The focus of this paper is the oppression and persecution which the rulers of the Soviet Union have inflicted on the Baltic nation of Latvia, from its declaration of independence in 1918 to the present day .
By Alexander V. Berkis
The Red Army has invaded and occupied Latvia three times in the past seventy years; its most recent aggression, in 1944, has resulted in the continuing, illegal Soviet occupation of Latvia Each Soviet incursion has been accompanied by mass killings and deportations of Latvians, and Soviet authorities have sought to destroy Latvian nationhood by the illegal annexation of Latvia to the USSR and through measures aimed at eradicating the Latvians' historical, cultural, and religious traditions. Nevertheless, the Latvian people, in their homeland and in exile, have fought to defend their nationhood with all the means at their disposal.
Latvia Under Foreign Rule, 1290-1918
Since the Communist regime in Russia has built upon and intensified earlier oppression under the tsars, a brief overview of Latvia's history under foreign rule is necessary. By 1290 all of Latvia had been conquered by the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order. From 1290 to 1561 Latvia belonged to the Confederation of Livonia, which included also Estonia. The fall of the Confederation of Livonia was brought about by the invasion of Russia under the rule of John (Ivan) IV, the Terrible. Since the Confederation was unable to defend itself, it asked for the help of Poland-Lithuania, Sweden and Denmark. As a result of the long Livonian War (1558-1582), northern Livonia, including southern Estonia, became a Polish province (1561-1629). After the Swedish-Polish succession war western Livonia, including its capital Riga, and all of Estonia became a Swedish province (1629-1721). Eastern Livonia remained a Polish province until 1772; after the First Partition of Poland- Lithuania in that year it was annexed by Russia.
The last Master of the Livonian Order, Gotthard Kettler, founded the Duchy of Courland, which endured as an almost independent state under Polish suzerainty for over two centuries (1561-1795). It is no exaggeration to say that the history of the Duchy of Courland has been almost forgotten since 1795, although Duke James (1639-1682) and his achievements were well known in the seventeenth century. The duke owned two crown colonies, the island of Tobago in the West Indies and Gambia in West Africa, as well as mining territories in Norway, which, like his colonies in Tobago and Gambia, were colonized by his Courlanders.
Courland was also a naval power. Only the Netherlands, England, Spain and Portugal had stronger navies than Courland at the time of Duke James. The envious Dutch called Duke James the "Skipper Duke," for Courland's flourishing prosperity during the age of mercantilism made the Courlanders the rivals of the Dutch. James was likewise called "the merchant on the ducal throne."
After the Third Partition of Poland-Lithuania (1795), the Duchy of Courland and Lithuania were annexed by Russia It should be emphasized that during the Livonian War and the Great Northern War (1700-1721), the Russians committed atrocities on a large scale in Latvia. During the Great Northern War, these Russian measures brought about a pestilence which killed two-thirds of the population of Latvia.
Systematic persecution of Latvians by Russians commenced when all of Latvia became the Russian provinces of Livonia and Courland. Not content with suppressing Latvian calls for self-determination, Russian authorities pursued an intensifying program of russifying Latvia throughout the nineteenth century. From 1883 on Russian was the only language of instruction in Latvian schools. Pupils were punished for speaking Latvian among themselves. Educated Latvians could not obtain work in their professions in their homeland; at the same time they were welcomed, for their skill and dependability, in Russia proper.
During the National Awakening (or Romantic Nationalism) which blossomed in nineteenth-century Latvia, the movements leaders, Krisjanis Voldemars (1825-1891) and Krisjanis Barons (1835-1923), were the targets of Russian suppression. Considered politically dangerous, they were forced to live in Russia for three decades of exile from Latvia. Nevertheless, some Latvian historians reproach them for neglecting Latvia's political independence. Voldemars and Barons did not go beyond urging their countrymen to cultivate their language and national traditions, although they favored increasing Latvia's economic independence through the accumulation of wealth.
When Russia was rocked by revolution in 1905, Latvian nationalists called for political autonomy for Latvia. The tsarist authorities responded with mass killings and deportations to Siberia.
Representative of the fates of the more fortunate Latvian nationalist leaders of that time was the experience of Karlis Ulmanis, Latvia's future president. He was jailed for several months in consequence of his activities in 1905. Upon his release from prison, tsarist authorities sought to rearrest him. With that Ulmanis went into exile in America, where he lived from 1906 to 1913.
In 1913 the Russian Duma passed an amnesty act to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. Ulmanis and other Latvian leaders in exile returned in time to experience the outbreak of the First World War, which led to the overthrow of Nicholas II and his dynasty, the Bolshevik seizure of power, and the independence of the Baltic nations.
Latvian Independence and First Soviet Occupation
It is impossible to treat the independence of Latvia (1918-1940) and the three occupations under the Soviet rule without discussing briefly the life of President Ulmanis of Latvia (1877-1942?). Foreign observers, including historians, have called Ulmanis Latvia and Latvia Ulmanis. Indeed the two names are inseparable. The writer of this paper knows no other example in history in which one person dominated so completely the history and life of a country as did Ulmanis, both as leader and as legend in Latvia.
Karlis Ulmanis was born on September 4, 1877, in Zemgale, in southern Latvia, on the territory of the former Duchy of Courland. He obtained a degree in agronomy from the Institute of Agronomy in Leipzig, Germany in 1905, and a B.S. in agriculture at the University of Nebraska in 1909 during his American exile. In 1916, returned to Latvia, Ulmanis founded the Farmers' Union, or Party, and became its leader, a position he would retain until the fall of independent Latvia in 1940. During the next few years Ulmanis organized the leading Latvian politicians, and with them formed the People's Council.
On November 18, 1918, the People's Council proclaimed the independence of Latvia. Looking to Ulmanis as the only candidate willing, able, resourceful, and courageous enough to lead Latvia, the council elected him prime minister (or minister president) of the provisional government. Political conditions in Latvia were at that time very complicated, because by 1918 its entire territory was occupied by the German army. Latvia had suffered even more devastation in the war than had Belgium. After Germany signed the November 11th armistice, the discipline of the German soldiers collapsed, and the Soviet army gradually pushed into defenseless Latvia. By February 1919 all of Latvia except the western part, which constituted less than one-eighth of its territory, had been occupied by the Soviets. /1
In occupied Latvia the Soviet authorities passed decrees nationalizing property, without compensation to the former owners. All landed property was nationalized; compulsory labor was decreed. The Communists requisitioned clothing and footwear. They imposed confiscatory taxes; even the workers had to pay higher taxes. All these decrees grossly violated international law. Since the Soviet measures could not be carried out without terror, thousands of Latvians were murdered, tortured or died of hunger. The prisons were crammed.
By early 1919 power was largely in the hands of local councils, or "soviets." These authorities mainly concerned themselves with searching for supposed counter-revolutionaries. At night those in power met and decided whom to arrest; it was also by night that the victims were arrested. Farmers, artisans, workers and intellectuals alike were arrested; nobody could feel safe. Revolutionary tribunals were busy constantly, and pronounced numerous death sentences. The "law" that the "judges" applied was "revolutionary consciousness." Toward dawn special units would take charge of the condemned Latvians, order them to take off their clothes and then shoot them.
The crimes committed by the Soviets against the cream of the Latvian nation verged on genocide, and caused a large-scale guerrilla war against the Russian troops. Gradually the Ulmanis government, with the help of German soldiers, reconquered occupied Latvia. By the beginning of February 1920, all of Latvia had been liberated. The Soviet Union, hard-pressed in the civil war against the White Russian generals, concluded a peace treaty with Latvia on August 11, 1920. /2
During the War of Latvian Liberation, Ulmanis formed three governments. At the beginning of May 1920, the Constituent Assembly convened, and authorized Ulmanis to form his fourth government. This government was able to obtain de jure recognition of Latvia by Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Belgium on January 26, 1921. A few months later the Constituent Assembly forced Ulmanis to resign, for a majority of the delegates had grown fired and envious of his strongman leadership. /3
The Interwar Years
Ulmanis' influence, however, remained powerful. In 1925 he became prime minister of his fifth government, which resigned in 1926. Ulmanis formed his sixth government during the economic crisis of 1931, which was comparatively mild in agrarian Latvia. There was no unemployment; indeed, foreign farmhands were imported. Nevertheless, many Latvians blamed the parliamentary system for economic woes. It became almost proverbial to say that when Latvia had hard times Ulmanis always appeared to solve the problems. Foreign observers remarked that parliaments and their members were elected and defeated, but Ulmanis remained. In fact coalition governments could seldom be formed without Ulmanis' agreement even at times when other members of the Farmers' Union were chosen prime minister due to the other parties' envy of Ulmanis.
In March 1934 Ulmanis became the seventh and last prime minister under the parliamentary system. The Latvian people had at last tired of the corrupt rule of the nation's many parties. On May 15, 1934, Ulmanis carried out a bloodless coup and dissolved the parliament and all parties. /4 He was hailed by a flood of letters and telegrams thanking him for restoring the unity of Latvia. The third president of Latvia, Alberts Kviesis, who also belonged to the Farmers' Union, invited Ulmanis and the ministers of the eighth and last of his governments to the presidential castle. President Kviesis announced that because the overwhelming majority of Latvians was behind the Ulmanis government, he considered Ulmanis' coup to have the force of a plebiscite. Kviesis thus gave his approval and blessing to the new government of national unity. This government remained in power for more than six years, until the Soviet Union invaded Latvia. The gratitude of the Latvian people was always behind the heroic and magic prime minister of the Latvian War of Liberation -- Karlis Ulmanis.
Yet the personality of Ulmanis cannot be overlooked in the connection with the tragic fall of independent Latvia. After the outbreak of World War II, Latvia and the other Baltic States were isolated. Under such conditions the Soviet Union forced Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to sign mutual assistance pacts and established Russian naval, air, and infantry bases in these virtually defenseless countries. /5
The Second Soviet Occupation
Ulmanis hoped to gain time by signing the pact. In fact, he gained time up to June 17, 1940. The collapse of France spurred the Soviet Union to demand the total occupation of the Baltic countries and the formation of pro-Soviet governments there. Ulmanis accepted the ultimatum and refused to go into exile. He remained technically the President of Latvia up to July 22, 1940, without any power and influence. On the twenty-second of July he was deported to the Soviet Union. The place, date and circumstances of Ulmanis' death are unknown, although some sources say he died in 1942.
Thus began the second Soviet occupation of Latvia It proved to be far more disastrous than the first one. In the first weeks following the Red Army's invasion, Latvia's political leaders, including the very popular former vice president and minister of war, General Janis Balodis, were arrested and deported.
The mass arrests took place months later, after foreign diplomatic and consular representatives had departed Latvia and could not report to their governments on the crimes committed by the Soviets. There is authentic documentary evidence that on October 11, 1940, the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, issued a detailed basic order on deportations of anti-Soviet elements from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (Order No: 001223). It was signed by the Deputy People's Commissar of Public Security, Serov, indicating that the order was issued while the Baltic States were still independent countries. /6 Needless to say this grossly violated the basic principles of international law. The lists of so-called anti-Soviet elements had long ago been drawn up by local Communists and well-paid traitors.
Fully aware of the disaffection of Latvians, the Soviet government deemed it necessary to engineer the voluntary "approval" of its occupation of Latvia. Therefore, the Soviet authorities ordered a parliamentary election. In the staged elections of July 14 and 15, 1940, a single list of candidates, approved by Andrei Vishinsky, was permitted. The unanimously "elected" parliament declared Latvia to be transformed into a Soviet Republic and requested the Soviet "parliament" to admit Latvia to the Soviet Union. The constitution of Latvia of 1922 had stipulated that any question touching the independence of Latvia had to be decided by a plebiscite. The Soviet government dared not carry one out; therefore Latvia was never legally incorporated into the Soviet Union. Besides, according to international law, no election conducted under occupation by foreign troops can be legally valid.
Latvia's minister in Washington, Dr. Alfred Bilmanis, who had been invested with emergency powers by the legitimate government, and the Latvian minister in London, Karlis Zarins, accordingly declared the elections null and void. Their emergency powers had been issued by the government of Latvia as late as May 18, 1940, with Dr. Bilmanis appointed as Zarins' substitute, in case of the death of the Latvian minister in London. The holder of the emergency powers of state was authorized to appoint delegates to international conferences and to appoint and transfer the staff of the Latvian legations and consulates. In fact Zarins was assigned the functions of the president and the government of Latvia. The Latvian puppet government declared both men traitors and deprived them of Latvian citizenship.
The sovietization of Latvia proceeded rapidly. By the end of September, 1940, all "large" private fortunes, private industry, commerce, banks, transportation, land and its natural resources, and rental property had been nationalized without compensation to the owners. On the contrary, they were slandered and libeled as exploiters and enemies of the toiling masses. The funds in the possession of the nationalized and disorganized banks were converted to worthless paper, and equally worthless Soviet paper rubles flooded the country. High prices in rubles were then fixed for all wares. Red Army soldiers and Soviet functionaries promptly cleared out the stores.
During the first major stage of the mass deportation program at least 35,828 persons were deported or murdered. American and other foreign sources estimate the number of persons from all walks of life deported or murdered at 60,000. After the outbreak of the German-Russian war, Latvian soldiers, included against the principles of international law in the Red Army, were withdrawn to Russia or murdered. Many civilians were carried off by the retreating Soviet authorities as well. Marked especially for extermination were Latvian government officials, members of the intelligentsia, and retired army officers.
It should be noted that intellectuals suffered most from the persecution, because during the Latvian War of Liberation almost the entire student body of the University of Latvia volunteered to fight against the Red Army. Therefore the Soviets called the University of Latvia a citadel of arch-reactionaries. Neither among the intellectuals nor the capitalists, however, did the Soviets find their most outspoken enemies. These were the farmers, because in Latvia 62 per cent of the inhabitants were farmers and their families. In fact they were their own bosses. From the Soviet point of view the backbone of the stable middle classes had to be broken by any and all means. The outbreak of the German- Russian War prevented the Soviet regime from forcing the collectivization of agriculture. /7
The Soviet terror was met by an uprising of officers and enlisted men from the former Latvian Home Guard, a well-trained reserve army, and other Latvian nationalists. They seized control of most of Latvia after the outbreak of the German-Russian War. The German army conquered only the major cities -- Riga, Liepaja (Libau), Ventspils (Windau), Jelgava (Mitau) and Daugavpils (Dunaburg). During the first days of July 1941, all of Latvia was occupied by the German army. The war swept across Latvia like a hurricane. Despite the German liberation, Latvians were soon disappointed as it became obvious that Hitler's government had no intention of restoring Latvia's independence.
Beginning in the middle of July 1944, the German troops gradually retreated from Latvia after heavy fighting. The superiority of the Red Army was in no small part due to its support with weapons and all kinds of material by the U.S. and the British Empire. On May 8, 1945, the German troops laid down their arms in accordance with the terms of Germany's unconditional surrender on both the Western and Eastern fronts.
Realizing that with Latvia's third occupation by the Red Army at hand, the Soviet terror was again imminent, many Latvian activists saw exile as their only hope for the future. Experience had taught them that nothing is worse than Communism. According to information provided by the Latvian Red Cross, by 1947 there were 134,000 Latvian political refugees, the overwhelming majority of them in West Germany. This must be regarded as a minimum estimate.
Defeat and Reoccupation
Those Latvians who remained in Latvia had no illusions as to their fate. Within a few days the Red Army was followed by the NKVD. The Red secret police immediately interrogated the population by means of mandatory questionnaires. The Soviets declared that all who had not retreated with Soviet forces before the advance of the German Army were enemies of the Soviet Union and deserved exemplary punishment. The questions each Latvian was forced to answer included the following: "Why did you not retreat with the Soviet Army in 1941?" What employment did you pursue during the German occupation?" What anti-German sabotage did you carry out?" "Name three collaborators of the Germans." Men were issued red tickets for military service, green for compulsory labor, and white for deportation. People's courts, meeting in the absence of the accused, condemned Latvian patriots to long prison terms or deportation to the Gulag, while their families were picked up, separated at the entrainment points and dragged off to unknown parts of the Soviet Union. Beginning in 1948 collectivization was imposed on most Latvian farms. The University of Latvia was thoroughly russified and sovietized. An even more serious result of the Red Army's third occupation was the introduction of large numbers of ethnic Russians and natives of the U.S.S.R's Asiatic republics into the country to replace the deported Latvians. /8
Latvian Guerrilla Resistance
These Soviet measures caused a very bloody large-scale guerrilla war, not only in Latvia but in Estonia and Lithuania as well, where similar policies were imposed. From 1944 to 1952, and on a smaller scale even up to 1956, fierce fighting still raged in the countryside. Only after the failure of the Hungarian revolt in 1956 did the Baltic peoples realize that the Western democracies were unable and unwilling to support them.
The guerrilla war was waged on the largest scale in Lithuania. According to Lithuanian sources, the Lithuanians lost 30,000 men; Soviet losses are put at no fewer than 80,000 soldiers and NKVD men. These estimates have been reinforced by testimony obtained from Soviet officials, who had previously participated in suppressing the Lithuanian freedom fighters, after they themselves went into exile. /9
Soviet authorities spoke very frankly about the extent of the guerrilla war. They estimated that there were around 9,000 Latvian national partisans, whom they resentfully referred to as "fascist bandits." The Communist regime branded the Latvians a counter- revolutionary and anti-Soviet people. It is indeed a great compliment to be called such names by the Soviets. This is, furthermore, something new, because it has consistently been standard Soviet practice to feign friendship with all peoples and to differentiate between "exploiters," the "enemies of the people," and the population as a whole.
It should be noted that Latvian sources make roughly the same estimation of the number of the Latvian national partisans. On the average, the partisans survived the fighting only for two or three years, and then were replaced by other men with military training. Up until 1949 the national partisans controlled many parts of Latvia, especially the peninsula of Courland. Their successes can be explained by the fact that about 43 per cent of Latvia is covered by forests, lakes and swamps. This terrain was exploited by seasoned fighters from the two divisions of the Latvian Legion mobilized by the Germans. At the time of the German capitulation they had taken to the forests. These Latvian troops took their weapons with them, obtaining additional arms and ammunition from the German army depots in the fortress of Courland, the last-ditch redoubt of Hitler's Army Group North. Later on they used captured Russian weapons. Above all, they enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of Latvians.
After the collectivization of agriculture, the Soviet authorities carried out their largest deportation, involving mainly the farm population, in 1949. This measure considerably deprived the national partisans of food supplies, civilian support, and a source of new recruits. Nevertheless, so resourceful were the partisans that they captured food and money from the collective farms and state- owned stores.
The collectivization and mass deportations, however, spelled the beginning of the end of the large-scale guerrilla war. Gradually the partisans were demobilized. They were provided with forged or purchased identification documents in the black markets to enable them to filter back into the civilian population.
The question of the fate of the former partisans is still open. Those who criticize the guerrilla war assert that it was a lost cause from the very beginning. In fact, however, the national partisans, by executing many Soviet functionaries, made many of the others fear for their lives. In many cases Soviet officials intentionally overlooked the surviving partisans, especially when they moved far away from their former homes or to the metropolis of Riga, with its 700,000 inhabitants. Communists fear retaliation; this is the only argument that they understand. Nor should the fact be overlooked that the national partisans created a legend for the future. The only peoples who deserve independent states are those willing to fight for them!
The writer of this paper has the sad duty of pointing out that the noble aspiration and hope of President Ulmanis -- to save the Latvian people from extermination by accepting the ultimatum of the Soviet Union without offering military resistance -- proved mistaken. The mass deportations carried out by the government of the Soviet Union, the mobilization of over 150,000 Latvians by the Germans, and the very bloody guerrilla war, caused such losses to the population that they cannot be correctly estimated at this time. These painful facts cannot diminish President Ulmanis' outstanding achievements and his glorious rule.
Donald Day, correspondent of the Chicago Tribune in Eastern Europe for 22 years, in his book Onward Christian Soldiers devotes more pages to Ulmanis than to any other statesman, including Poland's Marshal Pilsudski. According to Day, Ulmanis believed that the Latvians' best hope for a future national existence was to raise their living standard and culture to such a high level that the people, no matter what the immediate future might bring, would always treasure these memories in their hearts. In Day's opinion Ulmanis was the greatest man Latvia has ever produced. /10 Karlis Ulmanis was the great president of a small country. After the Hitler-Stalin pact and the outbreak of World War II, only God could save Latvia.
One misunderstanding should be corrected. There is still a widespread belief in the Western democracies that Communism is a lesser evil than National Socialism. The former Marxist Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, with great reluctance, recognized that National Socialism was a lesser evil than Communism. Indeed, it should be emphasized that even William L. Shirer, whose strong anti-German bias concerning all periods of German history is well known, when writing about Latvia and the other Baltic States in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, stated that Stalin, in dealing with small countries, could be as crude and as ruthless as Hitler, and even more cynical. /11
Latvian Resistance, Soviet Oppression
After the end of the guerrilla war, the Latvians resorted to passive resistance. In spite of the well-known Latvian individualism, which has caused keen foreign observers to say that Latvians are strong as individuals and weak in cooperation, Soviet rule has fostered a strong Latvian national unity. Now, in Soviet-occupied Latvia, Latvians help their fellow Latvians in any way they can. There are no longer any parties in Latvia: all Latvians constitute one community of suffering.
In general Latvians do their best to maintain their language, culture and national traditions. Above alL they have done and continue to do everything possible to achieve the best education for their children. In this regard they have succeeded, because the Latvians. together with the Estonians, are the best educated among the captive peoples and by far more educated than the Russians.
In spite of all the Latvians' efforts to survive as a people, the outlook grows more bleak with each passing year. To be sure, after the major deportation of 1949, no new mass deportations have occurred. On the contrary, an amnesty for certain categories of political prisoners was proclaimed after Stalin's death in 1953. Several thousand Latvians returned to their native land, most of them as invalids, broken in body and spirit But deportations from Latvia still continue, as young people are inveigled into volunteering for the cultivation of virgin lands or for mining in Central Asia and Siberia.
The Russian eight years' war in Afghanistan provided the government of the Soviet Union with a new opportunity to deport Latvian youth. Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians and other subject peoples are sent as soldiers to Afghanistan to eliminate the Afghans and at the same time to spare, as much as possible, the pro-Soviet Russians. Losses among Latvian soldiers are very high because the Soviet authorities deliberately engage them in the riskiest military operations. The Latvian organizations in exile have to some extent succeeded in reaching agreements with the fighting Afghans to spare Latvian prisoners of war. But these measures can only be of a limited scope, because the various Afghan tribes lack both a united military command and common organization abroad which could function as a government-in-exile.
The Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, caused by the gross negligence of the Soviet authorities, presented the Soviets with yet another pretext to deport Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, and other subject peoples. Those drafted to clean up the Chernobyl mess were told that they would have to work for only three months at the site. Yet those who survived the nuclear clean-up, under the most miserable conditions, were not allowed to return to their homes. The cheapest thing in the Soviet Union is human life.
The Soviet authorities in occupied Latvia have engaged in the systematic destruction of graves, entire cemeteries, churches and many other historical monuments. For instance, the graves of resident Karlis Ulmanis's family were destroyed by the Russian barbarians. The monument and memorial museum of the first Latvian commander-in-chief, Oskars Kalpaks, were likewise destroyed by the Soviets. Destruction of church property has been extensive. The historic Lutheran Dome of Riga -- the cathedral of the archbishop -- has been turned into a concert hall, the historic St. Peter's Church into a museum and the Greek Catholic Cathedral into a planetarium Numerous other churches have been transformed into warehouses cinemas, clubs, or meeting halls, or have been burned down. Many Latvians known for their outspoken anti-Communism have been killed in Zaccidents," not only in Soviet-ruled Latvia, but also in the United States, Canada and West Germany. Latvians are not safe from Russian persecution, even in exile.
The Fight Goes on Abroad
The Baltic exiles have not, however, allowed themselves to be intimidated. The diplomatic and consular representatives of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, in conjunction with the worldwide organizations of the Baltic peoples, function as governments in exile. A new generation of Baltic young people, provided by their parents with educations in the finest universities of America, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, has moved into the leadership of the exile organizations. More important, they have succeeded in bringing their fight for justice and the liberation of their fatherlands into international forums.
As a result of their endless activity and effort, on January 13, 1983 the Parliament of Europe in Strasbourg passed a resolution that strongly condemned the occupation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union. The resolution calls the Soviet Union the last colonial empire and demands that the issue of the Baltic States be brought before the United Nations. The European resolution is firmly based on numerous treaties, including those concluded and subsequently violated by the Soviet Union. The language of the resolution stresses that the three Baltic peoples waged a large-scale guerrilla war against the Russian troops for eight years (1944-1952) and that about 665,000 Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians have been deported by the Soviet authorities to forced labor camps since 1940.
Encouraged by this success, on July 25 and 26, 1985, the Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian exile organizations held an international tribunal against the government of the Soviet Union, charging it with genocide and other crimes against humanity in the three Baltic states. A panel of internationally known authorities in the field of human rights issued its verdict, the Copenhagen Manifesto, which found the Soviet government guilty as charged. /12 Meanwhile a Baltic ship, symbolizing the ideal of peace based upon freedom, sailed along the coasts of Denmark Sweden and Finland. Impressive demonstrations against the Soviet Union took place in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. West European TV networks and major newspapers gave these events good coverage. It is regrettable that only The Wall Street Journal, among major American papers, gave these stories any notice at all.
'Useful Idiots' Against Baltic Freedom: The OSI
As might have been expected, the Soviet Union answered these initiatives by organizing so-called war crimes trials. Unfortunately, the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) entered into collaboration with the Soviet secret police. Karl Linnas, an Estonian-born resident of Long Island who was stripped of his citizenship by a federal court for participating in alleged war crimes committed by Hitler during World War II, was implicated by Evidence" compiled by the Soviet KGB. Their evidence was forged, fabricated and fraudulent As a result, Linnas was deported by the U.S. government to illegally occupied Estonia, where he had been already condemned to death by Soviet courts. On his arrival the Soviet prosecutor informed him that the Soviet Union had no case against him due to statutory limitation. Soon afterward, the Soviets announced his death.
The Linnas case was an outrageous violation of the U.S. Constitution. Linnas and other U.S. citizens of Eastern European origin in the so-called war criminal cases have been treated as third- class citizens, deprived of due process, a trial by jury, and protection from the application of ex post facto laws. The statutory basis for these outrages is a special law passed by Congress during the Carter administration. The writer of this paper believes that this is a bill of attainder, and thus forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. Congress has likewise grossly violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers of the three branches of government.
To do justice to President Reagan, it should be noted that he fired Allan A. Ryan, Jr., who was not covered by the civil service laws. Ryan's answer to the President was a book, Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America (New York Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1984). In this book Ryan shows great zeal to justify the activities of the nefarious OSI. Characterizing Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians in general as collaborators with the Germans, he engages in character assassination of the three peoples as a whole. He seems irritated that the U.S. government does not recognize the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic countries. Since colonialism has come to an end in Africa and Asia, Ryan and his Soviet accomplices are no longer in the mainstream of twentieth- century ideas. His book amply demonstrates that he and the OSI owe their allegiance to the Soviet Union, as evidenced by their instigation of ethnic and sectarian hatred and their attempts to intimidate outspoken anti-Communists.
Even in this regard, they have miserably failed. They are blind to the fact that young Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians are well educated, resourceful, and courageous. Baltic young people will only increase their struggle against the Soviet Union and its leftist fifth column in the U.S. The Baltic youth of today cannot and will not allow itself to be legally or morally burdened with war crimes committed before their births. They do not hate Ryan, they despise him. Only a misfit like Ryan fails to see this. Lenin called such persons "useful idiots."
The pro-Soviet elements in the U.S., including the OSI, suffered a great setback in September 1986, when the superpowers met in a conference at Jurmala, Latvia. There, on the eighteenth of September, White House adviser and ambassador Jack Matlock told the conference, in the Latvian language, that the U.S. has never recognized and will not recognize the legitimacy of the forcible incorporation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the Soviet Union. This declaration was twice carried on local television and has spread throughout Riga the capital of Latvia. Mattock immediately became a national hero in Latvia, and Latvians consider President Reagan the best friend of Latvia. This was one declaration that the American news media could not suppress.
Prospects for an Independent Latvia
During the decade beginning in 1965, both houses of Congress passed sense-of-Congress resolutions condemning the genocidal measures of the government of the Soviet Union in the Baltic States, and asking for the restoration of these nations' independence. Congress has also passed annual resolutions declaring June 14 to be Baltic States' Day and condemning the mass deportations carried out by the Soviets in the Baltic nations. President Reagan has each year signed strong Captive Nations proclamations and the Baltic States' Day resolutions calling the Soviet Union an aggressor and demanding the restoration of independence of Latvian Lithuania, and Estonia Again, it is unfortunate that those resolutions and proclamations are almost never mentioned by our major news media.
Today  there is a strong underground movement in the Baltic States. The underground organizations have frequently sent memoranda to the governments of the Western democracies asking for the restoration of the rights of self-determination and independence for the Baltic peoples. These communiques are also ignored by our news media.
It should be noted that a falsified history taught in Western academic institutions stresses alleged German imperialism, ignoring the fact that after 1254 (the end of the Hohenstaufen dynasty), Germany became and remained largely a geographic concept up to the unification of Germany by Otto von Bismarck in 1870.
Students in most American schools and universities are studiously deprived of the knowledge that for several centuries the Russians have engaged in large-scale colonial plundering and exploitation of quite advanced non-Russian and non-Slavic peoples, and that todays Soviet Russia is a prison of peoples.
It is a lack of intellectual integrity that prevents academics from informing American students that the Russians have consistent plans to achieve global domination by any and all means. A good example of this kind of misinformation is provided by the whole galaxy of U.S. and West European TV networks and newspapers, assisted by spurious pollsters, which have pictured Gorbachev as a leader with constructive ideas of how to achieve peace, contrary to the negative attitude of President Reagan. They deliberately ignore the fact that during the short totalitarian dictatorship of Gorbachev the mass murders in Afghanistan, including those of women and children, have reached a climax, resulting in the deaths or exile of a third of the population. Thus, behind his facade of moderation, Gorbachev has demonstrated his true barbarian mentality. It should be stated that only pro-Soviet Western capitalists, such as the Rockefellers, can postpone the disintegration of the Soviet empire due to its highly unstable and precarious economy, the explosive, growing nationalism of the captive peoples, and the conflicting interests of Soviet Russia and Red China.
Latvian youth, in Latvia and in exile, is using the slogan of President Ulmanis: "Latvia for Latvians and Latvians for Latvia." Before his deportation to Russia, Ulmanis declared to his closest coworkers: "We can be oppressed, we can be partly exterminated, but, as long as a single Latvian is alive, the struggle will continue for the right to live in a free and independent Latvia."
The author of this study believes that he will see an independent Latvia once more, a Latvia which is now in the process of formation, a new Latvia, Latvia restored.
- Zanis Unams (ed.), Es Vinu Pazistu. Biografiska Vardnica (Riga: 1939), pp. 501-505.
- Dr. Arnolds Spekke, History of Latvia (Stockholm: 1951) pp. 347-348. Dr. Spekke was the Minister of Latvia in Washington, D.C. (1954-1970).
- Edgars Dunsdorfs, Karla Ulmana Dzive (Stockholm: 1978) pp. 193-209.
- Unams (ed.), Es Vinu Pazistu, pp. 501-504.
- Dr. Alfreds Bilmanis, History of Latvia (Princeton University Press: 1951) pp. 394-407. The late Bilmanis was the Minister of Latvia to the U.S. (1935-1948) and a prominent Latvian historian.
- Joseph Pajaujis-Javis, Soviet Genocide in Lithuania, appendix No. 4, pp. 224-229.
- Alfreds Zeichners, Latvijas Bolsevizacija, 1940-1941. (The author's edition, Riga 1944) p.458; Bilmanis, History of Latvia, p. 406.
- Clarence A. Manning, The Forgotten Republics (New York 1952), pp. 232-235.
- Pajaujis-Javis, Soviet Genocide in Lithuania, pp. 91-117.
- Donald Day, Onward Christian Soldiers (The Noontide Press, 1982), p.33.
- Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Vols I-II, (Harper and Row Publishers, New York), I, p. 145. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: 1962), p.1041.
- Baltic Tribunal Against the Soviet Union July 25 and 26, 1985, Copenhagen (published by the World Federation of Free Latvians), pp. 1-195.
This paper was presented at the Eighth Conference of the Institute for Historical Review, October 1987, in Irvine, southern California. It was published in the IHR's Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1988 (Vol. 8, No. 1), pages 25-40.
About the Author
Alexander V. Berkis was born in Latvia in 1916. He held a law degree from the University of Latvia, and a doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin. For years he served as a professor of European history at Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia, until his retirement at the age of 65. He was a chairman of the Latvian Republican Committee, and a member of several academic associations. He also served as a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee of the IHR's Journal of Historical Review. He died in 2003 at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife of 57 years, as well as a daughter and two grandsons.