60th anniversary of Baltic deportationsby Philip Palm-PeipmanNews Weekly
, June 30, 2001
In the flurry of 10 exciting years, restoring universally-acceptable standards of democracy in the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - restoring a system where people can experience freedom in noticeably larger measure than during their entire immediate past - the annual Commemorative Day of Deportation on June 14 stands out as a day of high importance and cause for national reflection. This year the importance is still greater than it usually is.
Sixty years ago, people in the Baltic States were awoken at midnight to the sounds of knocking at doors, and what turned out to be the beginning of the first of a series of mass deportations to Siberia by the Stalinist authorities.
Tens of thousands of innocent people throughout towns and villages up and down the entire the Northern Baltic seaboard - parents, children and the elderly - had, in the space of two hours, their peaceful ways of life forcefully turned upside down, having suddenly to come to grips with their impending fate, into which they were delivered by the Soviet armed forces. "Crimes"
The victims' crimes were deemed to range from being "enemies of the state" (by virtue of owning personal belongings of any kind) through to being Nazi collaborators (almost no factual basis existed for most such claims).
Subsequently, many tens of thousands were dragged to their final destination point aboard cattle-trains destined for Siberia.
Those who managed to dodge the eye of the new occupants formed resistance groups known as the "Forest Brothers", who hid deep in the surrounding natural habitat and successfully fended off many of their persecutors. Interestingly, the last Estonian Forest Brother was captured as late as 1978.
A small but nevertheless significant number of refugees to nearby Finland and Sweden were either enticed or repatriated back behind the Iron Curtain after the War. In total, fully one-third of the population was lost completely within the Baltic States in the name of Stalinism.
Thanks to the fact that Stalin managed to establish military bases in each of these States in the late 1930s (at a time when economic prosperity, for example in Estonia, was generally regarded as being better than in neighbouring Finland), the three republics were effectively robbed of any future possibility of freedom, without a potentially terrible loss of life in the process - something the Presidents of these nations at the time did not want to risk.
This last point is the alleged justification that present-day Russia continues to reinforce as part of its ludicrous propaganda campaign which presupposes that the Baltic States each accepted their incorporation into the Soviet Union quite willingly.
In contemporary Australia, where the geopolitical emphasis has shifted towards pursuing stronger ties with the Asia - Pacific Rim nations, one can easily underestimate these historical events; but to do so is to overlook the reasons why so many people of Baltic extraction have come to live here in the first place.
Following what for many back then posed a painfully uncertain future, these displaced persons travelled to distant shores both in search of a better life, and to be removed - both emotionally and geographically - from their tortured past, rather than settle for becoming another horrible statistic in a cruel and repressive ideological State.
Often Soviet guards, remarking over their Baltic victims' fair complexion, berated them as fascists, since the overwhelming majority of Baltic citizens could not speak Russian. Therefore, by extension, they must have been Germans! Many died from diseases such as malnutrition and dysentery.
Stalin's program of "relocating" these newly occupied subjects was carefully planned - in 1941, it was the entire local intelligentsia, along with minority groups such as Jews and ethnic Russians; in 1945 it was all remaining Germans; in 1949 the Soviets broke the back of the various rural populations' resistance to establishing collective farms; and in 1951 it was anyone left over who had religious affiliations that contravened prevailing Soviet law.
It wasn't until 20 years later - after the death of Stalin - and in some cases in the late 1950s, that the Baltic deportees were finally permitted to return to their homelands. Even then, the Soviet administration made certain that the path back for them was made as complicated as possible (to co-ordinate such movements with massive Soviet plans underway for Russifying the entire Baltic region).
Today, the Baltic Republics are once again free states, and despite the economic troubles which persist there, the gains of the last 10 years far outweigh the losses.
However, Europe is still a considerable way from determining its overall future military arrangements, which currently include a push for the Baltic States to be incorporated into NATO. Once this is agreed to, the measure of security for all Baltic citizens can be assured, and a chapter of history's pages can be closed.