BALTICS          LATVIA   

 

Tracing Soviet Annexation of Latvia

by Corey Lichtman

 

One state which was dominated by the Soviet Union during the peak years of its empire was Latvia. Even though Latvia was part of the Soviet empire for fifty years, the episode marking the annexation reflects the prowess, strength, and determination possessed by the U.S.S.R.

Before tracing the steps resulting in incorporation, one must first understand Latvia's national and international political stances prior to 1940, the year of domination. Although the Latvian constitution of 1922 called for a three year presidential term, a cabinet, and a parliament (Saeima), there was political disunity from 1922-1934 (Bilmanis 336-342). There were many parties in the national political system, classified into main five groups: the Leftists, the Left-Centrists, the Agrarians, the Rightists, and the National Minorities (342). Conflicts between the parties in these groups caused deadlock in Parliament. Moreover, political instability was accelerated by the Great Depression ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.). Thus, dissatisfaction amongst the masses grew. In order to relieve tension, a Declaration of National Unity was published, aiming to "prevent party strife from suppressing the sound national spirit and will of the nation" (Bilmains 259). This Declaration ultimately led to a dissolution of the Saeima on May 18, 1934. The Cabinet and Prime Minister Karlis Ulmanis formally assumed legislative responsibilities. In 1936, Ulmanis became president (357). Latvia now had a totalitarian regime. Yet, unlike others of its kind during that era, Ulmanis was viewed favorably by the army and farmers ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.). His regime actually gave Latvians a national sense of security; there was no ethnic cleansing and the economy started to prosper. Indeed, the national income rose from 754 million lats in 1932 to over two billion lats in 1938 ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.; Bilmanis 357-366). Thus, after 1934, the national political structure in Latvia began to stabilize.

 

What about Latvia's international political stance? Officially, Latvia had a neutral foreign policy. Yet, it failed at forming an economic and military union with the two other Baltic states, Estonia and Lithuania ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.). In 1932, Latvia signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and, in 1939, it signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. These pacts, however, were meaningless: "Both pacts were worthless in a world of deciet and treachery, intimidation, and enslavement, whre might makes right" (Mangulis 76). The League of Nations, to which Latvia belonged, was a weak supranational organization. However, in May, 1940, Latvia passed a secret decree, granting powers to Latvian ministers in London and in Washington, D.C. They could appoint diplomatic representative, handle state funds, issue orders to other Latvian diplomatic missions, and protect Latvian interests (85). This decree was passed with the notion by the Latvian government that it may not be able to conduct its usually foreign policies during the war.

Yet, the Latvian dictatorship, calls for unity, and neutral foreign policy could not keep Latvia from being a target for Soviet domination. One result of the August, 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact was putting Latvia in the Soviet sphere of interest ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.). A month later, the USSR issued its first successful ultimatum against Latvia. This ultimatum resulted in the arrival of Soviet troops at the Latvian border. It was really the start of threats against Latvian independence (Mangulis 81). On July 16, 1940, the Soviet successfully mobilized troops into Latvia via a second ultimatum. Subsequentially, a new government was established in Latvia, loyal to Moscow. Ulmanis allowed this and gave into the ultimatum in order to avoid bloodshed and because international reaction to Soviet threats was minimal. On July 17, the USSR occupied Latvia, formed a puppet government, and declared it a Soviet public ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.).

 

This 1940 occupation resulted in "the horrible year." In 1940, 35000 Latvians were murdered by the Soviets and hundreds of thousands were deported to the northern regions of the USSR. It is no wonder, then, that Latvians greeted the German army with joy. The Latvians hoped that with German help, they could reestablish their state. However, they were gravely mistaken; Nazi-occupied Latvia became part of the "Ostland." Then, Latvians were recruited to fight in both German and Soviet armies. Tragically, the Latvians were made to fight against each other. The most notable fight occurred in the Kettle of Kurzene, where Latvians and Germans fought the Soviets until May 8, 1945 ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.).

After the Nazis were defeated, the Soviets recommenced their annexation of Latvia, even though it was not officially recognized by the international community. The 1950s was a decade of industrialization, the migration of workers, and the envisioning of a new Soviet culture. Hence, Latvia became a Soviet state ("Latvia-History" www.latnet.lv.).

 

Sources:

Bilmanis, Alfred. "A History of Latvia." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951.

"Latvia-History". www.latnet.lv., 1996. Taken from "Latvia, a Guide Book". Ed. Aigars Dabolins and Scott Shipman.

Mangulis, Visvaldis. "Latvia in the Wars of the Twentieth Century". Princeton Junction, NJ: Cognition Books, 1983.

 

 

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