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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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Preface

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THE PURPOSE of this book, through the analysis of high politics, is to untangle the web that is Soviet Latvian history between 1946 and 1959. The period in question, in its most simplistic terms, frames a power struggle between an older generation of Sovietized Latvian and Russian communist leaders, who arrived in the tiny republic after its permanent occupation by the Soviet Union in 1944, and a younger generation, the so-called national communists, who were indigenous Latvian communists. Throughout the 1950s, the national communists gained power and influence, which they used to defend the republic against real or perceived Soviet abuses. This Latvian Thaw came to an abrupt end in 1959 with the purge of nearly two thousand national communists, mainly through demotion in the Party or, in a few cases, exile.

The history of the Latvian national communists can be understood on many levels, and this study examines several recurring themes: First, is Latvia a victim of Soviet, more specifically, Russian expansion? The histories of nationalities that border Russia are haunted by the specter of occupation and Russification, the forced assimilation into Russian society. In a sense, Russification is a type of genocide: not the kind practiced by the Nazis, but more subtle. This genocide was cultural—the quiet extinction of one’s national identity. For evidence, one need only look as far as Tsar Alexander III’s complete Russification of the former Finnish lands, Karelia, or the ← VII | VIII → Russification policies in the Baltic Provinces during...

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