Category Archives: Historical Articles

Belarussians in Latvia

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal "Jaunais Cīrulītis"

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal “Jaunais Cīrulītis”

One of the Slavic nations, besides Ukrainians and Poles  that Latvia shares a common past and future are Belarusians. Latvia and Belarus have common border and cultural and ethical roots. In Latvian the Belorussian is spelled as “Baltkrievs” and not without a reason for the Belorussian ethnic origins come from 5 to 6 century when Ancient Slavic tribes migrated from Central Europe to the lands present day Belarus where the ancient Baltic tribes lived. Various Slavic tribes the kriviči, dregoviči, radmiči moved to lands inhabited by augstaiši, jātvingi, galindi and latgalians slowly assimilating them until the 10 century. The Duchies of Polotsk and Smolensk used old Belarussian language and had political and trade contacts with ancient Latvian tribes. At the 13th century old Belorussian duchies were integrated into  Grand Duchy of Lithuania where Belorussian noble elite played important role. Old form of Belorussian language was used in official jurisdiction of the Lithuanian duchy. No wonder the original Belarus coat of arms was derived from the coat of arms of the Lithuanian duchy. Majority of Belorussian historians consider the Lithuanian Grand Duchy as the state of Belarusians while Lithuanian counterparts tend to disagree.

For various reasons on 16th century the therm “White Russia” or “White Ruthenia” was derived. Consequently people living in it and talking in language different  than in Russia and Ukraine became known as Belarusians. Sadly on the same time after Lithuania united with Poland, Belorussian nobility was slowly removed from the ruling elite. Country had to go trough many destructive wars between Russia and Poland. After the full inclusion into Russian empire the Belorussian nation went into silent decay.

As mentioned the ancient Latgalain rulers had connections with Duchies of Polotsk as early as 12th century. Merchants traveled across river Daugava they called Dvinsk. Larger number of Belorussian settlers came to Latgale when it was under Polish-Lithuanian rule. Either Belorussian nobles or peasants. It’s known that the town of Jēkabpils originated from settlement of refugees of the Orthodox Old Believers, that came from Vitebsk and Smolensk  that may be Belorussian origin. Belorussian migration continued under the Tsarist rule in bordering areas. As Latgale was part of Province of Vitebsk the entry was less restricted than to other parts of present day Latvia.

On 1897 the All Russia National Census concluded that in six districts of the Province of Vitebsk – Ludza, Daugavpils (Dinaburg) and Rēzekne a 66 thousand Belarusians and 63 thousand speaking Belorussian lives in this area. Some Latvian historians and demographers however argued that this amount was boosted by local Poles and Latvians calling themselves Belorussians for their own reasons.    Another crucial factor was the so-called “tuteiši” – people who had no perception of their national identity and simply described themselves as locals or Catholics or Orthodox. Latvians, Poles, Russians and Belarusians not to mention the Jews lived in Latgale side by side and often were prone to assimilation.  As we know today the once national identity is not derived from genes or family roots, but by state of mind and education.  Latgale was ethically and religiously  mixed with a very complicated social structure. For these reasons people in Latgale often had difficulty choosing their national identity.

After Latvia gained independence on 1918, various national census held in 1920, 1925. 1930 and 1935 showed inconclusive results. On 1920. the first national census still counted Russians and Belarusians together, however to distinguish them  Russians were called as “Great Russians” (Lielkrievi). In result according to interpretations 75 thousand Belarusians lived in Latvia on 1920. However, the 1925 census counted now just 38 thousands. Without proper understanding some historians as Viktors Guščins made a claim that a massive Belorussian deportation was organized by Latvian authorities. Since there were no documented proofs of such action taking place the “Belorussian Deportation” is just another of the Guščins wild fantasies. On 1935 just 25 thousand Belarusians were counted. This rapid decrease was dictated by many reasons. Firstly as the Latvian Statistic Authority admitted they often lacked knowledge to determine who is Belorussian and who is not. Some Belarusians were counted as Russians or Poles or even Latvians. Another problem was the low literacy of the Belorussian farmers as some data shows only some 63% of them knew how to read. In same matter Russian and Polish farmers especially in Latgale had this litercy problem. Another factor was the constant Latvian national policy of trying to absorb some nationally unsure Latgalian people as Latvians in same matter as Poles and Russians tried to do same. During the twenties and thirties Latgale was a constant cultural, ideological and  diplomatic battleground to make Latgale more Latvian free from foreign influence. In this matter many Belarusians lost their national identity.

On March 25 1918 the Belorussian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. It had diplomatic relations with the Republic of Latvia and some even took the BPR citizenship. However, the republic was steamrolled by the Bolsheviks and Poles. Part of Belarusians came under Soviet rule with its own Belorussian Soviet Republic. Other part was ended up in Poland and Lithuania. Both countries especially Poland was in uneasy relations with the national minorities. Latvia on the other hand issued a minority friendly laws allowing to form own native language schools. Belorussian intellectuals living in Latvia saw a great chance to start a Belorussian national revival. However, this seemed harder than expected.

On 1922 The Belorussian school authority was established. Baltic Germans, Jews, Russians and Poles already had their own. As much as 40 state funded schools and 2 gymnasiums were opened.  A special courses for Belorussian teachers were made. However, the Belorussian schools had various problems mostly because of the low number of school children. Only 40% of school age children actually attended because of poverty and even lack of shoes. In Daugavpils 19 teachers worked with 86 students in Ludza 5 teachers with 50-60 students. However, it was common sight for many national minority schools such as Jewish schools and others. The national Latvian forces in parliament and press always made a negative discourse towards minority schools calling them “a useless spending of state money” and hostile to Latvians. Even greater was the cross minority rivalry for funding for their schools and school children. Polish and Russian national minority forces were annoyed by the existence of the Belorussian schools and started a campaign against them as early on 1923 resulting a political farce.

Konstantin Jezovitov - the leader of the Belorussian national movement on 1920-1940

Konstantin Jezovitov – the leader of the Belorussian national movement on 1920-1940

Russian and Polish newspapers started to spread propaganda that there is no such nation as Belarusians, but they are just confused Russians or Poles used by ex Tsarist officers who claim themselves as Belarusians. The Latvian press especially the Latvian Latgalian press pick this up and started to write word Belorussian in commas. In their hypocrisy the Latvian newspapers had no problem writing about Belarusians in Poland or USSR a real nation. On 1923 in the Latvian parliament the “Belorussian”  question was officially discussed. Polish deputy Jans Veržibskis accused the Belorussian national leader Konstantin Jezovitiov and others of intentionally devising a nation called “Belarusians”   to gain national state support and new carrier grounds at the expense of Poles and Russians. The Latgalian deputies Fricis Kemps and Jāzeps Trasuns picked up the subject and agreed that there are no Belarusians but instead accused the Poles of attempting to assimilate Latvians. In their view Belarusians were Latvians mislead by the Poles. Belarusians got themselves into cross national crossfire.

The whole 1923 was spent in arguing between both sides. Konstantin Jezovitov wrote a defending publication outlining the Belorussian history and culture. Fricis Kemps answered with  a strong worded publication that caused a lawsuit where Jezuvitov managed to prove him guilty of personal insult. Then on 1924 the anti-Belorussian campaign reached its height. In the Kapiņu parish Belorussian school a school inspected saw a map showing Belorussian borders including parts of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. This was reported to Ministry of Education because the school inspector believed these borders signify the future state of Belarus taking away Latvian lands. Latvian Secret Police had Jezovitovs and other Belorussian activists on their watch-list.  Partly because of alleged conections with the radical leftist forces and Belorussian organizations outside Latvia. Two years before on 1921-1923 both in Poland and Lithuania a trial was made against Belorussian organization “Gromada” that was accused on plotting uprising against the Polish state. Knowing this the Latvian Secret Police made a suspicion that Belorussian organization “Batjaukaščina” of being separatist force.

Eight Belorussian schoolteachers were accused of treason, with them Jezovitov, A Jakubecky, V Korcius and others. The case against the “Belorussian national separatists”  were orchestrated by negative publications in the press and resulted the closure of many schools. Jezovitov spent in prison 11 months as only one of the accused. On 1925 the trial took place and resulted in fiasco. Latvian Secret Police failed  to prove the existence of the “criminal separatist” organization. The witnesses were mostly agents or hostile Russian schoolteachers. It turned out that the map that caused the process actually showed the Belorussian ethical borders not state borders. Although Konstantin Jezovitov was an ex officer of the Belorussian Peoples Republic his separatist actions could not be proved. In the end all accused were found not guilty resulting a heavy strain on Belorussian national movement.

In the following years Latvian politicians were forced to accept the fact that Belarusians live in Latvia and deserve their schools. Belarusians did made hostile opposition in return, and praised the Latvian state support. Nationalist pressure on Belorussian schools  still continued on 1925 local Latgalian newspaper celebrated the closure of the Belorussian  gymnasium in Ludza. However, as the national and diplomatic relations with Poles and Poland worsened especially on 1931, Latvians now accused Poles of inciting hate between Latvians and Belarusians.

Belarusians had many supportive Latvian friends like Rainis the famous Latvian poet and leftist leader.  With his help Belarusians could find their schools and enter politics within the social democratic party ranks. Later, more intellectual Latvians acknowledged the Belorussian national movement. Cultural developments were on the go despite low funding and other problems.

Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime limited the Belorussian national cultural activities while the Soviet Occupation destroyed it completely.   During the Nazi occupation 0n 1943 48 601 people within Latvia were called as Belarusians. The sharp increase can be explained by the flow of people from German occupied Belarus, who either were moved against there will by the Germans or moved by themselves.  Some Belarusians served in Latvian SS Legion some resisted the Nazis. Konstantin Jezovitov was arrested by Soviet SMERCH and died in captivity on 1944.

Belorussian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

Belorussian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

After the start of the second Soviet occupation people from Belarus, just as from Ukraine and Russia came to Latvia to settle for a new life. Belarus was utterly devastated by the war and soviets pushed to build factories that needed large amount of workforce. In result between 1959 t0 1989 about 120 Belarusians lived in Latvia. Most again settled in Latgale and Daugavpils, while others moved to Riga and other centers. On 1989 43 thousand Belarusians lived in Riga. Large part of Belarusians still lived in rural areas. However, because of the lack state support towards Belorussian language education some 36% of Latvian Belarusians knew the Belorussian language. Same difficulty they had with Latvian  resulting that many were placed in mass of immigrants simply described as “Russians” or “Russian-speakers”. However, not always the lack of native language skills signify the loss of national identity as common for Belarusians, Jews, Poles and Ukrainians.

In same manner as other national minorities Belarusians founded their cultural societies during the events of 1988-1992. On 1988 November 27 the Belorussian cultural society “Svitanak” that gathered established members of society and culture. A Belorussian Primary School is working in Riga, and many cultural activities are taking place. Unfortunately, from the early start the independent state of Belarus was taken over by post-sovietic authoritarian regime with more emphasis towards  Russia, as Russian language is most used in Belorussian majority country. Latvian politicians for economic reasons have often ignored the political situation in Belarus. Some parties have eagerly expressed support towards Ukrainian national movement while praising Alexander Lukashenka. In result the Belorussian opposition considers Lithuania and Poland as more supportive towards their cause rather than Latvia. According to 2012 census 4,1 of Belarusians live in Latvia making them second largest national minority. Only above 600 of them use Belorussian language at home. The bad effect of the Russification policies is clear, but in the spirit of the changing times can be overcome as the Belarusians is a nation of a historical value and legacy.

Selected Sources:

Apine, Ilga. (1995) Baltkrievi Latvijā. Rīga. 1995.

 Jēkabsons Ē. Белорусы в Латвии в 1918–1940 годах (Baltkrievi Latvijā 1918.–1940. gadā) //Беларуская дыяспара як пасреднiца ў дыялогу цывiлiзацый. Матэрыялы III Мiжнароднага кангрэса беларусiстаў. Мiнск: Беларускi Кнiгазбор, 2001

http://www.svitanak.lv/

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Nazi Germany and the Putin’s Russia: The Grand Parallel

“But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On November 11 1918 the German Empire witnessing economic problems and facing revolution was forced to sign armistice. The German armies were still within the frontiers in France and Russia. Not a single enemy soldier had occupied any quarter of the German lands. Germany was unable to win the World War I, but was only partially defeated. There was no major fighting in the German land except the early battles on 1914 in East Prussia. German army was still intact, the political system witnessed major shift from monarchy to parliamentary democracy, but most imperial elite were not persecuted and still played major role. All the radical communist uprisings were stopped at early start. However, Germany lost many territories were ethnic Germans lived many new countries formed with large German population including Latvia. The severe reparations imposed by the Allied states at the Treaty of Versailles and inter political rivalry made Germany suffer from heavy inflation and unemployment. And with this from a early start a group of people – past imperial elite, war veterans and nationalists who believed that Germany was not defeated, but betrayed by inner rouge forces. And their goal was to avenge the humiliation of  November 11 1918 and restore the former German Empire which collapse was a catastrophe of their lifetime. Also most Germans did not felt any guilt for its part in WWI. The goal of the historians was to prove that Germany was not responsible for causing WWI.

73 years later the Soviet Union could not gain the upper hand in the Cold War, plagued by economic problems and revolutionary changes the major superpower collapsed. Soviet Union was defeated in long exhaustive war that was fought mostly by proxy in the Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and elsewhere with the Western block. In result the Soviet Union broke in to various new countries with large Russian population. The painful economic reforms lead to severe economic breakdown and poverty. Single party state was replaced with unstable multi-party rule. Separatist movements showed up within Russia. Communist uprising on 1993 was defeated with tanks. However, the past soviet elite, the KGB forces and army still intact kept its position and were convinced that Soviet Union was betrayed by the traitors sponsored by foreign enemy. And so they joined ranks to restore the former glory of the Soviet Union and revenge on those who by their minds made the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of their lifetime. And the Russian people still saw the Soviet past as glorious and did not see any wrongs in the Soviet actions in the past.   Despite some attempts to revise the soviet past the mainstream Russian historiography has been based on old Soviet ideological guidelines.

The German economic situation was critical trough out the early twenties. Hyperinflation, bankruptcies and high unemployment made the German people look for radical solutions. There were strong communist movement in Germany and various radical nationalist movements. A great rise of esoteric movements who integrated old pagan beliefs into new racist Aryan doctrines. Generally on second half of the twenties the economy stabilized until 1929 the start of the Great Depression the situation went into downwards spiral again. And all this was accompanied by the rise of antisemitism  and conservative radicalism when regarding art and sexual matters.

Russian Federation suffered a state default in 1998, chaos in economy at the edge of banditry. Russian politics were filled with old time communists, ultra nationalists,various radical religious movements. Old Slavophile theories of Slavic unity and Russian racial superiority were brought back to life. National hate towards Jews, Caucasians and Central Asians raised up to new level. After 2001, following the general economic growth and the rise of oil prices made Russia recover and reach new heights until 2008 the start of the economic crisis.

The German politics even before Hitler, were based on the revision of the Versailles treaty. The treaty of Rapallo on 1922, the diplomatic pressure on Poland and the Baltic States were dictated by the will of restoring the power over the German speaking Easter Europe.  Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was not far from Hitler in his revisionist policies only in less radical anti-democratic manner.

Russian foreign experts already on 1992  devised a Russian foreign conception based on defending the rights of the Russian speakers in the former soviet republics. The main tactics was the use of international treaties, human right charters and support for Russian organizations outside the Russian Federation. Diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Baltic States begun already before Putin. Boris Yeltsin despite less radical than Putin was pursuing the same revisionist policies.

After failed coup attempt and short imprisonment the decorated war veteran Adolf Hitler managed to gather the radical nationalist forces and win elections on 1933. However, his rise of power was not dictated just by the common will of the people, but the inner intrigues and the weakness of the German leadership who allowed Hitler to take power. After the president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg lost his bets on two rivaling politicians Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleiher, he was forced to choose Hitler as chancellor hopping that his power will be limited. But, Hitler managed to use the burning of the Reichstag as excuse for complete takeover of the power. Shortly after that old and sick Hindenburg died unable to change anything.

Just as Hitler was disappointed to see German Empire to collapse, the KGB agent Vladimir Putin who on that time served in Eastern Germany was clearly traumatized by collapse of the Soviet Union. As there was no lustration of the former party and the intelligence elite, the man slowly but pragmatically climbed up the top of the political elite. The sick and tired Boris Yeltsin was forced to accept him as his replacement as Putin was supported by various Kremlin power circles. Same as the German conservatives thought of Hitler, they also thought that Putin will be limited in his powers and support their interests. However, while still as acting president Putin was gifted with terrorist acts in Moscow and the new conflict in Chechnya. In the same matter as Hitler gain upper hand by placing on the communist threat, Putin used the terrorist threat to win elections and gather his power. Boris Yeltsin was retired and unable to change anything.

Despite Hitlers long propagandized radical intentions, most countries in Europe met him with enthusiasm.  In contrary to sick old Hindenburg and his unstable governments, Hitler seemed a promising figure who will lead Germany into peace and prosperity. And Hitler at his first years of rule implemented his radical aggressive policies at small pace. Leaving good impression on British and American leaders, astonishing everyone with the economical success of Germany, Hitler meanwhile made complete single party leadership, made repressions against the political opposition and started to head against the German Jews. Hitler staged a grand Olympic games on 1936 and on the same year sent his forces to Rhine de-militarized zone and from that moment started to rebuilding his army. UK and France trying to preserve peace accepted the anschluss of Austria. And then Suddentenland of Czechoslovakia and then whole Czechoslovakia itself was added to Germany by the Allied support. A common excuse then not to react – its too far away and there is Germans anyway both in Austria and   Czechoslovakia. And then Hitler believing that allies will play the same passivity on Poland started his path to WW2.

Putin was welcomed by many across the world, despite his KGB past. US president George Bush Jr. was convinced at start that Putin has a soul  of a man of who he can trust. Putin was slow in early politics, however economic growth made him to start suppress his political opponents and restrict freedom of speech. In contrary to Hitler, Putin until this time managed to make a pseudo democracy, even formally making his accomplice Dmitri Medvedev  as president for 4 years. Many tried not to notice what was happening in Russsia, the business and investments played the upper hand.

Putins foreign policy of supporting the Russian speakers in former Soviet Union became more aggressive, just  as Hitlers policy on the volksdeutche in Eastern Europe. The Latvian Secret service from 1933 to 1939 constantly fought against the legal and illegal pro-nazi organizations. Now the present day Latvia is constantly fed up with the pro kremlin organizations operating in Latvia. Putin’s foreign policy was soft based until it opened fire on 2008. The Western reaction was rather self pathetic as they recognized that Georgia opened the fire first (although they were provoked to attack first) and accepted the de facto annexation of  Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Putin invaded and annexed Crimea many western media especially CNN  made flawed arguments that Crimea is Russian anyway, while ignoring long Crimean non-Russian history and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on 1944. Still US and EU are slow to increase sanctions and political pressure on Russia. The reasons for this are understandable, however if we follow this grand parallel then Putin might move further in Ukraine and only will be stopped when he attacks the country that has some real guarantees like  Baltic States and Poland.

And this where the Grand Parallel between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia ends. The very point of this parallel is will for revenge and revisionism. A will that lead the Germany into full collapse and destruction. It took many years for Germans to understand the consequences of irrational revenge based policies which made Germany gradually a better place. The Russian nation needs to learn this also to became a better place. Will this lesson be so bloody and destructive as for Germany, its only up to Russian leadership and its people.

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Ukrainians in Latvia

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Latvia despite somewhat far from Ukraine has always shared common connections with Ukrainian people. In the Middle Ages the Vikings or Varyags came down from river Daugava to river Dnieper to the Kievan Rus. The territory of Latvia and Ukraine were united within the Poland -Lithuania and the Empire of Russia. Some Latvians moved to rich Ukrainian lands to gain their own farming land. Many Latvian nationals were sent on military duty to Ukrainian lands. In the same matter the first Ukrainian people appeared in Latvian lands on 19th century.

Ukrainians served in Russian garrisons, students went to Riga Polytechnic Institute  and various specialists and teachers. According to national census of 1897 1000 people called them as Ukrainians, most of them were from Russian  army. On 1910 Ukrainian students  in Riga Orthodox cathedral held a church service on the day of death of the Ukrainian writer Taras Sevchenko. This became a tradition until 1940. On 1911 first Ukrainian national organization “Gromada” (Alliance) was formed. Despite being short of members it had its own choir, dramatic ensemble and support cash desk. On 1914 Tsarist authorities forbid Ukrainians to  celebrate openly the 100 birthday of Taras Sevchenko and the celebration was held privately at the Gromada office. Latvian organizations were invited also.

On 1915 the German army invaded the Latvian territory.  The work of the national organizations were stopped. Factories were evacuated and the Riga Polytechnic institute was closed. Many Ukrainians were  sent to Latvian rifleman battalions. After the February revolution of 1917 within 12th army stationed within Riga of whom many Ukrainians served, created their national organizations. The newspaper “Ukrainian voice”, the Ukrainian socialists-revolutionaries  (esers), and the Ukrainian Rada of the 12th  army with Aleksandr Blonsky as the leader. On May 6 the congress of the Ukrainian soldiers were held in Riga. A nationalistic goal was set to “Ukrainianaze” the 21 Corpus of the 12th army and send it to Ukraine. The congress ended with march trough the streets of Riga with Ukrainian songs.  The Rada worked until January 1918 when most of the Ukrainian soldiers came back to homeland.

On November 20 1917 in Kiev the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Ukrainians tried to make contacts with Latvian counterparts. From 1919 to 1921 a diplomatic and consular connections between UPR and the Republic of Latvia were established.  On September 1 1919 the UPR  Consulate in Riga begun its work. Consulate supported the Ukrainian refugees. Also the Ukrainian as well as Belorussian Peoples Republic citizenship served as a loophole for some who wanted to avoid serving in the Latvian army during the War for Freedom. Both national countries did not survive the Russian Civil War. In result on August 3 1921 a treaty with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic recognizing its sovereignty was established.  The treaty regulated the exchange of refugees and disregard any other form of government within Ukrainian SSR. Therefore all relations with UPR were canceled and their citizens within Latvia had to find a new citizenship. Ukraine was divided between Soviet Union, Poland and Romania.

Ukrainians in Poland had uneasy relations with the nationalist minded Polish government, in Romania the existence of the Ukrainian minority was officially denied. In Soviet Union at first the politics were quite friendly towards Ukrainian language, but after start of the Stalin’s collectivization it turned into national genocide or Holodomor killing at least 5 million people.

Latvia meanwhile has its one of the most liberal national minority policies. Jews, Germans, Russians and others enjoyed an autonomy in their schools and took part in politics. On 1925 there were 512 Ukrainians, on 1930 – 1629 and on 1935 1844. Most lived in Daugavpils district – 166, at Rezekne district and Liepaja 90. The rise of the Ukrainian numbers can be explained by the fact that first national census of 1920 counted Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians together as Russians, and also many who before were unaware of their nationality counted themselves as Ukrainians.

In contrary to vast masses of Russian and Belorussian peasants, the Latvian Ukrainians were city dwellers and middle class citizens. Most of them not born in Latvia, with good education worked as businessman and state employees. Some took important posts within Latvian Army like Captain Vladimir Romachenko in Topographical department. Andrei Cibulsky from 1919-1935 was deputy of the chief of the Riga Police District. Before 1934 some Ukrainians took part in Latvian politics, Latvian Tuberculosis hospital nurse Olga Markovich was active within Latvian Social Democratic Workers party, while Lubova Lejiņa within Latvian Farmers Party. Retired Riga District Court chief executive joined the Democratic Center on 1932. Some Ukrainian intellectuals like Jakub Kastiluk worked with the Belorussian culture society “Batyakaushina” and took lessons in the Belorussian schools.

From 1921 to 1922 the Ukrainian political refugee – emigrant committee was  established but closed after the pressure from the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs. On 1932 a “Latvian-Ukrainian society”was established by Ukrainian nationals mostly business owners.  On 1938 it had 111 members. On 1934 it established library and organized culture events. At the end of the 3oies the Latvian authorities wanted to limit the number of the national organizations and requested to join it with “Cultural contacts establishment with the nations in USSR”. It was never done as after the Soviet invasion the society was closed.

Soviet power restricted Ukrainian national life as much as other national minorities were repressed. On August 6 1940 the former leader of the Ukrainian political refugees Maxim Didikovsky and other past UPR representatives were arrested. Most people who had some connection with UPR were sent to Siberia or executed.

On 1943 Nazi German occupation made local cenus and counted 11339 Ukrainians within  Latvia part of Ostland. The sharp increase was made because of deported Soviet prisoners of war and people sent on compulsory  work. Nazi occupation had no special policy towards Ukrainians due to their small numbers. Captain V Romachenko on 1941 joined the anti-soviet partisans within Ventspils to fight against Red Army. Pyotr Abramchenko was one of the first to join self-defense unit to assist German invaders. It was because of the common belief that Germans will give back independence both to Ukraine and Latvia. Many Ukrainians were mobilized in Latvian Waffen SS Legion. At least 549 Soviet Ukrainian POW’s joined or were forced to join the German Army support service. Some Ukrainians took part in Soviet underground resistance.

During the Soviet occupation the amount of Ukrainians sharply increased. On 1959 294, 4 thousand, on 1989 92, 1 thousand making them 3,5% of the Latvian SSR population. This was because of the unrestricted immigration boosted by forced industrialization.  Ukraine was devastated by Stalin’s genocide and WW2. Those who came from Eastern Ukraine deeply affected by Russification could not speak Ukrainian and only added to massive amounts of “Russian speakers” in Latvia.   The Russification of the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews disguised as creation of “unified Soviet nation” with one common Latvian language left deep scars within Latvian society.

However, already on  1988 as the independence movement started the Latvian Ukrainian national cultural society “Dņipro” was founded. With the leadership of Viktor Prudiss and Volodomir Stroy the society had 300 members. The politically active Ukrainians joined in society “Slavutich” and the Ukraine patriotic organization “RUH” Riga branch for the first time in Soviet Union went to streets with the Ukrainian blue and yellow banner. The flag of Ukraine first flew in Riga before it appeared in Kiev.

Despite that large parts of the Latvian Ukrainians did not support the Latvian independence, 8 elected Ukrainian nationals within Latvian Supreme Soviet ranked with communists in who voted against the Declaration of the restoration of the independence. After 1991 24 thousand Ukrainians left Latvia for Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian integration in Latvian democratic society was obstructed by the fact that large part of them became non-citizens. At first Ukrainian organizations made mistakes by cooperating with pro-Kremlin political parties. Gradually the connection with Latvia was established however it caused rift within Ukrainians as many still supported pro-Kremlin opposition. On 2006 the many Ukrainian national    organizations joined within Union of Ukrainian Societies. On 2012 the Latvian Ukrainian Congress was formed as part of the World and European Ukrainian congress.

According to 2011 national census 45 798 Ukrainians are living in Latvia. However, only 1 774 people are using the Ukrainian language at  their homes. That means that most of them use Russian language as the size of the Russian speakers greatly exceeds the size of the ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians have very loose national identity and are still part of former “Soviet nation” with different national outlook. However, in last 20 years the connections with independent Ukraine has greatly increased. During the events in Ukraine the Latvian Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian Congress organized many support actions and showed support towards Ukrainian revolution. On March 2 2014 after Russian invasion in Ukraine the Ukrainian society organized anti-war protest gathered about thousand people most of them Latvians. This is a sign of a Ukrainian national revival and great support from Latvian society. As mainland Ukraine is under foreign invasion the more support and unity between Latvians and Ukrainians is essential to  the survival of the both nations.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (2007) Ukraiņi Latvijā 19. gadsimta beigās – 1988. gadā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

Dribins Leo (2007) Ukraiņi atjaunotajā Latvijas republikā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

http://ukrlatvian.lv/%D0%BE%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BB/

http://www.ukrkongress.lv/lv/

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The Three War Plans of the Comrade Stalin

This site, has discussed the Soviet foreign policy from 1939 to June 22 1941 in past. One of the reasons for this is to question and to break the one-sided explanation of Germany as the main perpetrator of the World War II and Soviet Union country striving to preserve peace. After the fall of the Soviet Union the dark shade over the Soviet history was lifted uncovering many  facts that showed the Soviet Union as no better than Nazi Germany. In terms of repressions, genocidal policy towards its own people and nations in Baltic states and Eastern Europe. What was almost impossible some 15 years before now is possible in western historiography to compare Stalinism to Hitlerism  and adequately judge the Soviet history of the WW2, without the “victorious side” guise.  What also begun 20 years ago and slowly starting to gain acceptance in the western and eastern historian cycles is the new understanding of the Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet propaganda showing the Soviet Union as nation struggling to preserve peace, Stalin afraid of Hitler with a weak army is not working anymore. The Soviet foreign policy was aggressive not defensive, despite the  slogan “Socialism within one state”. Stalin had not abandoned the Lenin’s quest for Worldwide Socialist Revolution and dragging Europe into a new global war was his personally defined quest. With so Stalin shares great responsibility of helping Hitler to stir up war in Europe and later holds even greater responsibility to his own people of dragging the Soviet Union in disastrous war with Germany. This article is a small summary based on the works of the Russian historians mainly Mark Solonin who created the theory of the Three Stalin’s War Plans. This topic is important for Latvian history as the Stalin’s aggressive policy affected Latvia directly.

The German attack on Soviet Union on June 22 1941 was completely unexpected turn of events for Stalin. It took some hours for Stalin to react and issue the first orders.  There were many foreign intelligence reports that were ignored by Stalin. The British diplomats in Moscow could not make contact with Soviet foreign commissar Vyacheslav Molotov for many hours. Why the Soviet leadership was so sure that Germany will not attack was a puzzle for many historians. Another puzzle for many is the fact that in May and June 1941 the Red Army was making a major strategical deployment – mobilization of reserves, strategical regroup and operative relocation of the army units. All this happened in depth secrecy.

The Soviet troops deployed near border only moved during the night-time, at daylight they took cover in the woods. The command staffs were moved to close border areas, in sealed trains and the even the commanders did not know where they will be taken and why. The reserves were gathered in covert ways, without no major announcements. Most were called personally for “practice muster”. Soviets gave no official complaints to Germany despite the quite uneasy mutual relations during the last months and military suspicion. Soviet Union on June 1941 was preparing for a major war, but tried to it secretly as possible. This all lead to one question – if Stalin was not expecting the German invasion, why he needed to deploy massive echelons of  troops and establish field front command posts nearby already at June 19?

This question was first answered by KGB defector Victor Suvorov. In his book the Icebreaker that is more a publicist work then an academic research, he explained that Stalin was preparing for war from the very first day. The massive centralization of economy, industrialization and collectivization that destroyed the successful Lenin’s NEP semi-capitalist economy was needed to create  a large war machine. The Great Purge was not just Stalin’s paranoia, but a needed action to gather his party and army for the coming war.   A nation unified by brutal force under the order of one man was set to face the whole capitalist world in final war that would realize the dream of the Socialist world order. On August 1939 Stalin made final decision to support Hitler in same matter as the table supports the hanged man. By dragging UK and France into destructive war with Germany, he then would pick an advantageous moment to strike from behind and finish the war as the victorious liberator. However, nor Stalin, nor UK and France did not expect such a swift German military success, that made him to fasten up the preparations for war. However, the German invasion was a heavy blow to his megalomania.

The Suvorov theory survived and was improved by historians such as V Kisilev, T Busheva, M Meltjukov, V Nevezhin and M Solonin and many others. For the theory was based on hundreds of facts and documents. Suvorov himself has given up on writing new books on his theory since other historians have done more work than him. No other alternative explanation was given, except the Rudolf Hess flight to UK conspiracy theories. Mostly its the traditional soviet explanation that is put against the so-called revisionist side   with lesser success every time.  Also an old arguments that revisionists have no documented evidence are no more relevant, for instance the latest Mark Solonin book “June 1941. The Final Diagnosis” is almost completely based on hundreds of documents from Soviet war archives. At the end the traditionalist side in Russia is showing signs of argumentative defeat by simply trying to punish historians, writers and even TV channels for falsely displaying the history of the Great Patriotic war and “insulting veterans”.

There is a little argument now that Stalin’s policy was aggressive. The date  of possible attack remains a question. For, the Stalin’s aggressive plan was not constant and changed three whole plans. Because the theory never works in practice in strategical political affairs. Neither Hitler was ever able to fulfill his foreign policy according to his Mein Kamph and his Second Book, because of real strategical situation and neither Stalin who also published many books and speeches about the coming war.

First Stalin’s war plan was quite simple based on his understanding of the Socialist Worldwide Revolution doctrine. It was nothing new as Lenin also predicted the next capitalist global conflict that would cause Socialist ultimate victory. According to Stalin’s speech on August 19 1939 that has now been recognized as true fact by historians such as Simon Sebag Montefiore a Stalins biographer who included this speech in his collection of the most important speeches of the XX century (his interpretation of this speech however serves the traditional soviet explanation), the pact with Germany would cause war within the capitalist states that would be long and destructive. And then Soviet Union would regain the lost territories of the Russian empire and play the decisive role in the end of the war. Stalin had real chance to sign a deal with UK and France to make a united front against Germany. It would possibly prevent Hitler from attacking Poland and place him into isolation. The Baltic States would  possibly still lose their independence or at least sovereignty.  But Stalin had clearly stated that such outcome would be disadvantageous  for the interests of the Soviet Union.

The plan brought its “fruits” – Eastern Poland was occupied, Baltic States and Bessarabia was taken without a force. The war in Finland although disastrous for the Red Army, allowed to gain many important industrial regions from Finland that she had to give up. Some documents like the note by executive of the Special Chamber of the NKVD Main Administration major Osterov in March 5 1940 claims that global conflict in the summer of 1940 will fought between USSR allied with Japan and Germany against the UK and France. The war will take a long time. However another document states when the British were considering sending a military support to Finland, the Soviet navy received directly that their main enemies are not British but Germany and Italy. Its shows a nature of double speak and deception within the official soviet communications.

Weather fighting the capitalists or the Nazis, Soviets made active preparations for the war right from 1939. The large strategical PE-8 (TB-7) bombers with bomb storage of 1 tons and maximal flight distance 3300 km (German HE-111 could reach 2700 km at that time), and that was not enough – a bomber with 5000 km was issued by Stalin. Such flight distance was not needed for defending Soviet Union, or even bombing Germany. Reaching London or Paris with them was more appropriate. Also a large paratrooper force was organized and PE-8 bombers were also meant as air landing party planes. A diving four motor heavy PB-4 bomber was in the works. Soviet war fleet was in the making. Soviets had 267 submarines, while Germany 57, Italy -68 and Japan 63. A such a large submarine force for country with less war ports on June 1941 showed a sign of weapons mania. On 1940-1941 the Soviet Air Force main Naval headquarters marked the Mediterranean ports as the main bombing targets. That were controlled by UK and France.

However, for many including Stalin, Nevil Chamberlain and French leaders was an unbelievable sight when weakened by the Versailles treaty and arms restrictions the German Wehrmacht managed to enter Paris no less than two weeks. Stalin had complained on April 17 1940 a month before the invasion in France that imperialist forces are not really fighting, but rather are playing cards. The German army on 1940 in technical sense was less advanced than France and UK. However, the France and UK soldiers and commanders had very less will to fight, while Germans had great discipline and high attack morale. In following months Germany had seized the control over the Eastern Europe and showed dissatisfaction with Soviets occupying and annexing the Baltic States and Romanian province of Bessarabia. The first Stalin’s plan had failed.

The Second War plan is more concrete and known to historians. The plan is preserved in documents and published. The two-volume “Russia XX Century.Documents of the 1941″ published on 1998 in Russian, holds important documents about Soviet strategical deployment and plan to fight against Germany on May 15 1940. The documents show that the plan for the major war existed and all of this plans were based only on major attack outside the Soviet borders. As on August 23 1939 Stalin had said to Ribbentrop that is important that Soviet Union establishes a common border with Germany – and on 1941 this was realized – the only two countries that would face such attack was Germany, Romania and Finland. The documents indicate targets like Lublin, Krakov, Vistula river and Warsaw all within German control. Two possible attack routes were made- the Northern path trough East Prussia and Northern Poland and the South path trough Lviv. At the end of the Lviv path was chosen. A war games was played out on both variants and contrary to self praising deceitful Zhukov memoirs no defensive games took place. It was Zhukov himself who was playing German side in the war games and lost to general Pavlov who was later shot after German invasion. One can say that this has no real significance – all major military powers conduct an attack plans just in case. However, Soviets were really trying to fulfill this plan and started to gather troops for the battle in masses. And that lead to disastrous events in June-July 1941 when millions of Soviet soldiers were killed and captured without a fight and massive stockpiles of tanks, airplanes and guns abandoned. The army was prepared for massive attack, of which the common soldiers and officers knew very less and were caught in disastrous rout after they were unexpectedly attacked.

At first soviet planners were still optimistic about the attack date. One document on March 11 1941 in bold text notes to “attack on 12.6.” Was this June 12 1941, or more likely June 1942. As some of the Red Army units mentioned in the document were still far from being fully deployed. The full tank deployment of KV and T-34 were still underway and could only happen on 1942 or later. Soviets had already a fast mobile tanks like BT-7 and T-26 and many heavy KV tanks. If used correctly in fast attack tactics even the small T-26 and heavy T-35 was a destructive force. There is some truth in Soviet propaganda saying that Stalin expected attack on 1942, because he was still doubtful about the German military capabilities and wanted to improve his already enormous army.

However, because of rapidly changing situation Stalin came to conclusion that there is no time, and the attack must take place on Summer 1941. Was the worsening relations with Germany or the intelligence reports that made him think so remains a question. Or it was growing impatience to realize his grand plan. The Third War plan had begun. The pro allied coup on March 26-27 1941 in Yugoslavia  and mutual assistance pact with Belgrade and Moscow on April 6 protested by Germany was a major trigger for it. In just few hours Germany invaded Yugoslavia. Soviet Union was supposed to help its new allies. Instead the Moltov told the German ambassador Shulenburg that he is sad that it all turned out this way.

Was the coup in Belgrade supported by Soviet or UK secret service. If by the first, the Stalin was surprised by this and could not react adequately, if the second – Soviets had managed to stir up Hitler against them even more. On April 13 1941 Soviets signed non aggression pact with Japan. The Eastern front was now secured, and Japan had fulfilled this pact right t0 very end of 1945, when Soviets broke it. Soviet and German relations had reached the lowest point. Both sides understood that and started to prepare for war. The German Plan Barbarossa was issued January 31 1941, but as noted to be realized only in the case of need. On April 30 Hitler realized that there is such need and made final decision.

On May 15 1941 Soviet command made final instructions on deployment of the Red Army forces. It was noted in the text that Germany is capable of strike  the Soviets first and made a surprise attack. The attack must took place when German army is having strategical deployment to gain first strike initiative. On May 24 1941 Stalin gathered all the main commanders, and Molotov and Beria a head of NKVD. There is no transcript or concrete info of what was said in the war conference. Possibly Stalin had possibly ordered to finish the deployment and start the war no earlier than middle June or late August 1941. If Stalin still wanted to attack on 1942, then holding a top secret meeting with all main officers in May 1942 would be irresponsible. It would be early and may result a leak of information. If during this meeting the general attack plan was laid out as indicated by the supreme secrecy the attack was meant to be on Summer of 1941. On the same time Germans wanted to attack too.

A large but secretive troop deployment took place. The troops were expected to be moved  to border areas at least to July 10. If so then the real attack must took place on 15-20 July when troops were deployed and ready. And that was too late for defensive actions. Hitler missed the chance to attack on May 15 because of the Balkan front. Hitler could only attack on no later than late July because of the climate conditions.

Both Stalin and Hitler were gambling on massive operation. German army despite well-trained and equipped was not greater in size and weapons power than Red Army and was tasked to reach Moscow in three-month time. Red Army had poor discipline and  morale, but large in numbers and heavy machinery. It was supposed to break trough Poland, then to Czechoslovakia, Balkans and to Berlin at the end. Both were short on time. If the Soviet attack was expected at the end of June or July, no later than September – then they also needed to face the winters of the Eastern Europe more harsher then now.

Was the attack intended on July or no less than August, or maybe even on June 23 as some claim, it was too late. Stalin had lost his Great game of 1939-1941. The outcome was horrific not fully deployed masses of the Red Army was running away, surrendering and leaving the whole airfields and tanks to enemy hands. It was not just the effectiveness of the German Blitzkrieg that made Germans reach Moscow in four months. It was again the inability to resist enemy invasion by the soviet troops who pushed the enemy more inwards in their land.  Red Army lost 900-1000 thousand man in summer while Germans 25-30 thousand men. 1 German to 35 Soviet soldiers. 3 million were captured. Large size of soldiers count in as Missing in Action. A great numbers of Soviet civilians perished. Stalin had sacrificed millions of his country men for the sake of megalomaniac insane dream of the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Also blame of starting  World War II lays on Stalin’s just as Hitlers hands for the both dictators were genocidal megalomaniacs who  turned the whole Europe into bloodland. The lesson from this is to not allow the return of such people who holds control of such destructive forces in their hands.

Selected Sources:

Марк Солонин. (2013) Запретная правда о Великой Отечественной. Нет блага на войне! M. Яуза-Пресс

Марк Солонин. (2013) Июнь 41-го. Окончательный диагноз. – М.: Яуза, Эксмо

М. И. Мельтюхов (2000) Упущенный шанс Сталина. Советский Союз и борьба за Европу: 1939-1941 (Документы, факты, суждения). – М.: Вече, 200

Raack, R. (1995) Stalin’s drive to the west 1938-1945. The origins of the cold war. – Stanford.

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The VEF Radios

VEF 206 and VEF 221 world receivers

VEF 206 and VEF 221 world receivers

The Latvian famous State Electrotechnical Factory (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) founded on 1919 made many things – the famous Minox camera, telephones, even airplanes. But,  for one thing that its most liked by many including myself is their radios. VEF was one of the pioneers in the transistor analog radios in the Soviet Union. Together with Latvian Radiotehnika and Belorussian Selena radios the VEF set the standards for  Soviet radio quality. There is already a special post of the VEF overall history. This post is dedicated to VEF radio models in accordance to World Radio day on February 13th.

VEFAR 2MD first VEF rado from 1932

VEF has been known to make first radio receivers since early thirties. VEFAR 2MD made in 1932 was table model radio operated by tubes was known of the earliest stock models. It could receive Long Wave and Medium Wave bands. Most of early models had full wooden case. 1933 VEF Super 4MD/34 was first radio to include two shortwave bands as the shortwave reception was a new thing and not fully used. Owning a radio in thirties was a sign of intelligence and  wealth. Latvia received a handful of exports from Germany, but the Latvian made receivers started to become popular. After the rise of patriotism boosted by Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime the Made in Latvia sign made these radios even more worthily.

Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37

Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37

One of the most beutiful models of  those times was Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37. Decorated with map of Europe and with wide shortwave reception it was what connected Latvians with outside world. VEF released at least two new models every year and at the end of the thirties they became more compact and theretofore more affordable.  Some like Vefar B211 were exported to other countries like Germany. However, the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union and the German invasion 1941 halted the production.

VEF М-1357

After the World War 2 the VEF was nationalized by the Soviet Union. Soviet policy was not to destroy past Latvian companies but to restore them accordingly to Soviet economical needs. Riga was chosen as the main industrial center in the Baltic States. So radios were pretty soon again made in the VEF factory. On 1945 on the basis of the VEF Luxus M1307 the blueprint for VEF M-1357 was made. 14 lamp powered receiver with MW/LW and 3 SW bands was also very stylish according to those times. The main designer for VEF models was talented Anrejs Irbīte. Only small quantity of those models were released. Then came a truly compact receiver VEFSuper M557 with 3 bands and the ways of operation that became a standard. Volume knob served also as on and off knob, tuning knob and a smart tuner to alter the signal strengths. Together with round frequency dial. As the Soviet consumers demanded radios the Baltika (Baltics) radio receivers were released.  People who had no knowledge about  Latvia soon recognized it by VEF radios.

VEF-Akords (М-255)

The VEF production in fifties were still tabletop radios, in large size mostly to fit in the household main living room. Radios like Мир М-152  or Latvija M137 had vast shortwave reception despite the fact that soviets soon were forced to use jammers to prevent the western propaganda broadcasting. 1955 VEF-Akords (М-255) had vinyl record player so now people could listen to they favorite music every time.

Turist the first Soviet portable receiver

Even the most compact radio receiver was still too large and heavy to carry around. Then on 1955 a revolution was caused by portable Турист (ПМП-56) Turist PMP-59 the first Soviet portable radio. Size -270 – 180 – 90 мм. mass – 2.4 kg that was the parameters of the first Soviet portable. A radio also packed in letter case easily to carry around became a fad among youngsters. What today is another issue of Mini Ipad the VEF portables were the greatest gift for music lovers and travelers. Soviet people just as everyone else in the world knew how to have a good time. Battery powered and with earphones the VEF portables could be taken everywhere.

Spīdola portable transistor

The Radiotehnika company from Latvia is said to make first portable transistor radio Ausma on 1962. A transistor radio is a small portable radio receiver that uses transistor-based circuitry. Radiotehnika soon became popular with their Selga and Gauja series. So VEF came up with another grand idea to make ever successful Spīdola receiver. Named after mythical witch like character in Latvian epic Lāčplēsis the Spīdola was a revolutionary multi-band receiver. After the first Spīdola the Spīdola 10 followed, then VEF 12. VEF 202 was on 1970 was a successful model and later was released as VEF 206 export model. VEF radios were exported to Eastern block countries, Soviet allied countries like Cuba and countries in Africa. However, some companies in Western Europe also received the VEF production.

VEF- 214

The 1985 VEF 214 was more advanced. It had Automatic Frequency Control, separate on and off button, ability to switch battery power and AC power. Comparing to VEF 206 from 1975, that had only three knobs and the AC power box had to be screwed in the battery plug, the VEF 214 was a great step forward. However, the same uneasy to round band switcher was kept. For instance the 1967 Sanyo Campanetta Japan made 7 band receiver, already had AFC control, button for every wave band, treble and bass knob. Also the telescopic antenna was lot more taller than VEF antennas. And also the Sanyo had full FM band. The VEF 221 made on 1988 featured full FM band great audio quality and showed that Spīdola series still has potential.

VEF 260

VEF 260 and its successor models were adjusted to the new needs for cassette players.  VEF 284 was one of the first truly magnitola (radio with cassette players) and were very close to western models. VEF 287 on 1987 had dual cassette player. Also stereo systems and speakers were made however the Radiotehnika was more better at them.

After the fall of the Soviet Union both VEF and Radiotehnika lost it prime ties with the Soviet market. The badly done privatization ruined VEF and it has split in many parts making insignificant production. Radiotehnika managed to survive and  makes the top quality Hi-Fi audio speakers and systems and still two FM only portables Kandava and Abava.

The supreme VEF ,models especially the Spīdola series are now a vintage radio collection valuables. If preserved they work strikingly well.  They can work with modern mostly D type batteries, if the AC power plug is preserved then they can work with it. However, the outputs for headphones and external antennas are different than the western standard. The signals they can receive is according to their bands – if Long Wave, Medium Wave and Shortwave these bands are not empty as most would think. Many international broadcasters have ceased their activity, but many remain and also the radios must be placed further from modern electric appliances to keep of interference. If the conditions is good and patience is at hand the LW,MW and SW bands can be more fun then the regular FM band.

Latvia has its very special place in radio history with its radios made by VEF and Radiotehnika. As radio hobbyist myself I find important to write stories and find and preserve the Latvian made radio receivers. If you happen to own a old VEF or even working VEF radio don’t trow it out. keep it and listen to it as they were ipads and planshetes at the times of our fathers. Radio is not dead and will never be and exists in what ever like form.

Selected Sources:

http://www.radiomuseum.org/

http://radiopagajiba.lv/VEF/vefhome.htm

http://shortwaveradioworld.blogspot.com/2013/07/vef-206-vega-joy-from-soviet-past.html

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