Bearslayers: The Rise and Fall of the Latvian National Communists (American University Studies)

Bearslayers: The Rise and Fall of the Latvian National Communists (American University Studies)

William D. Prigge

Language: English

Pages: 174

ISBN: 1433127342

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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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surprising that even under Stalin, Moscow was at times an advocate of local languages—at least in the short term. Proper administration dictated the need to know the language of a region’s inhabitants, but Moscow, like the Russian patriots and conservative Marxists, was waiting for the day when the Latvian language and nationalism would wither in favor of a larger Russian-dominated union. Nevertheless, the Soviet expectation of squelching Latvian nationalism, even among the local communists, was

Stucˇka’s government did not occupy the western reaches of Latvia, Courlanders never experienced his brief but violent reign of terror. Instead, a young Berklavs listened raptly to Soviet radio broadcasts beamed to Latvia from just across the border. The pain of his childhood made his teenage emotions all the more intense. His eyes welled with tears as he heard about the Communist Paradise just beyond his grasp. While Soviet Russia was scarcely two hundred kilometers to the east, it might as well

the Young Latvians. Within the cultural wars, the specter of Russification was the strongest hand the national communists could play against Pelše and the conservatives. In Kalpinš’s response, he reminded Pelše of the hypocrisy of publishing the popular “bourgeois” Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, and not the Young Latvians. “Down with Pushkin!”48 Pelše acknowledged the existence of Russian chauvinism, stating that the occasional unequal treatment of the Russian language over the Latvian only

industry first arrived in Riga, the impetus came from the Baltic German economic elite for reasons of profitability, not from the Russian tsars for ulterior motives. Whenever Latvia was part of a larger union, either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, both heavy and light industry expanded: when the connections to raw materials and markets vanished during the interwar period, Latvia turned inward to agriculture. During the nineteenth century, few places in the Russian Empire were as ideally

from the republic without my Party card in my pocket. I was called to Moscow12 and told my future presence in Latvian is no longer possible … it happened like that.”13 While Berklavs is a primary source, his accounts are highly politicized; and though Widmer drew sound conclusions on many points, the few sources available to him limited his research. Therefore, some of the most basic assumptions about the purge merit revision. The addition of recent accounts by various national communists and the

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