The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake News: During the Years of WWII the Residents of Latvia and Russia were a United Nation who Defended their Common Motherland - the USSR

Fake News: During the Years of WWII the Residents of Latvia and Russia were a United Nation who Defended their Common Motherland - the USSR

Author: Māris Antonevičs

The ambassador of the Russian Federation to Latvia Yevgeny Lukyanov gave special greetings to the residents of Latvia before 9 May (pictured above). Greetings were published in the newspaper Segodnya, while the video address was uploaded to the accounts of the embassy on the social networks Twitter and Facebook. 

The 9 May has ideologically become the main national holiday in Russia, therefore the congratulations of the ambassador would not be anything unusual per se. However, the content of the address leads one to ask certain questions.

In the newspaper Segodnya, the ambassador, as if addressing war veterans, wrote: “We were a united Soviet people during the years of the Great Patriotic War, we contributed 27 million lives to defending our common Motherland - the Soviet Union and, consequently, everybody defended our own motherland - irrespective of whether it was Russia, Latvia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine.”

The same idea was repeated in the video message, where the address was dedicated to the “residents of Latvia”, and a translation in Latvian was added. “We had to pay a huge and horrifying price for this great victory - 28 million of our compatriots surrendered their lives for victory. (..) All peoples of the Soviet Union participated in this victory, in this fight of its time...” A slightly edited video was prepared especially for the residents of Daugavpils.


This is not fake news created by anonymous “trolls” and circulated online, which has been frequently reflected in this column. It is an official address from a government official, where cordial congratulations for a celebration were supplemented by considerable ideological background, based on selectively picked and even false ‘facts.

What “common Motherland” and “united Soviet people” could we talk about in 1941? Only one year after the occupation of Latvia by the USSR (after a prior agreement with Hitler regarding the division on the areas of influence) and the merciless repressions carried out against the local population - killings, deportations, and other. 

When we are talking about the residents of Latvia, who served in the Soviet Army, their numbers are estimated at between 70,000 to 80,000 people; however, only some of them were volunteers. Most of them - 57,422 were conscripted from August 1944 until 1945 in violation of the Hague Convention, which prohibits the conscription of the residents of occupied territories into the army of the occupying state.

The historian Edgars Engīzers called Yevgeny Lukyanov’s address “maintenance of collective amnesia”. He does not object to the part of the address where the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, who was born in the USSR, thanks veterans for “saving the Motherland”. “However, the spreading of constructs aiming at making the Latvian public ‘forget’ the events of World War Two that happened before the war between Russia and Germany, and the processes which eliminated the national independence of the state of Latvia seems to be non-diplomatic,” Engīzers states, reminding us that the USSR was one of the initiators of World War Two. 

Latvian people suffered from both occupations, while Lukyanov presents the USSR as the only sufferer. “The Ambassador seems to have forgotten that in the course of WWII the USSR was not the homeland of the residents of Latvia. Furthermore - Latvia was founded as an opposite to Soviet Russia, against which (just like the other “Russian world”- the monarchist version of Bermondt-Avalov) Latvia fought for its independence from 1918 to 1920 and won it”, says E. Engīzers, reminding us of these historical facts.

Doctor of Communication Sciences Mārtiņš Kaprāns also believes that the message of the address is obvious, and it is not the self-expression of a Russian diplomat but a constituent part of state policy: “The statement of Ambassador Lukyanov, is definitely based on the opinion that Latvia was a part of the USSR and the Soviet people during WWII. This would mean that there was no occupation and all the residents of Latvia, including those that were enlisted in the Red Army mandatorily, eagerly fought for the Soviet Motherland, the existence of which most residents of Latvia were not even aware of before the war.

“We could hear the same type of “glorification” of the Soviet people in the address of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the parade of 9 May in Moscow. To put it briefly, the statements of Lukyanov precisely echo one of the central myths of the Russian historical policy regarding WWII - the USSR liberated the world from Nazism and without the USSR this liberation would have been impossible.

“This myth does not come into line with facts inconvenient for Russia such as the fact that the USSR was an ally of Nazi Germany for 21 months at the beginning of the war, the fact that Latvia became a part of the USSR as a result of an occupation following the ultimatum, and that the allies, especially the USA, significantly contributed to the victory over Nazi Germany.”

He nevertheless notes that the representatives of the Russian political elite have themselves previously ignored the contribution of this imaginary “Soviet people”. For instance, in 2010 the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in one interview underscored that the USSR would have won the war without the assistance of Ukrainian soldiers. Kaprāns  reminds us that “many Ukrainian veterans took it as a slap in the face, because, as is generally known, more than 2.5 million Ukrainians who fought in the Red Army died in the war.”

Engīzers believes that other “facts” referred to in the address of the Ambassador of Russia are also worth discussing.  “Does the ambassador include people who were killed by the Soviet regime and the people who lost their lives fighting against the Soviet occupation within those 28 million “compatriots who paid for the victory with their lives” mentioned by him? And not only the people who were conscripted into German armed forces, but also the resistance movement members who were highly active during the war, must also be mentioned here. Furthermore, the “all union” scale narrative offered by the ambassador allows one to infer the presence of these phenomena in the context of all territories controlled by the USSR - not only Latvia.”

What are the objectives of Russia then? Engīzers is convinced that the spreading of fake news, which has been frequently spoken about recently, is not what the situation above infers. The situation is much more serious - it is the construction of an alternative reality.

It could also be considered to be a part of the so-called “Russian world”, which is offered to the part of the public that is alienated from the state and sentimental towards the Soviet regime: “It is a neo-Soviet revisionism of history (and not only history), which aims not only at a return to the understanding of history held during Stalinist times, but also at the weakening of trust in democracy and the model of western society.”

Supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia

  • 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.