Staunton, April 11 – The card files listing Latvians who cooperated with the Soviet secret police are only the tip of the iceberg of materials about NKVD-MCB-KGB sparked an enormous scandal in that country, but these files represent only a small and far from the most important records of such cooperation.
Far more serious records, called “the journals of the KGB” are scheduled to be released next month; and they will show far more than just a list of names but contain details on what specific individuals did. Such records will be harder to dismiss or ignore and are likely to lead to even more soul searching and even a political crisis.
In advance of that event, Tatyana Timuka of Argumenti Nedeli spoke with a retired KGB colonel who spoke on conditions of anonymity – she identified him only as “Mr. W” – about the various kinds of Soviet secret police files and what they show and don’t show concerning the Soviet penetration of occupied Latvia (argumenti.ru/world/2019/04/608199).
When the card files were released, many people disputed them, especially if they were among those listed, because of inaccuracies of various kinds, but the KGB colonel says that these cards were “nothing serious. Purely technical material. And perhaps there could be changed the dates of birth and possibly the places of work” for one reason or another.
For the organs, accuracy on the cards was not important. Where it was required and was maintain was in the personal files. These, however, are not in Latvia: “they are in Russia; and they may be not even in Moscow but in provincial cities where there exist special preservation centers.” Latvians will never see them: “Russia never will make access to them ‘open.’”
But far more will be revealed when the KGB journals are released next month than was when the card files were. The latter contain many errors; and worse, from the point of view of accuracy, Latvians have been able to bribe their way into having the cards removed by paying from 100 to 500 euros, Mister W says.
Nonetheless, even the card files are instructive. For example, they showed that the current Russian Orthodox metropolitan of Latvia worked for the KGB. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone, the retired KGB agent says, because the largest group of informers were from the ranks of priests and ministers, “even during the war and even on the territory occupied by the enemy.”
When German forces re-opened churches in Latvia to help them keep the population under control, people attended and made confessions. What could be more natural? The Soviet organs recognized this and sought to develop such priests and ministers as sources of information. That became easier when Stalin changed his religious policy during the war.
Sometimes the Soviets even introduced priests and ministers into occupied Latvia by parachute drop. These people helped organize the resistance by drawing on religious sympathies of the population. They worked for the NKVD and for the Soviets against the Germans in various ways.
It wasn’t just the Latvians who cooperated with the Germans, Mister W says. There were many ethnic Russians as well, people who were angry at the Soviets for what they had done to them or their relatives. The Germans exploited this and were able to recruit many because otherwise these people would have been sent to German camps.
The former KGB colonel recalls that his Orthodox Russian grandmother who lived in Latvia was someone who tried to help people taken prisoner by the Germans by dropping food near where the prisoners were marched by. The German soldiers shouted at her but she said she had merely stumbled and that the food had fallen on its own.
He adds that it was impossible to deal with everyone. “There were beasts but there were good people too.”
Asked what other categories of people in Latvia were especially likely to have been recruited, Mister W says that those at the Riga Institute for Civil Aviation Engineers were because “there studied not only Latvians, but there were many people from Russia … In it, the work of the organs went extremely well” – “practically every second person was recruited.”
Mister W’s comments are a reminder of just how messy the period during the war was, how many people had no good choices concerning their recruitment by either side of the conflict, and how today regardless of what information is released there is always more that could be and that won’t be, something the Russian organs will certainly exploit to their benefit.
Indeed, one of the reasons why interviews like Mister W’s may be taking place is to unsettle Latvia and Latvians by reminding those who thought they had managed to escape charges of collaboration that Moscow to this day retains materials that it can and will use against those who do not cooperate, now not with the Soviet organs but with the Russian ones.