Soviet occupation and takeover of Estonia in 1940

​In April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and started its offensive against the Benelux countries and France. In mid-June, when the Wehrmacht was about to march into Paris and the world’s attention was focused on this event, the Soviet Union threatened Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with military action and presented them with an ultimatum, demanding they allow additional troops into the country and that they install pro-Soviet governments. On 14 June, Tallinn and the northern coast of Estonia were blocked by the Soviet Baltic fleet. All three Baltic countries accepted the ultimatums and were soon occupied by the Red Army. Estonia was occupied on the basis of the enforced ‘dictate of Narva’ on 17 June; the government of Jüri Uluots resigned. On 21 June a pro-Soviet puppet government was formed (Prime Minister Johannes Vares), and the Sovietisation process began. In July, parliamentarian elections were quickly carried out, which were not free and did not correspond with the constitution of the Republic of Estonia. The convened puppet parliament declared Estonia a ‘Soviet socialist republic’ and indicated its aim was to join the Soviet Union. In order to present the coup d’état as a popular revolution, numerous meetings were organised in which Estonian communists made speeches and the Red Army kept an eye on the proceedings.

​The change in power was not considered legitimate in Estonia or abroad. On 23 July 1940 US Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles announced that the USA did not recognise the changes carried out in the Baltic countries by force. This was the beginning of the Western countries’ politics of non-recognition.

​On 6 August Estonia was incorporated as a union republic into the Soviet Union. The Estonian social organisation, economy and cultural life were quickly altered to fit those in the Soviet Union. July saw the beginning of redistribution of land and nationalisation of enterprises. In autumn 1940, the Soviet rouble became the only currency.

​In the course of Sovietisation, the principle of division of powers disappeared. The Central Committee of the local Communist Party became the most important power institution (headed by Karl Säre). Together with the republic’s government (headed by Johannes Lauristin), it organised the Sovietisation of the country on the basis of instructions from Moscow. The puppet parliament (Supreme Soviet) could only formally confirm accepted decisions. Independent judicial power was abolished. Exactly the same process occurred in Latvia and Lithuania. Together with the demolishing and rearranging of the state structures of an independent country, massive communist propaganda was launched (political staffs were established in all institutions, the army had politruks, red corners were set up etc).

​The Estonian army was reorganised into the 22nd Red Army territorial rifle brigade and cleansed of ‘anti-Soviet elements’. The same thing happened throughout society – by summer 1941 the majority of the elite, about 9400 people, had been arrested and deported to Soviet prison camps and/or killed. In June 1941 another 10,000 people were deported. About 7000 additional people were resettled in winter and spring 1941. By early 1940 the Estonian population had been reduced to 1.13 million.

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