Dr. habil. phil. Vilnis Zariņš
University of Latvia. Institute of Philosophy and Sociology
LATVIA UNDER TWO OCCUPATIONAL POWERS:
PROBLEMS AND PARADIGMS
The friendship treaty signed by the USSR and Germany on 23 August 1939, which has gone down in history as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, actually meant the union of Stalin and Hitler against the freedom of the peoples of the world, in the first place by destroying the independence of East European states. It brought many millions of people to ruin and directly ushered in World War Two. The totalitarian empires that sixty years ago carved up the national territories of independent states have now collapsed, but many crimes made possible by that pact have not vet been thoroughly evaluated. To this day heirds the imperial traditions make claims against the states occupied through the acts of aggression outlined in the pact, as if the pact were still in force.
The Latvian state and its citizens suffered both from the friendship of the two totalitarian states, and from their war, because the pact's secret protocols provided its signers a pretext, based on "class solidarity", for the occupation of Latvia on 17 June 1940, and a moral justification for the crimes of both occupying powers in Latvia. The pact's secret protocols conflicted with the international obligations of both signing parties, in particular with the USSR's obligations springing from the Russian-Latvian peace treaty of 11 August 1920.
Comprehensive analysis of the pact and its consequences has thus far been hindered by several circumstances: 1) unwillingness of some West European politicians to recall their immorality in signing the Munich accord; 2) the alliance of the democratic superpowers with one totalitarian regime against the other during World War II, thereby entering into compromises with it; and 3) the prolonged efforts of Soviet leaders to prevent examination of the subject, even by denying the very existence of the secret protocols.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was only one episode in the amity of these totalitarian states, which gained momentum after the spring of 1939, when Molotov replaced Litvinov as the Soviet foreign minister. This friendship continued until 22 June 1941, when Germany breached this agreement of thieves and, in violation of the treaty's secret protocols, sought to eliminate the USSR's influence in Eastern Europe. After World War II, the Soviet Union expanded beyond the territorial acquisitions delineated m its treaty with Hitler, but lost them entirely when it collapsed itself due to the liberation struggles of captive nations, including the Latvian nation. In August 1991 Russia, the legal heir of the USSR, once again recognized Latvia's independence. Since that time only the most aggressively imperialist-minded consider Latvia part of the Soviet or Russian sphere of influence.
Both treaty signatories, which soon become occupying powers, had similar plans in Latvia. These called for annexing Latvia, destroying or deporting a large percentage of Latvian citizens, and settling a large number of their own citizens in Latvia, where they would have various privileges in comparison to the citizens of occupied Latvia. Both occupying powers planned to use Latvia, its territory, its economy, its natural and human resources as a springboard for further expansion in the struggle for world domination. Both occupying powers made certain adjustments to their policy and plans during the course of occupation. These changes did not alter the basic goals of the occupiers: to destroy the Latvian nation and appropriate its territory. The fact that the occupying powers carried out their criminal intentions in Latvia more slowly than had been originally planned was a combined result of their weakness and desire to fully exploit the labour force resources and fruits of Latvian residents' labour, not of moral considerations.
Both occupying powers sought to kill or deport not only Latvians, but also other ethnic groups in Latvia. The USSR's genocide against Latvians m the occupied Latvia, which began in 1940 and was particularly bloody until Stalin's death in 1953, was only a continuation of the genocide against expatriate Latvians in the Soviet Union, which had begun already in 1937 and 1938.At the same time, Germany's genocide of Latvia's Jews m 1941 was only a continuation of the genocide against Jews in Germany, which had assumed large proportions by 1938. During the occupation Latvia's Latvians and Jews were the main victims of annihilation, but Gypsies, Germans, and Poles suffered heavily too, as did those Russians who had emigrated to Latvia after the Civil War in Russia Mobilisation of Latvian residents into the occupying armies was one form of the occupiers' genocide. The occupiers' goal of fundamentally altering Latvia's ethnic makeup through genocide and colonization has been achieved at least in part, for today the proportion of Latvians, Germans and Jews in Latvia is much lower than before the occupation.
In implementing their policies, both occupying powers made broad use of society's criminal and declasse elements. The occupiers sought to include particular social and ethnic groups - certain minorities and some expatriate Latvian from Russia - in the government apparatus. Even before the occupation the totalitarian states were preparing a reserve of popular collaborationists, m order to use them immediately after the occupation in puppet governments. The most popular German agent for this task was the pilot Herberts Cukurs, whose activities during the Latvian occupation were not mentioned, since he was working for the Gestapo at that time. One influential Soviet agent was the writer Vilis Lācis, who held high positions during the occupation. Collaborationism - active co-operation with and assistance to the occupiers - should not be confused with conformism - non-resistance and compliance, so as not to provoke reprisals. In the earlier phases of both occupying regimes, when Latvian citizens were killed for undesirable class or racial identity according to prepared lists, conformism had little relevance. But as the occupation was prolonged, Latvian residents had to participate m one way or another in Latvia's economic and cultural life, in order to avoid total decline and national demoralization. Such participation should not be considered collaborationism, although the distinction is very fine and changes over time.
For nations that were victims of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, it is important to consider the victimological aspect of the secret protocols: namely, would more intelligent and unified action on the part of the pact's victims have been capable of preventing or lessening the destruction wrought by the pact? It is hard to draw firm conclusions here, for different actions by the victims would have met different actions by the occupying powers. The worst consequences of the occupation the physical destruction of a large proportion of the nation and the settling in the Baltic nations' territory of many ethnically foreign colonists oriented toward the occupying power -were experienced least in Lithuania, because there young men were not drafted en masse into the occupying armies, and after the war fewer colonists from the USSR settled there. To date the question has not yet been studied of whether this difference resulted from a higher level of state-consciousness on the part of the Lithuanian nation, or from other factors.
Questions connected with the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact reflect the interests of different, mutually opposed social forces. Therefore, it is hard to find words and concepts that precisely illustrate the processes being examined and make it possible to get closer to the truth through discussion. It is hard to understand the period from 17 June 1940 to 21 August 1991, if it is described with such phrases as: the time of serfdom, the period of building developed socialism, the time of foreign domination, the era of colonial dependence, the time of brotherly assistance, the period of forming mature communism. The most appropriate description might be the period of occupations, which includes both periods of totalitarian domination. The true meaning and significance of the events this period have thus far been frequently falsified. Along with direct alteration of facts, another frequently used method of historical falsification has been to use as synonyms words or phrases which are not equivalent in meaning. In such falsifications, the change of occupiers is often called liberation, and the victory of Latvia's occupiers is called Latvia's victory, although it is clear that an occupied country cannot m principle enjoy victory until it has regained its freedom. The greatest hypocrisy m deforming the understanding of events in occupied Latvia can be found in the vocabulary of institutions of the Soviet occupation and their fellow-travelers, since the German institutions, especially at the beginning of their occupation, usually did not hesitate to use quite cynical formulations Jewish-Bolshevik regime, Slavic untermenschen. higher race. Apologists of the Soviet occupation often referred to Soviet saboteurs in Latvia as partisans, to implementers of Stalinist totalitarian policy as anti-Hitlerite coalition fighters, to Latvia's colonization with USSR citizens as brotherly assistance, to genocide of the Latvian nation as the struggle against bourgeois nationalism.
Institutions of the Soviet occupation often used stock propaganda phrases, which in the Latvian situation had a very vague content or no content at all. Such stock phrases included "the Great Patriotic War", "the Soviet people", "the moral-political unity of the Soviet people", "enemies of the people" and many others. The words "fascists" and "anti-fascists" were also typically used by Soviet occupiers so broadly that they lost content and meaning. 9. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact brought much destruction to the nations of Eastern Europe, but it brought no blessings to the signing states and nations, either. After fifty years of occupation the nations of Eastern Europe have liberated themselves and renewed their statehood. However, their living force has been greatly weakened, and especially their intellectual elite. The legal heirs of the totalitarian states have thus far not apologised to the occupied nations for the crimes of their forebearers. Russian state officials still declare that the Russian - Latvian Peace Treaty signed on 11 August 1920 has lost its power due to the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact's secret protocols. The ideological heirs of totalitarianism occasion ally seek to place the blame for their predecessors' crimes on the occupied nations themselves.
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