The First Months of the WarMr. Munters Speaks at the UniversityLatvian Economic Review, April, 1940
Vilhelms Munters and the Soviet Occupation
In researching the events surrounding the Baltics "inviting" the Soviet Union in under terms of "mutual assistance" pacts, the role of Vilhelms Munters, the Latvian foreign minister, inevitably comes to the fore.
With Red Army rifles held to its head, the Latvian state had no choice but to capitulate to Soviet demands—signing on October 5, 1939, as had Estonia earlier, and Lithuania less than a week later.
Here, speaking at the Latvian University, four months after tens of thousands of Soviet troops streamed in, Munters indicates the arrangement is functioning well. When he asks, rhetorically, "where now is the sovietisation against which we were warned...?", is it intentional misdirection or tragic miscalculation? Or were the Baltics, as expendable pawns of the super-powers, lost from the start—Molotov-Ribbentrop and Yalta dooming to failure all those struggling to preserve Latvia's neutrality and independence?
Munters (1898-1967) survived where so many others members of Latvia's government were deported and executed. He subsequently served the Soviet regime as an author once released from prison—and for these reasons a shadow will always hang over his name.
From the Latvian Economic Review, No. 2 (18) April 1940, published in English by the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, editor: Alberts Zalts, we present the complete article of Munter's address. We invite you to read it and to inform your own opinion.
Munters Speaks on Sovietisation and Repatriation
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Talking on the above subject before a large audience of academicians and students at the Latvian University on February 12, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Munters began by referring to Latvian-Soviet relations. "Exactly four months have passed since the enforcement of the mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union, and this is a period sufficiently long to judge of the way in which it has been carried into effect. It must be said that both sides have approached the matter in a spirit of friendship and trust, in accordance with the ideas which inspired the negotiations in Moscow in October last. The stationing of Soviet garrisons on our territory was an entirely novel task for both Parties. Notwithstanding this, it was done as planned, and without the slightest hitch. The presence of these garrisons in our country is linked with many practical problems, beginning with the technical question of accommodation and winding up with questions of supply and communications. In these respects too, both sides were facing novel tasks, unprecedented in the past, but step by step the various problems have been solved, and no insoluble difficulties have been encountered. One feels convinced that also in the future we shall always find a common language, both sides approaching the various questions with goodwill and a desire for mutual understanding.
"We have followed carefully the comments of the foreign press on the Pact of October 5th, and I cannot say that they — at least at first — were such as to satisfy us. Much in this respect may be ascribed to ignorance of the circumstances, but still more was due to propaganda conducted for certain purposes. Lately, however, the foreign press has adopted a different tone, as everybody can see in what an atmosphere the Latvian-Soviet relations are developing. Just to mention the two principal assertions which crop up occasionally in the foreign press, I should like to ask, where now is the sovietisation against which we were warned with more or less compassion? And is there anyone anywhere in Latvia who could say that the Soviet Union has in any way interfered in our internal affairs? The other frequently heard allegation takes the form of a mournful reference to us as a protectorate, a country which has lost its independence. Here too, the actual situation, which may be reviewed by everybody, proves without any waste of words the unfoundedness of this allegation. And in the face of the successful economic and other negotiations which have been conducted between the two Governments lately and have already yielded tangible results, — we have every reason to describe the relations existing between Latvia and the Soviet Union as very satisfactory. There are people who will say that these favourable conditions are of a temporary nature only, and that sooner or later we shall have to reckon with internal-political and foreign-political pressure on the part of the Soviet Union. The foundation on which they base these prophesies is a secret of the prophets themselves. The experience of our Government certainly does not justify such forebodings. The Government is of the opinion that the Pact of October 5th safeguards the interests of both countries, especially considering the conditions brought about by the war. We know that both Parties concluded the pact in good faith, and that it fully respects the sovereignty of both contracting Parties. In this connection, the following declaration made by President Ulmanis in his speech of October 12, may very appropriately he quoted here: 'Our country is absolutely independent. We are free in our domestic and foreign policies, and will remain so. And this we shall maintain ourselves.'"
Passing on to the subject of Latvian-German relations, Mr. Munters said: "The agreement of October 30, 1939, concerning the repatriation of citizens of German nationality, was an event of enormous domestic-political, foreign-political, and, one might say, also historical significance. The agreement embraced in all six important tasks: 1) the actual repatriation; 2) the liquidation of movable property; 3) the liquidation of rural immovable property; 4) the liquidation of immovable property in towns; 5) the liquidation of trading and industrial enterprises; and 6) the liquidation of non-profit-bearing organisations. There remains still the task of settling the claims of, and claims against, the persons repatriated. This will require a fairly considerable time, because the examination of such claims. as well as possible litigation or administrative protests in connection with them, may tend to complicate matters. The other tasks arising out of the agreement are being dealt with very satisfactorily. The actual exodus was completed on December 15, and, as a result of the energetic action of the German Legation, the discipline of the emigrants, and the exemplary activity of our authorities, not only 45,000 persons left this country, but also all the movable property which they were allowed to take with them, chiefly furniture and personal luggage, was taken out of the country. Movable property not permitted for exportation may, under the provisions of the agreement, be disposed of by May 15, 1940, and there is not the slightest doubt that this will be done in due course. Rural immovable property to the extent of 45,000 hectares has already been placed at the disposal of the General Agricultural Bank, and now it is only necessary to deduct the mortgages and other encumbrances from the value of these properties, and to turn over the balance, in non-interest-bearing bonds, to the fiduciary joint stock company UTAG. In a similar manner negotiations have been started between the Latvijas Kreditbanka and the UTAG with regard to taking over all the urban real estate. As soon as these negotiations are brought to a successful issue, this matter too will have been fully settled. As regards the trading and industrial enterprises, an undertaking was reached already on December 8, that 46 establishments should continue to operate in Latvia, while 17 are to wind up their affairs between January 15 and April 1, and the remaining enterprises, — about 800 in all (not including petty trading and artisan shops) are to be liquidated without delay. The winding up of non-profit-bearing organisations presents no difficulty, as the whole procedure is based on Latvian laws. The immovable property of these organisations will be dealt with in accordance with the dispositions of the Ministry for Public Affairs. The task of the Latvian-German mixed commission attending to the division of cultural values is more complicated, but in this connection too the negotiations are progressing satisfactorily. Thus, it may be said that in the main the agreement has been fulfilled, and that by May 15 all matters pertaining to material interests will have been fully regulated. There will remain then only the question of reaching an agreement with the German Government about the transfer of the proceeds of the liquidation. The transfer will take the form of supplementary exports, or will be effected in some other way. And when it comes to drafting the respective agreement, Latvia's economic possibilities, as well as her balance of trade and balance of payments will have to be taken into consideration. War conditions are not conducive to transfer operations on a large scale, but we are confident that the German Government will understand our situation and meet us accordingly. I shall quote here an excerpt from the official communiqué published on December 16 regarding the negotiations between the German Minister and the Latvian Minister for Foreign Affairs: ' . . . both Parties testify that the repatriation agreement and its execution in a spirit of mutual goodwill constitute a very important step towards the consolidation of Latvian-German relations as well as towards the creating of a cloudless atmosphere of confidence between the two nations and Governments. Both Parties will use their endeavours so that also in future their mutual contact in all respects may develop and progress in the spirit of this relationship.'"
Referring to the European War, Mr. Munters said: "The first months of the war have opened our eyes to the great national and social changes which are typical of the present age, and which we had almost forgotten in the period of seeming peace, which in reality was only a respite after the last conflict. These months of war have also gradually opened our eyes to the future, and we wonder if the collapse of European civilisation, which we perceive as the inevitable result, is really justifiable in comparison with the situation which prevailed before the war. And we also wonder if this great clash will lead at least to lasting peace. There is no answer as yet to this question, but sooner or later it will be forthcoming.
"We must go still further and ask what is the attitude of our nation and our State in this war and in the conflict of forces and ideas caused by it? As far as this attitude is determined by foreign-political considerations, it was defined long ago and in various ways, but it can always be reduced to one fundamental principle, viz., the safeguarding of our independent national existence. Throughout a whole generation, all our steps in the field of international policy have been directed toward this one aim. In recent years, in view of the increasing latent tension between the Great Powers which shape the fate of Europe, in view of the weakening of the system of international security, and the constant crumbling of the edifice of international collaboration, we have endeavoured more and more to steer a neutral course, though we fully realise that this is a passive policy, the sole aim of which is to prevent our country from being drawn into armed conflicts for causes which are not ours. We have emphatically refused to bind ourselves to any power-political or ideological blocs. We have gone still further and declared, in 1938, that we would take no part in any automatic collective international actions. We pursued the same political course also in 1939, and are able to say today that, in this way, the chariots of the god of war have gone past us.
"This statement in itself is no cause for particular joy or satisfaction. Our present situation merely shows that hitherto we have been able, or have known how, to adhere to our formulated fundamental political principle. viz., the protection of our independent national existence. But heavier ordeals are still ahead of us. Not only once shall we have to answer the fateful question: Is this independent national existence really the highest aim of our nation, the purpose of our most sacred aspirations? Does this remain so even if this existence is full of hardships and difficulties? Also if sacrifices have to be made for its sake, and if we have to fight for it?
"To all these questions I can confidently answer with an emphatic 'Yes.' For under no circumstances will the free Latvian nation give up its present attitude or renounce the creed which it professes today. Besides the ungaugeable and irreplaceable power which lies in our national unanimity, we can draw fortitude also from the soundness of our national and social structure. Latvia's national life has left the plane of primitive and vague sentiments, and progresses now boldly and broadly on the road of our own creative culture. Learning and art have reached in our country a level not lower than in countries, the independence of whose national spirit is questioned by no one.
"And as we envisage our social problems, we can again, with a clear conscience, assert that social justice is more highly respected in Latvia than in some other countries, which try to meet the demands and claims of the age with political alms and formulas. Moreover, there are concrete achievements which testify to the consolidation of social justice in this country. With this audience before me, I may, perhaps, be permitted to mention here, as a convincing proof, the laws for promoting handicraft education and higher education, which are of a scope not equalled in any other country. But this is only one of the fields in which Latvia's policy of social justice finds expression. Mention may also be made here of the policy of establishing an equilibrium between town and country life, — in the pursuance of which our President can without exaggeration be regarded as one of the most fervent and persevering protagonists of modern sociological science, whose teachings and concrete achievements will yet be fully appreciated by coming generations. I might further mention the Chamber system in renewed Latvia, and our labour policy, which is not confined to narrow trade organisation, but aims at organisation on the broadest scale, embracing the whole country and the whole nation. Many concrete examples could be given here of the epochal social policy pursued in Latvia, but this would take us too far.
"One thing is clear, — every day offers proof of the truth of the President's words uttered in his first speech after the 15th of May, 1934, and several times repeated since: 'We are those who go forward.' This involves sacrifices and struggle. It implies a constant renunciation of romanticism and conservatism, which is not so easy for an agricultural nation; but it also gives the assurance that everything is done to keep abreast of the times, and to ensure to the Latvian nation, besides its inalienable past, which was so rich in struggles, also a future rich in work and lasting achievements."
For an excellent analysis on the impact of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, with mention of Munter's quest to maintain Baltic neutrality, we suggest The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Baltic States: an Introduction and Interpretation appearing in the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences.