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Bearslayers

The Rise and Fall of the Latvian National Communists

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William D. Prigge

The 1959 purge of the Latvian national communists has long been cast in black-and-white terms: Russification and resistance; victimizers and victims. Conventional wisdom holds that Nikita Khrushchev was behind the purge. After all, he was the Soviet premier; he stopped in Riga just a few weeks before; even the leading victim of the purge, Eduards Berklavs, labeled Khrushchev the culprit. For the first time, William D. Prigge’s penetrating analysis challenges this view and untangles the intricacies of Soviet center-periphery relations like a political thriller. With each new chapter, a truer understanding of events comes into sharper focus – more complex and fascinating than could ever be imagined. Ultimately, the reverberations are felt all the way to the Kremlin and weaken what Khrushchev thought was his own firm footing. For the student of Soviet and Latvian history alike, this volume provides more than just the story of a purge – it is a unique snapshot into the political machinations of the Soviet Union and one of its republics.
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Chapter 1. Russophiles and Culture: The Early Years of Occupation, 1946–1953

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RUSSOPHILES AND CULTURE

The Early Years of Occupation, 1946–1953

In these days of doubt, in these days of painful brooding over the fate of my country, thou alone art my rod and my staff, O great, mighty, true and free Russian language! If it were not for thee, how could one keep from despairing at the sight of what is going on at home? But it is inconceivable that such a language should not belong to a great people.

—Ivan Turgenev

Lebedev and Titov: Russian Nationalists

IVAN LEBEDEV AND FYODOR TITOV were typical of the cadres sent to Latvia after the Second World War. They were Russian products of Stalinism and the victorious Great Patriotic War, occupying a transient position. Before the war, they probably knew little of the tiny republic, and their tenure in Latvia lasted less than a decade.1 First Lebedev, then Titov, held the post of Latvian second secretary. While the first secretary was theoretically a higher position and held by a Latvian, the second secretary wielded the real power in the republic. The Soviets viewed Latvians as Nazi collaborators and partisan terrorists, so this post was crucial to monitoring the republic and its Party.2 ← 9 | 10 →

Soviet leaders had reason to worry about Latvian loyalty. While Latvians despised the Germans, who for centuries had dominated the region’s economy, the horrors of the first Soviet occupation managed to...

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