the ideological rivalry. By such means Gorbachev gave up his positions one by one that lead to the ultimate breakdown of the USSR.

The Baltic States were not top priority for the Western powers. The main goal was to make the Soviet Union harmless. The collapse of the communist system was a wild desire for the West, however they were afraid of the consequences that may come. However, already in 1986 in Jurmala, Latvia during The Chautauqua Conference the US ambassador Jack F. Matlock openly declared that US still does not recognize the annexation of the Baltic States. However, the main support from US only begun in 1989 and lasted till 1991 when it was clear that the USSR has no future and the restoration of the Baltic States independence is  technically possible. This support was realized as warnings to Gorbachev not to realize any aggressive actions against the Baltic States. On 1989 the new US president George Bush in the Malta conference stated his support for the Baltic independence and made Gorbachev promise not to use any force, but make talks with the Baltic leaders to settle the question. Gorbachev kept his promise until  January 1991 and after the worldwide condemnation he was unable to make any more aggressive steps. 

In 1989 New York Times published a supportive statement for the Baltic States independence. Soon after that the US Secretary of State sent a letter to Latvian envoy in exile Anatols Dinsberģis where he promised to support the Latvian efforts to restore full power over their future and with the help of the emotional protests he wished Latvians to restore freedom in a peaceful way. Also the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed her support. In 1991 president Bush again pressed on Gorbachev to fulfill the Baltic States demands, however he pointed out that the Baltic States they have to resolve this process with Moscow leadership. US had no intention to escalate the relations with the USSR because of the Baltic States. The US and other Western countries feared that the Baltic States are pushing for the independence too fast and may halt the process of liberalization within the USSR and endanger the international balance. The fear that living space of the Soviet Union may turn into “black hole” made many to watch the Baltic efforts with suspicion and weariness.

During the 1991 August coup the US decided to wait for the outcome of this coup was unclear. However, the outcome was so favorable that Latvia finally restored its independence and almost every country rushed to officially recognize Latvia as a sovereign state. From these facts however, we cannot make an equivalent conclusion that it was only the US position that decided the Baltic States independence. The position by the US and its allies were greatly affected by Latvian load demands and foreign lobby. If there were no active struggle for independence within the Baltic States and no active communication with the Western powers, their position would be just as neutral as regards the question of the independence of the Central Asian Republics.

So we must pay attention to Latvian attempts of making foreign diplomacy during the restoration of independence. The first ones who tried to approach the West was the Helsinki – 86 human rights group founded in Liepaja 1986 by nationally minded individuals. Their acts of commemoration on June 14 and August 23 in 1987 sparked a start for the national awakening. They sent letters to US delegation in Jurmala on 1986 and also to the UN. They expressed anger over the worse social and political situation in the occupied Latvia. It has been a an act of courage since until then no such letters came from Latvia itself, but from Latvians in exile. Sadly the Helsinki-86 movement was soon repressed by the KGB and their leaders exiled.

In 1988 the Latvian Popular Front was established as a mass political movement. One of its goals was to establish contacts with Latvian organizations in exile. In every country with a significant Latvian population there were active organizations that may help to get LPF to appeal to western governments. The main Latvian exile organization was the Worlds Free Latvian Organization. Some Latvian exiles were suspicious of the LPF and feared the KGB involvement.  But, most representatives of WFLO expressed support. The head of the Latvian writers union Jānis Peters made a first LPF foreign visit to Canada. LPF made its first foreign support group in Sweden with the help of exile Atis Lejiņš. After that LPF made its groups in USA, UK, Canada and Australia. The first congress of the LPF was only speaking about the need for Latvian autonomy since the prospects for full independence seemed practically impossible.

The head of the LPF delegation Pēteris Laķis speaks to Latvian exiles in the castle of Abrene France May 1989

The head of the LPF delegation Pēteris Laķis speaks to Latvian exiles in the castle of Abrene France May 1989

On 1989 a Baltic Assembly was made that gathered LPF along with its Lithuanian and Estonian counterparts under a common goal. The WFLO and American Latvian Union expressed full support. On May 1989 in the castle of Abrene, France the WFLO and LPF made a meeting. The talks were led by Pēteris Laķis, Eduards Berklavs, Juris Rozenvalds and Juris Golde. In these talks a path to restoration of Latvian independence was set. From this point the cooperation between LPF and WFLO became frequent. LPF leaders made occasional visits to US and Europe. During the 1991 August coup the leader of LPF Dainis Īvāns was in the US with his exile friends. Also the Latvian National Independence Movement made similar contacts with Latvian exiles. These contacts were essential; if in the case of Soviet repressions the exiles had to support LPF and inform the world.

The successful talks with Latvian exiles helped to spread the word of LPF across the world. Exiles made lobbies in their governments. LPF also sent its envoys to other Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia. A petition of 700 000 sign ups was gathered to propose changes in the USSR Constitution to achieve greater freedoms for Soviet republics. In a clandestine way this petition was sent to Moscow to bypass KGB. However, what happened to these petitions reminds a mystery.

On 1990 the first free elections took place and the LPF managed to achieve a majority in the Latvian Supreme Soviet. With communists in opposition the LPF now could slowly transform the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic into the independent Republic of Latvia. On May 4 1990 a Declaration of restoration of independence was passed. The declaration made Latvia to start its own foreign policy. The will for good relations with neighboring states by using democracy and justice was expressed. Latvia declared its support of the Universal Declaration of the Human rights and 27 other international documents. Since the Latvian independence was not yet juridically and practically ensured no state rushed to recognize it. On May 16 Latvia received a document where the King of Sedang David Gil Mayréna II recognizes the Latvian independence and sovereignty. After the first moments of positive surprise, it soon turned out that this kingdom exists only on paper with no chance of recognition for herself.

To get recognition from real countries, Latvia had to make direct talks with the USSR. The president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev was against the Baltic States independence and Latvia was still full of Soviet armed forces and KGB waiting for takeover. A Latvian Foreign Ministry was restored. The LSSR had its own Foreign Ministry, but it was made for symbolic functions and had only few active workers. Thus it was not recognized by anyone outside the USSR. On July 9 the Latvian government made a statement that the goal of the LR Foreign Ministry is to achieve the restoration of the Latvian independence -de facto. Jānis Jurkāns had become the first Latvian Foreign Minister since 1940.

On May 14 1990 Gorbachev outlawed the Latvian declaration of independence. Instead he proposed the formation of Soviet confederation and after that the Union of Sovereign States.  While some Latvian leaders like Ilmārs Bišers was ready to support this the majority of the national leaders stood against it. Soviets did not even start any talks about their proposal. On July 10 1990 Latvian Supreme Soviet proposed talks about the restoration of the Sovereign Republic of Latvia according to July 16 1940. Andrejs Skrastiņš was nominated as the chief of negotiations along with Jānis Peters who became the main representative of the Latvian Council of Ministers in Moscow. However, Gorbachev was still reluctant and hoped for his New Union Treaty. At the same time his rival Boris Yeltsin the leader of the Russian Federal Soviet Socialist republic took the chance and visited Latvia and expressed his support.

With no chances for peacefully stopping the Baltic breakaway, Gorbachev now looked ways to install presidential order over the Baltic States. It would mean the beginning of repressions and the removal of the national governments. However, such acts needed an internationally approved reason and failure to do so caused a massacre on January 13 in Vilnius, Lithuania and the Barricade movement in Riga. Soviet army and KGB was unable to make a provocation that would justify Gorbachev’s actions. With the Western media on the spot and even despite the Gulf War crisis Gorbachev received worldwide condemnation. He also lost his support from hardliners in the party, army and KGB.

On January 13 the Chief of  the Latvian Supreme Soviet Anatolijs Gorbunovs signed treaty with Boris Yeltsin is regarding the foundations in bilateral relations with the Republic of Latvia and Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was ratified by the Latvian Supreme Soviet and acknowledged the sovereignty of  the both states. However, it also asked Latvia to grant citizen rights to all people within its territory. This would mean that large masses of the Soviet migrants also may become citizens. That sparked protests within society.

However, this treaty limited the Gorbachev chances to affect Latvia. After the January crisis he met Gorbunovs and agreed on talks. It was achieved not without the help of US president George Bush who in congress speech declared that the soviets have promised to withdraw its forces and stop violence. On February 19 new delegation was sent to Moscow with Ilmārs Bišers and Jānis Dinēvičš. The first set of talks was about the Soviet Army, the Latvian property conversion, the state enterprises and the Latvian intellectual property. The next set of talks on March 17 failed because the Soviets were unable to accept the Latvian demands.

Lithuania and Estonia were also unable to reach common ground with Moscow. On May 12 1990 in Tallinn the tree Baltic States leaders Anatolijs Gorbunovs, Vytautas Landsbergis and Arnold Rüütel restored the Baltic States Council originally made in 1934. On December 1990 in Vilnius all three Supreme Soviets came together in joint session. All three governments made a common demand to stop the Soviet aggressive policy and allow the Baltic States representation in the international institutions.

The Baltic Council

The Baltic States Council

Letters were sent to the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Union to make an inter-parliamentary delegation speed up the restoration process. Also EU Parliamentary Assembly received plea to make special status for the Baltic States. EU institutions in fear from USSR reaction denied every such proposal. On November 19 1990 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe asked the Baltic delegation to leave the conference room after receiving complaints from USSR. Only on June 1991 the OSCE finally discussed the Baltic question.

On July 10 1990 the chief of the Latvian Council of Ministers Ivars Godmanis and the Foreign minister Jānis Jurkāns went to Washington DC on a private visit. They managed to hold a meeting with president of US George Bush, and the Secretary of State James Baker.  Baker again expressed his support for Baltic States independence and said that Latvia has legal rights with the help of negotiations to restore their freedom. The President was much more reserved in his expressions.

The Sweden was the only state that recognized Latvia as legal soviet part and handed over the Latvian soldiers fighting in German ranks. However, now the Swedish government was more sympathetic towards Latvia. In 1989 Sweden opened Consular branch in Leningrad with diplomat Lars Freden  in charge. He was supportive towards Latvia and achieved official visit of the Swedish ambassador in Riga. The Swedish government made apologies to veterans and their families who were handed over to the Soviets in 1945.  Meanwhile the Eastern European countries who also looked to get rid of the Moscow yoke were quite reserved in talks with Latvians.

The August coup of 1991 suddenly halted all the talks for a short time. On August 21 the coup had failed and Latvia declared full independence. The first country to recognize Latvia as an independent country was Iceland. All others followed. The last country that was little “late” was Rwanda on 1993.  The US herself only officially recognized Latvian independence on September 2 after the Soviet Union had agreed to recognize it too. It was done by Moscow on December 6.

Baltic States leaders visiting George Bush at the White House

Baltic States leaders visiting George Bush at the White House

Just like in 1917-1921 when Latvia was fighting its war for freedom, Latvian diplomats had to make their message to the world. Only this time Latvians had support from exile compatriots and historical legacy. The US non recognition policy was essential to US position on the Latvian independence. The diplomatic activity from Latvian freedom fighters played the most important part in convincing the US and other western powers to keep this favorable position.  If the US position would be neutral Latvia may regain independence in the same way as Belarus and remain within the Moscow sphere of interest. The Latvian will of democratic western society is what achieved our independence. And this achievement must not be undiminished as there are many other far larger nations without their own country.

Selected Sources:

Latvijas valsts atjaunošana, 1986.-1993. : autoru veltījums Latvijas Republikas proklamēšanas 80. gadadienai. Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds, Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmijas Baltijas stratēģisko pētījumu centrs. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds, 1998

Lapsa,Lato Metuzāls Sandris, Jančevska, Kristīne  Mūsu vēsture, 1985-2005 Rīga : Atēna, 2008 1. sēj.

Īvāns, Dainis LTF Rietumos  Rīga 2001

Argita, Daudze. Latvija Zviedrijas ārpolitikā 1945.-1991. Rīga. Zvaigzne ABC 2011

Matlock, Jack F, Jr.Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. Random House (NY), 2004

Fredēns, Pēters, Larss. Baltijas brīvības ceļš un Zviedrijas diplomātija 1989-1991 Atēna, c2007

Mille, Astra.  Te un citadelē. Jānis Peters : tumšsarkanā.Rīga : Atēna, c2006.

Lejiņš, Atis,  Mūra drupinātājs jeb Ceļš atpakaļ uz mājām Rīga : Jumava, 2002

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Latvia and the NATO

The Logo of the NATO summit in Riga 2006

The Logo of the NATO summit in Riga 2006

When the North Atlantic Organization was established by the main western powers on April 4 1949 Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. Since NATO was made to defend the Western Europe and US from possible Soviet invasion no doubt that in case of war Latvia would become a battlefield. During the Cold War years Latvia was filled with Soviet bases and NATO gathered intelligence about them. Until the very end many of the NATO leaders could not imagine the collapse of the opposing Warsaw Pact Union and the Soviet Union. The question became open to the western leaders – what to do with former Eastern European satellite states and the Baltic States? Integrate them in the NATO? Or leave under the Russian influence? But, the answer for many of the Eastern European countries and the Baltic States was clear- we want to join NATO! The process of joining was difficult  because of protests from Russia and Latvian readiness for such step. And the responsibility of being a NATO member in this fast changing unstable world is even more challenging.

On January 1991 during the Barricade movement the Latvian government started to form a legislation for own armed forces. The past Latvian Army in 1918-1940 was in great memory for many, but it was unable to defend its homeland in the most critical moment. Mostly because of lack of foreign support, lack of unity between the Baltic states and the cowardice of the ruling politicians. The first national armed unit of the restored independent republic was the Latvian National Guard (Zemessardze) made right after the breakdown of the coup in August 1991.   NG is a basic land component, consisting of volunteers who perform traditional national guard duties such as crisis response and support for military operations. It consists of 3 regions of National Guard.

First Latvian soldiers on 1991

First Latvian soldiers on 1991

On September 10 1991 a law of compulsory military draft was made to form new Latvian armed forces. The Latvian men from age of 19 to 50 had to fulfill a military duty. On November 13 1991 the Ministry of Defense was formed. Before the WW2 the ministry was officially called the Ministry of War. First Minister of Defense was Tālavs Jundzis who before that served as the chief of the commission of the defense and interior affairs.   In the same time the vitally important Latvian Border Guard was also formed. On January 21 1992 the main Joint Headquarters (NAF) was formed to take command of all land, sea and air units. All other headquarters of navy, air defense and border guards were subordinated to the main command.  The first commander-in-chief was colonel Dainis Turlais.

The Coat of Arms of the Latvian National Armed forces

The Coat of Arms of the Latvian National Armed forces

On November 4 1992 the law regarding National defense and armed forces was made. Latvian military was officially named the National Armed Forces (Nacionālie Bruņotie Spēki NBS). The structure of the NBS changed many times. The Land Forces (Sauszemes spēki SZS) consists of Headquarters HQ and Signal Company 1st Infantry Battalion 2nd Infantry BattalionFire Support Battalion Combat Support Battalion. Latvian Naval Forces (Latvijas Jūras spēki LJS), Air Force (Latvijas Gaisa Spēki LGS), Latvian Special Task Unit (Speciālo Uzdevumu Vienība SUV) and the Military Police. There are active 4,763 active duty personnel in the NAF. 971 in SZS,  552 in LJS, 10,642 voluntary national guardsmen with 1,284 officers and 1,945 non-commissioned officers in the Latvian National Guard. There are 1,288 civil employees serving in the NAF. From 2005 Latvia switched from institutional draft to professional army.

The cooperation with NATO begun shortly after the founding of the new Latvian military. On 20 December 1991, NATO founded the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) to collaborate with potential partners. Latvia also participated in the NACC foundation session, thus becoming a Member State of the forum.
In 1994, Latvia joined the programme “Partnership for Peace” established in the same year, which gave the possibility to take advantage of consultations of NATO civil and military specialists, their support and practical assistance in development of the defence system. In 1995, the participation in the “Partnership for Peace” programme also allowed Latvia to get involved in the NATO Planning and Review Process that, in subsequent years, facilitated compliance of the Latvian National Armed Forces with those of NATO Member States.

The joining NATO meant that Latvia had to make many changes in its laws and policy. From 1992 to 1994 Latvia had tough time of managing the withdrawal of the Russian army from Latvia. The ex-Soviet soldiers now part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were still in their bases and many refused to leave. Latvian delegation managed to achieve that all ex-Soviet bases including the top-secret sites are evacuated. Russians destroyed most of their military objects and made unusable for the Latvian army. After the last Russian soldier left Latvia (not including the retired officers and their families) the Latvian government set path to join EU and NATO. Many amendments were made including the Citizenship law that caused a failed referendum to cancel these changes.

Latvian Armed forces also had to prove themselves in the International operations. From 1996 to 2009 Latvia joined the Peace Keeping operations on Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 1999 Latvia sent its soldiers to join the peace keeping  mission in Kosovo the KFOR. Latvians left on 2009. 17 soldiers, 13 Military reconnaissance experts and four staff sergeants was stationed there during the mission.

On 23―25 April 1999, at the NATO summit meeting in Washington, USA, NATO suggested Latvia and the other eight candidate states to elaborate a Member Action Plan (MAP) for participation in NATO by reflecting the entire preparatory process and measures for the participation in NATO therein. MAP would permit the states to receive additional consultations, support and practical assistance from NATO Member States. On 21 November 2002, at the meeting of NATO Heads of state in Prague, Czech Republic, Latvia and six other candidate states were invited to join NATO. This marked the beginning of the last stage for Latvia for becoming a NATO Member State, which took place on 29 March 2004.

The reasons for invitation only in 2002 is linked with the change in the global policy. US started a “Crusade against terrorism” and needed more supporters for their actions. Russia who was actively acting against the Baltic States joining in NATO, after September 11 seemed for friendlier to US than before.  However, Russia again became more hostile after US invasion in Iraq on 2003. But, it was too late to prevent the full integration of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. The borders of NATO had extended to Russian borders making Russians to adopt the “encircled fortress doctrine” that stated that Russia is surrounded by the western powers and needs to defend itself from the foreign influence. The so-called “orange revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan where liberal forces managed to overthrow the pro-Moscow autocratic regimes made Russian leaders believe that NATO is against them even more. As Russia again experienced economic boom due to the rising oil prices, Russian military started a revival and power demonstration.

Meanwhile Latvia joined the ISAF mission in Afghanistan on 2003. Latvian soldiers were already sent under the Soviet lines on “International Duty” to Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. However, they were sent mainly against their own will. This time the participation in the mission was voluntary and paid. So far Latvia has sent 144 soldiers and the mission still continues. Latvians operate in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Meymaneh. So far three soldiers have been lost. Latvians were and are involved in heavy firefights with the Taliban insurgents. Now Latvians are mostly involved in training the Afghanistan Defense forces. The US, Norwegian and other partner state military has praised their Latvian colleges for their courage and discipline.

Latvian soldiers in Afghanistan

Latvian soldiers in Afghanistan

Latvia officially supported the US invasion in Iraq when other NATO states such as France and Germany did not. First soldiers were sent to Iraq on August 2003. Latvian troops were initially deployed to Kirkuk (under U.S. command) for a year, then transferred to Camp Charlie in Al Hillah, followed by Camp Delta in Al Kut. Finally, the Latvians were stationed at Camp Echo in Ad Diwaniyah where they conducted external security patrols. During their final posting, three Latvian soldiers were killed in action. On June 18, 2007, all but 7 of Latvia’s 125 troops left Iraq. Four of the remainder left within two weeks, leaving three officers who participated in intelligence analysis and operational planning from July 2007 onwards. The last three Latvian soldiers concluded their mission on November 8, 2008.

Latvian army specialists were also involved in military conflict in Macedonia on 2003, Latvian military observers were sent to Georgia on 2008. Latvian government officially sided with Georgia, during the war with Russia. The Prime Minister of Latvia Ivars Godmanis joined others western leaders and went to Tblisi during the war action. From 2011 Latvian naval specialists are involved in action against the Somalian pirates. On 2013 Latvian military instructors were sent to Liberia to help instructing the Liberian armed forces. And the latest ongoing mission with the Latvian troops on the ground is Mali where Latvia has sent officer and instructor.

Important aspect of the Latvian NATO membership is national security. The Article V is the most important for Latvia. This committed each member state to consider an armed attack against one state to be an armed attack against all states. This would mean if for instance Russia would attack Latvia it would trigger full NATO-Russian war. Optimists see this as a full-time guarantee for the Latvian security. Pessimists remind that in case of such event the nuclear weapons would have to be used and NATO would give up the Baltic States to escape nuclear war. What they forget that because the gigantic amount of the nuclear weapons made by both sides in the past would meant a total destruction and make these weapons useless for achieving victory. So nuclear weapons are mostly used as power demonstration and diplomatic argument. And the other important issue is that the Russian nuclear arsenal has been outdated and downsized by the many nuclear disarmament treaties. The Russian nuclear forces also can be destroyed in pre-emptive strike with using conventional weapons as concluded by many Russian military experts. Therefore in case of NATO-Russia conflict Russia may only be able to threaten others with their nukes not actually use them. And is Russia wiling to doom itself for the sake of the Baltic States if loosing few thousand conventional troops would be more cheaper.

French fighters in NATO Baltic Air Policing mission

French fighters in NATO Baltic Air Policing mission

The NATO guarantee for Baltic States security so far is Baltic Air Policing. Its NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The NATO jet fighters are stationed on Zoknia airfield at Lithuania. The Latvian main air force base at Lielvārde so far is not sufficient for modern NATO aircraft. Various NATO countries including Germany, France, Portugal, Poland and others have sent their fighters to do routine flights across the Baltic States. Their daily routine is sometimes interrupted by Russian Tu-95 bombers and fighter planes who for some reason heads to close to Baltic air space or even enters it. During the past decades Russians have sent their heavy strategical bombers on regular flights. In many cases they dare to violate the NATO airspace. Its a Russian power demonstration, however most of these bombers are built during the Soviet era and are outdated. While Russian air force is still in large numbers and pose a significant threat its suffers from outdated aircraft and accidents. Russians still face heavy problems in releasing new aircraft’s and  rockets. Numerous test accidents were widespread during the Soviet Union, but no the Russian military simply cannot hide it.

The main threat for the Baltic State security is the military inequality between the member states. Also the US foreign policy during the Barack Obama administration have shifted from Eastern Europe towards the Middle East and Asia. However, in recent two years its apparent that the American “reset” policy has failed. Russia is wiling for more confrontation with US and NATO. The reasons for this is the downsizing Russian economy and falling popularity of the Vladimir Putin regime. To divert the national attention from domestic issues the Russian government blames the US, NATO and EU for its failures. Also Russia is interested in keeping the Middle Eastern conflict hot as possible to keep the oil prices up at high level. Since the main profit for Russian economy goes from oil and gas exports, Russia is interested to keep the oil prices high as possible at the expense of the Middle Eastern peace. And also the Russian paranoid belief that all the democratic opposition is actually a western agents makes them more aggressive towards the west.

With such nervous neighbor, Latvia has irresponsibility kept low military budget for many years. Only in recent times the current Defense Minister Artis Pabriks has openly pushed for adding more funds for Latvian military budget. On 2008 the military budget was 63 000 000 LVL on 2011 93 000 000 LVL. When the new state budget is being arranged the Defense Minister had openly stated that the funding for the defense is still not enough and not reach the NATO standard levels. He even said that the NATO leadership may object the Latvian capability of fulfilling their duty. Meanwhile Estonia spends 249 million euros on defense. Lithuania spends 252.0 million. While it’s not meant as un-patriotic criticism it could bring the situation where in case of emergency Latvia becomes a “white spot” in Baltic State security.

  NATO is also concerned about the Swedish military capability. Russians have even played a war games where they proved they can isolate the Swedish air forces in case of war in the Baltic States. Sweden has also neglected its defense for some time and stands as fragile ally. With the US military action looming in Syria, Russia has become even more nervous and some war hawks have even called for invasion in the Baltic States in case of US strike on Syria. While we may view these as empty threats its clear that Russia is no longer a stable neighbor. For Latvia the Putin regime is more desirable as long its controls its military rhetoric and economy to stable level. However, Latvia must also keep off the “soft power” this regime makes.  Awareness of danger posed by authoritarian neo-soviet thinking that Moscow tries to import even in the rooms of the parliament must be eminent. The worst case scenario the Russian regime drift to extreme military policy or the complete civil disorder is the main reason why Latvia and other NATO states should do everything to improve their security.

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