Deportations, whether perpetrated by Russians or Soviets have been in their arsenal of rule by terror for centuries. They have always represented an attempt to violently remove those whom the authorities have deemed disloyal, distrusted, a political rival etc. This forced resettlement of millions of children, women and men has led to predictable human misery and immortality.
Soviet rule over the Baltic states was a classical colonial occupation complete with armed resistance, economic exploitation and foreign settlement. One should note here that Moscow’s continual denial and rejection of the actuality of the occupation has never been challenged seriously by the international community in a manner with which holocaust deniers have been universally condemned.
Deportations in Estonia can be traced back to the 1500’s: Russia’s Ivan IV deported some of Tartu’s rebellious German population to Russia in 1572; from 1701 to 1708 the armed forces of Peter I deported some 10,000 Estonians to Siberia; in 1708 a large portion of Germans in Tartu were deported to the Vologda region; in the same year nearly 1400 Germans from Narva were deported to various destinations in Russia. Only 700 made it back; in 1781 Catherine II ordered Swedish families in Hiiumaa to be deported to the southern Steppes of Russia. The above are just examples of the numerous deportation operations carried out in the Baltic states.
The Soviet World War II deportations of entire nationalities have become a non-event of history. The following eight nationalities involved were relocated to Siberia and Central Russia: in 1943, 382,000 Volga Germans; in 1943, 73,737 Karachai; in 1944, 131,271 Kalmyks; in 1944, 407,690 Chechens; in 1944, 92,074 Ingush; in 1944, 42,666 Balkars; in 1944, 202,000 Crimean Tatars; in 1944, 200,000 Meskhetians.
Of the numerous deportations carried out during the Soviet era, the following is just a tiny selection: in 1920, some 45,000 Volga and Terek Kazaks were deported to Ukraine and Northern European Russia; 18,000 people were deported from Ukraine and Belarus to Siberia and the Russian far east; 30,000 Finnish Ingerians in 1935 were deported from the Leningrad region to Vologda, Tadzikistan, Kazahkstan and Western Siberia; in the same year 42,000 Poles and Germans were deported from the Keiv and Vinnõtsja regions to eastern Ukraine; in 1936 45,000 Poles and Ukrainians were deported from Ukraine to Kazahkstan; in 1940 over 276,000 Poles (75,000 of whom had fled the German invasion of Poland) were deported from various parts of Belarus and Ukraine to different regions of Russia and neighbouring SSRs; in 1944 42,000 Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and Turks were deported from the Crimea to Uzbekistan; in 1948 58,000 Greeks and Armenians were deported from the Black Sea coast to Kazahkstan; in 1951 9400 Jehova Witnesses, including 4000 children, were deported from the Baltic states, Moldava, Belarus and Ukraine.
Stalin’s nationalist policy was implemented through wholesale deportations during World War II. They radically changed the ethnic landscape of the USSR. They were primarily implemented to punish people who opposed Sovietization or showed signs of nationalistic tendencies. The Sovietization process was augmented by creating ethnically non-homogenous regions. The Kremlin thus was able to consolidate their rule over given areas and secure borders from nationalistic elements considered to be disloyal. The Soviet authorities made extensive use of The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (the NKVD, the precursor of the KGB) that was specifically assigned to carry out these operations.
One notes that the Soviet regime was not the first to use such political control devices as deportation. The Bolsheviks, during the immediate post-Czarist period, deemed the forced removal of peoples as illegal. It was a sham declaration for already in 1919 they ordered the deportations of Cossacks who opposed their authority.
Not only did massive deportations mean callous expulsion and scattering through the vast hinterlands of the Soviet Union but it also has had a more profound result – the negation of the collective existence of deported peoples. In most cases, where the deportation operations targeted entire peoples, all material, symbolic and historic signs of the deportees’ lives in their indigenous areas were destroyed; Russian names were given to local villages and roads; the authentic history in manuals were rewritten; local governmental and political structures were replaced.
While it’s generally accepted that deportation, as a tool for punishment and political control is an archaic concept, a phenomenon of the past, it still reverberates in arguments over history and in the development of normal relations. Some academics and members of the power elite in Russia have acknowledged the illegality and inhumanity of deportations. However it’s generally stressed that deportations were Stalinist in nature, with culpability belonging to only one man, not the Soviet system. In addition they were a necessary evil to stave off political chaos. Is it too farfetched to draw a parallel with current political situation in Moscow? Putin’s supporters emphasize that keeping Russia from deteriorating further economically and politically justifies strong-arm rule and use of illegal election practices.