As Covid-19 has prevented our annual 14th of June commemoration concert, the Latvian communities of Melbourne and Sydney have instead jointly prepared a video to mark this event, which is so significant in our Baltic nations histories.
The video is in English and is approximately 56 minutes in length and includes brief addresses (all in English) by:
- Latvian organizer Anita Anderson,
- Victorian honorary consuls for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,
- President of Latvia, Egīls Levits
- former president of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
- national anthems of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
- several musical items by each Baltic community.
On 17 July 1940, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Johan Laidoner, and on 30 July 1940, President Konstantin Päts and his family were deported to Penza and Ufa where they died thereafter, Johan Laidoner in 1953 at Vladimir prison, president Pats in 1956 at Kalinin Oblast.
The country’s political and military leadership was deported almost entirely, including 10 of 11 ministers and 68 of 120 members of parliament. About sixty were either shot or died in the camps. No figures exist for how many family members - spouses and children - were deported along with their loved ones.
The two largest waves of mass deportations occurred in June 1941 and March 1949 simultaneously in all three Baltic States. The deportations targeted various categories of anti-Soviet elements like: nationalists, political elite, military, police, Forest Brothers, and so called kulaks.
On 14 June 1941, and the following two days, between 9 and 11 thousand Estonian people were deported, mostly to Kirov Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast or prisons.
June deportation led to two significant developments in Estonia –
It motivated a major wave of refugees to leave Estonia, mostly by ships over the Baltic Sea in 1944. Some 70,000 people are known to have arrived in their destination; an unknown number perished due to the autumn storms and naval warfare.
Second, many Estonians, who had previously been sceptical about joining German army decided to join the recently created foreign legions of Waffen-SS, try to keep Red Army off Estonian soil and to avoid a new Soviet occupation. Many young men fled to Finland - about 4000 people, over half of the men below 24 years old, to join the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS -1st Estonian.
My grandfather Jonas was one of them, living his life thereafter in Sweden, Goteborg, never to see independent Estonia again.
Not seeing his son again, my dad, since he was 4 years old.
Not ever getting to know me, not knowing that 40 years after his escape, his granddaughter, myself, will be asked to leave Estonia or be deported for political reasons all over again.
These of Estonian descendants born in Australia are living here as a result of their parents or grandparents being able to escape after the June 1941 deportations had passed them.
As we think of the horror stories that happened to people left behind, we also thank all those governments of other countries, that allowed us to enter and who gave our refugees asylum.
Estonia has an amazing asylum story to tell -
Altogether at least eighty-five Estonian diplomats remained or fled abroad.
The Foreign Ministry is the sole institution of the Republic of Estonia, which throughout the Soviet occupation maintained not only de jure or legal continuity, but in fact maintained de facto continuity. The Estonian Foreign Ministry has worked without interruption.
When it became impossible to continue on the territory of Estonia, the foreign service worked on, defending the interests of the country, whilst residing abroad. Diplomats such as August Torma, Johannes Kaiv, Aksel Linkhorst and Ernst Jaakson continued their work in Estonian representations abroad until their deaths. Ernst Jaakson was the lucky one, who saw the restoration of Estonia statehood and independence.
The second huge wave of deportation was called Operation Priboi ( "Coastal Surf"), it was the code name for the Soviet mass deportation from the Baltic states on 25–28 March 1949.
More than 90,000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, labelled as enemies of the people, were deported to forced settlements in inhospitable areas of the Soviet Union. The deportees were exiled "for eternity" and no right of return to their home.
This deportation was run like a campaign to speed up the soviet collectivisation in Baltic States. The deportation fulfilled its purposes: by the end of 1949, 93% and 80% of the farms were collectivised in Latvia and Estonia. In Lithuania, the progress was slower and the Soviets organised another large deportation known as Operation Osen in late 1951.
This soviet nightmare did not just happen, it was thoroughly premeditated and planned, systematic extermination. There were specific responsibilities of each Soviet ministry: the Ministry of State Security (MGB) was responsible for gathering the deportees and transporting them to the designated railway stations; the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) was responsible for the transportation to the forced settlements, and continued surveillance and administration; Ministry of Finance was to allocate sufficient funds; Ministry of Communications was to provide the necessary railway cars; Ministries of Trade and Health were to provide food and health care en route to the destination, etc. The soviet machine was so systematic.
Today we celebrate, that regime that murdered millions and decimated tens of nations, destroyed and deformed so many lives – that this regime collapsed in 1991.
We come together to express our faith that what was done to our people and to our countries will never happen again.
We wish our feelings today would be easier and clearer, we wish we could say in confidence that all of this is in the past.
However, the past has not entirely passed. There is a debate if the crimes of Soviet Union against Baltic States civilians are genocide the same way as the crimes of Hitler, since it all happened within the country of Soviet Union - so the crime has escaped the real consequence.
We come together today to honour independent Estonia’s governments, nationalists, ordinary people, who were forced to suffer unspeakable horrors.
We commemorate and pay homage, and we will not forget the suffering of our people before us.
We come together today and the year thereafter, as we are aware what happened, we know the story, we share the story. We still feel hurt.
Sirje Jogi, AESL