The Story of Latvia—A Historical SurveyArveds Švābe. Latvian National Foundation, Stockholm. 1949



According to instructions drawn up by the Moscow Politbureau, the task was to stage a coup d'etat in several acts in all the three Baltic States at the same time. Unconstitutional "elections" for puppet parliaments were organised with only one party, that of the Commu­nists, permitted. An emissary with special powers from the Kremlin drew up the list of candidates. Participation in these "elections" was compulsory for all citizens, but the voting results were fictitious. The percentage of voters was almost identical in all three countries. Owing to bad stage management the election results were published in the foreign press 24 hours before the count was complete.

During the elections the new pro-Soviet Governments declared that they were all in favour of democracy and the independence of the Baltic States and that all they wanted was to guide their foreign policy in friendship to the U.S.S.R. The emissaries from Moscow and the Communist Party head offices referred to conjectures that the Baltic States might eventually become absorbed into the Soviet Union as malicious rumours and provocative propaganda.

However, at the very first meeting of the new "parliaments" simultaneously in all three republics, two fundamental laws were passed without debate or discussion, without proper voting even: they were passed by acclamation in the all-communist chambers. According to the Constitutions which the Communists professed to respect, such laws could be passed only by referendum. These laws were: (1) the making of the democratic constitution null and void and the introduction of a soviet regime, and, (2) a plea to the Supreme Soviet of U.S.S.R. for incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union. The emissaries from Moscow were evidently afraid of the results of a referendum and for that reason avoided it. They preferred their illegal method as safer. Being, however, unconstitu­tional, it is not binding on the Baltic nations. It is not recognised, either, by Great Britain and the U.S.A. Therefore these unilateral acts of force as a purely bare fact of military occupation can in no way annihilate the sovereignty of the Baltic States, which continues to exist de iure.


It has been stressed already that the official relations between Russia and Latvia were of the best. The treaties that professed friendship and peaceful collaboration have been enumerated, but it cannot be emphasised enough that Russia had over and over again pledged to refrain "from any act of aggression and violence against Latvia." (See Treaty of Non-Aggression of February 5th, 1932.) Further, Russia had undertaken to submit all disputes, whatever their kind or origin, which could not be settled by ordinary diplomatic methods, to a procedure of arbitration in a joint Conciliation Commission. The functions of this commission were regulated by a special Convention, signed at Riga, June 18th, 1932.

Yet Russia finally resolved on an act of aggression, and disregarded any means of peaceful settlement of the "dispute."


In the short period of her independence, Latvia proved to be an honest and loyal member of the family of democratic nations. Foreign experts, newspa­permen and travellers have praised the progress of the Baltic States. The English publicist, O. Keun (Continental Stakes, 1944), writes that "these small countries... set an example of peace, common sense, decency and progress to the whole world." Or let us quote from the statement of the Government of the United States, published on July 23rd, 1940: "From the day when the peoples of the republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania first gained their independence and democratic government, the people of the United States have watched their admirable progress in self-government with deep and sympathetic interest." We must agree with the British author, B. Newman (The New Europe, 1943), that "the greatest need of Latvia was the one thing denied - another twenty years of peace."


Despite democratic phraseology, international treaties, solemn promises of Soviet statesmen and the word of honour of Stalin himself, Soviet Russia never dropped its imperialistic policy of expansion to the shores of the "Sea of Social Revolution." In December, 1922, after the collapse of the Baltic disarmament conference in Moscow, and in 1926, after the unsuccessful com­munist coup d'etat in Tallinn of December 1st, 1924, Soviet Russia again offered proposals of a Treaty of Non-Aggression and neutrality with the U.S.S.R. which would have isolated Latvia completely from the League of Nations and put her at the mercy of the Soviets.

Then Soviet Russia tried to achieve the same purpose by approaching Poland on January 5th, 1934, proposing to the latter a scheme for joint Polish-Soviet overlordship over the Baltic States. Poland rejected this offer. In March of 1934 Russia tried to establish her suzerainty, proposing to the Baltic States a joint Russian-German guarantee. This was rejected by Latvia and Germany. Because of Germany's refusal, the pact of "Eastern Locarno," initiated by France and Soviet Russia, also failed.

After Germany retook Memel on March 22nd, 1939, from Lithuania, Moscow announced unilaterally that Latvia and Estonia were in the sphere of Soviet Russian interest and from then on would be under her special protection. This offer was firmly rejected by Latvia and Estonia on April 8th, 1939. In August 1939, British and French diplomats were in Moscow negotia­ting with Soviet Russia for a treaty against Germany. But these negotiations also failed. In this connection we may quote the words that Lord Halifax said in the House of Lords on December 5th, 1939: "Events have shown that the judgment and the instinct of His Majesty's Government in refusing agreement with the Soviet Government on the terms of formulae covering cases of indirect aggression on the Baltic States were right."


Finally, by the Secret Agreements of August 23rd and September 28th, 1939, concluded between Ribbentrop and Molotov, Soviet Russia obtained her long-desired free hand to occupy the Baltic countries when it chose. Latvia and her sister republics were sold. On September 1st, 1939, Germany attacked Poland, and on September 28th, before Warsaw fell, Ribbentrop and Molotov signed a new Treaty of Friendship, partitioning Poland - the fourth time in her history. The next victim after Poland was Estonia: on September 28th, 1939, she was forced to accept the so-called "Pact of Mutual Assi­stance." On October 5th came the turn of Latvia. On October 10th that of Lithuania. The Finno-Russian War was not foreseen in the Moscow programme and made the Soviets slow down the tempo of their "foreign policy."

Conditions in Europe had gone from bad to worse. In the middle of June, 1940, Germany was at the peak of her military might. Hitler could freely determine the direction of his next blow. Therefore Stalin decided to hurry up in order to get the share allotted to him in the Secret Agreement, while the going was still good.

On May 28th, 1940, Molotov sent a note the Lithuanian Minister in Moscow. It dealt with the alleged kidnapping of two Russian soldiers in Lithuania. Lithuania proposed at once that a joint Russian-Lithuanian commission should be appointed for the investigation of the case. Moscow refused, and the day after the fall of Paris, on June 14th, 1940, presented an ultimatum to Lithuania in which it accused the Baltic States of military conspiracy against the U.S.S.R. Lithuania accepted the Soviet ultimatum on June 15th, and immediately large numbers of Red Army troops marched into Lithuania, taking up positions against Latvia and encircling her. On the same day Latvian frontier guards were killed in order to create an incident.

On June 16th, 1940, ultimata were issued to Latvia and Estonia, containing the following claims: (1) The establishment of pro-Soviet Governments which, under the protection of the Red Army, would be better capable of carrying out the Pacts of Mutual Assistance; (2) The free passage of Soviet troops into Estonia and Latvia in order to place them in the most important centres and to avoid possible provocatory acts against Soviet garrisons.


At first the small Latvian army was ready to fight and ammunition was distributed. But, copying the Nazi method in Czechoslovakia, Soviet Russia threatened to bomb Latvian cities if the ultimatum was not accepted. To avoid a useless slaughter the Latvian Government could do nothing but accept it. On June 17th the Red Army, being already concentrated in huge masses on the Russian-Latvian border, entered Latvia, and at noon of the same day appeared in the streets of Riga. On June 18th the Russian cruiser Marat came into the port of Riga, bringing to Latvia the first communist agitators, who, as early as the next day, organised a demonstration of grati­tude to extol "Liberator Stalin." The demonstration was preceded by Russian tanks with red banners.


In spite of all the treaties, aggression by the Soviets against the small, peaceful Baltic States became an accomplished fact. As pretext for such an act of violation, we read in the Soviet ultimatum of June 16th, 1940, as follows:

  1. Not withdrawing from Military Alliance with Estonia, signed on November 1st, 1923. (This was a purely defensive alliance aimed against any aggressor, which was duly registered with the League of Nations, and never previously had Soviet Russia objected to it.)
  2. Extending this Alliance by enticing into it Lithuania and attempting to include in it also Finland. (This assertion was not true. Such a triple alliance was never concluded, and even after the occupation of all three Baltic States, nobody has been able to produce the authentic document of such a treaty, although all the Baltic Archives have been at the disposal of the Soviets.)
  3. Holding two secret conferences of the three Baltic States in December, 1939, and March, 1940. (As a matter of fact, at the mentioned times there had taken place the regular conferences of the Baltic Foreign Ministers, but these were neither secret nor dealing with the alleged Triple Alliance. Such conferences, twice a year, were foreseen in the Treaty of Collaboration of the Baltic States, signed in 1934, and duly lodged with the League of Nations.)
  4. Enhancement of relations between the general staffs of the three Baltic States secretly from the Soviet Union. (This pretext is without any ground, and it would be ridiculous to imagine that the three small countries whose ports, airfields, gulfs, islands and barracks were occupied by Russian forces were planning aggression against the U.S.S.R., with her population of 180 millions.)
  5. The creation in February, 1940, of a special press organ of the military Baltic Entente - The Revue Baltique. (Surely no one can believe that this trilingual press organ, published by the Societies of Friendship of the Baltic peoples, and dedicated to information about cultural and economic life, had been established to discuss the plans of a secret military alliance. There have been in Latvia many similar Societies of Friendship, with Latvian, French, English, Swedish and Italian mem­bership, intended to develop the study of the respective languages, literatures and arts.)


The succeeding developments went according to programme: the same for all three Baltic States. Extraordinary envoys from the Kremlin were given charge of the precise fulfilment of the programme. Mr. Vishinsky was stage-manager for Latvia. The next events are briefly the following:

On June 21st Mr. Vishinsky nominated a provisional Government for Latvia, with the instruction to arrange new elections for the Parliament. Although the Electoral Law of June 9th, 1922, foresees that each 100 electors may hand in a list of candidates, these elections took place on July 14th­15th, with only one list of candidates, which was composed by the communist party and affirmed by Mr. Vishinsky. The attempt of Social-Democrats and the Democratic bloc to share in these elections with their own second list failed, because of Mr. Vishinsky's prohibition to print these lists, because of the closing of their election bureau and because of imprisonments made by the N.K.V.D. In the meantime the President of Latvia, K. Ulmanis, and his ministers, were arrested and deported to the U.S.S.R.

On July 21st the newly elected Parliament was convoked and published in a hurry a host of bills on nationalisation and sovietisation of land, rural and urban property, buildings, ships and banking offices, elaborated by the Kremlin, and sent a telegram of gratitude to Stalin for "the deliverance of Latvia from plutocratic yoke.


Although, before the election, the official organ of the Latvian communist party, Cina, and the new Prime Minister, Mr. Kirchensteins, declared as "provocatory" all rumours about the intention of the U.S.S.R. to incorporate Latvia, this question was on the Order of the Day at the first sitting of the "parliament." It was a stunning blow to the electorate. On August 5th, 1940, this enormous constitutional change was already accepted and sealed by the Kremlin, and so at the "free request" of Latvia she lost her sovereignty and was proclaimed the sixteenth republic of the U.S.S.R.

The Soviets may assert as loudly as they please that all this puppetshow managed by Mr. Vyshinsky was enacted according to the stipulations of the Latvian Constitution of February 15th, 1922. All the same, the decision of the Latvian pseudo-parliament remains an act of violation of Latvian laws and constitution. Its sanctioning by the world would be preposterous. Under article 77 of the Latvian Constitution no Acts concerning the independence of the state, its frontiers, the sovereign powers being vested in the people, or concerning the change of the parliamentary electoral law (which prescribes direct, equal, general, secret and proportional ballot) can be adopted by parliament without a following referendum.

These stipulations of the Latvian Constitution can therefore be changed only by popular referendum in which at least two-thirds of the electorate have taken part, and not less than half of the voters have expressed them­selves in favour of such changes. The decision of the Latvian pseudo-parlia­ment, therefore, remains null and void and the incorporation into the U.S.S.R. valueless, from the point of view of International Law as well as from the standpoint of Latvian Constitutional Law. The sovereignty of a State cannot be abolished by the bare fact of military occupation, and there­fore all three Baltic States remain Sovereign States, in spite of all acts of violence against law, treaties and humanity. This principle has been more than once declared by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the U.S.A.

The Acting Secretary of State of the U.S.A., Mr. Sumner Wells, described the activities of the Soviet in the Baltic in States in 1940 as: "the devious process whereunder the political independence and territorial integrity of the three small Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were to be deliberately annihilated by one of their more powerful neighbours."

Latvia and the other Baltic States have been the victims of brute force and naked might. It is the fundamental principle of the Western civilised world that might does not constitute right. Justice must rule human relations, and for justice we appeal to the Western Christianity.

"The Story of Latvia-A Historical Survey" reproduced by permission.
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