Communist Dictatorship in Latvia. The Soviet Occupation (1940-1941; 1944-1991)

Latvia, a small Baltic Sea country, proclaimed independence in 1918 and reassured it in a 1920 peace treaty with Russia. In 1939, Latvia fell victim to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, leading to occupation and its incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940.

The establishment of a brutal communist regime resulted in mass terror, the extinction of civil society and civil liberties, termination of the existing way of life and economic model and a strong pressure on Latvian culture. Overall, 214,905 people suffered from communist repressions in Latvia and 59,742 were deported. Imminent communist terror forced at least 265,000 to flee the country.

Although explicit terror subsided after Stalin’s death, the communist regime persisted and brought Latvia to the verge of disaster. A systematic russification policy reduced the share of ethnic Latvians in the population from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989. Restoration of independence in 1991 saved Latvian people from annihilation.

Historical overview

Latvia was proclaimed as an independent, democratic republic on November 18, 1918, and a system of parliamentary republic was further ensured with the adoption of the Constitution (Satversme) of 1922. In 1934, the prime minister of the time Kārlis Ulmanis carried out a coup d’état, dismissed Saeima (parliament), imposed the martial law (which was extended on a regular basis up until February 1939) and established an authoritarian regime. Until the end of his term of office, the president of Latvia Alberts Kviesis remained in place and thus legitimized authoritarian power, but in 1936 the powers of the president were illegally appropriated by K. Ulmanis.

Following the coup d’état, all political parties were banned (including the Union of Latvian Farmers, the party of K. Ulmanis himself). Overall, his regime can be characterized as moderate, nationalistic conservative, with a growing cult of leaderism, and embracing the policy of Latvianisation of society.

Nevertheless, physical repressions against representatives of other nationalities were not implemented, the only target of political repressions were political radicals – members of the right-wing “Thunder Cross” and communists. Following the Italian example, a system of cameral corporate government was introduced, along with censorship and extensive propaganda activities, which later simplified the introduction of socal control mechanisms by the Soviet occupation regime.

The social democratic movement had started to develop in the territory of Latvia (then parts of the Russian Empire) back at the end of the 19th century, and it actively participated in the revolution of 1905. The Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party entered the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party on an autonomous basis, but it split into social democratic and communistic groups following the coup d’état of October 1917 in Russia, with the latter joining the Russian Communist (Bolshevik) party in 1919, and leaving the party again in 1920.

Soviet Russia invaded Latvia in December 1918 and established a puppet government lead by Pēteris Stučka. This initially enjoyed popular support as it was connected with Latvian Riflemen who had remained in Russia after the end of World War I. However, the Bolsheviks’ policies in regions occupied by the Red Army, and the Red Terror[1] rapidly shifted popular attitudes away from them.

The Republic of Latvia gained its independence in a bloody Independence war[2] which ended with the peace treaty of August 11th 1920 between the Republic of Latvia and Soviet Russia, but fully controlled by Moscow Latvian Communist Party continued its operations underground.

After the 2nd World Congress of the Comintern, the Secretariat of Communistic International Executive Committee Latvian section was established under the leadership of P. Stučka. Latsection was directly subordinate to the Comintern. In 1925, the management of the Comintern created a secretariat of the Baltic states’ communist parties, that was subsequently reorganised into Poland-Baltics lendersecretariat (it existed until October 1935).

In the 1928 election of Saeima, the Trade Union Workers and Peasants Group organised by the Latvian Communist Party (LCP) won six seats (out of 100). After this success, the Latvian Communist party legalized itself for a short time as the Latvian Independent Socialists’ Party. However, in 1928, the management of the Comintern ordered the Latvian Communist party to start preparing for a possible war and to advocate the idea of separatism for the Latgale region.

Between 1936 and 1938, during the Great Terror, almost all leading Latvian communists living in the USSR were accused of participating in the so-called “all-union Latvian counterrevolutionary centre” or other actions against the Soviet power, and executed.

In Latvia, in contrast with the members of other parties who had already been freed in 1935, communists and radical right-wing Thunder Cross members were imprisoned until 1940. The Latvian Communist party in 1940 was small and exhausted – according to various estimates, it comprised just 300-500 members[3], and was unable to provide the Soviet occupational regime with the necessary human resources.

In 1939 – before the Soviet occupation – Latvia encompassed 65,791 km2 and, according to the 1935 census[4], was populated by 1,950,502 inhabitants, of whom 75.5% were ethnic Latvians[5]. In 1944, Russia (RSFSR) annexed Abrene town and its six neighbouring parishes, incorporating them into its newly created Pskov oblast. Latvia lost not only its independence, but also a territory of 1293.6 km2 due to these administrative changes[6]. Resulting from the Soviet actions (facilitation of immigration, improper industrialisation, national and salary policies, as well as repressions), the share of ethnic Latvians in the population shrank significantly. In 1989, Latvia was populated by 2,666,567 individuals, but only 1,387,757 (52,04%) of them were ethnic Latvians. The share of ethnic Russians had grown disproportionally, reaching 905,515 (33.96%) individuals in 1989[7].

[1]     Spekke, A., Latvijas vēsture. Rīga, 2003 (Stokholma, 1948) - 309-313.lpp

[2]     Following Soviet Russia’s attack, the Provisional Government was also forced to fight the forces of R. von der Goltz and P.Bermondt-Avalov’s voluntary army who supported the coup of 16th April 1919. In total, 3046 soldiers were killed and 4085 wounded during the Independence War. // Latvijas Brīvības cīņas. Izstādes katalogs. 

[3]     Okupācija un Kirhenšteina valdība // Vēlēšanas bez izvēles. Virtuāla izstāde. 

[4]     Skujenieks, M. (red.), Ceturtā tautas skaitīšana Latvijā. Rīga, 1935.

[5]     Latvija citu valstu saimē. Rīga, 1939. 19-30.lpp

[6]     Laganovskis, G., Kā Latvija ieguva un pazaudēja Abreni. Rīga, 2015. 

[7]     Atsevišķu tautību iedzīvotāju skaits, tā izmaiņas un dabiskās kustības galvenie rādītāji. Centrālās statistikas pārvaldes dati.


The first steps in sovietisation of Latvia were taken already in July 1940, with an act issued by the USSR-controlled government and the puppet “parliament” (so-called People’s Saeima) on restoring Soviet power, declaring land to be the property of the people, and nationalising large businesses. Full integration of Latvia into the Soviet system began after August 5th when sovietisation, strictly replicating the USSR model and following the example of previously conquered Polish Eastern territories was implemented. [1]

That sovietisation had also been administered by the Politburo of the All-Union Communist Party Central Committee (AUCP CC)[2], and its directives were copied by the government of Latvia. Sovietisation advanced simultaneously and according to the same scenario in all three Baltic republics with a few small differences.

Latvia’s sovietisation and the formation of the government of the Latvian SSR were directly controlled by the USSR emissary Andrey Vyshinsky[3]. After incorporation in the USSR, the centre of the local government moved to the Latvian Communist party, however, due to the lack of people and their low qualifications[4] as well as lack of trust in Moscow[5], the implementation of its acts was overseen also by the USSR’s military and security authorities, along with other soviet structures established in Latvia.

The highest governmental ranks were filled by agents of the USSR special services (members of the government Vilis Lācis, Pēteris Blaus, Vikentijs Latkovskis, Andrejs Jablonskis) or persons otherwise previously related to the the USSR’s structures[6]. NKVD infiltrated well screened ethnic Latvians from Russia as specialists and advisors through the Red Army's bases into Latvia in large numbers. Also the majority of the top ranks of the Latvian Communist party were former undercover activists who had infiltrated under orders from the Comintern in 1920s and 30s, and more than half of all members of the Communist party worked for the NKVD or the militia.

The sovietisation of Latvia resumed following the Soviet re-occupation in 1944. To facilitate this process, operational groups had been established back in the USSR, behind the frontline even prior to entering Latvian territory, in order to prepare the development of crucial institutions.

Power mechanisms and the crucial institutions

Akin to other territories annexed by the USSR, the central role in sovietisation of Latvia was given to the Central committee of Latvian Communist party (LCP CC) and its local committees. Nevertheless, their task was solely to transfer instructions from Moscow to lower level authorities and oversee their implementation, while real power was held not even by the party elected organs, but by state officials – the nomenklatura. To control the processes of sovietisation along with the LCP CC, a Latvian office of the AUCP CC operated between 1944 and 1947, while later control over local structures was delegated to the second secretary of the LCP CC, this position being predominantly trusted to officials transferredsent directly from Moscow.

Meanwhile, officials from the “old” USSR republics, especially ethnic Latvians from Russia were infiltrated into the local structures, introducing the management practices of the USSR there. Although, according to the constitution, the highest organ of power was the Supreme Council, in fact, the content and process of all law‑making, as well as the composition of local authorities (councils) at all levels, were dictated by the LCP CC[7]. Until the mid-80s, all votes in the Supreme Council were unanimous, but lower level power structures were used to imitate democracy – e.g., manufacturing meetings or conferences of the Trade Union Council were utilised to create an illusion of listening to the opinions of the working masses (public), as well as taking their interests into account when deciding matters in higher authorities.

The involvement of ethnic Latvians within the Communist party in the first post-war years was low[8], the party had local branches only in the largest factories, mostly in Riga, mostly with many migrant workers and it wasn’t able to ensure thorough control over sovietisation processes. Therefore, trade unions and Komsomol, as well as the political departments of the agricultural MTS[9], also played a significant role in the manifestation of Soviet power.

When centralised power was gradually loosened in the period of destalinisation in the 1960s and following the end of armed resistance, the number of LCP members increased rapidly, with more ethnic Latvians joining their ranks[10]. However, in the 1970s and 80s the personnel policy of the CPSU was altered and the role of ethnic Latvians in the nomenklatura decreased again, except in the fields of culture and education[11].

National communism

Following beginning of destalinisation, a new generation of communists took power in Latvia (E. Berklavs, I. Pinksis, P. Dzērve and others). They recognised the importance of taking the local situation into consideration, and in the Latvian historiography they are labelled “national communists”[12]. The signature of national communism was its attempt to secure the economic and cultural autonomy of Latvia, whilst decreasing immigration from other USSR republics and the Russification of community life. However, this political course was halted very quickly, in 1959, and its affiliates were repressed – around 2000 members of the Latvian Communist party lost their posts and party membership at this time.

Legal norms

In conjunction with Latvia’s annexation to the USSR, Soviet legal norms were duly introduced in its territory. Latvian legal norms were replaced with codes and normative acts active in the RSFSR. The situation of 1941 was restored after World War II, but in an additional development the legal system of the Latvian SSR was fully adopted from the legal system of the USSR. Also the 1940 Constitution of the Latvian SSR, taking some local differences and the level of its sovietisation into account, was derived from the Constitution of the RSFSR[13].

Decentralisation of power started after the 20th Congress of CPSU in 1956, and that also affected the field of rights, including an increase of the rights of the USSR republics in the legal process, that manifested itself as taking local specifics into account and implementing them in normative acts, developed under unified principles and guidelines. In 1978, in connection with legal reforms and new directives in the USSR as a whole, the Latvian SSR adopted a new constitution. And also ther legal reforms in Latvia mirrored general reforms in the USSR and the levels of (de)centralisation of power, including the new Latvian Criminal Code adopted in 1961 and the Administrative Violations Code adopted in 1984.

The legal reforms of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, the attempt at democratising the USSR and disputes about Constitutional amendments in 1988-1989 led to an increase of republics's autonomy and democratic freedoms, but from mid-1989 onwards, these changes also brought about the preconditions necessary for the restoration of the economical and political independence of Latvia: the call of May 31st by the Latvian Popular Front to discuss full national independence, the declaration on Latvian sovereignty adopted by the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR and the law on the economic autonomy of the Latvian SSR.

Security services

In Stalin’s era, the internal and security organs only obeyed the directions of their own central management and the highest management of the USSR, they were remarkably centralized and their officials often arbitrarily extended their already wide powers. Immediately after the death of Stalin, reforms in the security structures were implemented, partly passing the responsibility for supervising them over to the chairs of republics’ ministerial councils and increasing their dependence on the Central Committees of the republican communist parties. The main repressive instrument of the Communist Party was the KGB, which fulfilled the management of social control by other system-building organisations – the Komsomol, trade unions, etc.[14]

Along with the structures of KGB, several institutions of military intelligence and counterintelligence were active in Latvia because of its role as the centre of the Baltic Military District, simultaneously in Latvia operated representatives of the central (Moscow branches) security services – the various security services often did not inform each other of the actions they were taking and, especially in the period of Perestroika, a deficit of trust by the central powers in Moscow was exhibited also towards the structures of the security services controlled by the Communist Party at republican level.

Although the KGB focused its attention on the fight against hypothetical ideological opponents, it also dealt with operations against organised crime and corruption and with certain intelligence and counter-intelligence activities[15]. The KGB also handled the screening of private correspondence (perlustration) which was undertaken supposedly to prevent the spread of anti-Soviet views and information, especially in correspondence with foreign countries[16].

The KGB was the main repressive security service throughout the entire period of the Soviet occupation, and even in the period of Perestroika it pursued repressive actions against supporters of independence. Even if extensive physical repressions were not carried out after Stalin’s death, physical retaliation and imprisonment of critics were widely applied until the beginning of Perestroika. The last political trial in Latvia took place in 1983[17].

Perestroika and restoration of independence

The economic crisis of 1970s and 80s lead the leadership of the USSR to accept the necessity of political and socio-economic reforms. To influence with public opinion the adversaries of such reforms (Perestroika) among Communist Party hardliners and strengthen his power, Gorbachev, after taking power in 1985, established the policy of “openness” (Glasnost).

The first informal oppositional group to appear in Latvia during Perestroika era was the human rights group “Helsinki-86” whose activities included organising commemorations of deportation victims and developing the idea of Latvian independence. This idea was spread to the general public by the Latvian National Independence Movement, which was founded in 1988, while the Latvian Popular Front, initially created to support Perestroika, had clearly shifted towards a policy of restoration of national independence by the spring of 1989, and it went on to become a unifier of a broad swathe of society.

To combat the efforts of restoration of independence, the hardliners of the Communist party founded “the International Front of the Working People of Latvia[18]” (Interfront), however, it received support only from the members of the USSR military sector and workers of All-Union subordinated factories – namely migrants from elsewhere in the USSR. In the March 18th 1990 election to the Supreme Council of Latvian SSR[19], the Latvian Popular front secured victory, thus guaranteeing the adoption of Declaration of Independence of the Latvian Republic on May 4th 1990[20].


[1]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda. Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945. Rīga, 2008. - 195.lpp

[2]     A plan for sovietisation of Latvia was adopted on August 14th 1940 – a joint act by AUCP CC and USSR People’s commisariat „On state and economic development in Lithuanian SSR, Latvian SSR and Estonian SSR“

[3]     Berzins, A., The unpunished crime. Ew york, 1963. - p. 68-81

[4]     According to various data, there were 500-967 members at the Latvian Communist Party in June 1940

[5]     Levits, E. Latvija padomju varā. // Blūzma, V., Celle, O., Jundzis, T., Lēbers, D.A., Levits, E., Zīle, Ļ., Latvijas valsts atjaunošana 1986.-1993. Rīga, 1998. - 46.lpp

[6]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda. Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945. Rīga, 2008. - 197 - 203.lpp

[7]     Šneidere, I. (atb. red.), Latvija padomju režīma varā. 1945-1986. Dokumentu krājums. Rīga, 2001. - 26-27. lpp.

[8]     Especially in the post-war years in rural districts with active armed resistance.

[9]     Machine tractor station

[10]   In 1946, LCP had under 11,000 members, in 1953 – 35 000, in 1967 – over 101,000, but in 1988 – 187,000.

[11]   Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda, A. Latvijas  vēsture. 20. gadsimts. Rīga, 2005.-  218.-299.lpp.

[12]   Bleiere, D. Nacionālkomunisms Latvijā. (20.gadsimta 50.gadi). Dažas pētniecības problēmas. Latvijas vēstures institūta žurnāls, Rīga, 2016. - 129-133.lpp 

[13]   Lēbers, D.A., Latvijas tiesību vēsture. Rīga, 2000. - 298.lpp

[14]   Okupāciju varu politika Latvijā. 1939 – 1991. Rīga, 1999. - 236.lpp

[15]   Johansons, E., Čekas ģenerāļa piezīmes. Rīga, 2006. - 26-36.lpp

[16]   Zālīte, I., LPSR VDK uzbūve un galvenie darba virzieni (1980.-1991. g.). Latvijas Vēsture, 1999. 1(33). Rīga. - xxx

[17]   Gunārs Astra was sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment in special regime correctional labour colony and 5 years of exile for „anti-soviet agitation and propaganda“. The Supreme Court of the USSR reviewed the sentence and reduced the sentence to 5 years of imprisonment, he was sent to the camps in Perm oblast.

[18]   A network of similar organizations was established all across USSR.

[19]   The first election in the Latvian SSR (USSR) when nomination of more than one candidate list was permitted.

[20]   Šneidere, I. (atb. red.), Latvija padomju režīma varā. 1945-1986. Dokumentu krājums. Rīga, 2001. - 28. lpp.


During the period of Stalinism, sovietisation, collectivisation and the elimination of armed national resistance[1] were achieved by heavy repressions of the people of Latvia. The first Soviet occupation that lasted only a year, was exceptionally repressive in nature – it has often been referred to in the Latvian historiography as the “Year of Terror”[2]. Also, as a reaction to the repressive Soviet policies, organised anti-Soviet resistance groups already started to form in the Autumn of 1940[3]. The later resistance during World War II and in some following years was largely related to the Latvian Central Council[4].


The first mass deportations took place on June 14th 1941, when 15 424 persons were deported from Latvia. These repressions affected not only the individuals themselves but also their relatives. The operation targeted Latvia’s political, economical and public elite and mostly affected people living in cities and towns – entrepreneurs, policemen, army officers and the intelligentsia: teachers, medical doctors, clergy, lawyers and civil servants[5]. Family members of people whom Soviet power found inconvenient were also affected – among the deportees, 15% were children aged 10 years or younger. Of all those deported, 5263 individuals were also detained and imprisoned (two thirds of the detained men)[6],but 6081 persons would die (39,43% of the total) [7].

The deportations of 1949 were mostly directed at agricultural regions – families, together with the elderly and children who had already been included in so-called “Kulak lists” back in 1947[8], were deported, comprising over 4% of Latvian farms[9], along with supporters of the armed resistance. The aim of these deportations was to halt any resistance to collectivisation and any remaining armed resistance to occupation regime in the countryside[10] - which resistance was itself largely a reaction to the repressions of Soviet power[11].

Latvians were moved to Amur, Tomsk and Omsk regions (oblasts) and obliged not to leave their places of settlement, but, in contrast with the deportations of 1941, men were not separated from the rest of their families in order to be detained in camps. During operation “Priboi” from Latvia , 42,125 persons were deported (13,248 families), including the elderly, children and pregnant women. Among them, more than 10,000 were children aged 16 or younger, and 7795 persons were aged over 60. From all the deported, 5231 persons would die in their places of settlement[12].

The first secretary of the LCP CC J. Kalnbērziņš reported at the CC LCP plenum that overall 119,000 persons were repressed in the period between 1945 and 1953, with 2321 killed, 43,702 deported within mass deportations, and 72,850 arrested[13]. However, the total number of repressed was still higher – in the mass deportations of 1941, 15,424 persons were deported without even a formal investigation[14], while the number deported in March 1949 alone was 44,271 persons[15].

The first wave of deportations mostly targeted the intelligentsia, persons who had occupied positions of responsibility during the previous regime, and persons otherwise considered dangerous to the Soviet regime – Russian émigré activists, members of paramilitary Aizsargi organisation, border guards, and the wider Latvian political elite. In the army camp of Litene, sometimes referred to as the Latvian Katyn, around 50 army officers were killed, and around a further 560 officers were detained and deported[16]. From the beginning of Latvia’s occupation until June 1941 around 250-300 persons were detained monthly.

The overall estimate for all political repressions numbers some 240,000 individuals[17]. People were repressed for expressing nationalist views and for resisting Soviet power, for having held important positions in the interwar period, for possessing a large property, or “for counterrevolutionary activities” – including those who had fought for Latvian independence back in 1918. Along with the two mass deportations, several smaller-scale collective deportations to special settlements took place – ethnic Germans and stateless persons from Riga, i.e. family members of “motherland traitors”. In 1951, 40 Jehovah’s Witnesses were deported, but detainment in camps in the period from the 1960s to the 80s was mostly reserved for those convicted of expressing anti-governmental views, or for possession and distribution of “anti-Soviet” literature and other ideological activities that actually did not constitute a real threat to state power.

The deportations were the most massive Soviet repressions affecting the people of Latvia and have left behind serious psychological repercussions, including for those who were not directly affected. But, as mentioned before, this was not the only kind of repression applied by the Soviets. Around 2000 people were executed between 1941 and 1944, and 2500 between 1945 and 1953 – mostly for collaboration with the German occupational regime, as well as active members of armed resistance and their supporters.

In the 1950s, the former social democrats were persecuted, including those who had actually cooperated with the communists during the dictatorship of K.Ulmanis, while Jewish intellectuals became an object of persecution after the establishment of the state of Israel. Another type of repressions worth mentioning were repressions against patriotic schoolchildren[18], promoters of Western culture (the so-called French group[19]) and the clergy.

Repressions of the Post-Stalinism period

Although the level of repressions decreased after the death of Stalin and many previously deported people were later allowed to return to their homeland, the Soviet regime never stopped using political repressions as a political instrument  - the last political trials took place in 1983, and even those of the repressed ones who were allowed to return, were subject to several limitations that could also affect their family members[20]. After the removal of the “national communists” in 1959, also they became a target of various administrative repressions. Most of these cases were investigated in the Baltic Military District or at the military war tribunals of the People’s Commisariat (Ministry) for Internal Affairs, or in Moscow – at the Special Council of the Ministry for State Security (MGB) of the USSR and the Soviet regime occasionally used torture in the course of its repressions.

 The repressions were based on the 1926 Criminal Code of the RSFSR, that was in force in Latvia from 1940 onwards, hence many of the alleged “crimes” had not actually been punishable in Latvia during the interwar years. With the Latvian SSR Criminal Code of 1961 coming into force, mass repression was replaced by individual repressions, although the campaign approach to repressions was retained. Repressions were planned by the centralized repressive institutions of the USSR, but the local governmental structures were also involved in their implementation. Meanwhile, an extensive network of KGB informants was created for the purposes of controlling the public, it ensured a preventative control of society by the repressive institutions.

People were repressed for both political and non-political actions – including illegal economic activities that were often linked to political infringements in the Soviet regime. In other cases, economic and criminal offenses (non-compliance with productivity norms, tax evasion, etc.) were subjected to political articles of the Criminal Code and vice versa, but in general the practice of repressions and punishments stayed close to the USSR tradition and followed centralised campaigns.

[1]     Strods, H., Latvijas nacionālo  partizānu karš. 1944-1956. Rīga, 1996. - 157-210.lpp

[2]     „Baigais gads“ („The Dreadful Year“) in Latvian. The label was propagated by a propaganda material issued by Nazi Germany "Baigais gads. Attēlu un dokumentu krājums par boļševiku laiku Latvijā no 17.VI.1940 līdz 1.VII. 1941".

[3]     Feldmanis, I., Latvijas Otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945): jauns konceptuāls skatījums. Rīga, 2012. - 42.-43.lpp

[4]     A secret political structure that was founded in 1943 and led by Konstantīns Čakste, it fought against both German and Soviet occupational forces and was formed by the representatives of parliamentary parties (including LSDWP). The military formation connected to LCC and led by gen. J.Kurelis was destroyed by German forces. In the end of 1945, KGB arrested most of LCC members residing in Latvia. Neiburgs, U., Draudu un cerību lokā. Latvijas pretošanās kustība un Rietumu sabiedrotie (19141-1945). Rīga, 2017. - 258-266.lpp

[5]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda. Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945. Rīga, 2008. - 208 – 209.lpp

[6]     Latvijas iedzīvotāju pirmā masveida deportācija. 1941. gada 14. jūnijs. Rīga, 2007. – 17.lpp

[7]     Latvijas iedzīvotāju pirmā masveida deportācija. 1941. gada 14. jūnijs. Rīga, 2007. - 27.lpp

[8]     Riekstiņš, J. (sast.) Kulaki Latvijā. Rīga, 1996. - 17-79.lpp

[9]     Represijas Latvijas laukos. 1944-1949. Rīga, 2000. - 7.lpp

[10]   Strods, H., Latvijas nacionālo partizānu karš. 1944-1956. Rīga, 2012. - 130.lpp

[11]   Turčinskis, Z. Ziemeļvidzemes mežabrāļi. Latvijas nacionālo partizānu cīņas Valkas apriņķī un Alūksnes apriņķa rietumu daļā. 1944.-1953. Rīga - 39.lpp

[12]   Latvijas iedzīvotāju otrā masveida deportācija. 1949. gada 25.marts. Rīga, 2008. - 47-49.lpp

[13]   Butulis, I., Zunda, A., Latvijas  vēsture. Rīga, 2010. - 152.lpp

[14]   Aizvestie. 1941.gada 14.jūnijs. Rīga, 2001. - 806.lpp

[15]   Aizvestie. 1949.gada 25.marts. Rīga, 2007. - 783.lpp

[16]   Zvaigzne, J. Jūnijs. Litene 1941. Rīga 2012. - 59-119.lpp

[17]   Butulis, I., Zunda, A., Latvijas  vēsture. Rīga, 2010. - 153.lpp

[18]   Strods, H., Latvijas skolu jaunatnes nacionālā pretošanās kustība (1944. gads – 50. gadu vidus). Totalitārie režīmi un to represijas Latvijā 1940. – 1956. gadā // Latvijas Vēsturnieku komisijas raksti, 3. sēj. Rīga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds, 2002, 592. lpp

[19]   Bleiere, D., Franču grupas tiesāšana 1951.gadā: lietu politiskaiskonteksts un valsts drošības ministrijas darbības metodes. // Latvijas vēstures institūta žurnāls Nr. 4 (105). Rīga, 2017. - 95-109.lpp

[20]   Besides there were severeal restrictions inacted, e.g. ban to live closer than 100 km from previous living places or official and unofficial restrictions to hold responsibal positions or to recieve higher education.


Sovietisation in 1940-1941

The first year of the Soviet occupation brought extensive nationalisation of private property. All land holdings over 30 hectares were seized, and confiscations of industrial, transportation, major and medium-sized trading companies, banks and credit institutions took place. The shortage of goods in wartime was further and heavily intensified by the abolition of Latvia’s national currency, the lat.

On November 25th 1940 the USSR rouble was made a parallel currency, increasing its value tenfold. The emblematic drawbacks of the Soviet system started to appear – queues, the black market, “blat”[1] and special shops for the Soviet nomenklatura, as well as rationing of goods and food. The entire economy was reshaped to the standards of the USSR – the large enterprises were declared “all-union enterprises” and their tasks were set without reference to local needs, or the available workforce and raw materials. The USSR employment laws of 1938 were introduced along with the principle of social competition and Stalinist productivity norms. Work as such was turned into a mechanism of social control[2].

The very first year of the Soviet occupation also marked the beginning of Latvia’s colonisation – mostly it was state officials and employees of the state apparatus who started moving to Latvia at this time. A land reform which created over 50,000 ten‑hectare small farms, and preparations for mass collectivisation were carried out. Mandatory agricultural levies were introduced, reaching as much as 50% of production for the largest farms, as well as purchase values of production that were artificially reduced. A class-based tax system was introduced; however, the occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany halted the implementation of all Soviets’ collectivisation plans.

Sovietisation 1944-1956

As a result of World War II, Latvia not only lost its independence, but also suffered severe casualties and infrastructure damage[3]. More than 150,000 Latvians fled to the West. Several towns were heavily damaged – Balvi, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Rēzekne, Valmiera. Compared to 1939, Latvia had lost one third of its population[4].

While still overcoming war damage, the economy was transformed according to the Soviet model. Already in 1946, the closure of most private shops was achieved through tax policy, while artisans were forced to unite into artels. A significant part of industry was adjusted to meet the needs of the military sector. Using the interwar period production base, the Latvian SSR industry differed from the USSR overall trends with a higher proportion of consumer goods and output of a relatively high quality – what was significant in specialization in the production of goods for the military sector and the nomenklatura’s needs, but the supply of goods for the general population also surpassed the level elsewhere in the USSR[5].


The biggest shock to Latvia’s economy and its traditional society was collectivisation of agricultural sector. Through the creation of various financial incentives, tax policy and with support of propaganda, by January 1st 1949, 890 small collective farms were established, by unification of 10.2% of previously existing farms. The deportations of March 25th 1949 completely destroyed the ability of the rural population to resist sovietisation, and by May 1st 71.6% of farms were united in collective farms[6]. As a result of this, agricultural productivity fell dramatically, the cultivated areas shrank and the quantity of livestock decreased. In general, agricultural production also experienced the same problems and inefficiencies of centralised planning as in other sectors of the economy.

Industrialisation between the 1960s and the 80s

Between 1954 and 1957, a measure of economic decentralisation and some liberalisation took place in Latvia, but these ideas were defeated in the summer of 1959 with the eradication of the national communists. Then, between the 1960s and the 80s, several chemical and light industry plants were opened, marking a new attempt to deepen integration of the Latvian economy within the USSR's system as a whole and related to the emergence of new energy resources – the construction of the large Daugava hydroelectrical power plants, construction of the Dashava gas pipeline and the Ignalina nuclear power plant.

This policy allowed the Latvian SSR to intensify industrial production to an unprecedented extent, but the easy availability of energy also led to adverse effects – backwardness in production efficiency and innovations. The development of large enterprises relied on supplies of raw materials and labour force from other regions of the USSR and happened in line with the processes of socio-cultural sovietisation and Russification. The imposed industrialisation led to a new wave of migration, which significantly increased the number of inhabitants in Latvia, especially in cities, simultaneously significantly changing the ethnic composition of Latvia – at the beginning of the 1980s, ethnic Latvians already comprised only 52% of the total population of the republic[7].

The economic problems of the USSR by the mid-80s escalated to the level that shortages of common household goods became the norm. The same applied also in Latvia – although the production volumes were growing in all sectors, all profits were channelled into the USSR budget and local social infrastructure and quality of life did not improve. Meanwhile policies favoured retired army officers and recently-arrived workers[8] at all-union companies when it came to distributing existing resources (including apartment distribution[9]). At the same time, the USSR inevitably lagged behind the USA in the arms race what, together with the economic crisis, helped to raise awareness of the need for political reform.

[1]     A far-reaching system of corruption, based on personal knowledge and exchange of favours.

[2]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda, A. Latvijas  vēsture. 20. gadsimts. Rīga, 2005.-  218.-229.lpp

[3]     Kin, J.G., Economic policies in occupied Latvia. Lincoln, Nebraska, 1965. - pp. 93-94

[4]             2. pasaules kara zaudējumi "Tildes Datorenciklopēdija Latvijas Vēsture" © Tilde, 1998-2012 

[5]     Riekstiņš, J. Padomju impērijas koloniālā politika un Latvijas kolonizācija. Rīga, 2015. - 94.lpp

[6]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I, Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda, A. Latvjas vēsture. 20. gadsimts. Rīga, 2005.-  218.-336.lpp

[7]     Butulis, I., Zunda, A., Latvijas  vēsture. Rīga, 2010. - 156.lpp

[8]     Krūmiņš, G. Latvijas tautsaimniecības vēsture. Rīga, 2017. - 317.-318.lpp

[9]     Riekstiņš, J. (sast.), Migranti Latvijā. Rīga, 2004. - 10.lpp

Society and culture

By the beginning of the second Soviet occupation, a significant part of the intelligentsia had gone into exile, while others were repressed or excluded from the cultural life. In fact, the Latvian creative and educated elite was being formed anew from scratch. It was during Stalin’s reign that relations between power and the intelligentsia were most directly hierarchical. In 1946, a deeper integration between cultural workers and the organs of power, as well as a strengthening of the ideological canon, were initiated[1] – a general process took place in Moscow, and that was also copied unquestioningly in occupied Latvia.

Sovietisation of culture

The occupation regime integrated some elements of Latvian national culture; activities such as choir singing, folk dancing and folk costumes were given a Soviet gloss. The influence of Western cultures was minimized, while the role of Russian culture was positively emphasised.

Nonetheless, during the entire period of the occupation, cultural activities were the most important means for preservation of Latvian national identity. Meanwhile, until the mid-1980s, one of the most important cornerstones of Latvian traditional culture – the celebration of Midsummer, although not officially banned, was restricted in various ways, for example, militia did not allow people to light fires in many places, and local branches of the Communist Party increased labour productivity inspections during these periods of the year[2].


Control over the creative intelligentsia was ensured through creative unions that were established and strengthened. Destalinisation in the second half of the 1950s also brought some liberalisation to the field of culture, significantly contributing to the emergence of a new generation of creative people. Poetry became the most popular genre of literature, and Poetry Days – one of the most popular cultural events. Physical repressions were relatively rare though.

However, full freedom of thought was not permitted also at that time – economic repressions were administered to writers and artists who distanced themselves from the official party lines – publishing and exhibition bans were applied. Although creative unions often turned into centres of some intellectual resistance, an open political opposition and dissidentism in Latvia were rare.

The interpretative borders of socialist realism were widened in the 1970s and 1980s, and previously attacked forms of cultural expression were more and more accepted in attempt to achieve ideological goals, however, simultaneously there was a continued fighting against any officially unaccepted forms. For example, around 600 hippies were arrested in 1970 in Riga, as they arrived at a non-sanctioned concert.

The nationalities policy of the USSR was aimed at reduction of national differences, cultivation a united socialist society based on the Russian language, proletarian culture and Leninist-Stalinist ideology. Almost all educational staff were replaced in the first post-war years. Minority schools were closed, preserving only schools with Russian and Latvian languages of instruction.

During Stalin’s reign, much emphasis was put on increasing the use of the Russian language in the education system, and throughout all the years of Soviet occupation, a social environment was maintained where use of the Russian language was unavoidable, but any opposition to the role of the Russian language was interpreted as “bourgeois nationalism”. During destalinization era some liberalisation also took place in the implementation of the nationalities and language policies, but with the dissolution of the national communists all attempts to limit Russification halted[3].


Comprehensive censorship was applied as an important instrument for ensuring the implementation of Soviet propaganda policy tasks with regards to culture, encompassing not only control of the mass media, films, books and works of visual art[4], but also all (including amateur) repertoires of choirs or theatres, as well as literature available to the general public through libraries.

The institutions of censorship (The General Directorate for the Protection of State Secrets in the Press under the Council of Ministers of the Latvian SSR or “Glavlit”[5]) not only policed the distribution of ideologically dangerous opinions and information, but also closely cooperated with the state security institutions in exerting pressure on the authors of such opinions. Meanwhile, the loyalty of the creative intelligentsia to the occupation regime was enforced not only with repressions but also through material incentives, bonuses, rewards and a relatively high level of income.


The first Soviet occupation marked the beginning of repressions against church representatives, as well as the closing of religious schools and the appropriation of church property. After World War II churches were then subjected to strict control by the Party and state repressive institutions[6]. The churches were deprived of the right to register for civil status and were prevented from engaging in public life – charitable activities, visits to hospitals or nursing homes, etc.

At the same time, the occupation power successfully exploited the authority of the Church whenever it seemed beneficial to the regime, for example, after the war the leaders of various Christian denominations were to issue circulars, inviting people to leave the forests, encouraging them to participate in Soviet elections, and asking them to return from exile or join collective farms.

Later they faced pressure to participate in the implementation of the informal foreign policy, controlled by KGB – the Peace Movement, “explaining” the role of religion in the USSR and “expelling anti-Soviet propaganda”,[7]making voluntary contributions to the Peace Fund[8], etc. Legal secular and Soviet rituals were created to replace religious ones, attracting young people and reducing the number of church members and the inheritance of Christian traditions.

Social policy

The Soviet occupation regime discriminated the employed persons based on their mode of employment. This was especially the case with agricultural workers – workers of collective farms were only included in the general pension system in 1964, and their involvement in the various power structures began only long after eradication of the armed resistance – workers of collective farms were allowed to form Soviet trade unions[9] only after 1976[10].

Overall, political criteria were widely employed in the running of the social security system, e.g. the amount of pension paid to an individual was reduced if their children had emigrated or the person had previously been an owner of a nationalised property[11]. The nomenklatura of the Communist Party and employees of security institutions were privileged (especially while rationing continued), although their salaries formally were not high, they enjoyed a range of special privileges, bonuses, allowances and premiums.

Alongside the official system of material and social goods, a parallel “grey” market existed – even in conditions of a total deficit, it was possible to obtain officially unavailable products, goods and services from employees of sales or service companies through “blat” system .

The Soviet regime paid considerable attention to education of the young generation in an ideologically “right” mood of Soviet patriotism. In fact, enrolment of children in children’s and youth organisations which aim was to educate young citizens in the spirit of communist ideology was made compulsory – Little Octobrists from the age of 7 to 9, and pioneers for the age 9 to 14, while 14-28 year olds were united in the Komsomol, whose structure closely resembled the Communist Partys structure, and participation in which was important for further career growth. In addition to the Communist Party, the national security authorities also paid attention to the education of the young generation.

[1]     Stranga, A., Latvijas kultūras un mākslas sovjetizācija pirmajā padomju okupācijas gadā: 1940. gada jūnijs – 1941. gada jūnijs I daļa. Latvijas Universitātes žurnāls. Vēsture, 2018/5. Rīga, 2018. - 25-30.lpp

[2]     Bleiere, D., Eiropa ārpus Eiropas... Dzīve latvijas PSR. Rīga, 2015 (2012) – 101- 103.lpp

[3]     Šneidere, I. (atb. red.), Latvija padomju režīma varā. 1945-1986. Dokumentu krājums. Rīga, 2001. - 19. lpp.

[4]     Strods, H., PSRS politiskā cenzūra Latvijā. 1940-1990. Rīga, 2010. - 402.lpp

[5]     Strods, H., PSRS politiskā cenzūra Latvijā. 1940-1990. Dokumenti un materiāli. Rīga, 2011. - 5-18.lpp

[6]     Except Orthodox church that was directly controlled by Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults of USSR Council of Ministers

[7]     Šneidere, I. (atb. red.), Latvija padomju režīma varā. 1945-1986. Dokumentu krājums. Rīga, 2001. - 21. lpp.

[8]     Daukste – Silasproģe, I., Latvijas Miera aizstāvēšanas komiteja (1951 – 1990): izveide, struktūra, darbības virzieni.

[9]     Soviet trade unions differed from western ones by being governmental organizations of social control and distribution of social benefits.

[10]   Trade unions in the USSR did not defend the rights of the workers, but served as a mechanism for manifesting power and controlling the society, with certain rights of participating in policymaking. They also oversaw the social security system.

[11]   Šneidere, I. (atb. red.), Latvija padomju režīma varā. 1945-1986. Dokumentu krājums. Rīga, 2001. - 24. lpp.


Military bases of the USSR

The first arrival of the USSR military forces was directly related to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed on 23rd August 1939 and the beginning of World War II. After its military intervention in Poland, the USSR launched a diplomatic offensive against the Baltic states, topped with sea and air blockade and relocating Red Army units to the vicinity of Latvian - soviet border. On 5th October 1939, Latvia accepted the ultimatum of the USSR to sign a “Mutual Assistance Treaty” and allow to establish military bases of the Red Army in the country[1]. USSR military forces comprising 25,000 men were deployed to Latvia – in fact equating to the size of the entire Latvian army.

Due to the Winter War, full assembly of Red Army military bases in Latvia was hampered until summer 1940. On October 23rd an agreement on the location of the bases was signed – almost all the Western coast of Kurzeme fell under the control of the Red Army. Similar treaties were signed with Estonia and Lithuania[2], and Red Army forces were also stationed there.

On June 15th 1940 Soviet forces attacked Latvian border guard posts in Masļenki and Šmaiļi. This attack was followed by a further USSR ultimatum to the Latvian government, demanding the entrance of unlimited army forces and the formation of “a government that is friendly to the USSR”[3]. This ultimatum was also accepted. On the morning of June 17th, the Red Army crossed the Latvian border and blocked strategic objects – bridges, telegraph and post stations, radio, police and government buildings, as well as positions held by Latvian army units.

One of the first steps in the sovietisation of Latvia was the destruction of the armed forces of Latvia, transforming them into the 24th Corps of the Red Army, retiring more than 10,000 soldiers from the service in the process, introducing the institute of Political commissars and repressing many officers. Following the incorporation of Latvia into the USSR, the resources of its armed forces came under full control of the Baltic Military District and the Baltic Fleet, while extensive repressions were carried out against soldiers thought to harbour nationalist feelings – more than 300 soldiers had been arrested until June 1941, and many were executed[4].

During World War II, the Soviet occupation power, similarly to the Nazi Germany, mobilised the local population, however, already at this time the extremely high defection and evasion rates demonstrated the attitude of Latvians towards the Red Army as an alien power[5].

Post-war militarisation

Latvia was incorporated into the Baltic Military District, whose centre was placed in Riga – this determined that Latvia and especially Riga was subjected to wider militarisation than Lithuania or Estonia. Combat units were deployed outside Riga: the 24th Tank Training Division with three tank regiments in Dobele, Motor-Rifle and artillery regiments in Ādaži, Alūksne district etc. Electronic intelligence and counterintelligence units were deployed in various locations, while observation stations for space objects were located in Skrunda and Ventspils districts under the direct command of the Soviet Strategic Missile Forces High Command.

Following World War II, the Soviet authorities encountered marauderism of the passing Red Army units and crimes committed by the soldiers, but also up until 1952[6] the soldiers located in Latvia were involved in marauding and robbing of civilians.

The influence of the Cold War

The militarisation of Latvia is closely related to the events in the Cold War, not only as part of the international arms race, but also being engaged directly. For example, units of missile and aviation troops were moved to Cuba during the Cuban crisis, but later returned to their original dislocation places. Border guard troops were deployed along the entire Latvian sea border, creating extensive closed areas. In 1955, nuclear missiles were placed in shafts in Alūksne, Bārta and Vaiņode, but later they were moved to other objects. 

As the arms race and space exploration progressed, in 1960, a construction of one of the rapid alert radar systems known as Dnepr was initiated in Skrunda, and a radio-telescopic station for space spying was located in Irbene, in Ventspils district. Nuclear warheads were deployed in Liepāja, for use by the Baltic Navy, and new nuclear warhead storage facilities were built in Bārta. Huge land areas were allocated to the needs of army training sites[7].

Many of the factories in Latvia were involved in developing USSR missiles and military technologies.

Soviet army in Latvia during the collapse of the USSR

The headquarter of the Baltic Military District had an important role during the collapse of the USSR. Although the USSR’s military forces did not engage in open and massive confrontations with supporters of Latvian independence, they played an important role in developing and participating in Interfront, as well as in maintaining general tensions in society – for instance, it is known that military personnel dressed in civilian clothes attacked the premises of the Latvian government. The high level of terrorism – there were 26 explosions between September 1990 and March 1991 in Latvia[8] – also is attributed to the activities of Soviet Army. 

In 1992, it was determined that on this date there were about 400 army units in over 500 sites, with military personnel exceeding 50,000 men. The military infrastructure of the USSR occupied more than 100,000 hectares of Latvian land. In total, over 3,000 military units have been stationed in Latvia since 1944 at more than 700 sites[9]. The presence of the USSR military forces has left a significant legacy – not only in terms of the range of former military objects, but also in environmental pollution, particularly in terms of pollution of the Baltic Sea and of former training sites where there are quantities of explosive and hazardous substances, and significant damage to cultural environment[10]. As a result of the actions of the Soviet army, the cultural landscape was distorted in many parts of Latvia, large areas of agricultural land were allocated to the army[11] and in places where the closed border areas were built on the coast of Kurzeme, the centuries-old traditional lifestyle of coastal fisherman was destroyed.

Army withdrawal

After the restoration of Latvia’s independence, negotiations started on the withdrawal of Soviet troops out of Latvia. This culminated with the signing of agreements on April 30th 1994, approving a full withdrawal of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation[12] from the territory of Latvia. The withdrawal of the Russian army from Latvia was completed on August 31st, 1994. In 1995, the building of the unfinished Skrunda radar station Darjal – UM was symbolically blown up, while the last Russian military personnel (the staff of Skrunda radar station Dnepr) left Latvia only on October 23rd 1999. Tens of thousands of retired Red Army and Soviet Army veterans have stayed on in Latvia to live.

[1]     Andersons, E., Latvijas vēsture. Ārpolītīka. 2.sēj. Stokholma, 1984. - 215-231.lpp

[2]     Soviet military bases in Estonia was also located alongside coastal line while in Lithuania – all across territory.

[3]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda. Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945. Rīga, 2008. - 191.lpp

[4]     Bleiere, D., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda. Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945. Rīga, 2008. - 205.lpp

[5]     Strods, H., Latvijas nacionālo partizānu karš. 1944-1956. Rīga, 1996. - 122.lpp

[6]     Strods, H., Latvijas nacionālo partizānu karš. 1944-1956. Rīga, 1996. - 116.lpp

[7]     Upmalis, I., Tilgass, Ē., Dinevičs, J., Gorbunovs, A., Latvia – USSR military base 1939-1998.: aterials and documents on the Soviet army's presence in and withdrawal from Latvia.  Rīga, 2012. p.44.-91

[8]     Par notikumiem 1990. gada decembrī un 1991. gada janvārī. Publicēts oficiālajā laikrakstā "Latvijas Vēstnesis", 16.01.2001., Nr. 8 (2395)

[9]     Upmalis, I., Tilgass, Ē., Dinevičs, J., Gorbunovs, A., Latvija – PSRS karabāze. 1939-1998.: materiāli un dokumenti par padomju armijas atrašanos Latvijā un tās izvešanu. Rīga, 2008. - 80.lpp

[10]   Riekstiņš, J.(sast), Izpostītā zeme. 1.sēj. PSRS okupācijas armijas nodarītie zaudējumi Latvijas kultūrvidei. Rīga, 1995. - 8-11.lpp

[11]   Riekstiņš, J.(sast), Izpostītā zeme. 2.sēj. PSRS okupācijas armijas nodarītie zaudējumi Latvijas laukiem. Rīga, 1997. - 7-9.lpp

[12]   Reforms within Soviet army was following by change of the name of this military structure: The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army on 1946  was renamed into The Soviet army, but in 1991 – into Russian Ground Forces (Ground Forces of the Russian Federation). As not only Ground Forces was stationed in Latvia, term „army/armed forces“ is used.