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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 2. Between the Anvil and the Hammer: National Communists, Cadres & Beria, 1946–1953

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BETWEEN THE ANVIL AND THE HAMMER

National Communists, Cadres & Beria, 1946–1953

Give the Devil your pinkie and he takes the hand.

—Proverb

Now those who were arrested will return and two Russias will look each other in the eye: the one that sent people to the camps and the one that was sent away.

—Anna Akhmatova

The Early Years of National Communism

17 JUNE 1940 marked a seminal day in Latvian history. The Red Army entered the tiny republic in force to set up a permanent Soviet government. Tanks rumbled down the embassy-lined boulevard that hugs Riga’s Old Town, while menacing war planes growled slowly over the spires of Riga in an intimidating display of force. In the days that followed, “spontaneous” and “mass” demonstrations erupted in the streets. Stalin’s henchman in Latvia, Andrei Vyshinskii, orchestrated the marches like an accomplished puppet master, amplifying the number of participants by importing Soviet demonstrators and giving workers and military personnel leave. Some estimates put the number of demonstrators at twenty-five thousand, but the majority were curious ← 21 | 22 → onlookers. The two groups sporadically clashed in street fights. Placards peppered the crowds proclaiming “Long Live Soviet Latvia” and “Land to the Petty Landowners and Landless.”1 For most, Vyshinkii’s cynical parody must have seemed horrifically surreal. After gaining independence from Russia only twenty years earlier, the Latvians could only watch helplessly...

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