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« Tuna 4 / 2019

The Deportation of March, 1949 in the Context of the Soviet Union’s Post-War Mass Deportations

This article sums up the results of the research that has been conducted over the past ten years or so on the organisation of the deportation operation ‘Priboi’ carried out in March of 1949. This research has become possible thanks to the addition of new source material that has been made available to historians, for instance the file on Operation ‘Priboi’ and various organisational documents.

The article places ‘Priboi’ in the context of the Soviet Union’s post-war (1947–1952) mass deportations, arriving at the conclusion that in the case of these operations, we can speak of a new wave of deportations that primarily struck western territories, including Estonia, that had initially been annexed in 1939-1940 and were annexed again in 1944–1945. It was the finale of one cycle of repression and an attempt to liquidate once and for all resistance to Sovietisation in rural areas. These were deportations with the largest numbers of victims in Ukraine (1947), Lithuania (1948) and Estonia, Latvia and Moldova (1949).

The operations carried out in the wave of deportations under consideration share numerous important features in common from their initiation right through to the decoration of those who organised and carried them out. They were initiated by command of the Soviet government or the Communist Party leadership and were carried out as covert military operations under the direction of the Ministry of State Security in close cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The article thoroughly examines how these operations were directed and other important organisational questions.

Quite detailed instructions were issued concerning how the operations were to be carried out and they resembled one another from operation to operation. The instructions established the procedure for ascertaining the persons designated for banishment and for carrying out the operation. At the operative level, operation plans were drawn up, indicating the number of people who were to be deported, the necessary personnel, the requirements for transportation and means of communication, covert measures, etc.

The article concludes by proposing possible research themes for the future, recognising that knowledge of the deportations of March, 1949 is not by any means complete.