The Russian Military’s People Problem
It’s Hard for Moscow to Win While Mistreating Its Soldiers
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which had been independent between the two world wars, were annexed by the Kremlin in June of 1940, during the dramatic days when Paris fell to the Germans, and became republics of the Soviet Union. In thus reversing the course of modern Baltic history, Moscow separated the Baltic countries not only from Western Europe, toward which they had been oriented in international politics, but also from the nations of Central and Eastern Europe with which they shared most of their social and cultural characteristics. At present one of the main Communist propaganda themes aimed at the postwar generation of Baits is that the independence of their parents was a historical mistake, a deviation from their manifest destiny to be part of Russia. In the Soviet view, Baltic countries should not be independent; their national survival and progress can be assured only by the Leninist nationality policy of the U.S.S.R. Under Khrushchev, the goal of this policy was to establish melting-pot conditions for "the creation of a single nation with a single native [Russian] language."[i] Khrushchev's successors have continued to pursue this objective.
The purpose here is to sketch how the policy has affected the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian national personalities and how the native Communist élites have responded to the integration of their republics into the Soviet Union.
The impact of 25 years of Soviet rule in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has been very far-reaching, especially in demographic, economic and cultural respects. First, there has occurred an enormous influx of Russian settlers who came to serve in the Moscow-planned industries and thus to replace at least partially the labor of the more than half a million people deported from the Baltic States by Stalin. As a result, the percentage of Russians in Latvia has climbed from prewar 10.6 percent to 26.6 percent in the census year of 1959, and in Estonia from 8 percent to 20.1 percent. In Lithuania the Russian numbers increased more modestly, from an estimated 2 percent before the war to 8.5 percent in 1959. To these Russian percentages we must also add the Ukrainian and Belorussian immigration.
Available evidence also shows that since 1959 the number of Russians has continued to increase at a rapid pace, again primarily in Estonia and Latvia. According to the Soviet Latvian economist Me?gailis, between then and 1962 Estonia and Latvia imported 40 percent of the necessary new labor power, mainly from Russia and Belorussia. In Lithuania, only 8 percent of the total annual population increase has been reported to be technical, that is, immigrant. The Russian demographic pressure grows further as a result of the "exchange" of cadres, and in Estonia and Latvia by the considerably greater Slavic birth rate. Western observers estimate that if this population movement continues at the present pace, Estonians will be in a minority in their own country by 1985 and Latvians by 1975.[ii] The situation in Lithuania is better because the country is less industrialized. The danger to Lithuania lurks in the Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg) region, now inhabited by more than 660,000 Russians. It seems conceivable, and under Khrushchev it was highly probable, that this territory, now an oblast of the Russian republic, may be added to Lithuania; such an arrangement, which is possible under the planned revision of the Soviet constitution, would immediately reduce the proportion of Lithuanians to about 60 percent.
These demographic changes were the principal result of an intensive growth of industries. As the inefficient collective farming could not release a sufficient number of kolkhozniks to man the new factories, and as Moscow made its plans without taking certain Baltic realities into account, the workers were imported, especially in the case of Estonia and Latvia. According to Soviet data, Estonia's production in 1965 was 18.6 times higher than in 1940; Latvia's and Lithuania's production in 1964, it was claimed, had increased 16 times. Estonia is today the most industrialized of Soviet republics. In the mid-sixties, it made over 30 percent of the Soviet Union's larger electric transformers and mined 65 percent of the entire Soviet oil shale. Latvia made 47 percent of all Soviet automatic telephone exchanges, and Lithuania contributed 33 percent of certain electric welding instruments. The republics made agricultural machinery, TVs, radios, refrigerators, cement, bicycles and furniture, and built ships. More than 70 percent of the total economic production now is industrial. Although Latvia and Estonia, as before the war, remain more highly industrialized than Lithuania, the index of industrialization in all three generally ran ahead of the Soviet average. Baltic Communists are very proud of these indeed impressive accomplishments. Their joy, however, may be mixed because they know that very many of the new industries can operate only on substantial quantities of imported materials and that they were developed without regard to local needs and the availability of local labor and without respect to the preservation of native ethno-cultural values.
Thus the economic and demographic policies of the Soviet Union have combined to create economically dependent industrial melting pots in the Baltic States. In cultural and social fields the aim has been to "internationalize" Baltic cultures. Conditions for what is called the "mutual enrichment of cultures" are especially ripe in large towns. In 1965, 62 percent of the Estonian and 60 percent of the Latvian population lived in cities, in comparison to 36 percent and 35 percent before the war, while Lithuania's percentage was 43 percent, compared to the prewar 23 percent. It is estimated that about one-half of the population of large cities like Riga and Tallinn is Russian. This makes the use of Russian a daily necessity and helps to encourage mixed marriages, linguistically mixed entertainment and recreation facilities, and creates a Russian élite which is favored linguistically and for various government positions.
The Soviet cultural and social policy is thus a policy of integration and assimilation. While on the one hand each Baltic republic can produce statistics surpassing Western Europe in the increase of schools and students, the cultural communication, now developed on a mass scale, is highly saturated with ideas and practices aimed at transferring Baltic loyalties from their own to the Russian nation. This process consists of two complementary aspects-alienation from native culture and traditions and inculcation of melting-pot values. An example of the first is found in the rewriting of Baltic history to show an alleged cultural and political affinity with Russia; of the second, in the way the Russian language continues to squeeze out the native languages in public meetings, in print (especially scientific publications) and in education. On April 18, 1965, Pravda reported the existence in the Baltic republics of bilingual schools, where some classes are taught in the native tongue and others in Russian. In Latvia, the number of such schools, designed to encourage the use of Russian and to integrate children socially, runs into hundreds.
The Soviets apparently have made some ideological gains, for example, in alienating sections of the youth from religion (though not in converting them to atheism) and in superficial Communist indoctrination which produces more pliable citizens. The population on the whole seems to have become resigned to the reality of the Soviet régime.[iii] The Soviets have not succeeded, however, in weakening the ethnic and cultural identity of the Balts, nor have they been able to change the priority of loyalties from native to Russian.
What has been the role of the Baltic Communists in this Soviet effort to integrate and to assimilate the Balts? Since they have no autonomy but merely act as the Soviet Communist Party's provincial leaders, they have no choice but dutifully to execute central policies. Almost daily, however, those Baltic leaders, like their East European colleagues, find themselves squeezed between Moscow's demands and their own countrymen's antagonism to Moscow. In trying to appease both, their general pattern has been to seek out the limits of Moscow's tolerance and to retreat, if not yet too late, in face of an accomplished central policy directive. What those limits are, and the potential for self-assertion, can be gauged from some of the more conspicuous cases in which Baltic Communist leaders have been involved. So far, their initiative has been only in economic and cultural, not in political matters. For them, the political relationship to Moscow was settled when the Baltic States "joined" the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940.
It was natural that since the effects of Soviet-style industrialization on a large scale first appeared in Estonia, the first important reactions of Baltic Communist leaders were registered there. The result was the dismissal in 1949-51 of the Estonian Party's first secretary, Nikolai Karotamm, and a number of other top Communists. The exact grounds for this have never been explained, but in April of 1951 Karotamm's successor, Ivan Käbin, suggested that the Estonians had resisted the immigration of Russian cadres, had attempted to keep the Estonian Communist Party in Estonian hands and had endeavored to defend some Estonian national traditions.
The new leaders, alleged to be more favorable to Russian influence, kept quiet until after the XX Party Congress in 1956 which raised hopes of autonomy. But on September 22, 1956, Alexei Müürisepp, then chairman of the Council of Ministers and at present chairman of the Presidium of the Estonian Supreme Soviet, published an article in Izvestiia in which he scored Moscow's economic planners for neglecting the republic's "special economic needs." He sharply criticized the established economic interdependence which did not allow Estonia to use its own materials for Estonian industries and protested the export of Estonian products before the republic's own needs were met. In this very revealing bill of complaints he also criticized the policy of labor supply, singling out for condemnation the displacement of Estonian graduate specialists and the importation of Russians to take their place.
Since Khrushchev was then preparing for the decentralization of economic management, Müürisepp did not lose political favor. However, Latvian and Lithuanian attempts to resist Moscow's policies after the creation of sovnarkhozes in 1957 met with different results. In Latvia, a group of leaders allegedly headed by the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, Eduards Berklavs, was reported to have opposed a further development of heavy industry in the republic and demanded preference for industries for which Latvia had raw materials and could supply laborers. They also wanted their industries to satisfy Latvian consumers first. They further demanded priority for Latvians in admission to party membership and a knowledge of Latvian as a qualification for government and party jobs. In 1959, after an involved investigation, Berklavs and some of his colleagues were fired and disappeared, while others were dismissed from their positions. The purge continued for about two more years.
Lithuanian reactions, primarily because of slower industrial development, were of lesser proportions. The economic issues involved are not clear, but public warnings against "National Communism" in economic and even in political affairs, the purge of some members of the party's central committee for "nationalism" as well as the downgrading of old party stalwarts like Kazys Preik?as, indicate that the Lithuanians, too, probed the limits of the autonomy of 1957 too far. In the late fifties, the Lithuanians "sinned" primarily in the educational and cultural field, especially in schools of higher education and in the ministry of culture. They were charged with supporting nationalism and the nationalists. As a result, the rector of the University of Vilnius and a number of professors in this and other schools were dismissed for a string of "nationalist" deviations.
Since the Baltic Communists were unable to stop the dangerously large Russian immigration, they now seem to be working to slow it down. The Estonians are reported to have tightened residence requirements for newcomers to their large? cities. Furthermore, like all the Balts, they hope to reduce the need of imported labor by shifting new industries to small towns where an untapped labor source still exists among housewives and others not gainfully employed. These new industries would be in the light-industry category and would need few imported supplies, Lithuania seems to have the most concrete plans for such development. Arnold Weimer, chairman of the Estonian sovnarkhoz who was purged in 1951 as chairman of the Council of Ministers, assured Theodore Shabad of The New York Times in the summer of 1965 that "no more Russians are being settled in Estonia under government plans." The measures described, however, can hardly be considered sufficient to stem the tide of Russian immigration, because since October 1965 the control of the economy remains firmly in Moscow's hands.
In the cultural field, a number of Baltic Communist leaders also have attempted to maintain the rights of the native language and autonomy in literature and the arts. Continuous battles, some visible, others less so, are fought for cultural positions, with the natives mostly losing but trying again when conditions appear more favorable. In August 1965, for example, Estonians and Lithuanians led in the successful endeavor, important for preserving the native language, to save eleven-year secondary education. The exception was granted by Moscow at a time when the reduction of secondary schooling to ten years was ordered everywhere else. To make their success the more notable, they had even dared to issue public requests in the local and the central press.
It must be added, however, that these Baltic efforts may very likely have succeeded because of incidental help from public opinion abroad. Judging from the amount of publicity given to the matter in Moscow and the Baltic republics, it seems reasonably certain that a resolution of the U.S. House of Representatives (H.Con.Res. 416), passed on June 17, 1965, and calling attention of American and world opinion to the denial of self-determination to the Baltic States, set the stage for a favorable response in Moscow. The Soviets have always been sensitive to American opinion in such cases, and on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries may have felt embarrassed to disregard the Baltic pleas, especially since the United States still does not recognize the Soviet annexation.
Despite such occasional successes, the degree to which it is possible for Baltic Communists to protect the economic and cultural interests of their people is rather severely limited. This is due, at least in part, to their own ideological attitudes, but mainly to the Russian controls over the party and government apparatus and the lack of native strength in the local Communist parties. About 1957, Moscow fully restored the system of Russian "doubles" in party and government offices. In the mid-sixties, furthermore, the percentage of ethnic Balts in their own parties was still very low, despite the lessened reluctance by the younger generation to join Party ranks. The Estonian and Lithuanian parties have only about 60 percent native ethnic members, while the Latvian membership in the Latvian party has shrunk to less than 45 percent. In all three cases the percentage of ethnic natives is considerably lower than their percentage in population, showing that the Russian minority exercises a disproportionate share of influence in republic administration.
The Baltic future, then, cannot be determined by the actions of Baltic Communists, but will depend on the results of the broader Soviet nationality policy in the area. At present, Moscow focuses attention on creating melting-pot conditions which are expected to forward a natural process of assimilation. However, the pace of this endeavor is already slackening. The splits in international Communism, the slowing down of the Soviet economic development, the competition for power inside the Kremlin and the recurring international crises do not favor concentrated domestic action. These factors might induce an occasional breathing spell, as happened between the overthrow of Khrushchev in October 1964 and the centralization of economic management in October 1966; pressures for russianization might thus be slowed down. For these reasons, it does not seem that the Baltic melting pot will complete its work in the immediate future.
[i] A. A. Inupov, "National'nyi aostav nascleniia SSSR." Moscow: 1964, p. 9.
[ii] East Europe, April 1965, p. 20.
[iii] This change of attitude contrasts sharply with the violent opposition of the régime just after World War II, when Soviet rule was resisted by force of arms. In Lithuania, for example, a guerrilla war between 1944-52 caused at least 40,000 casualties, half of them guerrilla, half Communist These are Soviet figures and probably should be revised upward.