The Baltic Deportations of 1941 and 1949

[this is a guest post by Eric Dickens]

A group of Russian activists and their Finnish comrades held a meeting in Helsinki yesterday, in order to protest against the seminar being held to commemorate the deportations that took place in all three Baltic countries in 1949. While this mini-demonstration in central Helsinki was copiously covered in both the Finnish and Estonian press, but hardly anywhere else, the core of the whole issue was sadly obscured, i.e. the deportations themselves. As I am a literary translator from Estonian, and the key Baltic participants at the seminar were principally from Estonia, I will focus primarily on that Baltic country. But the same happened, mutatis mutandis, in Latvia and Lithuania.

We can all laugh at the antics of the would-be subversives who got the press out en masse to photograph them and their inadvertently hilarious banner stating: “Hey, governments, STOP CHANGE A HISTORY!”. Indeed, according to the Finnish tabloid Iltalehti, the Finns were laughing too. Finnish journalists were quick to point out that the Nashi crowd are a marginal phenomenon.

But this led to one very unfortunate result: the whole purport of the book launch and seminar they were demonstrating against was totally obscured, i.e. the deportations of 1941 and 1949.

A quick overview of these two deportations:

When Estonia was occupied by Soviet troops in 1940, by the orchestrations of Andrei Zhdanov, the Russians wasted no time in rounding up the President, the Cabinet and most MPs (i.e. lawmakers) and sending them to Siberia. They dangled President Konstantin Päts on a line for a while, but he too ended up in a Russian psychiatric institution (as if being the President of a “bourgeois” country deserved such treatment). Also the Chief-of-Staff, Johan Laidoner was first sacked by Päts, by now a mere puppet president, and died in 1953 after more than a decade in various Soviet prisons. The names of all the above people are listed on a plaque in Tallinn, not far away from the Dutch Embassy, up on Toompea Hill.
But not only politicians. During what are termed the June Deportations of 1941, while the Soviet Union still occupied Estonia, before being kicked out by Nazi Germany, a recent ally from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a total of around 10,000 people are estimated to have been arrested, about 6,000 of whom ultimately died as a consequence of mistreatment of various sorts.

That was just for starters. The Soviet occupation resumed in 1944. The Germans had already fled in disarray as the Third Reich crumbled. By 1949, the Soviets were at it again. In March, a little earlier in the year this time, they and their Estonian Communist collaborators decided it was time for another bout of deportation. This time they increased the quota, so that around 20,700 people, often branded as “kulaks” because their farming methods were too efficient, were rounded up and sent to Siberia in cattle trucks. So, almost eight years after the June Deportations came the March Deportations. The sixtieth anniversary of the latter will be on 25th March 2009.

What is significant about the Helsinki seminar and book launch is that it was held in Finland at all. The two participants most in the limelight were the half-Estonian prizewinning Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen, and the Estonian filmmaker Imbi Paju. For many years, Finland has been regarded as a hotbed of Finlandisation, where no one mentions Baltic politics for fear of upsetting the Bear in the East. Now, Oksanen has won the Finlandia book prize with her novel about the results of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, and it has sold well in Finland and is being translated. Paju made a film about the Soviet occupation, which was well-received in Finland. And the two together have just launched a book of essays on the topic, with contributors such as Edward Lucas, Anne Applebaum and the Swedish-born, American educated Estonian President Toomas Henrik Ilves. The book is called Kaiken takana oli pelko / Kõige taga oli hirm (Behind Everything Lay Fear). The seminar itself was sponsored and supported by the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian embassies in Helsinki, the National Finnish Audiovisual Archive, plus the publishing house WSOY.

Rarely has a book launch in Finland attracted some 300 hostile protesters, some from abroad. The protesters included representatives the Nashi (Our) youth movement from Russia, the Nochnoi Dozor (Nightwatch) movement of Russian-speakers from Estonia and their leader, Dmitri Linter, who was active during the Bronze Soldier incident in Tallinn in 2007. And individuals: the Helsinki academic Johan Bäckman who recently published his own book with a small press run by an ex-KGB agent, and the Finnish convert to Islam, Abdullah Tammi.
Estonian ex-Prime-Minister and head of the Estonian conservatives Mart Laar, is quoted in the Estonian daily Postimees as writing on his website: “Two clever women – Imbi Paju and Sofi Oksanen – have organised a seminar on the subject of the March Deportations, where documentary films will be shown about the history of Communism, and the essay collection Behind Everything Lay Fear will be presented.”

U.S. Congress: Russia should acknowledge illegality of Soviet occupation of Baltic States

Via Postimees:

At a meeting on Tuesday evening, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution which stated that Russia should acknowledge the illegality of Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, RIA Novosti’s correspondent reports.

“The Congress asks the U.S. president and Secretary of State to call upon the Government of the Russian Federation to recognize that the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact pact for the succeeding years was illegal”,  it says in the text of document.

– – – – –

Via email:

Text of the resolution:


2d Session

S. CON. RES. 87

Congratulating the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.


June 9, 2008

Mr. SMITH (for himself and Mr. DURBIN) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations



Congratulating the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.

Whereas, on November 18, 1918, in the City of Riga, the members of the People’s Council proclaimed Latvia a free, democratic, and sovereign nation;

Whereas, on July 24, 1922, the United States formally recognized Latvia as an independent and sovereign nation;

Whereas Latvia existed for 21 years as an independent and sovereign nation and a fully recognized member of the League of Nations;

Whereas Latvia maintained friendly and stable relations with its neighbors, including the Soviet Union, during its independence, without any border disputes;

Whereas Latvia concluded several peace treaties and protocols with the Soviet Union, including a peace treaty signed on August 11, 1920, under which the Soviet Union ‘unreservedly recognize[d] the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and forever renounce[d] all sovereign rights . . . over the Latvian people and territory’;

Whereas, despite friendly and mutually productive relations between Latvia and the Soviet Union, on August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which contained a secret protocol assigning Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence;

Whereas, under the cover of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, on June 17, 1940, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in violation of pre-existing peace treaties;

Whereas the Soviet Union imposed upon the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania a communist political system that stifled civil dissent, free political expression, and basic human rights;

Whereas the United States never recognized this illegal and forcible occupation, and successive United States presidents maintained continuous diplomatic relations with these countries throughout the Soviet occupation, never accepting them to be ‘Soviet Republics’;

Whereas, during the 50 years of Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, Congress strongly, consistently, and on a bipartisan basis supported a United States policy of legal non-recognition;

Whereas, in 1953, the congressionally-established Kersten Commission investigated the incorporation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union and determined that the Soviet Union had illegally and forcibly occupied and annexed the Baltic countries;

Whereas, in 1982, and for the next nine years until the Baltic countries regained their independence, Congress annually adopted a Baltic Freedom Day resolution denouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and appealing for the freedom of the Baltic countries;

Whereas, in 1991, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania regained their de facto independence and were quickly recognized by the United States and by almost every other country in the world, including the Soviet Union;

Whereas, in 1998, the United States and the three Baltic nations signed the U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership, an expression of the importance of the Baltic Sea region to United States interests;

Whereas the 109th Congress resolved (S. Con. Res. 35 and H. Res. 28) that ‘it is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the consequences of which will be a significant increase in good will among the affected people’;

Whereas Latvia has successfully developed as a free and democratic country, ensured the rule of law, and developed a free market economy;

Whereas the Government of Latvia has constantly pursued a course of integration of that country into the community of free and democratic nations, becoming a full and responsible member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization;

Whereas the people of Latvia cherish the principles of political freedom, human rights, and independence; and

Whereas Latvia is a strong and loyal ally of the United States, and the people of Latvia share common values with the people of the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress–

(1) congratulates the people of Latvia on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of that country’s November 18, 1918, declaration of independence;

(2) commends the Government of Latvia for its success in implementing political and economic reforms, for establishing political, religious and economic freedom, and for its strong commitment to human and civil rights;

(3) recognizes the common goals and shared values of the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the close and friendly relations and ties of the three Baltic countries with one other, and their tragic history in the last century under the Nazi and Soviet occupations;

(4) calls on the President to issue a proclamation congratulating the people of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of the declaration of Latvia’s independence on November 18, 1918;

(5) respectfully requests the President to congratulate the Government of Latvia for its commitment to democracy, a free market economy, human rights, the rule of law, participation in a wide range of international structures, and security cooperation with the United States Government; and

(6) calls on the President and Secretary of State to urge the Government of the Russian Federation to acknowledge that the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and for the succeeding 51 years was illegal.

US to guard air space of Baltic States

From the beginning of October the United States will take over from Germany the protection of the air space of the Baltic States, Eesti Päevaleht  and other media report, citing the Latvian LETA news agency. The announcement was made by Roger A. Brady, current Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and  head of NATO Allied Air Component Command, Ramstein, at a press conference in Riga. Brady did not reply when asked if his visit was connected with the conflict between Russia and Georgia. He said he currently sees no military threats to Latvia.

Russia may target Baltic states next

Via The Australian:

NATO must strengthen its defence of the three Baltic countries – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – after Russia’s assault on Georgia, the new US envoy to NATO said in an interview.

Speaking to the Financial Times in Brussels after an emergency summit of European Union leaders there, Kurt Volker said it was important that NATO remained “credible”.

“Those countries are members of NATO; so if there is any attack on those countries we will all respond,” Mr Volker told the business daily.

“They are feeling a little rattled by seeing Russia use military force to invade a sovereign, small neighbouring country. We need to send signals to shore them up a little bit.”

Mr Volker said NATO must send signals that it intends to help the Baltic states, and uphold its Article 5, which guarantees the defence of each signatory by all the rest.

Ramms: NATO will defend Estonia

The following information comes from the web site:

General Egon Ramms, NATO’s Operational Level Commander, is reported to have said on Estonian television today that in the event of military conflict the Alliance will defend Estonia against any aggressor. “NATO has a programme of action on the territory of the Baltic countries in the event that they need to invoke the fifth article of the NATO treaty,” Ramms is quoted as saying on Tuesday at a press conference in Tallinn at the end of a two-day visit to Estonia.

Ramm also rejected a statement by Estonian author and former military NCO Leo Kunnas, who had claimed it would take the alliance at least a month to provide military aid to Estonia if a conflict began. Estonian Defence Forces Commander Lt. Gen. Ants Laaneots accused the country’s media of creating a climate of nervousness in connection with doubts of assistance from NATO in case of an attack on Estonia. “Newspapers should not continually raise this topic, you will ruin everyone’s nerves,” Laaneots is reported as saying. According to him, NATO would be able to come to Estonia’s assistance within at least 7 days after a possible outbreak of conflict.

Tomorrow General Ramms will go to Riga, Latvia.

In sympathy

Peteris Cedrins has a thoughtful and informative post about the sympathy many people in the Baltic States feel for Georgia:

The photograph in this post is of a work by Jūlijs Straume, an artist renowned for his textiles; I thought I would avoid the photos of carnage one can find everywhere these days. Long resident in Georgia and an avid researcher in Georgian traditions, he was also the first Latvian envoy to the short-lived Democratic Republic of Georgia, proclaimed in the same year the Baltic states declared their independence. The Baltics, with all our tragedy, had better luck — like Belarus, which also declared its independence ninety years ago, Georgia was crushed before it could enjoy the two decades of nation-building we did. Twenty years, sullied by our own descent into authoritarianism and blighted by the shadows of the approaching war, might not seem like much — but our parents and grandparents remembered being free. The maps I grew up with in America almost always bore the note that the United States and most Western countries did not recognize the annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by the USSR. The fervent hope that we would regain our independence seemed to be an absurd dream to many even at the fall of the Berlin Wall. The maps had no such note for Georgia, Belarus, or Ukraine — though Georgia did have some success in achieving diplomatic recognition for its doomed Republic, fate and Stalin dictated otherwise.

Commentators: the West Must Act

Western press comment is beginning to show a realization of the true gravity of the situation that is unfolding, not only in Georgia, but in the whole of Europe.  As Russia proceeds to ignore appeals by European and U.S. politicians, its sights are fixed not only on the Caucasus, but also on Ukraine, and even further afield. Helene Cooper’s analysis in the IHT today reflects some of the shock that this realization is inducing in Western political figures and a public that has grown accustomed to the idea that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia somehow became a part of the West:

…there is a growing belief in European capitals and in Washington that the return of Russia could mean a distinct redrawing of the Eurasia map, with Europe and the United States giving up on attempts to integrate former Soviet republics in the Caucasus, like Ukraine and Georgia, into the Western orbit, while battling with Russia to keep Eastern European countries like Poland and the Baltic states.

And the return of Russia could mean an end to already-dwindling American and European hopes of bringing Russia along eventually as an ally of the West. At best, Russia would never be trusted; at worst, it would be seen as an adversary.

Even for an emboldened Moscow, the Russian foray into Georgia carries substantial risks: not just global isolation from the Western democracies, but also anger from neighboring states of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the prospect of perpetual military quagmires around its borders, if not on the catastrophic scale of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and nationalist reprisals like those that resulted from its crackdown in Chechnya.

A crowd of more than 1,000 people demonstrated in the Latvian capital, Riga, on Monday, while hundreds more gathered in Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania, to press the West to adopt a tough stance toward Moscow. Leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic echoed that call.

Declaration of Presidents of Parliaments of the Baltic States

Declaration of Presidents of Parliaments of the Baltic States
10 August 2008

With deep concern and anxiety, we are observing the events in Georgia which at this moment is under intensive attacks by the army of the Russian Federation.

We are calling on the international community to decisively condemn actions of Russia and to promptly take all necessary steps to stop the war and bring the parties to the negotiation table.

Justification of Russia’s actions in Georgia by the need to protect its citizens is unacceptable. Alleged reasons for taking up a war against Georgia raise concerns about the future in every state with Russian citizens living on its territory.

We are concerned and disappointed with the actions and behaviour of Russia, as an important actor in the politics of the region and the whole world, which will inevitably have effect on further bilateral and multilateral relations with this country. Russia’s military aggression against another sovereign state and actions contradicting the statements of its leaders raise serious doubts about the reliability and consistency of Russia as a partner.

Furthermore, we are convinced that the response of the international community to Russia’s aggression against Georgia is at the same time a test for Euro-Atlantic security institutions of their reliability and solidarity. Therefore we are calling on our governments to discuss, in cooperation with NATO and EU partners, measures to prevent similar actions in future. NATO and the EU must assume responsibility for the security and stability of their partners to demonstrate Russia’s leadership it cannot do whatever it wants with its neighbours that share the values and principles of the Euro-Atlantic community.

Russia’s aggression against Georgia must be stopped, with the help of coordinated actions of the international community, immediately before all Georgian infrastructure and economy is destroyed which would bring about humanitarian catastrophe with long-term consequences in the entire region.

Ene Ergma, President of the Riigikogu of Estonia
Gundars Daudze, President of the Saeima of Latvia
Česlovas Juršėnas, President of the Seimas of Lithuania

Joint statement by Presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Joint statement on Georgia-Russia War by Presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania
August 9, 2008

Georgia Update, a Service of the Government of Georgia

We, the leaders of the former captive nations from Eastern Europe and current members of the European Union and NATO– Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – are extremely concerned about the actions of the Russian Federation against Georgia.

We strongly condemn the actions by the Russian military forces against the sovereign and independent country of Georgia.

Following the unilateral military actions of the Russian military forces, we will use all means available to us as Presidents to ensure that aggression against a small country in Europe will not be passed over in silence or with meaningless statements equating the victims with the victimizers. To this end we intend to urge our governments to take the following positions in discussions and to raise these concerns in the European Union and the North Atlantic Council:

Can the current Russian authorities be called adequate strategic partners of the EU;
Can the family of European democratic countries pursue a mutually beneficial dialogue with a country that uses heavy military armour against an independent country;
It is pointlessness to continue a “visa facilitation” program with a country that does not meet even the minimal requirements set by the EU and which uses visa facilitation to issue Russian Federation passports to foreigners and then abuses this EU given privilege to claim intervention rights such as “we are protecting Russian citizens” in South Ossetia.
The actions of the Russian Federation in Georgia should influence the talks with the Russian Federation, including negotiations on the new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
We underline the obvious bankruptcy of Russian “peacekeeping operations” in its immediate neighbourhood. The Russian Federation has overstepped a red-line in keeping the peace and stability in the conflict zone and in protecting Russian citizens outside its own borders.

The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand-up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the East of Europe. New international peacekeeping forces should be created as the current setting proved to be ineffective.

We regret that not granting of the NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia was seen as a green light for agression in the region.

We believe that the EU and NATO as the key organizations for European and Transatlantic stability and security should play a leading and crucial role in securing freedom, security and prosperity of countries not only in the EU but also in the neighboring European area.

It a litmus-test for the credibility of the EU and NATO to solve the conflict in its immediate neighborhood and to prove for all EU and NATO members, aspirant countries and democratic partners that it is worth being members and partners of these organizations.

This Declaration is open for the accession by the leaders of other democratic countries.

President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves
President of the Republic of Latvia Valdis Zatlers
President of the Republic of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus
President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński