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1939-1941


Andrei Vyshinsky on the balcony of the Soviet embassy in Rîga 21 June 1940.

Latvia's fate was sealed when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany delimited their spheres of influence in Eastern Europe by signingsecret protocols to their nonaggression pact of August 23, 1939, wherein Hitler sanctioned Latvia's occupation along with Estonia's and Lithuania's whenever the U. S. S. R. considered the time opportune. With British or French assistance unthinkable, with Estonia's sovereignity already violated, and with Red Army divisions on her border, Latvia was forced to sign with the Soviet Union a mutual-assistance pact on October 8, 1940. The U. S. S. R. gained control of the Gulf of Riga by obtaining bases and airfields, and also by the right to set up coast artillery between Ventspils and Pitrags, two strategically important points on the Baltic coast. Thirty thousand Soviet troops were to be garrisoned on Latvian soil for the duration of the war.

Public opinion was shocked by the conclusion of the pact. It was expected that a complete occupation would follow in due course. The situation became particularly tense after the Finnish surrender on March 12, 1940. The Soviet Legation in Riga flooded the country with Soviet propaganda materials, incessantly threatening to take appropriate action whenever the Latvian Government tried to regu- late its distribution and to prohibit items which contained subversive matter advocating violent overthrow of the Latvian Government. Simultaneously, Latvia was invaded by spies and enemy agents under cover of seemingly innocent missions, posing as Soviet "technicians"' to supervise construction work for the needs of the Soviet garrisons, or persons who were simply flown into Latvian territory by air to the Soviet-occupied airports and taken by car to the Soviet Legation in Riga, the center of Soviet conspiracy against independent Latvia.

Despite Molotov's professions on March 29, 1940, that Latvia need not fear for its independence, the Latvian Government, especially after the Finnish surrender, had no illusions about the future development of Soviet policy. On May 17, 1940, a secret decision was reached by the Latvian Government in order to provide for the political and constitutional continuity of the country. In event of emergency, the powers of the Government were to be conferred on Karl is Zarins, Latvian Ambassador in London, while Alfred Bilmanis. Latvian Ambassador to "Washington, was designated as his substitute.

On June 12, 1940 the order for a total military blockade of the Baltic countries to the Soviet Baltic Fleet was given: preparations were made and orders were distributed for full scale military invasion. On June 15, 1940 Soviet troops attacked the Latvian border guards at Maslenki, killing three border guards and two civilians, as well as taking 10 border guards and 27 civilians - mostly women and children as hostages to the Soviet Union. On June 16, 1940, the day after the Red army occupied Lithuania, the Latvian Ambassador to Moscow, Fricis Kocins, was handed a Soviet ultimatum, requiring an answer within 6 hours. Under threat of air bombardment, Latvia was told to grant free passage to Red troops in unlimited numbers and to form a pro-Soviet government. ]Iolotov, on the occasion of the delivery of the ultimatum, is reported to have remarked cynically that "whether or not the ultimatum would be accepted, Red army troops would be ordered to cross the Latvian border." At the same time hundreds of tanks, with strong artillery and mechanized infantry support, were assembled on Soviet territory, just over the Latvian frontier. Latvia was completely isolated since Lithuania had already been overrun by the Red army and Estonia had been served with an identical ultimatum. Although the Latvian Government was fully aware of the fact that acceptance of the Soviet demands meant military occupation of Latvia, it had no other choice but to bow to Soviet brute force. The Latvian Government offered its resignation, but the President of the Republic asked the Cabinet members to remain in their posts until the formation of a new government. Thus the Latvian Govermnent, acting under duress and coercion, and to avoid bloodshed, submitted to the totally unfounded demands of the LT. S. S. R., whose army occupied Latvia on June 17, 1940, and immediately cut it off from the free world.

On June 17, 1940, Molotov informed the German Ambassador to Moscow that a special emissary of the Soviet Government had been dispatched to Latvia in order to negotiate the formation of a new Latvian Government. This emissary was A. Vishinsky, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the People's Commissars and Deputy Foreign Commissar of the U. S. S. R., who brought with him a list of the new members of the Soviet puppet Latvian Government. On June 20 Vishinsky presented the list of new Cabinet members to President Ulmanis, and told the President that he could not reject any of them and also that he could make no changes as Moscow had already approved all the names of the ministers for the new Cabinet. Along with Prof. Augusts Kirchensteins, president of the Latvian- Soviet Friendship Association, there were only two other Commu- nists; all the rest were "fellow travelers" used by the Kremlin as front men to create the illusion that the Latvian people themselves had freely chosen this government. On June 20, 1940, the Latvian National Government ceased to exist and the power was officially Handed over to Kirchensteins. President Ulmanis remained at his post until the meeting on July 21, 1940, of the People's Diet, chosen in fake elections. The actual Government passed into the hands of Vishinsky who worked through the Soviet Legation in Riga. On the order of Vishinsky under the supervision of Soviet military forces „demonstrations" were organized, demanding the change of the government. The fake elections were organized for the puppet parliament, which in July passed the resolutions declaring Latvia socialist republic and asking from the Soviet Union permission to join it, which happened in August 1940. With this Latvian independence was destroyed. Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union, which was never recognized by the major Western powers.

The Soviet authorities, having gained control over Latvia, immediately imposed a regime of terror. Hundreds of men were arrested, including all leaders of the Republic of Latvia that the NKVD could lay hands on. Tribunals were set up to punish "traitors to the people." Traitors to the people included not only active opponents of sovietization but all those who have fallen short of their political and economic duties, including the political duty of voting Latvia into the USSR. in 1940 rigged elections.

The biggest act of terror during first year of communism was deportation of 15 000 people to Siberia in June 1941. Because of the deportations deprived people of their civil and human rights and were carried out in an inhumane manner, the deportations are to be classified as crimes against humanity.  The Communist regime in the Soviet Union engaged in mass relocations to enforce its political, social and nationalities policies and to persecute and silence its critics and opponents.  Ethnic groups who were suspected of being disloyal, including Latvians, were also deported-of the 126,000 Latvians in the USSR, 75,000 were arrested, and 20,000 were shot. Instructions on how to carry out mass deportations were prepared in the autumn of 1939 for the newly-annexed regions of western Ukraine by the head of the Ukrainian SSR NKVD (later known as KGB), General Ivan Serov.  They were approved in Moscow and later used in the Baltic States as well.  As the USSR Commissar for State Security, Serov signed the orders on 21 January 1941. In the night between 13 and 14 June, about 15,500 Latvian residents-among them 2400 children younger than ten-were arrested without a court order to be deported to distant regions in the Soviet Union.  Targeted were mainly families who had members in leading positions in state and local governments, economy and culture.  People to be deported were awakened in the night and given less than one hour to prepare for the journey.  They were allowed to take with them only what they could carry, and everything left behind was confiscated by the state.  The unfortunate were herded into already prepared cattle or freight railroad cars, in which they spent weeks and months.  Many died on the way, especially infants, the sick, and the elderly.  Men, totalling some 8250, were separated from their families, arrested, and sent to GULAG hard labour camps.  Women and children were taken to so-called "administrative settlements" as family members of "enemies of the people". Conditions in the hard labour camps were inhumane.  The inmates lost their identities, and were terrorised by the guards and criminal prisoners.  Food rations were meagre, and did not replace the calories expended through work.  People grew weak, and were crippled by diarrhoea, scurvy, and other illnesses. Winters were marked by unbearable cold, and many did not survive the first one.  Only a small part of those deported in 1941 later returned to Latvia.  The families in forced settlement had to fend for themselves in harsh conditions; the death rate among the very young and the elderly was likewise high.