LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 26, No. 4 - Winter 1980
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
Copyright © 1980 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
DEMOGRAPHY AND RUSSIFICATION IN THE BALTIC STATES: THE CASE OF LATVIA
In 1939, the territory of Latvia covered 65,791 km2, with 2,001,900 inhabitants, 76% of them Latvians, Russians 5.73%, White Russians 4.15%, Jews 4.97%, and Germans 5.73%. Latvia established a democratic courageous government with a multi-party system until 1934, when Ulmanis assumed power; the Communist Party was underground from 1919 to 1940.
The loss of independence
When World War II started in September 1939, the fate of Latvia had already been decided in the secret protocol of the so-called German-Soviet non-aggression treaty of August 23. In October, Latvia had to sign a dictated treaty of mutual assistance by which the U.S.S.R. obtained military, naval, and air bases on Latvian territory.
On June 16, 1940, Latvia was invaded by the Red Army and on June 20, the formation of a new government headed by prof. Augusts Kirchenšsteins was announced. On July 21, the new Saima (Parliament) "voted" for the incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R. and on August 5 the U.S.S.R. was "graciously pleased to grant the application".
During the first year of Soviet occupation, about 36,000 Latvians were murdered or deported to northern Russia and Siberia; of those, 7,497 were women and 4,196 children under the age of 16.
After World War II, the Communist Party Central Committee established as its goal the development of a permanent power base in the territories of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and began the forceful colonisation of these territories with Russians, White Russians and Ukrainians. It also began the forceful assimilation of Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and other minority nationalities, disregarding the fact that such action clearly spoke against the principles of Marxism-Leninism.
The Russification and the Sovietization of Latvia after World War II did not happen spontaneously or improvizationally but was purposely and carefully planned and directed from Moscow. Special bureaus, attached to the Central Committee, were set up under the leadership of high functionaries. All over Russia they searched for persons who would be suitable for leading positions: the leading persons must be from Latvia, but their deputies and assistants must come from the ranks of trustworthy Russian communists.
The personal policies of the Russian "advisers" during the first years after the war were revealed in the study of their obituaries. There can be found names and fates, about whose existence nothing was known before. These are the articles about a people, Russian nationals, who were not connected with Latvia at all before the war. At the end of the war, they found themselves in Latvia or were sent there by their government. They received their orders to work in the party apparatus, Cheka, police, but usually in discreet undercover posts.
There is no mention in the Soviet sources about how many Russian "advisers" settled in Latvia in the first years after the war. Estimates indicate that this number could be approximately 349,500 between the years 1945 till 1959.
Changes in primary and secondary industries
To guarantee a massive influx of Russians, White Russians, and Ukrainians into the Latvian republic, federal, inter-republican, and zonal government departments have been set up in Latvia, and the construction of new large industries, as well as expansion of existing plants has been undertaken, disregarding any economic necessity.
It is impossible to reproduce the general migration pattern because it was in many different forms. The aim of the Soviet authorities is to make it appear as though people migrate to Latvia of their own accord. The boundaries of the republics were no barrier: they were not linked with migration visas or permits. The aim of this was to show the equality of the Soviet citizens and was not linked with nationalities, religions or any other characteristics. Why was there such a facade? Obviously, this removes responsibility of action from the Soviet Government about the russification of Latvia. The first prerequisite for migration was to find employment for the immigrants. For this purpose large industries were established in rural and urban centres, till they became large industrial centres.
The construction personnel for these projects were collected and brought in from cities outside of the Republic; raw materials were brought in from the Urals or the Don basin (i.e., from places 3 to 4 thousand kilometres away); similarly, the labor force and the specialists were imported, but the production was exported from the Republic. For example, extensive synthetic fibre plants were built in Daugavpils. The imported labour force for these plants has formed a fair-sized town with almost no Latvian inhabitants.
In every regional city new plants were built. The construction labour, specialists and production labour were imported, but the products were sent to the entire U.S.S.R. So, what is the real reason? The Soviet government is silent.
Although Latvia had a sufficient number of generating stations providing electric power for the Republic, and Russia has many large rivers, imported workers built a hydroelectric station on the river Daugava at Plavinas. A city Stučka has been built for the construction forces, and consequently a new region had been formed in the Republic.
To carry out such projects in the U.S.S.R., there was a special ministry whose task was to establish special work units, mainly Russian. The projects usually last for many years; therefore, the families moved to live near the project sites. It often happened that the families decided to cease "the nomadic way of life" and to settle down permanently in Latvia.
There are many examples where Russian teams have engaged in various projects and after the conclusion of work, they and their families often decided to stay in Latvia permanently, thus adding to the number of Russians in the population. At the same time special work teams from Latvia were sent to Russia or other Republics, even to Asian parts of the U.S.S.R. to carry out similar building projects.
Besides industry, the other branches which were under Moscow's direct control were railways, fishing, harbours, foreign trade and banking.
I will illustrate this using the example of the fishing industry and the merchant navy. Most of the Latvian fleet was destroyed during the war. Arter the re-building of the Latvian fishing fleet, it was concentrated in three countries, which were united in 1962 under the title "Zapriba" (Russian name) and placed under the control of Moscow. The leaders were from Russia, as were most of the personnel, too. Latvian fishermen worked in their fishing kolkhozs and seldom were allowed to participate in long-distance trips.
In the merchant navy most of the personnel was Russian; e.g., the captain of the tanker "Imants Sudmalis" was Pavel Kuznetzov; the other officers were A. Salamatov, J. Batarenks, A. Marterisov, J. Taranin, V. Panov, A. Rudnich etc.; all non-Latvian names. Was this just a coincidence? The Harbour masters, too, were Russians and most of the other personnel were too; e.g., Riga fishermen harbour master was A. Chetvernikow; Venstpils merchant harbour master was V. Jestignejev; Latvia's merchant navy deputy master was N. Bezrukov.
Although the depletion of forests had exceeded reforestation since the war, forests were being destroyed, turning large areas into swamps and leading to the importation of raw materials for the local furniture industry. For the last few years lumberjacks have been and are still being brought into Latvia from Russia, White Russia and the Ukraine. The destruction of the forests continues and the imported lumberjacks settle down permanently in the Republic.
This policy has led to the present situation in which between 25,000 to 35,000 additional non-Latvians each year become permanent residents of Riga. The total population has increased by a factor of 2.5. As a result, whereas Latvians in Latvia were 62% of the population in 1959, in 1970 they accounted only for 57% of the population (76% in 1939). Similarly, the population of Riga was 45% Latvian in 1959 and only 40% Latvian in 1970 (64% in 1939).
Importation of labour has been the policy since the end of World War II and in the last two years it has been further reinforced. In the Republic there are bureaus and departments where few Latvians are employed. For example, in the Interior Department System of Riga there are about 1,500 workers, but only about 300 of them are Latvians. Among the employees in the Commerce Department, a majority (51%) do not speak Latvian and only 29% of the management positions are filled by Latvians.
Approximately 65% of the physicians who work in Riga's institutions do not understand Latvian. Because of this there are often gross mistakes made in diagnosis and in treatment prescribed for illness.
Absorption of the local population into the mass arriving Russians, White Russians, and Ukrainians is also furthered by the establishment of large bases for the armed forces and border guards on Latvian soil, as well as the building of many medical clinics, rest-homes, etc.
Latvian soldiers, called "strelnieki," played an important role in the October Revolution. Lenin himself gave them the important role of guarding the Kremlin during the most critical days of the revolution. During World War ll, two Latvian divisions and a special aviation battalion fought as part of the Red Army. Most of them were Russian Latvians and even Russians. Today, however, there are no separate Latvian military units. Latvian youths in the military are purposely not assigned to the Russian units stationed in Latvia, but are scattered throughout the Soviet Union as far from Latvia as possible; e.g., nearly 100% of 1970 conscripts were sent to Siberia or to the China border. Only a few outstanding Komsomols were left in Latvia.
The size of armed forces in the Baltic States is estimated to be 250,000. Professional soldiers, after being demobilized, often with their families, remain permanently in Latvia. The search in newspapers reveals that many demobilized soldiers obtain positions as sovkhoz and machine-tractor station directors and other similar positions.
In cities and villages the formation of the so-called "united" schools, kindergartens and children's homes continues. In practice this means that the Russian language kindergartens and schools remained unchanged, but in all the formerly Latvian language institutions classes in Russian were instituted. All pedagogical meetings, teacher and student meetings, as well as the meetings of the Young Pioneers are now conducted in Russian. Except for the rural districts of Kurzeme, Zemgale and Vidzeme, few Latvian kindergartens, children's homes and schools remain. There are 245 such schools, comprising 35% of all students.
In all high schools and institutions of higher learning there are extensive study programs in Russian. There are educational institutions which cater to the whole of the Soviet Union; e.g., Civil Aviation Engineer Institute (2,500 students); military schools; Aviation Technical School; Higher Military Academy, etc. These schools have large staffs which are composed mainly of Russians.
Bi-lingual development is fostered as an important means of communication and the Russian language has been declared to be the "second mother tongue".
In newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, meetings and books everywhere, everyday, friendship with Russians is encouraged, widely propagandized are cases where Latvian girls marry Russians or Latvian youths marry Russian girls.
In the production of consumer goods, national elements are eliminated. Formerly in Latvia, as in any other country, there were unique foods, special brands of confectionery, chocolates, cigarettes, but now these tend to disappear in preference of brands of the Soviet Union: Belock, Lastocka, Kara-Kum etc. etc.
The Latvian people have a very important festival called "Ligo", which has been celebrated for hundreds of years, even during the German Fascist occupation. Until 1972 it was expressly forbidden to hold this festival. And from 1973 the festival was not recognized, although it was not officially banned.
There are two approaches to our Latvian literary heritage. There are repeated editions of the works of such Russian authors as Tolstoi, Turjenev, Dostojevski, Gogol, Pushkin, Lermontov, and others. However, of the Latvian authors who wrote in the pre-Soviet era, only Rainis, Paegle, and Veidenbaums are fully recognized, and partial recognition is given to Aspāzija, Blaumanis, and a handful of others.
Riga is divided into six administrative regions, none of which has a locally-derived name. They are named Lenin, Kirov, Moscow, Leningrad, October, and Proletarian. Similarly, street names have been changed in Riga and other towns and are now Russian.
Latvian professional and amateur theatres, ensembles, orchestras, and choirs cannot have a repertoire officially approved unless it contains Russian plays or songs. However, the Russian collective repertoires almost never include Latvian plays or songs.
I can continue enumerating more such facts and conditions which all support the same point, namely, that all expressions of Latvian nationalism are suppressed, that there is forcible assimilation and no equality among nations, cultures, and traditions. One could ask: why are the Latvian people and Latvian communists silent? They are not silent. There have been and there are many attempts to oppose this political policy.
The former First Secretary of the Riga Committee of the Communist Party, who later became the Vice-Chairman of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic, E. Berklavs, always spoke out against this injustice. For a time he was supported by other members of the Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Party. However, when his support grew to include a majority of the Central Committee members, the then First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Socialist Republics, Khrushchev, made a personal trip to Latvia and later sent the Secretary of the C.P.S.U., Muchitinov. As a result, E. Berklavs was dismissed from his post as Vice Chairman of the Council of Ministers and expelled both from the Central Committee Bureau and the Central Committee and was sent out of the Latvian Republic. For supporting E. Berklavs and opposing the great Russian chauvinism and opposing the mutilation of Marxism and Leninism, his associates (24 in number) were also removed from their posts and deported.
All the significant party and government posts have now been filled with non-Latvians and Latvians who have spent their entire lives in Russia and who arrived in Latvia only after World War II. The majority of them either do not speak any Latvian or speak very little.
There is no reason to assume that the majority of the people who were sent to the Baltic area were forced to settle down against their free will. It can be assumed that it was the best choice for most of them. By comparison, the Baltic area had suffered less during the war than many areas of Russia. Living standards before the war were much higher than in Russia. Hundreds of thousands of Baits had left their homes and escaped to the West. Their residences were well suited for settling Russian migrants.
There was a Russian minority in Latvia during the period of independence, though small in number. These people lived mostly along the Soviet border. After the war a few districts with large Russian populations were incorporated into the Russian Federal Republic. Thus, the Russian minority was an even smaller constitutive unit than the first level of Russians in Latvia. The second "level" consisted of migrants between 1945 and 1950; the third "level," of migrants after 1950. These three "levels," including natural increase, total approximately 880,000 Russians till 1970.
,,Zinātne un Tehnika" states that ". . . for many years more people arrive in our Republic than leave. The arrivals are mostly people in their active age (from 16-34). This improves the population structure according to sex and age, boosts the birth rate, supplements the labour force . . .". The same magazine also points to the fact that during the earlier years they settled only in cities but now also in the country. Is this the beginning of rural Russification too?
Migrants to most countries are initially employed in the worst and least-remunerative jobs. In Latvia it is different: the elite party leaders, central administrators, industry leaders are mainly Russian migrants. Their social position is even better than that of the local population. The fact that they do not know the local situation and language is of no consequence. Their merit is their Russian background.
In other countries it is expected that newcomers will adjust to the traditions and ways of life of the adopted country. Such expectations do not exist in Latvia. The government expects that the local population will adjust to Russian culture and traditions.
It is not difficult to understand that such practice turns the local population against Russians. They are reminded that the annexion of Latvia was done against the will of the people. The migrants, at first, are unaware of this, because Soviet propaganda makes assertions to the contrary. The newcomers are convinced that the future of the country depends on them, while the local population is "the remains of the past". However, "the remains of the past" refuse to accept this and consequently refuse the unwanted heirs.
In the last few years more and more signals for help are heard in the Western World, by means of smuggled letters and the testimony of escapees. The most important document was a letter written by 17 anonymous Latvian communists and addressed to the communist leaders in the Western World and some communist countries in central Europe and the Balkans. This letter(in future referred to as "the letter") was widely commented on in the world press; e.g., the "New York Times" informed readers that Baltic leaders are worried about the inflow of Russians into the Baltic States and the possible friction between the local population and Russians. The paper further comments that Voss (the first secretary) attacks the letter in "Pravila" and stresses that the interests of the state are paramount and override the interests of individuals or local needs, and that "ethnic tolerance" is the key-word. He invites to fight against nationalistic tendencies. The article concludes with the statement that the Baltic nations are afraid of the inflow of Russians as this will alter the ethnic composition and lower the living standard, which, compared with Russia's, is much higher. Moscow's aim is to increase industries which require a large labour force, the only source being Russia. The other danger, according to the "New York Times" report, is the low birth rate. P. Zvidrinš in "Padomju Latvija Komunists" also stresses the same point.
The letter was commented on in the United States Senate. Senator Percy pointed out the heroic attempts of the Baltic nations to preserve their national characteristics and cultures.
Latvian students at St. Clair University, California, questioned both the first and second secretaries of the Soviet embassy while they were visiting the university. The students distributed the letter with information gathered from the World press. The visitors found it difficult to answer the questions.
The popular West German newspaper "Die Welt" presented an article written by Moscow correspondent Ernst Ulrich Fromm (Wie russifiziert ist Lettland wirklich). "The fact is that Latvia has the largest Russian population of all the Baltic republics. The 1970 census shows that the Latvian population is only 56.8%. From 1959 to 1970 the Russian population has increased from 26.6% to 29.8%. At the same time Estonia's Russian population has increased from 20.1% to 24.7%. Lithuania's population on the other hand has only 8.6% Russians. Fromm continues: "Soviet information states that out of 237 Central Committee members in Latvia 150 are Latvians. They fail to mention how many of the high officials are Russians. Nothing has been said to the claim about the presence of non-Latvian troops on Latvian soil".
There was a wild reaction to the letter in the Riga press, especially after an article appeared in the Swedish newspaper, "Dagens Nyheter". "Cina" printed an article of over 4,000 words. A day later other Riga newspapers joined in.
The articles in "Cina" and in the other newspapers do not answer all the points mentioned in the letter: for example, "Cina" argues that in the local Soviets 78.3% of the delegation are Latvians and in the "higher" Soviet 72.4% are Latvians. But "Cina" is silent about the fact that the Latvian population has dropped as low as 57% and in Riga even to 40%. At the same time "Cina" admits "certain changes" in the composition of the population. "The great success", "Cina" continues, "is based on the collective effort of all inhabitants of our Republic Latvians, Russians, White Russians and others, ... all nationalities are entitled to be represented in our governing bodies. Herein lies our strength'."
"Cina" condemns the letter because it opposes "everything that determines the policies of the Communist Party and the Soviet state, the fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist ideology". "They protest against everything that is dear to us; against the U.S.S.R. national policy; the friendship between nations; economic development of Latvia; Leninist norms . . ." etc.
"Cina" concludes the article with a statement that the letter is a forgery by authors living in foreign countries. "They could be people", said "Cina", "who lack an ideological backbone". The culprits, of course, are American counterespionage agents, including Bruno Kalninš (Latvian Social-Democrat leader, now professor of political science at Upsala University, Sweden).
"Cina's" arguments are typical of the communist line. The only positive point is that the whole population is now aware of the facts existing in Latvia.
The Balto-German monthly magazine "Baltishe Briefe" comments: ". . . there is no point in whether the document is original or a forgery, the important thing is the facts, and they speak a very clear language."
The future of the Russification policy can be clearly discerned from the fate of the former Karelian Soviet Socialistic Republic, which exists no more, because it has been liquidated: local nationals make up less than half of the total population of the republic. Now Karelia is a part of the Russian Federal Soviet Socialist Republic. A similar fate awaits Latvia.
Bēzinš, A. (ed.), Latvija Šodien, American Latvian Association. Washington D.C., 1972.
Darbinš, Alfreds (ed.), Latvija Statistisks pārskats, P. Mantenieks: Hannover, 1947.
Dunsdorfs, E. (ed.), Archivs, XI, Latvian Association in Australia: Melbourne, 1971.
Ebert, T., Zivilar Wiederstand, Bertelsman Universtatsvertag: Düselforf, 1970.
King, G. V., Economic Policies in Occupied Latvia, Tacoma: Pacific Lutheran University Press, 1964.
Samsons, V. (ed.) Latvijas P.S.R. Mazā Enciklopēdija, Vols. l-ll, Zinātne: Riga, 1967-1970.
Šilde, A., Bez tiesibām un brivibas, Imanta: Copenhagen, 1965.
Šilde, A., Pretestibas kustiba Latvijā, Latvian National Fund: Stockholm, 1972.
Švābe, A. (ed.), Latvju Enciklopēdija, Vols. I-III, Tris Zvaigznes: Stockholm, 1950-1954.
Magazines: I Published in Latvia
Jaunās Grāmatas, Riga, 1957-1971.
Karogs, Riga, 1964-1972.
Padomju Latvijas Komūnists, Riga, 1969-1972.
Zinātne un Technika, Riga, 1970-1972.
Magazines: II Published in Exile.
Baltische Briefe, Hannover, 1968-1972.
Cela Zimes, London, 1960-1972.
Daugavas Vanagi, Toronto, 1958-1972.
launā Gaita, Hamilton, Canada, 1965-1972.
Universitas, New York, 1961-1972.
Newspapers: I Published in Latvia.
Cina, Riga, 1969-1972 (and some earlier issues).
Dzimtenes Balss, (including the supplement "Atzinas un Pārdomas"), Riga, 1970-1972.
Padomju Jaunietis, Riga, 1970-1972.
Sovetskaja Latvija, Riga, 1970-1972 (and some earlier issues).
Newspapers: II Published in Exile.
Austrālijas Latvietis, Melbourne, 1969-1972.
Laiks, New York, 1965-1972.
Latvija, Eutin, W. Germany, 1970-1972.
Latvija Amerikā, Toronto, 1970-1972.
Londonas Avize, London, 1970-1972.
Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, 1971-1972.
Die Welt, Hamburg, 1972.
New York Times, New York, 1972.
The Australian, Canberra, 1972.
The Sun, Melbourne, 1972.
Zolnierz Woinosci, Warsaw, 1972.
Rigas Muzeji, Riga, 1966.
Some information was gathered from letters and from interviews both with visitors from Latvia and tourists who had recently been in Latvia.