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« Tuna 4 / 2019

The Liquidation of the Constabulary of the Republic of Estonia and the Organisation of the Militia of Workers and Peasants in 1940

Since the Republic of Estonia chose the path of so-called silent surrender in 1939, it gave the Soviet Union the chance to launch a plan in June of 1940 where neither occupation nor annexation had to be excessively publicly displayed.

One of the more serious ordeals was the takeover of the nationwide police apparatus. The hitherto existing structure of the police was not changed to any great extent at the start of the occupation. The political police continued to operate in the sphere of national security, the criminal police dealt with more complicated criminal offences, and the constabulary focused on maintaining public order. This article examines the takeover of the constabulary and the formation of the militia of workers and peasants (MWP) in the summer and autumn of 1940.

While it was considered possible to use persons from the era of the ‘old order’ (if not exactly in leading positions, then at least as technical employees) who wished (or were forced) to cooperate with the new regime in the national economy, the army and local governments during the transitional period, their employment in the police was ideologically impossible. On the other hand, for instance in the case of the constabulary and its Soviet analogue, the militia of workers and peasants, ‘revolutionary conscience’ alone was insufficient in this line of work. Especially in rural districts, the MWP was even more important than the rural municipal government in establishing the new order. In order to cope with the tasks of the job, one had to be familiar with book learning, laws, local conditions, and much more, along with having a clean personal record. Hence co-workers with a suitable background and satisfactory personal characteristics who would be fit to serve as militia officers had to be selected first. A rather unconventional scheme was implemented in taking over the constabulary. The ‘workers’ defence’ force that was organised at the time of the overthrow of the government in June of 1940 became the seedbed for the new cadre, and in July of that same year, it was formed into a nationwide organisation named Rahva Omakaitse [People’s Home Defence]. By the time of its liquidation, it had brought together several thousand volunteers who wished to cooperate with the new regime; and the main benefit was that this group of people was for the most part from an ideologically acceptable environment, in other words the ‘working class’. This organisation operated for three months and over that period of time, it was possible to select individuals whose background and capability could be checked to some degree in the course of auxiliary policing tasks, while at the same time improving necessary skills in accelerated training and political propaganda.

In the autumn of 1940 when the new militia cadre began operating, the transition already proved to be rough and to a great extent, the fulfilment of tasks was beyond the capacity of the personnel. Regardless of the selection process that had been carried out, the MWP cadre was not exactly what had been hoped for. It turned out that there was quite a large proportion of dubious elements in the organisation itself that had been set up to fight crime. Hence dozens of militia officers were brought before the military tribunal during the first year of Soviet occupation. Additionally, numerous supervisory investigations were conducted, where considerable leniency was shown to new militia officers because no better alternatives could be found anywhere.

In conclusion, a quotation from the pen of Erhard Leppik, the head of the Järva County Department of the NKVD, which broadly characterises the occupational skills of the average militia officer: ‘Yet the militia consists of people who are barely capable of drawing up a proper report without organising a corresponding course. Thefts, however, are gaining momentum with each passing day since young thieves take advantage of the organisational weaknesses of the militia organisation.’