Dedicated to the 100 million victims of communism worldwide.
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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Latvia: The Country and its People in the 20th Century

The Occupation of Latvia

As war in Europe broke out on 1 September 1939, Latvia declared neutrality. Taking advantage of the "spheres of influence" agreed on in the secret protocols of the Hitler–Stalin Pact of August 23, the Soviet Union forced Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania to sign mutual assistance treaties in October 1939. They provided for stationing Soviet troops along the Baltic Sea. Claiming breaches of the treaties, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic countries by massive force in June 1940, just as Germany was celebrating victories in France. In a month and a half the countries became republics of the Soviet Union. Many Western countries, including the United States, never recognized the annexation, and the countries continued to exist de jure in international law.

For over fifty years, despite collaborative native governments and administrations, Latvia was ruled by two foreign totalitarian regimes bent on destroying Latvian independence. They exercised control by an intimidating military presence and unfettered secret police activities. The first Soviet occupation ended with mass arrests, deportation, imprisonment and executions of more than one percent of the population, some 20–25,000.

German Nazis, who occupied the country in late June–early July 1941, seemed at first like liberators to most Latvians, but their actions were no less brutal. Independence was never restored, but Latvian collaboration was induced by coercive methods and fear of returning Soviet occupation. About 70,000, or 75%, of Latvia's Jews were murdered within the first six months, involving Latvian collaborators. Forced laborers were sent to Germany; resisters were put in concentration camps; men were drafted into "volunteer" military units. When war returned in 1944, more men were drafted into the Red Army. Some 200,000 were forced to fight on both sides in an annihilation war. Some 150,000 Latvians were evacuated to Germany as refugees. About a third of the population was no longer in Latvia when the war ended in 1945. Some 120,000 remained in the West.

Ostensibly liberating one of their republics, Soviet forces and authorities, abetted by their collaborators, treated Latvia as enemy territory and Latvians as fascist collaborators. Men were sent to "filtration" camps, arrests were an everyday occurrence. A war-after-the-war was fought by the "forest brethren" until 1956. A huge deportation in 1949 of over 44,000 (about 3% of the post-war population), mainly Latvian farm families and partisan supporters, destroyed Latvian agriculture and further emptied the country for immigrants from other parts of the Soviet Union.

Soviet colonization policies included large-scale industrialization with an imported labor force, resisted even by some local communists. By 1989, the share of Latvians had sunk almost to 50% from 75% before the war. Russian language had become the means of communication in many public spheres of life: government, commerce, industry, inter-ethnic social interaction.

Sovereign Again

“The Singing Revolution” in the late 1980s came none too late for Latvia. It demonstrated, above all, that the hope for a democratic state and the end of a coercive foreign regime had remained alive. In 1991 sovereignty was restored, and Latvia became a full-fledged member of the world community again. In 2004, its political and economic reintegration was capped by ascension to both NATO and the European Union.

However, the road back was difficult. Latvia in 1991 was no longer the country it would have been fifty years earlier. The physical scars of oppressive foreign rule are still visible to the observant eye. The mental scars are more difficult to see, but they still shape Latvian political, economic and social life as well.

Click for sources of the victims of communism

Location:  Northeastern Europe
Capital:  Riga
Communist Rule:  1940-1941 / 1944-1990
Status:  06.09.91 - independence recognized
Victims of Communism: