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The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake News: The Soviet Union Developed a Real Paradise for Consumers in the Baltics

Fake News: The Soviet Union Developed a Real Paradise for Consumers in the Baltics

Author: Māris Antonevičs

A "showcase of the Soviet Union" is a very widespread cliché in Russian media, which is persistently repeated as soon as the news touches upon the history of the Baltic States. It is interesting that different journalists and reviewers do not even try to use any other synonym, as if the term “showcase” was written in some kind of propaganda textbook. It is normally used in roughly the following context – the residents of the Baltics were provided with an excellent life during Soviet times; they failed to appreciate this and wanted to receive independence, and, therefore, now they have gone back to the bottom of the ladder.

Only on rare occasions does someone try to use facts to substantiate how this wonderful life during Soviet times was manifested in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. However, recently several Russian internet websites displayed a YouTube link called The Truth about Life in the Soviet Baltics ("О том, как на самом деле жилось в советской Прибалтике"). It is an approximately five minute-long video, where photographs, as well as short fragments of documentaries about Soviet times are used; the main voice-over message trying to substantiate the thesis of a “showcase” is the central idea of the film.

The authors of the video try to demonstrate proof that substantiates the idea of the advantages that the residents of the Baltic States enjoyed in comparison with the residents of the rest of the USSR. Here, however, they have fallen into their own trap – because they present their favourable attitude towards the Baltic States by representing the regime as less strict than elsewhere in the USSR, thus, revealing its actual totalitarian nature. For instance, permitting rock and punk culture in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in the 80s, which was prohibited elsewhere in the USSR, is mentioned as an advantage.

The video claims that residents of the Baltics experienced other advantages as well: “Immediately after the war, on 21 May 1947, the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a secret decision – the slowdown in the rate of collectivisation was adopted, considering the historical and economic traditions of the region. This continued until the collapse of the USSR and in the late 80s more than 70% of agricultural products were manufactured on private farms.”

The fact that Soviet farm workers in the Baltic States were not deprived of their passports, as occurred in the rest of the USSR, is emphasised as a sign of special favour. “The salaries of workers, collective farm workers and engineers were 2–3 times higher than in other republics and in the USSR on average, while prices and utility costs – lower,” the authors of the film claim. Thanks to the favour of the Soviet government, the residents of the Baltic states could eat more meat and dairy products than other citizens of the USSR. Famous brands, such as VEF, RadiotehnikaDzintarsLatvijas balzamsRīgas maizeRīgas šprotes and others, which are destroyed now, were created during Soviet times.

“The USSR developed and demonstrated a consumer paradise in a small plot of land on the coast of the Baltic Sea for several decades, but what is happening there now – you know it yourselves,” the video concludes.

Exposed

“There was no paradise and everyone who lived at the time knew this,” Daina Bleiere, associate professor at RSU and researcher of the Soviet period, says. The fact that the Baltic States received more benefits and a higher culture of service than the rest of the USSR has several explanations.

D. Bleiere: “Firstly, Moscow could not afford to immediately and brutally equalise the Baltic States with the rest of the territory of the USSR in terms of consumption, the drop would be too steep. Second, Moscow used the economic potential of the Baltics for their own advantage and some of that “was left over” for the locals as well. Third, the relative welfare of the Baltic States as a “showcase of achievement” is supposed to serve as proof of the improvement in the quality of life as a result of occupation and annexation. At the same time, the difference between the Baltic States and the rest of the USSR started to wear thin rapidly in the 70s and 80s.

"The facts mentioned in the video are disputable. First of all consider the information relating to collectivisation. I do not know anything about the decision to slow down the rate of collectivisation mentioned in the film. The decision of 21 May 1947, as adopted during Stalin’s rule, hypocritically declared that haste may not be permitted and that collectivisation must be performed strictly on a voluntary basis.

“It also provided for a range of positive incentives for collectivisation, for instance, the creation of exemplary collective farms, granting privileges to collective farms, like connection of the farms to electricity and telephone networks, the collective farms and collective farmers were allowed to pay reduced mandatory duties to the state.

"Thus, this decision was actually targeted at increasing the rate of collectivisation and after its adoption the measures aimed at “expelling” wealthy farmers were implemented – creation of wealthy farmer lists and raising fees and duties for the farmers on the lists. In 1948 the fees and duties were raised for all individual farmers, while those collected from wealthy farmers were raised even higher. We all know what happened in 1949," says D. Bleiere reminding us of the severe truth.

The historian Jānis Riekstiņš, in Mājas Viesis magazine also writes that collectivisation in Latvia “was performed hastily, by using violent methods, because farmers who refused to comply were included in the lists of wealthy farmers for deportation.” He also mentioned several facts from the documentary evidence of the time, where the implementers of the decision themselves admitted that collectivisation was too rapid and caused a severe counter-reaction. The occupation powers cracked down on the most diligent and skilful of Latvian farmers. Furthermore, as J. Riekstiņš writes, “artificial development of collective farms changed Latvian rural landscapes for several decades”.

The statement that more than 70% of agricultural products in the Baltic states was produced by private farms has to be considered as fake news. D. Bleiere: “Individual farmers in the Baltic states were already exterminated in the early 50s. Indeed, individual farmers produced almost one half of the meat and milk until the mid-60s, but these were auxiliary household products of collective farmers and other residents, which only confirmed the weakness of collective farms and Soviet farms. In the 70s and 80s the proportion of individual producers declined, however, it could be the result of different statistical manipulations (the collective farm workers sold their animals to collective farms and these were recorded as products of collective farms).”

The fact that collective farmers in the Baltic States were not deprived of their passports did not have anything to do with favour, it was rather a sign of suspicion by the Soviet government. This was done at the request of the internal security institutions, because, in order to fight the strong armed resistance in the Baltic States, the residents had to be controlled; furthermore, all of the territory of the Baltic States was the borderland of the USSR.

Were salaries in the Baltics 2 - 3 times higher than elsewhere in the USSR? D. Bleiere: “Not that much. The differences varied at different times and in different economy sectors, but on average, they did not exceed 20-30%. The prices were lower in 1941 and immediately after the war, but not later. The market prices could demonstrate a large difference, but only due to the fact of milder oppression of the private producers in the Baltic States compared to Russia and elsewhere.”

The attempts of the film authors to appropriate the brands established in pre-war Latvia such as VEF (founded in 1919) and Radiotehnika (1927) or the even older brand of Rīgas melnais balzams, by attributing them to the times of the USSR, is especially shameless. “All of this was the heritage of capitalism that could not be completely destroyed over a period of 50 years,” D. Bleiere reminds. She believes that the authors of the film are reproducing the former stereotypes about how good life was in the “Baltics” under the USSR, where many residents perceived the Baltics as “the West”.

What is the objective of the film authors? The motivation is not difficult to understand, if the the YouTube profile, Политическое oбозрение (Political review), where the film was published is reviewed - it is decorated by a hammer and sickle on a red background. Here are the titles of other videos published on the same channel with 80,000 subscribers: Why Russians are Feared and Respected Worldwide, On the Revival of Great Russia, Putin - Our President, Who Would Win the Russia vs USA War.

The preparation of this report was supported by the Latvian Ministry of Culture

  • 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
    1940-1941
    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
    1941-1944/45
    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.
    1944/45-1953
    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.
    1953-1959
    Soviet occupation
    “Thaw”
    • 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.
    1959-1985
    Soviet occupation
    “Stagnation”
    • 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.
    1985-1990/91
    Soviet occupation
    “Perestroika”
    • 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.