The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Presenting the occupation of Latvia in false colours

Presenting the occupation of Latvia in false colours

Author: Edgars Engīzers

Presenting the occupation of Latvia in false colours

On 31 August RuBaltic published an article where it emphasised that preservation of the Latvian nation was only possible due to it joining the USSR. The article stated that the British and French sides did not agree to provide guarantees to neighbouring countries of the USSR as a result of indirect aggression.

The RuBaltic article did not state that the definition of “indirect aggression” was the Constitution of the USSR [1], allowing it to “protect” the Baltic states, even without their consent. The Baltic states were strictly against such an approach. [2] Additionally, the aforementioned endangerment of the USSR by Nazi Germany was impossible as it could only take place via Poland and Romania, whose independence was ensured by British and French guarantees. As a potential corridor for attack the Baltic states was too narrow to be able to seriously endanger the USSR, while Eastern Prussia, bordering Lithuania, was separated from the rest of the German territory. [3] The author of RuBaltic also conceals the fact that during the parallel Soviet, French and British military negotiations the USSR demanded the occupation of the most important islands and ports of the Baltic states in the event of war. [4]

The RuBaltic article does not contain a reference that Poland was attacked not only by Germany but also by the USSR. This aggression of the USSR against Poland significantly affected the acceptance of the USSR’s ultimatum that followed shortly thereafter and negotiations with Latvia regarding placement of the Red Army bases. During the negotiations following the USSR’s ultimatum regarding placement of the Red Army bases in Latvia, the Soviet diplomats emphasised to the representatives of Latvia that significant changes had taken place in the Europe, including that Poland had disappeared from the political map, which was a significant hint regarding a possibility of military attack - all parties were well informed regarding the role of the USSR in the complete defeat of Poland. [5]

The thesis defended by the RuBaltic article regarding the preservation of the Latvian nation is justified by the expressions from the memoirs of Vilhelms Munters, the former Foreign Minister of Latvia published during Soviet times. However, one should take into account that the post-war public activity of V. Munters, including the publishing of memoirs, publications, correspondence with foreign countries, etc. was inspired and managed by the Soviet secret services, and thus it provides the grounds to seriously doubt the credibility of these memoirs as the historical source. [6] This article also states that a victory of the Latvian Labour People’s Block List in the Saeima elections in 1940 was a natural result of the increase in popularity of the left wing. Even though the article mentions in some places that other parties were not allowed to participate in the Saeima elections, the author of the publication deliberately ignores the fact that the elections were not only illegal and non-democratic, but also the fact that the officials of foreign country -the USSR - were involved in the organisation of the elections, and the USSR citizens were participating in them, as well as the results of these elections were announced well prior to closing of the election district.[7]

Thus the purpose of the RuBaltic article is not only to reject the fact that Latvia was included in the composition of the USSR as a result of a forceful occupation, but also to repeat the myth created during the Soviet times that the incorporation of Latvia in the USSR was legal and conformed to the will of the Latvian nation. Thus such commonly known facts regarding Soviet repressions, including the mass deportations of the population of Latvia, as well as the evident colonisation and Russification politics of the USSR are being concealed. [8]

In additions, the article “Inconvenient beginning of World War II” published by Vesti.lv on 14 September stated that Poland and not the USSR was at fault for the occupation of Latvia, as well as emphasised that Moscow had already agreed to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact after the actual beginning of World War II when Poland occupied the Cieszyn region of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Referring to the Belarusian political scientist J. Volcek, Vesti.lv claimed that the beginning of World War II should be dated 1938 rather than 1939.

The matter of dating the beginning of World War II is directly related to the fault for causing the war, which the USSR and also Russia for a while now has tried to place on the shoulders of politicians of Western countries and remove from the shoulders of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and attack of Germany on Poland, to which the USSR shortly became a party.

The practice of Nazi Germany to enter into non-aggression treaties with other countries emphasised in the article would reduce the significant role of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in causing World War II. Vesti.lv article concealed that the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a unique treaty compared to other non-aggression treaties. Even though neither the non-aggression treaties, nor their being supplemented with secret additional protocols was something new, and also the expression “influence areas” was already known in international relations, [9] the use of this expression in the secret additional protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not characteristic to any other bilaterally signed non-aggression treaty of the inter-war period. Thus such treaty caused a great lack of understanding among European diplomats.

Vesti.lv publication also does not include the page of history of World War II that is unpleasant for the Russian media and politicians - cooperation of the USSR with Nazi Germany between August 1939 and June 1941 - during the time when Nazi Germany conquered the majority of Europe. This complicated and morally inconvenient problem has been overshadowed by the notion of the Great Patriotic War created during the USSR years, which squeezes from the public space the memories and narratives regarding the USSR attack on Poland in September 1939, the ultimatums to the Baltic states, occupation of the Baltic states and the attack on Finland in 1939. [10]

Battle with the ghost of the Latvian legion
On 19 September, the Russian state-owned multi-media platform Sputnik published a comment of Josif Koren, the Co-Chairman of the Anti-Fascist Organisation of Latvia where he criticised the construction of a monument for the legionnaires of Latvia in Zedelhem - Belgium. Koren emphasised that it was not acceptable that “the memory of the Vaffen SS legion soldiers would be preserved in any way”. On the same day the article of Vesti.lv incorrectly indicated that the monument would be created using the budget of Latvia.

As noted by the authors of the monument, “The Monument for Freedom” must manifest the idea of freedom in its symbolic meaning. Historical events relating to the monument remind us that after World War II British soldiers created a prisoner of war camp in Zedelhem where soldiers of Latvia and other Baltic states, enlisted in German military forces by forceful mobilisation, were placed. Therefore, it is a monument for the prisoners of war and not the legionnaires of Latvia. Thus, the purpose of these misleading publications is to present the memory as glorification, by mixing an image of the Latvian legionnaires of World War II with an image of the prisoners of war, and trying to characterise the Latvian society as pro-fascist. Funding of EUR 100,000 is planned for the creation of the monument, which will be paid in similar portions by Zedelhem City and the Latvian Occupation Museum, while the funding for the museum related to the monument is planned to be obtained by means of donations.  

Fight against the clarification of history of the Salaspils camp

In September, extensive attention of the Russian media was paid to the history of the expanded police prison and labour camp of Salaspils. It was due to two facts - a celebration of the anniversary of the Salaspils camp liberation, in which the representatives of the Russia and Belarus embassies took part, and the long drawn critics directed toward the discoveries of the historians of Latvia.

On 24 September, Sputnik published an article where a negative attitude was expressed towards the planned exposition of the Salaspils Memorial. It is noted that the purpose of the exposition is to equate “the terrible Soviet occupation years” to Nazi crimes. The article of the newspaper Segodnja, in turn, on 26 September strongly criticised the restoration of the Salaspils Memorial, during which a historical exposition is planned to be displayed in the empty premises of the Memorial. The new exposition is being characterised as a “painting of the Memorial from red to brown”, and as a complete distortion of the events taking place in Salaspils and turning the Soviet era Memorial into the Occupation Museum.

Historical exposition of the Salaspils Memorial is not ready, but the Pro-Kremlin media has already started its systematic criticism, thus preventing messages based on alternative and credible historical sources regarding the Salaspils Memorial, from entering the Russian-speaking informational space. The turning of this media against the new exposition may be explained by the antipathy against the fact that the historians of Latvia have managed to refute the myths created by the Soviet propaganda regarding the Salaspils Memorial, including the total number of prisoners and dead at the camp, which in reality was approximately 50 times less than the 100,000 mentioned during the Soviet time and repeated in the current Russian media. [11] The stories spread by the Pro-Kremlin media regarding the Salaspils camp are usually based on the memories of the prisoners and the Soviet materials, the credibility of the historical sources of which have been doubted by experts.


[1] Taurēns, J., Baltijas virziens Latvijas Republikas ārpolitikā 1934.-1940. Dissertation. 1999
[2] Andersons, E., Latvijas vēsture. Ārpolītika II. 1984, page 87
[3] Feldmanis, I. Baltija triju lielvalstu šaha spēlē. Latvijas avīze, 22.05.2009
[4] Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Virsis, M., Latvijas ārpolitika un starptautiskais stāvoklis (30.gadu otrā puse). 1993, page 271
[5] Engīzers, E. Fricis Kociņš - Latvijas sūtnis PSRS: liktenīgie gadi. Daugavpils universitātes Humanitārās fakultātes XXI starptautisko zinātnisko lasījumu materiāli. Vēsture XV. Vēsture: Avoti un cilvēki. Daugavpils Universitātes akadēmiskais apgāds “Saule”, 2012, page 80
[6] Ronis, I. Vilhelms Munters un PSRS čeka. Latvijas vēstnesis, 23.07.1998, No. 216 (1277) https://www.vestnesis.lv/ta/id/32295
[7] Treijs, R. Saeimas vēlēšanas 1940. gadā nebija demokrātiskas. Latvijas avīze, 28.07.2011
[8] Salīdzinājumam sk. Eglīte P., Padomju okupācijas demogrāfiskās, sociālās un morālās sekas Latvijā. LZA Vēstis, 2011, No. 3/4. Page 103 http://www.lza.lv/LZA_VestisA/65_3-4/6_Eglite_Padomju%20okupac.pdf; Смирнова Л.В.  Советская национальная политика в условиях командно-административной системы. Вестник Оренбургского государственного университета. №7/ИЮЛЬ`2006. 127 c. http://vestnik.osu.ru/2006_7/17.pdf
[9] Hast, S., Spheres of Influence in International Relations. History, Theory and Politics. Reutledge, 2014
[10] Гудко, Л., "Память" о войне и массовая идентичность россиян. // «Неприкосновенный запас» 2005, №2-3(40-41) http://magazines.russ.ru/nz/2005/2/gu5-pr.html
[11] Kangeris, K., Neiburgs., O., Vīksna, R. Aiz šiem vārtiem vaid zeme. Salaspils nometne: 1941–1944 Rīga: Lauku Avīze, 2016

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.