Latvia under Totalitarianism

Totalitarian Regimes in Latvia and the Repressions against the Population of Latvia

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

On August 23, 1939 the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Non-aggression Pact in Moscow. An integral part of this Pact was a secret supplementary protocol or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that was directed against the independent nations – the independent Baltic countries. In this Pact, the leaders of the great powers agreed to split the East-European countries into the spheres of interest. The Non-aggression Pact by the Soviet Union and Germany gave the green light to the World War II and genocide against the Latvian nation.

The Treaty of October 5, 1939

V.Munters – the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia – succumbed to Stalin’s and Molotov’s pressure in October 1939 and signed the Mutual Assistance Pact between Latvia and the USSR. It meant that the Soviet Union had the right to form military bases in Latvia. At the beginning the imported soldiers behaved discreetly and were not seen outside their bases. After the initial fuss things calmed down a bit and people went back to their routines; later, however, various restrictions were introduced, for example, for food and industry and citizens’ foreign passports were cancelled. This opened people’s eyes – the country’s independence was lost.

Occupation and Annexation of Latvia

An ultimatum by the USSR government was released on June 16 in which the resignation of the government of Latvia was demanded in an unconditional tone, formation of the new government with specially selected people was ordered, admission of unlimited numbers of Soviet troops in Latvia was required, informing that it all had to be done until 23.00 o’clock, otherwise the Soviet Red Army would enter Latvia without any permission and take over, suppressing any opposition. By this time, the Red Army had already occupied Lithuania and performed a similar operation in Estonia.

President Ulmanis got in touch with the envoy of Germany and asked to open the corridor of Klaipeda for the evacuation of the government and army. Germany did not give the permission. So the army of Latvia did not get the order to resist.

The Act of Capitulation of the army of Latvia was signed on June 17 – the army would not resist the Red Soviet troops and would stay in their bases.

In fact, the Soviet troops had crossed the borders of Latvia without waiting for any response to the ultimatum or for the outcomes of the army representative meeting. By doing that, the Latvia-Russia peace treaty of 1920 and the USSR – Latvia Non-aggression Pact of 1932 were violated.

The elections of Saeima were announced on July 14 and 15. People understood that they could not afford not to vote as they got a seal in the passport for participation in the elections; the lack of the seal would invoke misfortune for the family. Elections were open to public. According to the official Soviet data, 94.8% of the population took part in the elections and 97.8% of the voters had voted for the Working people’s block. These numbers proved that the results were falsified. Besides, the results were announced on July 14 but the elections continued on July 15. In Lithuania, the elections proceeded till July 17. The published numbers matched with the official election results after a three day period.

Repressions and terror started against the population of Latvia.

June 14, 1941

On June 14, 1941 the biggest mass deportation took place. The task was given to the repressive institutions to deport the following categories of people:

  • Active counter-revolutionary party members and anti-soviet nationalist white guard organisation members;
  • Former guards, leading police officers and prison officers;
  • Great former landlords, industrialists and high level civil servants of the government authorities;
  • Former army officers and white army officers.

In total, 15424 people were deported from Latvia. It was 0.79% of all the population of Latvia. 0.91% men of Latvia and 0.69% women of Latvia. 23.5% were farmers (most of them belonged to the guards’ organisation and it was the reason for them to be deported), 19% were pupils, 13.7% were housewives. Former traders, officers of the Latvian Army, police officers, teachers, students, writers, journalists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, judges, priests, etc. formed the biggest percentage of the deported people. 6081 people died, that is 39.43% of all the deported people. 35 men and 164 women were deported without their families and they were sent to settlement places separately.

In total, 66 people from Jūrmala were deported: 9 children, 23 women, 34 men.

32 people or 48% were released. 34 people or 52% died: 1 (11%) child, 5 (22%) women, 28 (82%) men. Most people were deported to Novosibirsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai.

People who arrived at their settlement places were informed that they had been deported for 20 years without the right to leave their settlement place.

Passports were not handed out to the deported people. The locals of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs took away and destroyed passports of those deported who had them. Instead, deportee identity cards were issued.

Deportation took place in a hurry, without thinking what was going to happen with the deported people. The most important was to take them away from their native places as soon as possible. Living conditions were extremely harsh. They improved slightly after the World War II though many people were still forced to live in extreme conditions and to do awfully hard work.

The majority of the deportees had a chance to return to Latvia only in the late 1950s. Most deported people were released in 1956 and 1957.

The conditions in the settlement places cannot be considered as humane. As the result of deportation, families were separated which did not encourage people’s reproduction. This is one of the indications of genocide. Deportation can be considered a crime against the mankind.

The deportees have been legally exonerated and their memory has been immortalized in the memorial places in Latvia.

The Holocaust and German Regime

German occupation of Latvia started on June 22, 1941. The majority of the Latvian population perceived German attacks as a release from the communist power.

The Baltic States and Belarus were merged administratively and named Ostland. The Nazis foresaw to germanise Ostland according to the racist principles. It was planned that those local people who corresponded to the Nazi ideas about the German race would turn into Germans and the rest would be deported and turned into second-class citizens. Gypsies and Jews of Latvia were planned to be exterminated as the representatives of an “invalid race”. 

Ghettos were set up, Jews were arrested, imprisoned into concentration camps and their belongings were confiscated. The holocaust was carried out in Latvia. Jews were allowed in the streets only with a yellow star on their clothing. Unlawful reprisal was organised. In total, 50000-70000 Jewish residents of Latvia were killed. Several thousands of Jews from West European countries were deported to Latvia and killed here.

Restoration of the Totalitarian Regime of the USSR

The end of the World War II, the defeat of Germany brought peace to Europe in 1945. The war ended for Latvia but for the biggest part of the nation it meant the second Soviet occupation and continuation of the communist terror. The second mass deportation from Latvia took place on March 25, 1949.   

One of the reasons for deportation was implementation of collectivization which let break farming traditions and behavioural culture inherited from the ancestors. The government considered a wealthy Latvian farmer, who had owned some land and a farm, as an enemy of the collectivization, they were the so-called kulaks. In many cases poor farmers were also included in the category of kulaks. It was decided deport this group of people.

During the cold war, the USSR took care of its borders in the nearest territories by concentrating troops there and deporting those who could be dangerous to the regime – kulaks, gunmen, family members of the politically repressed people. Armed National partisans still functioned in the Baltics, they were mostly supported by farmers. It was decided to deport the supporters of the partisans. Partisans were called gunmen by the communist regime so it was regarded that any form of repression could be justified – even shooting a person without the court judgement.

On March 17, 1949 the decision was made to deport 10000 kulak families from the Latvian SSR to the distant settlement places of the USSR, including national partisans and their family members though they were not mentioned in that decision. The registration lists of the deported kulaks in 1947 and 1948 were made based on the inhabitants’ economic accounting data of 1939. A large military division of the USSR State Security Ministry, employees of the Interior Ministry and Soviet destroyer battalions provided a comparatively calm deportation process of March 1949.

In total, 44271 inhabitants of Latvia were deported in 1949. 26.1% were under 16. According to the USSR laws, minors could not be deported, however they were included in the lists and sent out. 1508 people died on the way to the special settlement places. Totally, 5182 people died on the way as well as in settlement places.

21 persons were deported from Jūrmala: 4 children, 11 women and 6 men. 19, i.e. 90% were released. 2 or 10% died: 1 man and 1 woman. All the deported from Jūrmala were sent to Tomsk Oblast, Kolpashevo and Shegarsk.

Mass repressions stopped only after Stalin’s death in 1953.