WiP: Power Struggles for Soviet Latvia, 1953-1962

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are proud to present the 1st talk of the 2020 Fall Series of the Tbilisi Works-in-Progress series, now celebrating its 10th year!

“Exploiting Khrushchev’s Thaw: Power Struggles for Soviet Latvia, 1953-1962”

By Michael Loader, University of Glasgow

Date: September 2, 2020, at 18:30 Tbilisi time
Virtual venue: RSVP to georgia[at]arisc.org to get the Zoom URL

Given the continuing COVID19 situation, we will once again hold the Works-in-Progress session virtually. The link to the Zoom session will be posted in WIP Facebook group on the day of the event, or alternatively, RSVP to georgia[at]arisc.org to get the link.

“Who are you – an enemy or an honest man? If you’re an enemy, we’ll wipe you from the face of the earth, but if you’re an honest man, then you still need to prove it […] Don’t push Russians into learning Latvian. They do not want to do this and they will not do it”– Khrushchev thundered in characteristic belligerent bluster to Eduards Berklavs, a Latvian government Deputy Chairman and informally leader of the Latvian national communists.
Everything turned on that heated exchange between the two men on the tarmac at Riga airport on 13th June 1959. Khrushchev had received a dossier the previous evening from an old Army comrade presented as a reliable face by conservatives in Riga and Moscow moving against the national communists. The dossier “confirmed” reports of rife nationalist and anti-Russian activity within the Latvian leadership and incensed Khrushchev who let loose on the main culprit in front of the other Latvian leaders before departing following an otherwise amicable visit to Riga. This act set in motion a chain of events where the national communists’ enemies used this incident to impune them for nationalism, which resulted in the purge of the Latvian leadership, the most widespread of the Khrushchev era.The causes and perpetrators of the purge remain a contested issue among historians. This Works-in-Progress talk will examine the rise and fall of the Latvian national communists as the subject of Dr. Loader’s book project. His talk will place the rise national communists and their programme of remarkably nationally-minded policies (including reversing Russification; reorienting the economy towards pre-Soviet priorities for Latvia; a language law compelling Russians to learn Latvian within two years or lose their jobs; and residency restrictions against Russians moving to Riga) in the context of “the Thaw” era and Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership of the USSR. He will show how national communism was only possible because of the relaxation of political and cultural controls known as the Thaw and how the national communists exploited this to their advantage to gain control of the levers of power in Latvia. Finally, he will demonstrate how their radical programme attracted the hostility of conservatives in Moscow and Riga who engineered their ouster through manipulating Khrushchev and how this occurred as part of the general retreat from the experiments of the Thaw, the partial compromises of which encouraged such attempts to renegotiate the status quo in centre-periphery relations but were stamped out by the early 1960s along with the end of the Thaw, and eventually Khrushchev himself.
Dr. Michael Loader is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Department of Central East European Studies at the University of Glasgow, where he is currently undertaking a project entitled “The Centre-Periphery Relationship in Flux: Nationality Politics in the Soviet Borderlands.” He completed his PhD at King’s College London on nationality politics in Soviet Latvia in 2015. He has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. His publications have appeared in Europe-Asia Studies, Nationalities Papers, the Journal of Baltic Studies and the Slavonic and East European Review. He is also the Assistant Editor of the Journal of Baltic Studies. His research interests include nationalism in the USSR, Soviet Latvia, Nikita Khrushchev, Political purges, National Communism, centre-periphery relations, and patronage networks.

Although this presentation will take place in virtual format, in observation of the spirit of the Chatham House Rule to which the series generally adheres, the talk will not be recorded and we courteously request that the other participants refrain from recording and/or distributing it as well.

WiP is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the new office of CRRC at Liziko Kavtaradze St. 1. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.