In English

The Russian nationalists' confrontation with the communist power

In December 1976, I moved from Saaremaa Island to Tartu. Soon I found a professional engagement as an architectural technician in the Tartu Group of the Republican Restoration Office. Through Lagle Parek, my colleague, I became involved in the resistance movement. Initially, the involvement consisted of the reproduction and distribution of the literature banned by the authorities. Later, I began editing an underground chronicle of the resistance movement, the Lisandusi mõtete ja uudiste vabale levikule Eestis (the Additions to Free Circulation of Ideas and News in Estonia), and participate in the actions of the collective protest letters.

At that time, the informal and ideologue leader of the resistance movement was Enn Tarto. Having been twice in the prison camps on charges of anti-Soviet activities, he had made the “political education” of his younger associates a matter of his heart. Based in particular on his prison camp experience, he made clear to us in wooden and red the basic wisdom of the resistance movement: how to detect covert pursuit, what security measures are necessary for dealing with the samizdat[1] material, how to behave in contacts with the KGB, and so on. The additional knowledge we gained from samizdat and tamizdat[2] literature and foreign radio broadcasts addressed the Soviet Union. 

Besides the practical teachings, Tarto was especially happy to share his prison camp recollections. Once he told about a peculiar Russian he had encountered during his first imprisonment, who had advocated an outrageous thing: Russia itself had to leave the Soviet Union! For Tarto and all other non-Russians imprisoned for their nationalist activities, this seemed like a complete curiosity. The Russians were, of course, considered the leading nation of the Soviet Union, with whose support the prison of the nations remained together. However, in its imperialist and land-gathering ambitions, the Soviet Union did not differ much from the Russian Empire.

I too had a chance to meet a such kind of Russian nationalist. On December 4, 1980, I was arrested and sentenced to 2 years in a strict regime prison camp for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, which was followed by a 2-year internal exile. While being in the prison camp for the especially dangerous state criminals No BC 389-36 of the village of Kuchino, Chussovoi district, Perm region, there I met someone Vladimir Balakhonov. Balakhonov, born in 1935, was sentenced to 12 years for high treason. Working as a translator and editor of the Soviet delegation to the UN Metrology Commission in Switzerland, he decided not to return to the Soviet Union. Later, however, longing for his family, he changed his mind and returned to Moscow on December 1, 1972. Although the Soviet consul had confirmed that he would not be punished, a month later he found himself behind the bars and abandoned by his wife. While in a prison camp, the loyal Soviet subordinate became an acute critic of the regime and a fighter for the rights of prisoners, actively participating in all camp activities (refusal of forced labor, hunger strikes, collective protest letters, struggle for political prisoner status, etc.). Like the nameless Russian mentioned by Tarto, Balakhonov had an opinion that the Soviet Union, as the embodiment of historical injustice and the oppressor of other nations, must be disbanded. He considered Russia's withdrawal from the Soviet Union would be the most appropriate method. It should be noted, that his views were not understood in the slightest by imprisoned Russian human rights activists (dissidents). However, these views were especially popular among Ukrainians (who were the majority in the camp) and other non-Russians.

As it is known, the ideas of the nameless Russian and Balakhonov turned out to be prophetic. Just thanks to Russia's independence, which was a tactical tool used by Boris Yeltsin to oust Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of the Soviet Union, the Evil Empire collapsed. Of course, Yeltsin could not foresee such a development. He thought, that probably the separated parts, perhaps except the Baltic states, would return to the metropolis for economic reasons. But when he had set the fire to a hut, he suddenly discovered that he had burned down the whole village.

The history of the opposition movement in the Soviet Union shows that the Russian nationalists were not very frequent inhabitants of the prison camps for especially dangerous state criminals (political prison camps), where those convicted for anti-Soviet activities, espionage, high treason, terrorism, and similar crimes, were detained. The vast majority of the contingents in these camps were non-Russian nationalists, mainly Ukrainians, and Lithuanians. Of course, the human rights activists-dissidents were also represented, but they were predominantly the assimilated Jews. Unlike their nationalistic compatriots, they did not long to emigrate to the Holy Land. Of course, the dissidents wanted to emigrate as well, however, not to Israel, but to Western Europe or the United States. A few purebred Russians were largely convicted for espionage (mainly persons, who tried to sell professional secrets to foreigners at international exhibitions in Moscow or former soldiers, who attempted to trade with military secrets) or betrayal of their homeland (who tried to escape abroad, stayed there and returned for the “longing of birches”).

Of course, the Russian nationalists had a place among the diverse opposition movements of the Soviet Union. However, compared to other movements, they were much less likely to be repressed and relatively few of them were in political prison camps. Moreover, their activities were overshadowed by the “mainstream” opposition in the Soviet Union,  the human rights protection movement (dissent). While a lot of research studies have been written about the activities of the human rights activists, only a few written works we can read about the activities of the Russian nationalists. The memories of those, who took part in these movements, have the same proportions.The following lines are an attempt to give a birds-eye overview of the opposition activities of the Russian nationalists. The article is limited in time from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s and is based on the research by the authors cited in the footnotes.

[1] Samizdat – a form of activity used by dissidents and national resistance movements all over the Soviet bloc, in which individuals compiled reproduced and distributed underground publications. Etymologically, the word samizdat derives from the words sam (Russian: сам – self, by oneself) and izdat (Russian: издат, an abbreviation of издательство – publishing house), and thus means „self-published”. The techniques used to reproduce these forbidden texts varied. Mainly the texts were made in a typewriter. Books and other larger texts were multiplied using the photocopying method.   

The Wall-breakers

The tale of the Estonian Group for the Disclosure of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Estonian National Independence Party


At the end of the penultimate decade and at the beginning of the next one of the last century, there were two political groupments, the Molotov-Ribbentropi Pakti Eesti Avalikustamise Grupp (Estonian Group for the Disclosure of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – MRP-AEG) and the Eesti Rahvusliku Sõltumatuse Partei (Estonian National Independence Party – ERSP), which played the conceptual role in the fight for the restoration of Estonian independence. The massive demonstration organized by them on 23 August 1987 on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of concluding the Nonaggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (MRP), in the Hirvepark, Tallinn, at which for the first time has publicly requested the disclosure of the Additional Secret Protocol to the MRP, its cancellation and the liquidation consequences were the downbeat of the fight for the Estonian re-independence. By signing the MRP's secret Additional Protocol about the spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, the Stalinist Soviet Union had given for the Nazi-Germany free hands to trigger off the Second World War and, in return, was given an opportunity to annihilate the independent Baltic States and try to do the same with Finland.
The very existence of this secret Additional Protocol knocked the bottom out of a myth that was cultivated by the Soviet propagandists as if the socialist revolution in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in June 1940 and the accession of the three Baltic States to the USSR had been carried out on a legal basis. By the requirement to declare the MRP’s Secret Protocol null and void and to liquidate the consequences of the Protocol, it was requested to end the USSR’s occupation and restore the Estonian independence at the Hirvepark.

The full text can be read here:

The Relief Centre for the Political Prisoners in the USSR


The existence of foreign centers or rears for the resistance movements is the vital condition for any successful resistance. In particular, it is necessary for expressing and propagating as broad as possible the resistance activities for achieving universal support for it. The resistance movements must have potential to spread their propaganda materials through the publications and other mass media. This objective requires information centers abroad, where the resistance movement could deliver the information about their activities for disseminating to information agencies. In addition to the dissemination of the information, the task of these centers is to assist the domestic resistance movement: send the necessary literature and means of reproduction and to support the participants of resistance movement materially.
            The resistance against the occupation and annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in June 1940 had begun straightly after that and continued without interruption until the restoration of the Estonian independence in August 1991. Initially, it was expressed in passive opposition to the introduction of Soviet-style rearrangements in Estonia and in the efforts to maintain national values. The active resistance erupted as soon as the chances for this emerged. Following the outbreak of fighting between Germany and the Soviet Union, the men gathered in the woods, took up arms and start fighting against the Red Army troops retreating the Germans, and the destruction battalions.
            After the re-occupation of Estonia in autumn 1944, the occupiers had to experience active resistance, which consisted the armed struggle of forest brothers and activities of the youth underground resistance organizations. Both of these had to act on their own because there was almost no external support. Although the foreign intelligence agencies tried to offer the assistance to the forest brothers, usually the fighters sent to Estonia were rather quickly caught by the security forces of the occupational powers and were cruelly used in the radio games against the foreign intelligence.
On the other hand, the youth underground resistance groups acted in total isolation. They did not have any contact with the Western-based refugee organizations, and they even knew nothing about the existence of other groups operating in the neighborhood as well. Of these, they got to know when were sent to the prison camps. Of course, this kind of resistance could not be too effective, and it was limited to some individual actions, which were usually distribution of leaflets or hoisting the blue-black-white national flags in public places. After that, the group members were imprisoned and sent for years to prison camps.
The occupational authorities succeeded to suppress the armed resistance by the massive repressions in the early 1950s. The resistance of the youth groups, which had continued after the destruction of the forest brothers, had faded paradoxically in the relation of ceasing the mass repressions and due to the liberalization of the Soviet society, which is known as the Khrushchev’s melt, which arrived at Estonia in the second half of the decade. At the same time, the mentality began increasingly to spread among the Estonians, that the expectations to restore the independence must be buried, as the occupational power will be long-lasting, and any resistance to this is to be itself a desperate and self-destructing business. In the Estonian society, some sovietization processes began to take roots, more and more people wanted to settle their everyday life as well as possible under new conditions in this period. The number of Estonians who joined the Communist Party and Communist Youth League (Komsomol) was significantly increased, as without belonging to these organizations the promotion on the career ladder or studies at university were to be ruled out.
An important role in abatement of the resistance played a new tactic introduced by security agencies (which, since 1954, was called as the State Security Committee – the KGB). According to this, the repressions became more selective, and the extrajudicial sanctions or so-called prophylactic measures increasingly began to use. The method consisted of the ideological processing of the opposition-minded persons in their workplaces or educational institutions (minors were treated by their parents as well). If these techniques did not give desired results, repressions were followed, which consisted of dismissing from schools and universities, firing of work, etc. In any case, those who were under the prophylactics were put in so-called blacklist, and their eventual fate or a share of the benefits distributing by the socialist society (professional career, higher education, getting an apartment or motor vehicle purchase permit, tourist trips abroad, etc.) already depended on the loyalty level of the person’s behavior estimated by the KGB. Of course, the real proof of the loyalty would have been, if one became a secret informant or snitch of the KGB, but such was a path only for a few of the rebellious, who faced the prophylactic measures. In the case of the ineffectiveness of preventive measures, arresting and sending to prison camp could still be followed.
The Estonian resistance movement revived in the second half of the 1960s, in particular, by the influence of the Moscovite human rights activists or dissidents. Some underground groups, which emerged in Tallinn, defined themselves as the Democratic movements. In contrast to the dissidents, who acted publicly, the Democrats preferring to use the underground fighting methods. At the same time, they were looking for contacts with the Russian dissidents, with whom they exchanged information and samizdat[1] materials.
The culmination of the Democrat’s activities was sending a memorandum to the United Nations Organization (UNO). Since the five people were prosecuted on charges drafting of the memorandum, their act aroused lively response all over the world. Through this event, the Estonian emigres too became aware of the existence of resistance movement in the occupied homeland, and the necessity to support this movement. 
In the second half of the 1970s, the public resistance movement emerged in Estonia. The main tactic of the movement was to send collective public appeals to the Soviet authorities and international organizations, disclosure the human rights and national right violations, compiling and distribution of samizdat material critical of the regime, etc.
The resistance in Estonia also enthused the Estonian emigre associations in their external fight. If until now the external struggle was confined of launching appeals to the governments of countries their habitual residence and international organizations, requiring them to continue the nonrecognition policy toward the occupation of Estonia, it now had a chance to lend a hand directly to the Estonian resistance movement.
In particular, as a result of the self-sacrificing public struggle of the Moscovite human rights activists, the subject of human rights has risen to a very important place in the eyes of the world audience.  On 1 August 1975, at the Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation between the European countries (except for Albania) and the United States and Canada, the agreement had been signed, which declaratorily provided the principle of the strategic security and international interaction in Europe. While for the time being it seemed that in connection with the Helsinki Agreements the Soviet Union had gained another foreign policy victory, it became a Pyrrhic victory. In other words, the Helsinki Agreements contained the provisions on human rights, which declared that the human rights are not an internal question of any particular state but the international problem instead. These provisions required the signatory governments of the Helsinki Agreements to respect the human rights and political freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to join a political organization, freedom of emigration and reunification of families, and other rights and freedoms.
Quite soon the theme of human rights became for the Soviet Union and its satellites for a very big problem because, at numerous international forums, they had to face the accusations of violation of the human rights. Difficulties arose in the Soviet Union within the country too, because in 1976 there was established some public groups, known under the name of the Helsinki groups, which began to supervise the implementation of the Helsinki agreements and publicize the human right’s abuses.
During the after-Helsinki period, the disclosure and condemnation of the repressions on the critics of the regime, such as interrogations, searches, political trials, sending to prison camps or deportations, and detentions in the special psychiatric hospitals by the Soviet authorities, became the main fighting method of the dissidents. For political reasons, it was important to disclose the situation of the detainees in prison camps or special psychiatric hospitals and support political prisoners and their family members.
The Estonians living in the West were mostly aware of the Estonians confined in the political prisoner’s camps of the Soviet Union, since the information about them had been obtained through the German prisoners of war released from the camps in the mid-1950s. Later this information was received by the Jews, who had emigrated from the Soviet Union.
According to some sources, the first lists of Estonian political prisoners have been compiled already in the early 1970s. There was also the self-initiative assistance of political prisoners, often by some provident organizations, such as the Red Cross and the Eesti Rahva Ühisabi (Estonian Joint Assistance – ERÜ). However, apparently, it was just the imprisonment of the compilers of the memorandum sent to the UNO, which was an impulse that triggered the idea to create an organization to assist the imprisoned freedom fighters and their families.
As the topic of human rights and political prisoners was the subject of the spotlight of a global audience, there have been developed a fertile ground to create a relief organization for the Estonian political prisoners. At the beginning of 1978, the Eesti Vangistatud Vabadusvõitlejate Abistamiskeskus (Relief Centre for Estonian Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR – EVVA) was created in Stockholm. It was the first emigre organization, which established the contacts with the resistance movement in occupied Estonia. The EVVA became a foreign center for the resistance movement, which passed on the public protest appeals and other materials conveyed out of Estonia to the Western publications.

The full text can be read here:

[1] A form of activity used by dissidents and national resistance movements all-over the Soviet bloc in which individuals compiled, reproduced and distributed the underground publications. Etymologically, the word samizdat” derives from sam” (Russian: сам, self, by oneself”) and izdat” (Russian: издат, an abbreviation of издательство, publishing house”), and thus means self-published”. The techniques used to reproduce these forbidden texts varied. Mainly the texts were made using carbon paper, either by hand or on a typewriter. Books and other larger texts were multiplied using photocopying method.    

The nonviolent resistance to the Soviet occupation in the first Soviet year of Estonia in 1940-1941

After the occupation of the country by the Red Army on 17 June 1940, the conditions for effective resistance were relatively poor for Estonia. The right time to resist was given away. Any armed resistance to the alien occupation army, size of which was a hundred thousand combatants and that exceeded about six times the Estonian Army, not to mention overweight in arms and reserves, would have to lead to quick defeat. There were still chances to wage guerrilla war, but for this, the political and military leadership of the country did not make any preparations or show intentions.
            In general, there is very little room for resistance against the regime in totalitarian countries. It may even be said, that there are almost no such opportunities. Several conditions must be fulfilled for the successful resistance movement. The primary condition is the moral and material support of vast majority of the population. This is almost impossible to ensure in the conditions of a totalitarian regime for a long time because due to cruel repressions and genocidal policy the material basis of the resistance movement will be destroyed and its physical reserve eliminated. As far as moral support is concerned, authorities can easily discredit the resistance movement through strictly controlled media, censorship, counter-propaganda, various provocations and harsh repressions to discourage its potential supporters. For example, there was no sign of resistance after the bloody suppression of the Russian White-Guard movement, struggles for self-determination of the various nations and anti-collectivization rebellions of peasants' as the Soviet regime had stabilized in the second half of the 1930s. The exception was the Northern Caucasus, in particular, Chechnya and Dagestan, where armed insurrections were periodically busted out in the 1920s and 1930s, which, after the bloody crackdown by the NKVD[1] forces, continued in the form of guerrilla fightings. As for the armed resistance that followed the Second World War in many parts of the Soviet empire during the most intense years of Stalinism, it took place as an aftermath of the war and, as a rule, only in the areas that had been occupied by the Germans and where the Soviet power was not yet able to be fully established.

The full text can be read here: 

[1] The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the USSR (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел), which existed from 10 July 1934 until 3 February 1941 and from 20 July 1941 until 14 April 1943. During the period of 3 February to 20 July 1941, the repression agency was entitled as the People's Commissariat for State Security of the USSR (Народный Комиссариат Государственной Безопасности СССР – NKGB), whereafter returned to the former nomination.

The Attempts to create the Estonian Helsinki Group and the Supreme Committee of the National Movement of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania

In the summer of 1975 the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, Finland, had taken place. The signatories to the conference, the leaders of European states and the United States and Canada achieved an agreement about the immutability of post-war borders and prescribed the over-European principles for strategical security and international relations. The document also included provisions that obliged the signatory states to respect and obey human rights. This so-called „third basket“ of the Helsinki Agreements which dealt with human rights, became a new impulse for oppositional movements in the USSR and also in its East-European satellite-states. In several places, the public groups which have set themselves the task of monitoring the compliance of the Helsinki Agreements were spontaneously founded. In Estonia, there was also an attempt to create a group for monitoring the implementation of the agreements of the Helsinki Conference, but, unfortunately, the Estonian resistance movement was not yet ready for such a public opposition. As that undertaking ended with failure, they en­gaged themselves in the initiative of Lithuanians to establish the Supreme Committee of the Na­tional Movement of Estonia-Latvia-Lithuania which would have been a coordinating organization for the resistance movements in those three republics. Unfortunately, this attempt was followed by the fiasco as well.
A couple of years later, the landmark of Estonian public resistance movement was to be the Bal­tic Appeal, in other words the memorandum of the forty-five Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian citi­zens to the governments of the USSR, the Federal Republic of Ger­many, the German Democratic Republic and to the governments of the states who had signed the Atlantic Charter, and also to Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Or­ganization. That memorandum was timed for the fortieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribben­trop Pact and was made public on 23 August 1979. The Baltic Appeal demanded that the full text of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, including its secret protocols, were to be published, that the Pact should be de­clared null and void from the moment of its signature, and all the consequences of the Pact were to be nullified. Among the signatories to the Baltic Appeal were Estonians, the former political prisoners Mart Niklus, Enn Tarto, Erik Udam and Endel Ratas.
As a result of the Baltic Appeal, the European Parliament, on the initiative of Otto von Habsburg, on 13 January 1983 adopted a resolution on the Situation in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, in which the Parliament supported the demands presented in the appeal. The Baltic Appeal was followed by other collective memoranda to the administration of the USSR but also to interna­tional organizations. Several of them were drafted in concert with Latvians and Lithuanians, but there were memoranda which were signed only by Estonians. Moreover, in autumn 1978, the Estonian resistance movement began to publish a chronicle the Lisandusi mõtete ja uudiste vabale levikule Eestis (the Additions to Free Circulation of Ideas and News in Estonia), in which were gathered the documents drawn up by resistance movements, facts about human rights violations and the other materials.
By 1983, due to arrests and extrajudicial repressions, the Estonian public resistance was forced to withdraw.
The following is an attempt to give an overview of those events. However, the composer of the review encountered several problems. For example, there are no any documents remained about the attempt to create the Estonian Helsinki group, and it is very likely that such documents were never drawn up at all. There are no materials about that event available in the case files of the political trials of the 1980s either. As the KGB was able to hinder the Balts from forming of both organizations mentioned above, it is very probable that the materials thereof should be found in the operational intelligence files of the KGB. But these are not available for an Estonian investigator. Therefore the composer of the overview was to be sup­ported mostly by the recollections of the participants of these events and by the indirect data. Unfortunately, the main characters of these events, Udam, and Ratas are no longer among living persons as well. Some other individuals concerned have their memories faded, due to their high age and ill­ness.

As regards, the things concerning the Supreme Committee of the National Movement of Estonia-Lat­via-Lithuania are little better. Even though the leader of that organization Viktoras Petkus is dead, there is a special archive within the Petkus’s archive in Lithuania which includes all the documents of the Supreme Commit­tee. It is also possible to learn something by using the protocols of the interrogations which were conducted in the criminal case against Petkus and using materials of his trial. But before proceeding to the events mentioned above, it would be necessary to give a bird`s eye view of the national re­sistance movements in the three occupied Baltic states at the beginning of the 1970s.

The full text can be read here:

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