25 March 2008


Flags with black tassels hang in heavy snow today, fifty-nine years after Operation Прибой -- "the Surf." The document at left is a report by Major General Spasenko, dated 31 March 1949, on the success of the operation: from 25 March to 30 March 1949, 30 629 families were deported from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- a total of 90 844 persons, comprising 24 630 men, 40 688 women, and 25 526 children.

This map shows the approximate percentages of the population deported from Latvia by locality -- the darkest areas are civil parishes that lost more than 10% of their inhabitants, the red areas 6-10%. The yellow areas lost less than 2%. Roughly, the areas that lost a higher share were the most Latvian areas, ethnically -- it's not possible to determine the proportions of deportees in relation to the total population by ethnicity in 1949 (as can be done with regard to the 1941 deportations) because there was no census during the period of drastic Russification (there is no data between the census taken during the German occupation, in 1943, and the census of 1959).

In sheer numbers, however, 41 084 ethnic Latvians, 772 Russians, 4 Germans, and 1114 others were deported in 1949. By the census of 1959, ethnic Latvians made up only 62% of the population. The percentage of ethnic Russians had meanwhile risen to 26,6% (556 400 ethnic Russians in 1959; there were 207 003 ethnic Russians in Latvia in 1943, about eight out of ten of them in the eastern region of Latgallia -- mostly yellow on the map).

The 1949 deportations ostensibly targeted "kulaks and nationalist families." One was a member of a "nationalist family" if a relative had resisted the occupation, for example. Kulaks -- "the rural bourgeoisie" -- were defined using prewar statistics, despite the fact that many people had lost their land or livestock in the intervening decade. Some supposed kulaks possessed no land at all. Complaints from the Gulag were met with a standard NKVD response: "you (your mother or your father) possessed a kulak farm in 1939."

In hundreds of cases, children were deported alone, without their families. When they reached sixteen years of age, they were assigned the status of deportees.

The status of those not defined as kulaks was shifted retroactively with no charges being brought -- in the summer of 1949, special sessions simply declared their permanent resettlement and the confiscation of their property, without trial.

From 1955, people were allowed to return to Latvia, but incrementally -- Jānis Riekstiņš, Senior Researcher at Latvia's National Archives, compares the process to chopping off the tail of a dog, piece by piece. About 12% of the deportees had perished. Those who returned were required to sign documents agreeing not to return to their place of residence.

Latvia's relative birthrate, which had been ca. 75% prior to the occupation, had fallen to 40-45% in 1946 and never recovered.

The map is from this site, which includes facsimiles of other documents and information on ongoing research (in Latvian).

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Blogger Giustino said...

The Estonian mass deportations that took place this week in March 1949 are also often referred to as a 'genocide' in Estonian discourse. The 'g' word is a loaded one because no one knows how conservatively or liberally to apply it.

Because the Holocaust was the 'crime of the century', one act of genocide that nearly all school children are familiar with thanks to rigorous post-war school curricula, other mass killings are sort of runners-up for 'crime of the century.' They are less well known, and people are unsure of how to describe them. ... "and to Latvia, goes the Bronze."

I have to say that the idea of the deportations as ethnic genocide, though, strikes me as a bit off. Why? Go to www.okupatsioon.ee and see for yourself.

A Russian from Mustvee named Akindin Pagarev. A Baltic German from Tallinn named Herbert Kleinhoff. A Swede from Vormsi island named Lars Alström. A Finn from Narva named Mikko Reijo. A Pole from Tallinn named Peeter Schimanski. All different ethnicities, all deported. But what did they have in common? Estonian nationality.

So I see it more as an effort to destroy nationality than ethnicity. What do you think?

26 March, 2008 01:46  
Blogger Doris said...

it's more like... a genocide targeted at a certain economical-intellectual strata. After all, the ideal of the Soviet way of life was the factory worker - uneducated, poor and dirty. And all who did not fit into that category had to be gotten rid of. Makes a LOT of sense, no? and then they wonder why people who actually had to live in that system didn't like it...

26 March, 2008 11:54  
Blogger J. Otto Pohl said...

Thanks for posting this article. I am going to post a link to it from my blog. I think the way to view the 1949 deportations is an attempt by Moscow to impose over half a century of Sovietization upon the Baltic States in a very short period of time. That is they compressed the violence of the Civil War, the collectization of agriculture and dekulakization, and the Purges into a single week.

26 March, 2008 15:39  
Blogger Randy McDonald said...

Otto's argument makes most sense to me.

But what do you mean by relative birth rate?

26 March, 2008 22:41  
Blogger J. Otto Pohl said...

Correction I meant over 30 years of Sovietization. I am not sure where I got a half century out of the years 1917 to 1949. But, the basic point still holds.

27 March, 2008 06:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The number of victims of greedy, powerful countries in history is not easy to account. Almost each of the economically uptrend country today is a former oppressive colonizer. Almost each of the underdeveloped were their poor victims then. I hope the history will twist somewhere in the present to let this oppressor experience the feeling of being oppressed.

27 March, 2008 06:40  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks, Giustino, J. Otto, Doris, Randy and Wangbu for your comments.

Giustino -- my thoughts would have to include musings on nationality and ethnicity that would be lengthy enough to form a few posts, and I suppose I should get around to writing some.

The UN definition of genocide, given at Wikipedia along with a lot of information on the usage, coinage and implications of the term, refers to the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" -- it applies to nationality as well as ethnicity, then.

The Baltic states came about as nation-states -- the nationalism that gave birth to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was ethnic as well as political. If you chop off the heads of communities, most of those heads will belong to members of the titular nation.

The deportations took place at a time of colonization; the effect was therefore genocidal (as in "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part," for instance). Physically, the Latvian population declined and the Russian population (as well as that of other "Soviet" nationalities/ethnicities) rose, with ethnic Latvians down to 52% of the population in 1989, from 75,5% prior to the occupation.

I would say that it was both ethnic and national, and that the two are intertwined in a nation-state.

Randy -- thanks for pointing that out; I assume it means relative to the prewar birth rate. It's from this structural analysis of the deportations.

27 March, 2008 09:49  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

That didn't make sense -- of replacement level?

27 March, 2008 18:04  
Blogger Veiko Spolitis said...

The UN definition of genocide, given at Wikipedia along with a lot of information on the usage, coinage and implications of the term, refers to the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" --

I liked the posting and PERFECT point Pēteris!!! In Latvian Occupation museum permanent exposition I remember seeing paper statement issued by Soviet authorities in Latvia, and where the reason for deportation to Siberia states CLEARLY AND SQUARLY - a Latvian....what else if not G******!!!

27 March, 2008 18:21  
Blogger Giustino said...

I remember seeing paper statement issued by Soviet authorities in Latvia, and where the reason for deportation to Siberia states CLEARLY AND SQUARLY - a Latvian....what else if not G******!!!

In Estonia, would say it's more of a 'national' genocide than an 'ethnic' one. Let's put it this way -- they didn't go after Estonians in Latvia because they spoke Estonian. They went after people who were somehow important for the functioning of the Estonian state -- and this includes small farm owners. So it was about the nationality and destroying it because, say ethnic Swedes who held positions in local governments were just as much a threat to the imposition of Soviet identity as ethnic Estonians were.

29 March, 2008 15:31  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Justin, please scroll up -- how, when and why do you differentiate between the state and the nation (the state structure, the people and/or the ethnicity) in a nation-state? Your angle of emphasis on the so-called "political nation" seems sort of dangerously silly to me. Etymologically, natio and ethnos are not very different, are they? And Veiko (who is at least as Estonian as he is Latvian) is quite correct -- there are papers from the 1937/38 genocide in Soviet Russia where the reason given for arrest is "Latvian" -- ethnic, not national. If you want to try to make the point that most Latvians were not snuffed for being Latvians, okay. But if you stick to this logic -- I don't see where it goes. It doesn't diminish the Holocaust to say that Gypsies and gays were murdered, not just Jews. But neither Jews nor Gypsies had a nation-state. Being anti-Israel or anti-Zionist or whatever might not be anti-Semitic, in theory -- but in practice? Why are you making the distinction, and how does it apply in this specific instance? And I would like to point out that I gave the stats -- 41 084 ethnic Latvians, 772 Russians, 4 Germans, and 1114 others. No matter how you break it -- the ethnicity suffered -- the nation suffered -- and Latvia is the nation-state this happened to/in. Check those proportions, please. This is not to diminish the fact that others suffered -- but there would be no nation-state if there wasn't a Latvian people. No Latvians -- no Latvia, to put it simply.

29 March, 2008 16:39  
Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

Julius Wolfenhaut has described the ethnical distinction by the deportations in Czernowitz, annected by the Soviets. He said that only Jews were deported 1941 to Siberia, other minorities not in the beginning, like the Ruthens.
Julius Wolfenhaut, Nach Sibirien verbannt, Als Jude von Czernowitz nach Stalinka 1941-1994

30 March, 2008 04:26  
Blogger Giustino said...


What I see is the very heart of the matter, the guts of the whole perspective on Estonian nationalism.

If I am to look at the diligence with which Nazis pored through genealogical information to ID a Jew, or the state of Virginia did the same to determine whether one was 'white' or 'black', then I would say the Soviets were far less efficient.

In Estonia, we are dealing with a society that as provincial as it is, could never pass that kind of test anyway.

When you have a situation where the mother of President Lennart Meri (a deportee), was Alice-Brigitta Engmann, an Estonian Swede, or that the national hero of the Estonian Independence War was the Pskov-born Julius Kuperjanov, well, you are dealing with a nationality.

This is particularly important when you consider that the 25 percent of this country that identifies as Russian, or at least the younger generations of this group, are going to adopt some kind of Estonian identity.

It won't be a strict, ethno identity, but a lot of urban Estonians don't have that identity either. Nor do a lot of 'Russians' who used to be Tatars or Germans and are now in the halfway house to becoming Estonians.

It's particularly relevant in my wife's family, where two of her great grandfathers, one ethnic Estonian, the other ethnic Russian, were both deported.

That's why semantics count.

31 March, 2008 16:28  
Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

Stalin's thinking was highly obsessed with ethnical distinction. Another example the Koreans. All Koreans:

"At the height of the Great Terror, Stalin implemented a plan to move every single Korean living in Russia to new territories in Central Asia. The official reason was collusion with Japan, but it was clear that Stalin wanted to populate these remote Soviet republics. Soviet Central Asia was decimated by a forced collectivization plan to settle nomadic farmers unchanged for thousands of years which caused widespread famine.

All 180,000 Koreans were packed into crowded cattle cars to make the 3700 mile journey to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This highly organized, month long deportation is vividly brought to life though the memories of first hand survivors. About 98,000 Koreans were brought into Kazakhstan and disbursed throughout the country to establish collective farms."


Irony, many Koreans were living in the Soviet Union cause of the Japanese occupation of their homeland.

01 April, 2008 12:07  

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