According to mutual assistance pacts, the Baltic countries provided the Soviet Union with access to their ports and agreed to the deployment of Soviet troops on their territory. On October 18, 1939, Soviet troops entered Estonia, where the 65th Special Rifle Corps and the Special Air Force Group were stationed. On October 29, units of the 2nd Special Rifle Corps and the 18th aviation brigades, and in November - December the 16th Rifle Corps, 10th Fighter and 31st High-Speed Bomber Aviation Regiments entered Lithuania.
Today, in all the Baltic states, the events of that time are perceived and evaluated unequivocally - as a Soviet occupation, a great national tragedy. Entire myths were created about how the Soviet Union treacherously occupied the Baltic republics, eliminated their political systems, destroyed officers, officials and businessmen and established a tough dictatorship. But these are modern and very tendentious assessments reflecting the point of view of certain sections of the population of these countries. Pravda is not universal - it was different for a Latvian peasant and a Latvian industrialist, a Lithuanian landowner and a Lithuanian laborer, an Estonian entrepreneur and an Estonian unemployed.
A significant part of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians was met by Soviet soldiers with flowers, and this is not Soviet propaganda, but historical fact. Nobody put up any fierce resistance to the Soviet troops, as it might have been in the case of a real invasion and occupation, neither in Lithuania, nor in Latvia, nor in Estonia. Although these countries had armies, there were men who served in them, there were police officers, but the entire operation to enter the three republics into the USSR was extremely peaceful. Does this happen during a real occupation?
What was the Baltic before joining the Soviet Union? The three republics that emerged as a result of the collapse of the Russian empire were hardly called prosperous states. Given their size, population, lack of serious natural resources, the Baltic states were doomed to remain on the outskirts of Eastern Europe.
So, for Lithuania 1930-ies, as виilvinas Butkus writes about, there was a tremendous social stratification. At one extreme were those few Lithuanians who really lived well - nobles, bourgeoisie, officials, status intelligentsia, on the other - workers, peasants, unemployed (of which, by the way, there were 200 thousand people in this small country). The average salary of a female employee, for example, was only 70 LTL, and the subsistence minimum of one person was 91,6 LTL. The majority of the country's population lived in poverty, and the “Damocles sword” of dismissal constantly hung above the simple workers and employees. Any economic crisis — and workers were cut in batches. Could, of course, expel and simply because they did not like the owner or someone from the leadership.
Three quarters of the population of Lithuania at that time were peasants. And these were by no means well-to-do farmers in cozy cottages, but a hungry and embittered mass of farm laborers and agricultural workers who were living in real huts — ruin, which the inhabitants of some African colonies of the time would not envy. Agricultural workers were even more powerless than their urban counterparts, because if the city could at least hope for another job, the farm laborers in the village were deprived of this opportunity - where to go, if the whole village, for example, one or two well-to-do landowners , and the remaining residents are struggling to survive on negligible earnings.
When in the modern literature on “Soviet occupation” they bring memories of life in pre-Soviet Lithuania (as well as Latvia and Estonia), then, of course, they forget to add that these memories were left not by factory workers, laborers or the unemployed, who were the majority of the population, intellectuals, clergy, bourgeois. They really lived quite well, better than in Soviet times, and they were overwhelmed by the fact that their former well-fed life, which guaranteed them a “top position”, had ended.
The bulk of workers and farm laborers in Lithuania were very critical of the existing government. Therefore, it is not surprising that the majority of Lithuanians did not offer any resistance to the Soviet troops. Ordinary citizens of the country, if they didn’t welcome Lithuania’s entry into the Soviet Union, didn’t see anything wrong with that, were indifferent.
The situation in Estonia was even worse. In this small country, up to half of the population were agricultural farm laborers and urban paupers who fought for any kind of work in order to survive. Severe living conditions contributed to high mortality, the spread of tuberculosis and other diseases. Of course, both medicine and secondary education were paid, inaccessible to at least half of the country's population. Unemployment in Estonia in the second half of the 1930-s has reached horrific proportions. The situation in industry and agriculture was such that many workers were left without work. In order to reduce social tension and eliminate the risks of riots and revolutions, the Estonian authorities actively resorted to the practice of labor camps - the so-called “idle camps” in which the unemployed placed there worked for free, under food, under police protection. The working day in such camps was 12 hours, corporal punishment was practiced, and the unemployed were placed in such conditions for a period of six months to two to three years. Very democratic, is not it?
While in the Russian Empire, the territory of Estonia was a rather economically developed region with large centers like Revel (Tallinn) and Narva, in 1930 the level of industrial production could not even come close to the pre-revolutionary one. This, of course, was explained by the fact that during the First World War the Germans brought up to 70-80% of industrial equipment, but the political impotence factor of the Estonian authorities, who were unable to find effective ways to reanimate the national economy, also played an important role.
Now, many Estonian authors write that in the 1930-s there was almost a rapid growth of the country's economy, but they themselves recognize a huge number of unemployed and other social problems. Of course, Estonia continued to export paper, meat and dairy products, and timber, but export revenues went into the pockets of business owners and officials, with little or no effect on the average standard of living of the country's population. The majority of the Estonians lived in poverty and, therefore, either welcomed the Soviet government or reacted neutrally to its arrival. If ordinary Estonians lived well in their country, wouldn't they want to defend it by any means possible? But no, the Estonians quite calmly met the Soviet troops.
To whom it is certainly a sin to complain about the “Soviet occupation” is Latvia, given the role of Latvian riflemen in the revolutionary events and the Civil War in Russia, the active participation of the Latvian communists in government in the Soviet Union. Speaking about the "horrors of the GULAG", modern Latvian sources forget that many prominent leaders of the Cheka / OGPU / NKVD, including the structures directly responsible for the places of detention, were from Latvia.
In the interwar period, Latvia was, of course, a more developed country than Lithuania or Estonia, but also a state that was not devoid of the deepest social problems. In the year 1934, by the way, the dictatorship of Karlis Ulmanis was established in the country, which pursued a nationalist and authoritarian policy. Indeed, under his leadership, the Latvian economy has revived slightly, but this did not reflect much on the standard of living of ordinary Latvians. Salaries remained low, attitudes on the part of employers — bestial, social infrastructure — inaccessible to the general population. The overall level of culture and education remained low. It was after the “Soviet occupation” in Latvia that the real flowering of the national culture began, and Riga turned into one of the main cultural and economic centers of the entire Soviet Union.
The industry of Latvia employed only 15% of the population. This, of course, was more than in a fully agrarian Lithuania (there, in factories, only 6% of the population worked in factories), but still Latvia remained a predominantly agricultural country. Huge lands were in the hands of large owners, and the number of landless peasant laborers approached 200 thousands. Naturally, the position of the peasants who did not have their own land was very difficult. They could either flee to the city with the hope of getting a job at the enterprise, or go to the laborers to the neighboring landowner. That, in turn, very hard exploited their work, knowing full well the hopelessness of the position of their laborers.
Unemployed, as in Estonia, attracted to forced labor, sending to peat development, where the conditions were hard labor. In modern Latvia, they like to argue that the pre-war country was almost a citadel of democracy. But under the dictatorship of Ulmanis, the Latvian authorities no less willingly than the Soviet Union accused by the Latvian press, used forced labor. Not only the unemployed worked on peat extraction, but industrial workers, if necessary, were sent to agricultural work or logging. The then "Latvian democrats" saw nothing wrong with that.
A multiethnic population lived in Latvia, 40% of whom were not ethnic Latvians. The Ostsee Germans, who owned large industrial enterprises and made up a significant part of the intelligentsia and people in liberal professions, were an influential group of the country's population. Many businesses belonged to Jewish merchants. The Russian, Latgale, Belarusian population of the country was in much worse conditions.
When the nationalist dictatorship of Ulmanis was established in 1934, the process of “latvization” of the country began. The Latvian bourgeoisie sought to knock the ground out from under their German and Jewish competitors, for which the process of transferring banks and part of enterprises into the hands of Latvian entrepreneurs was launched. At the same time, the "latvizatsiya" schooling. The position of non-Latvian groups in the country has deteriorated. Naturally, 40% of the population is almost half of its inhabitants. And he, in the face of growing Latvian nationalism, was very uncomfortable in such Latvia. Therefore, it is natural that many of them, like a large part of ordinary Latvians, did not object to the entry of Soviet troops.
It is interesting that part of the Latvian elite also positively perceived the arrival of Soviet troops. She perfectly understood that since Latvians as a nation survived and even lived well in the Russian Empire, then in the Soviet Union, especially given Soviet national politics, they will be able to maintain their identity. As practice has shown, they were not mistaken - Latvia only benefited from entering the Soviet Union. Who knows what would happen if the story goes a different way? Latvia could, for example, become part of Germany and over these decades the Latvian population would undergo total Germanization. It is possible that it was the Soviet troops that saved the Latvian people from being dissolved in "Great Germany."
The descendants of the representatives of the ruling class of Latvia who are offended by the Soviet Union today are controlled by the mass media of this country and with pleasure describe the “horrors of occupation” and almost paradise life in pre-Soviet Latvia. The anti-Soviet position taken today by the Baltic countries is one of the components of their anti-Russian and anti-Russian strategy, formed under the strict guidance of the West.