Emerging Scholar investigates history of the Latvian Communist Party

Sep 9, 2018

Arvīds Pelše, who became First Secretary of the Latvian Communist Party in 1959 after the conflict with the national communists, was seen as eminently reliable by Moscow, becoming only the second Balt to join the Politburo in 1966. Yet, little is known about the man, his career, personal life or his patronage relationship with his benefactor, the Soviet chief ideologue Mikhail Suslov. Due to his persecution of Latvian culture and his Russophile nature, he is reviled in Latvia and his impact on the history of Latvia, the LKP and the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era is wholly understudied in any language.

An AABS Emerging Scholar research grant has allowed me to conduct extensive research in archives and library in Riga about the career of this Soviet Latvian statesman over the past year. I conducted two research trips using the resources provided by the AABS grant. During the first, I analyzed the full manuscript of Nikolai Kreier’s unpublished, 525-page Russian language biography of Pelše entitled “The Truth About Arvīds Pelše,” the only copy of which is held at the Museum of Occupation. In my second trip I made use of different resources and focused and instead extensively used the collections of the National Library and the University of Latvia Academic Library (LU Akadēmiskā Bibliotēka).

The AABS Emerging Scholar research grant has allowed me to investigate a great deal about Pelše, his personal life, career and his networks. I have revealed through my research that many of the questions surrounding Pelše that have presented themselves to historians since the collapse of the Soviet Union cannot be answered without access to hitherto unavailable material. I hope that the resources garnered during these two research trips to Riga’s archives and libraries will allow me, once fully processed and analysed, to better answer some of the inconclusive questions about Pelše. Most of the documents we can access are ultimately only those in the Latvian Communist Party archive and these, for the most part, are one sided and do not
present the opinions, deliberations and decisions of the Soviet Union’s upper echelons. Using what I have gleaned from my Latvian research thanks to the generous funding of AABS, my future research for this project now takes me back to Moscow once the Contemporary History Archive reopens after its two-year relocation process. The new wave of declassifications of Presidium and Secretariat material may finally help to answer some of the remaining and most pertinent questions about Pelše.

While this is a lengthy, multi-year project, I intend to process, analyse and write up my findings thus far in preparation for my first paper about Pelše to be delivered at a symposium of political historians of the Soviet Union in Vilnius, Lithuania in November 2018. I am grateful for the financial and academic support provided by AABS, which enabled me to commence research on this project in earnest.