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.
SOVIET ATTACK, ULTIMATUM AND INVASION OF LATVIA
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.
MOSCOW ORCHESTRATES THE TAKE-OVER
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.
COMMUNIST-STYLE SINGLE STATE “ELECTIONS”
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.
UNANIMOUS “REQUEST” TO JOIN THE SOVIET UNION
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).
ANNEXATION AS INCORPORATION
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.
NATIONALISATION OF PROPERTY AND COLLECTIVISATION OF FARMS
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.
REPRESSION OF RELIGION AND PERSECUTION OF CHURCHES
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.
SUBJUGATION OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE TO COMMUNISM
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.