The History of the Occupation of Latvia

The Soviet Occupation 1940–1941

The Soviet Occupation 1940–1941

Author: Valters Nollendorfs

The Soviet occupation in 1940 ended Latvia’s sovereignty and began a 51-year period of foreign rule. Soviet authorities had nothing to fear from the Nazis, because the Nazis had secretly assured the Soviet Union a free hand in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Of the countries that had helped Latvia gain independence none could help. France was defeated. Great Britain had been pushed out of the continent. The United States were still standing aside. The Baltic countries had no friends, and for 51 years their only hope was the steadfast refusal by many of the Western states to recognise the legality of the Soviet occupation and annexation.


The Soviet occupation of Latvia was an unprovoked brutal act of aggression by a superpower against a numerically small sovereign neighbour. On the morning of 15 June 1940, Soviet NKVD troops attacked three border posts in Eastern Latvia, killing three border guards and the wife and son of one of the guards. The troops captured 10 border guards and 27 civilians, and took them to the USSR.

On 16 June 1940, the Latvian government received an ultimatum from the USSR, which was to be answered in six hours. Using unfounded accusations, the USSR charged Latvia with violating the mutual assistance pact of 1939 and demanded that Latvia immediately form a new government, as well as allow an unlimited number of Soviet troops to enter the country.

Taking into consideration the size of the Soviet army at its borders, the Soviet occupation of Lithuania the previous day, the presence of Soviet military bases in Latvia, and the ruthlessness of the attack on the border, as well as the fate of Poland, the government conceded. In fear of further violence, the government ordered its troops to cooperate with Soviet forces. On 17 June 1940 the Red Army occupied Latvia and Estonia.


The goal of the Soviet occupiers was to undermine Latvia’s sovereignty and annex the country to the USSR by force, simultaneously creating the impression that it was the will of the working people of Latvia.

Andrei Y. Vyshinsky, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the People’s Commissars of the USSR and prosecutor of Stalin’s purge trials, came from Moscow to supervise the establishment of Soviet occupation rule. On 19 June 1940, Vyshinsky submitted the Moscow-approved new Cabinet to President Kārlis Ulmanis. The list named mainly non-Communists, led by biology Professor Augusts Kirchenšteins, and Ulmanis accepted it.

At that time, the Communist Party in Latvia was small, with a membership of about 400, and its influence in the country was negligible. There is no mention of Vyshinsky in Soviet textbooks, but the small and ineffective local Communist Party is described as being the vanguard of change.


Under the guise of restoring democracy and seemingly responding to “people’s demands,” the occupation power announced elections of the Saeima (parliament), totally ignoring fundamental principles of free democratic elections and the Latvian Election Law.

The list of candidates of the Latvian Working People’s Block, approved by the occupation power, was declared as the only one “conforming to all requirements of the law.” Efforts to present alternate lists were suppressed and their leaders jailed. The election of the Saeima took place on 14 and 15 July, under strict control of the occupation authorities and the Red Army. Moscow announced that 97.6% had voted for the only possible list.


The new Saeima, compliant with the occupation power, held its first meeting on 21 July 1940, where it unanimously and illegally declared Latvia as a “Soviet Socialist” republic, and voted to petition the Supreme Council of the USSR for admission of Latvia into the Soviet Union.

This action of the Saeima was illegal as it did not comply with the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, adopted in 1922. The Constitution states that Latvia is an independent, democratic republic (Article 1), that Latvia’s sovereign power belongs to its people (Article 2) and that these clauses can be amended only by a nationwide plebiscite (Article 77).


The forceful annexation of Latvia was disguised as incorporation. It was the final act of power politics that denied the small nation any remnants of sovereignty and completely subjected it to the ideological and political dictates of Communism.

On 5 August, the Supreme Council of the USSR unanimously admitted Latvia as the 15th Republic of the Soviet Union. On 3 August, the Supreme Council had already accepted Lithuania as the 14th Republic, and on 6 August, Estonia was admitted as the 16th Republic. The government of the Latvian SSR became the executor of Moscow’s decrees and orders without the authority to act on its own.


Two integral components of communist ideology were put into effect quickly: the nationalisation of private property and the collectivisation of farming. The national economy was subjected to central planning in Moscow and served the needs of the USSR.

Already on 26 July, before the admission of Latvia into the USSR, the occupation authorities declared all land as “property of the people,” allowing farmers to keep only 30 hectares (75 acres) and promising to divide the remainder among those with very little or no land.

Disregarding the pre-election promise that private property would not be nationalised, the Latvian SSR government started to confiscate it within the first days of annexation. Factories and banks were nationalised first, then large properties such as buildings, private stores and other businesses. The Latvian currency was devalued and later replaced by the rouble; large bank deposits were confiscated.


Religion and churches, synagogues and other places of worship were immediately subjected to repression, as potential centres of spiritual resistance.

The observance of religious holidays and teaching of religion in schools was forbidden. Atheist propaganda replaced religion. At the University of Latvia, the Lutheran Faculty of Theology and its Roman Catholic counterpart were eliminated, as was the Department of Orthodox Christian Theological Studies.

The clergy was not allowed to perform its civic responsibilities, such as legally recognised weddings and the registration of births and deaths.


The policy of Sovietisation manifested itself by subordinating all social and cultural activities to Communist ideology and the control of the Communist Party.

Already in the first week of occupation, the new government began to shut down and liquidate independent social and fraternal organisations.

“Creative unions” were formed for writers, musicians and artists. They had to control creative work in accordance with Communist ideology, produce works that glorified the system, support those faithful to the ideology, while “re-educating” the defiant.

The state took over and controlled printing and distribution of all books. Books that did not correspond to the official Communist ideology were removed from stores and libraries.

All forms of news media came immediately under the control of the occupiers, and all publications were subjected to censorship. The press had to reflect the official views of the Communist Party and its ideology.

  • 1939 - 1940 Okupācijas priekšvēsture
    1939 - 1940
    Occupation prehistory
    • 23 August 1939
      The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany sign a non-aggression treaty.
    • 1 September 1939
      Germany attacks Poland – World War II begins; Latvia declares neutrality.
    • 17 September 1939
      USSR attacks Poland.
    • 5 October 1939
      As a result of military and political pressure, Latvia signs a “bilateral assistance” agreement with the USSR, allowing military army bases to be placed on Latvian territory.
    • 30 October 1939
      Nazi Germany signs an agreement with the Latvian government to transfer ethnic Germans living in Latvia to Germany.
    • 15 June 1940
      USSR attacks several border guard posts on the eastern border of Latvia.
    • 16 June 1940
      USSR presents Latvia with an ultimatum demanding Latvia allow unlimited Soviet troops to enter Latvian territory.
  • 1940-1941 Padomju okupācija
    Soviet occupation
    • 17 June 1940
      USSR occupies Latvia.
    • 20 June 1940
      A new government, created by Moscow and led by Augusts Kirhenšteins, is installed in Latvia.
    • 14-15 July 1940
      Rigged, non-democratic elections, which contravene Latvian election laws and the Latvian Constitution, take place; only one party participates – Latvijas Darba Tautas bloks [Latvian Workers’ Bloc].
    • 21 July 1940
      The illegally elected Parliament declares Latvia a Soviet Socialist Republic and requests that the USSR admit it to its Union. Kārlis Ulmanis steps down as president; he is arrested and deported to Russia the following day.
    • 5 August 1940
      Latvia is admitted to the USSR.
    • 13 August 1940
      The All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik) (AUCP(b)) Central Committee ratifies the constitution of the Latvian SSR.
    • November 1940
      The Soviet Russian Criminal Code officially becomes law in Latvia.
    • 14 May 1941
      The Soviet government and the AUCP(b) begins planning mass deportations and repressions of Latvian citizens by adopting the secret decision "On the deportation of foreign elements from the Baltic republics, Western Ukraine, and Moldavia ".
    • 13-14 June 1941
      The Soviet Union deports 15 443 inhabitants of Latvia.
  • 1941-1944/45 Nacionālsociālistiskās Vācijas okupācija
    Nazi German occupation
    • 22 June 1941
      Nazi Germany attacks the Soviet Union. Hostilities begin on Latvian territory along with Nazi occupation.
    • 16 July 1941
      Berlin creates the administrative region Ostland – Latvia is one of the four regions that make up Ostland.
    • July 1941
      The first mass annihilation of Jews begins – the largest actions take place in Riga, Daugavpils, and Liepāja, as well as in other smaller towns.
    • 30 November 1941
      Killing of Jews in the Riga Ghetto begins. In total, 70 000 Latvian Jews were killed. Thanks to the efforts of local citizens, 400 Latvian Jews were saved.
    • 5 December 1941
      The German army is defeated at Moscow.
    • 7 March 1942
      Nazi occupiers create the Landesselbstverwaltung – local administrative rule.
    • 29 января 1943 года
      Nazi occupiers adopt regulations for the arrest of Latvia’s Roma population and their incarceration in concentration camps.
    • 11 February 1943
      Orders are passed for the creation of a “voluntary” Latvian legion under the auspices of the SS; mobilization is often involuntary.
    • 13 August 1943
      Representatives of the four largest parties from the last Latvian Parliament found the Latvian Central Council (Latvijas Centrālā Padome – LCP) in Riga, which calls for the renewal of Latvian independence. Konstantīns Čakste is named head of the LCP.
    • 28 November 1943
      USA president Franklin Roosevelt, Great Britain’s prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin meet at the Teheran Conference. Stalin succeeds in gaining permission to have a free hand in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe after the war.
    • 22 March 1944
      189 Latvian politicians submit a resolution to the Nazi occupiers for the renewal of Latvian independence, which is denied.
    • 18 July 1944
      The Soviet army defeats German troops and crosses the Latvian border at Šķaune in Ludza county. The second Soviet occupation begins.
    • End of July – beginning of August 1944
      German occupiers allow General Jānis Kurelis and the chief of his headquarters, Captain Kristaps Upelnieks, to create a separate military unit. It cooperates with the LCP in the hopes of becoming the nucleus of the army of independent Latvia.
    • 8 September 1944
      The last LCP meeting to occur on Latvian soil takes place at which a declaration for the renewal of Latvian independence is adopted.
    • 20 November 1944
      Unable to control troops under the command of Kurelis, German SD units arrest all military personal at his headquarters. Eight officers are convicted and shot. The remaining military personnel are imprisoned in concentration camps.
    • 5 February 1945
      Leaders of the USA, GB, and the USSR meet at Yalta. During discussions, Soviet demands are met, and the Soviets occupy Latvia once again.
  • 1944/45-1953 Staļinisma terors. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    Stalinist terror
    • 8 May 1945
      WWII ends on Latvian territory; German forces in Kurzeme surrender, including the 19th Latvian Legionnaire division.
    • 3 October 1945
      The first meeting of members of the LCP who have escaped to Germany takes place in Lustenau, Austria. Latvian citizens in exile continue the struggle for Latvian statehood.
    • 6 October 1945
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council members accept Moscow’s decision to annex the city of Abrene and six neighbouring townships to the Russian SSR.
    • 10 February 1946
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council elections take place.
    • 17 February 1947
      In order to weaken communist rule in Eastern Europe, the USA begins transmission of the Voice of America, which is listened to in Latvian territory illegally.
    • 29 January 1949
      USSR Council of Ministers decide to deport members of the National Partisans and their supporters, as well as wealthy farmers (kulaks) from Latvia to Siberia.
    • 25 March 1949
      Soviet occupiers carry out the second mass deportation of Latvian inhabitants to Siberia – in total 42 322 people.
    • July 1949
      As a result of repressive Soviet occupation politics, the number of collective farms (kolkhozes) triples, creating 3857 kolkhozes.
    • 17 January 1953
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council adopts the decree creating a new Latvian SSR flag.
    • 5 March 1953
      Stalin dies.
  • 1953-1959 “Atkusnis”. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    • 12 September 1953
      Nikita Khrushchev becomes First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee (CPSU CC).
    • 14 May 1955
      Creation of the Warsaw Pact.
    • 25 February 1956
      At the CPSU 20th Congress, Khrushchev openly speaks of crimes committed by Stalin and condemns the Stalin “personality cult”.
    • 23 August 1956
      The uprising by the people in Hungary is put down by Soviet forces.
  • 1959-1985 “Stagnācija”. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    • 7–8 July 1959
      Latvian CP plenum condemns the national communists.
    • 13 August 1961
      The GDR closes the border to West Berlin; building of the Berlin Wall begins.
    • 10 October 1964
      Khrushchev is forced to resign as First Secretary of the CPSU CK; Leonid Brezhnev takes his place.
    • December 1965
      The Hydroelectric Station at Pļaviņas begins operation.
    • 27 May 1968
      Calls for ending censorship and freeing political prisoners in Czechoslovakia initiates the “Prague Spring” demonstrations.
    • 20 August 1968
      Soviet troops put down the “Prague Spring”.
    • 25 December 1979
      Soviet forces invade Afghanistan.
    • 10 November 1982
      Leonid Brezhnev dies; Yuri Andropov becomes First Secretary of the CPSU CK.
    • 9 February 1984
      Yuri Andropov dies. Konstantin Chernenko becomes First Secretary of the CPSU CK.
    • 10 March 1985
      Konstantin Chernenko dies.
    • 11 March 1985
      Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the leader of the CPSU CK and the Soviet Union.
  • 1985-1990/91 “Perestroika”. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    • 10 July 1986
      The first Latvian human rights organization Helsinki-86 is founded in Liepāja.
    • October 1986
      Widespread public support for the environmental protection of the Daugava River begins.
    • 28 February 1987
      The Environment Protection Club (Vides aizsardzības klubs – VAK) is founded.
    • 14 June 1987
      Helsinki-86 invites people to lay flowers at the Freedom Monument to commemorate the deportations in 1941.
    • 23 August 1987
      A protest takes place by the Freedom Monument to commemorate the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact.
    • 27 April 1988
      VAK organizes protests against the proposed construction of a metro in Riga.
    • 1–2 June 1988
      The Latvian Creative Society organizes a plenum. Journalist, Art Academy professor, and member of the Supreme Council Mavriks Vulfsons publicly declares that Latvia was occupied in 1940.
    • 10 July 1988
      The Latvian National Independence Movement (Latvijas Nacionālās Neatkarības kustība – LNNK) is founded.
    • 16 July 1988
      VAK organizes a protest in Mežaparks at which the Latvian national flag is flown.
    • 8-9 October 1988
      Latvian National Front (Latvijas tautas fronte – LTF) founding congress. Dainis Īvāns is elected leader.
    • February 1989
      The pro-communist supporters of Moscow Interfront organize protests – they oppose proposed policies to stop migration to Latvia from other Soviet republics and to give the Latvian language official national status.
    • 5 May 1989
      Latvian SSR SC adopts a law granting Latvian national language status.
    • 23 August 1989
      The Baltic Way – a human chain over 660 km long is formed through all three Baltic countries to commemorate the 1939 Hitler- Stalin Pact.
    • 9 November 1989
      The Berlin Wall falls.
    • 18 November 1989
      Mass demonstrations for an independent Latvia on the banks of the Daugava with over 500,000 participants.
    • 18 March 1990
      Latvian SSR parliamentary elections.
  • Neatkarīga Latvija
    Independent Latvia
    • 4 May 1990
      Latvian SSR SC adopts the resolution for the restoration of Latvian independence.
    • 2 January 1991
      Soviet special forces OMON occupy the press building in Riga; there are armed attacks by OMON against other strategic government sites.
    • 13–27 January 1991
      Residents of Latvia create barricades in Riga to protect key locations from forces loyal to Moscow.
    • 3 March 1991
      Inhabitants of Latvia participate in a referendum on declaring an independent democratic state – two-thirds vote for restoring independence.
    • 12 June 1991
      Boris Yeltsin is elected president of Russia.
    • 19 August 1991
      Radical communist attempt a coup in Moscow – the August Putsch.
    • 21 August 1991
      Republic of Latvia Supreme Council declares the Republic of Latvia as an independent democratic state.
    • 22 August 1991
      Iceland is the first nation to recognize Latvian independence.
    • 24 August 1991
      The Russian Federation officially recognizes Latvian independence.
    • 17 September 1991
      Latvia joins the United Nations.
    • 30 December 1991
      The Soviet Union officially ceases to exist.
    • 14 February 1994
      Latvia joins the NATO program “Partnership for Peace”.
    • 12 March 1999
      The first post-Soviet nations join NATO – Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
    • November 2002
      Prague summit. NATO leaders decide to invite Latvia to begin negotiations for admittance.
    • 20 September 2003
      Referendum on joining the European Union.
    • 29 March 2004
      Latvia becomes a member of NATO.
    • 1 May 2004
      Latvia becomes a member of the European Union along with 10 other nations.