Tag Archives: Soviet occupation

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

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

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

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

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

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

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

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

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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Soviet Mass Deportations of March 25 1949

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On  August 27 1947 the LSSR Council of Ministers imposed heavy taxes on the kulak farms. 10 432 such farms were put on the pressure. The reason for this was to make the private farmers bankrupt and force them to join the kolkhozes. Until  February 1 1949 713 kulaks were jailed for not paying taxes. On 1948 444 horses, 6282 cows and 10 579 were taken away by the state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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Litene – The Latvian Katyn

Memorial place to arrested and killed Latvian officers at Litene

Memorial place to arrested and killed Latvian officers at Litene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Litene army training camp

The Litene army training camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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The Soviet attack on Latvian border station Maslenki 1940

Burned down Maslenki guard house

Burned down Maslenki guard house

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

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

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

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

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

The Latvian Eastern border with highlighted district of Abrene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

The body of killed Hermīne Puriņa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Latvian industry during the Soviet times. Myths and reality

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

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

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

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

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

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Factory workers from Latvia and all over Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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