Of the former heads of state of the Republic of Estonia, eight out of ten were arrested during the first year of occupation. They were either murdered or died in captivity. Curiously enough, Konstantin Päts escaped this fate, Priit Uring writes in a comment first published in Sirp magazine.
There is a view in Estonia that has, unfortunately, all but morphed into a historical fact. Namely, that President Konstantin Päts and Gen. Johan Laidoner were deported to Russia in the summer of 1940. This is also the claim of historian Magnus Ilmjärv: "President of Estonia Konstantin Päts and family were deported to the city of Ufa in Bashkiria on July 30, 1940. Housemaid Olga Tünder traveled with them voluntarily. The president was awarded a pension of 2,000 rubles…"
In truth, Päts was arrested in Russia almost a year later, on June 26, 1941, in connection with war breaking out between Germany and the Soviet Union and placed in the internal affairs prison of the state security people's commissariat of the Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR).
Page 49 of the same publication reads: "Commander of the Estonian armed forces Gen. Johan (Ivan) Laidoner was deported to the city of Penza on July 19, 1940. The general was given a five-room apartment (at Gogol Street 36) and assigned a pension of 500 rubles…" In truth, Laidoner was also arrested in Russia nearly a year later, also on June 26, 1941, in connection with war breaking out between Germany and the Soviet Union and placed in the Penza Oblast prison of the state security people's commissariat.
What did Päts himself have to say about his "deportation"? Reports by agents inside the prison are printed on page 19 of the publication: "He said of his trip to the Soviet Union: "It started in Leningrad with champagne and ended in me having to empty the bucket in the cell and being forced to suffer the crassitude of wild and uncultured Bashkiria…"
Maria Laidoner had this to say about the family's "deportation": "We were housed in an internal affairs commissariat dacha in Moscow. JL asked a Russian official "accredited" with us: "How long will we be kept in this situation?" "Until the end of the war in Europe. After that, you can live where you choose." We were taken to the city of Penza five days later. We were given the second floor of a house there. Our living conditions were satisfactory. JL received a personal pension of 2,000 rubles a month. The house was under guard at night, while we could move around freely during the day…"
What is persistently referred to as the deportation of Päts and Laidoner was administrative expulsion. "Päts has been given a five-room apartment (a single-story house with a yard), fully furnished, complete with running water, a bathroom, plumbing and electrical lighting. The house has a small yard with apple and cherry trees and currant bushes. The yard is illuminated… Based on a request by Päts, Elizaveta Geleva, born in 1918, has been assigned as the housemaid. We have picked a driver who speaks Estonian should Päts require the use of a car."
Until their actual arrest on June 26, 1941, their fate [Päts and Laidoner] cannot be referred to as deportation, nor administrative supervision they experienced compared to the horrors of the violent 1941 June and 1949 March deportations in Estonia and other parts of the Soviet empire. I have not heard about any of the tens of thousands who were deported being offered champagne, given a free house or apartment, pensions, servants, a driver and a garden after they reached their destination in livestock cars.
And yet, we have people intent on whitewashing the truth and claiming that Päts and Laidoner shared the people's fate and suffering. An attempt to make victims out of the aggressor's minions.
Enn Tarvel: "Their inadequate assessment of the state of affairs even went as far as Päts refusing to believe he could be deported to Russia… It is difficult to find any other explanation than the president (and possibly the army commander) hoping to secure a personal position in the communist regime. It seems that Soviet agents had made them personal promises. Of course, it will forever remain unclear what those might have been, as well as the when and where of it. Yet, it remains a fact that the fate of Päts and Laidoner was much brighter than that of their brothers in arms."
We know that eight out of ten former Estonian heads of state (Ado Birk, Ants Piip, Juhan Kukk, Friedrich Akel, Jüri Jaakson, Jaan Teemant, Jaan Tõnisson, August Rei, Otto Strandman, Kaarel Eenpalu) were arrested in the first year of the occupation and were either murdered or died in captivity.
Otto Strandman committed suicide before his arrest, with August Rei the only one to get away by managing to escape to Sweden in June of 1940. And curiously enough, as well as under suspicious circumstances, Konstantin Päts also managed to avoid the enemy.
Unfortunately, I remained among those who did not know the facts with which one can overturn myths for decades. And so, yours truly, after being born during the Second World War and spending his youth and later years under the Soviet yoke, also sang a popular song at birthday parties and sauna evenings the lyrics of which were often altered. It was a pleasant tune to hum, especially after a few drinks that made singing it seem like a dare: "I would like to be home / when the Estonian cent is current / when Laidoner is in charge of the troops / and Päts is president."
A more or less truthful assessment of Päts has instead been offered by Seppo Zetterberg who writes the following concerning the events of the summer of 1940: "Päts had lost actual authority on June 17 and did not make a single decision or decree between June 21 and July 21. All – and they numbered around 150 – were prepared and signed by the [Johannes] Vares administration as instructed by the Soviet embassy. Päts was quite literally a puppet president during those weeks."
/…/ They [Päts and Laidoner] were appreciated by the occupying regime only for as long as they were useful. Once they were no longer needed, they could go – not where they wanted, of course, but where the Russians wanted to send them in the vast Soviet wilderness. Once there, they were paid a pretty pension for about a year on Stalin's mercy but were ultimately still thrown in prison like many other collaborators or minions of the Kremlin's demonic master.
We know today that the Vaps Movement was not planning a violent coup, while rumors were running rampant. We also now know that said rumors benefited the sinister plans of Päts and Laidoner and groundlessly supported their own power grab and the equally groundless settling of scores with heads of the Vaps Movement and hundreds of other members. That is where the root of evil was buried and the seeds of destruction sown that saw the political and military disaster that wiped Estonian independence and statehood from the face of the earth without any resistance.
However, I would now give the floor to Konstantin Päts, as he was already in the clutches of the Russians. Once again, unfortunately, based on criminal investigation materials of the enemy.
So-called agency information reports in his file from January 28, 1941, read, concerning egocentric attitudes voiced by Päts himself: "When the Russian troops arrived in Estonia in 1939, I agreed, because I understood it was a policy of strength: they are stronger, we are weaker, we are a small country. A year later, I was told that I was not sticking to the agreement and was trying to violate it. I gave in once more. I realized, let new people run the country in what are new times."
This text was almost fit for publishing when former high-ranking Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic security officer Vladimir Pool published his book on the fate of Päts and his family titled "Konstantin Päts. Vang nr 12" ("Konstantin Päts. Prisoner no 12") in 2020. Even though historian Jaak Valge is of the mind that the book does not deserve reading at all, I went over the publication out of personal interest in the topic several times.
The book is indeed garbage for the most part and far removed from any measure of historical credibility. It remains questionable whether reports spies delivered to the person given as the author, that soon become repetitive and extremely tedious and largely make up the work include anything to be taken seriously. If so, then only where they coincide with other evidence obtained in hindsight from different sources.
But even this trash includes two noteworthy passages. Page 163 mentions a report by security captain Sokolov of the state security people's commissariat of the Bashkir ASSR from July 4, 1941, titled "To the head of the Third Government of the USSR NKGB" that reveals the following was confiscated from Konstantin Päts after his arrest in Ufa on June 26, 1941: 240 dollars in gold, 565 Estonian kroons in bank notes, 500 Finnish crowns, 880 American crowns (sic!), eight blank checks of the Bank of England and gold and silver affects (rings, bracelets, watches etc.) – 26 items.
Therefore, describing as deportation the dispatching to Russia of Päts and his next of kin complete with loads of property, currency and precious jewelry likely constitutes knowing prevarication today.
The other noteworthy aspect manifests in the afterword by Küllo Arjakas on page 291. Namely, according to the memoirs of Päts' daughter-in-law Helgi-Alice Päts, Konstantin Päts had told her a week before he was moved out of Kloostrimetsa Farm on July 30, 1940, that he might have to travel to Russia for a while and that Helgi, with her children of four and seven, should accompany him. Because they would be safe there and because "it would be more dangerous here."
This final fragment of memory has by now revealed the tragic fact that Päts himself invited his next of kin to Russia and to "safety" with him, thus condemning them too.
In summary, the authoritarian political miscalculation (not to say treason) of Päts and Laidoner led to the complete and utter ruination of themselves and the Estonian state. And therein lies the chief difference between Estonia and Finland. Something that must not be forgotten.
Editor: Marcus Turovski