Tunne Kelam: Wider awareness of March deportations crucial ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Tunne Kelam at a recent presentation of his latest book, ''Isamaa ilu hoieldes''. Source: Press materials

Monday saw the 70th anniversary of the March 1949 Soviet deportations from Estonia, marked with candle lighting ceremonies up and down the country, exhibitions at 16 train stations where most of the deportees were sent from, and other events. Tunne Kelam, MEP writes about the March deportations, and their legacy.

25 March, 1949 saw the second wave of mass deportations of the local population from the three Baltic states, which had been occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 as a result of the 23 August, 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. The first mass deportations had already taken place, in June 1941. 

The 1949 deportations were mandated by the Soviet Communist Party leadership during peace time, four years after the end of the World War Two.  More than 90,000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, labeled ''enemies of the people'', were taken from their homes and sent four to six thousand kilometres in railway cattle cars to Siberia, initially  for ''eternity'', with no right of return.

70% of those deported were women, and children under the age of 16. Heads of families were mostly arrested and sent separately to the Gulag forced labour camps. Deportees were settled in remote villages, where they were subjected to exhausting physical labour with minimal food.  They were treated as potential enemies, and restricted to their destined location. 

This operation was intended to break the passive resistance of farmers to forced collectivisation, which forced land-owners to give up (with no compensation) their personal property, machinery and livestock, then to join the new collective farms.  However, many of the victims were taken from the towns too.  The overall goal of the communist dictatorship was to demoralise and break any spirit of resistance within the local populations. 

In April 1949, an additional 3,000 persons were deported from Lithuania.  

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), based on the principles of the Nuremberg Charter, has defined the 1949 deportations from the Baltic States as crimes against humanity.

The MEPs representing the Baltic States call on all their colleagues to join us today in reflection and solidarity.  Only by developing a common awareness and achieving a moral assessment of these inhuman crimes can we have certainty that these massive atrocities will happen never again.


Tunne Kelam is an Isamaa MEP who sits with the EPP group in the European Parliament.

He played a crucial role in the drive for Estonian independence. In 1972, he prepared, at enormous personal risk, a memorandum for the UN, subsequently smuggled out of the country, which demanded free elections in Estonia and the removal of occupying forces. This directly led to him losing his post as senior scientific editor for the Estonian Soviet Encyclopaedia, and demotion to night watchman on a chicken farm.

After the loosening of repression under Mikhail Gorbachev's Glasnost and Perestroika reforms, he was a founder member of the first non-Communist political party in occupied Estonia, and Soviet territory as a whole, the Estonian Independence Party (''Eesti Rahvusliku Sõltumatuse Partei''). In 1990 he was elected to the transitional Congress of Estonia.

He was later instrumental in the agreement between the congress and the Estonian Supreme Soviet in 1991, paving the way to full independence.

The Estonian Independence Party later merged with the National Coalition Party Pro Patria, in 1995, to form the Pro Patria Union. In 2006, this party in turn merged with the Res Publica party, and continues as Isamaa to the present day. 

Mr Kelam was first elected an MEP in 2004. He recently announced that he will not seek re-election in the May European elections. He was awarded the Truman-Reagan medal of freedom in Washington DC, in November 2018.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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