Pērkonkrusts (Thunder Cross in Latvian), was a Latvian political party founded in the 1930s. This group adapted fascist ideology to the situation in independent
Latviaafter 1918. It was the largest and longest-lived organisation of its kind in Latvia. The movement's leader was Gustavs Celmiņš.
Principles and ideology
Pērkonkrusts has been variously categorised by scholars as representing the
radical right, "activist nationalism" ( _lv. aktīvais nacionālisms),cite book |title=Aktīvais nacionālisms Latvijā 1922–1934 |last=Krēsliņš |first=Uldis |year=2005 |publisher=Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds |location=Riga |language=Latvian |isbn=9984601218 |oclc=63207095 ] or fascism, with the latter term being the most commonly encountered in the scholarly literature. [cite book |title=Who Were the Fascists?: Social Roots of European Fascism |last=Ugelvik Larsen |first=Stein |coauthors=Hagtvet, Bernt & Myklebust, Jan Petter (eds.)|year=1980 |publisher=Universitetsforlaget |location=Bergen &c. |isbn=8200053318 |oclc=8200053318 ] cite book |last=Griffin |first=Roger (ed.) |authorlink=Roger Griffin |title=Fascism |series=Oxford Readers |year=1995 |publisher=Oxford University Press |location=Oxford |isbn=0192892495 |oclc=31606309 |pages=p. 217] Roger Griffin, a prominent fascist studies scholar, describes Pērkonkrusts in the 1930s as having been a "small but geniune fascist opposition" which "pursued a revolutionary solution to the [economic] crisis and which would turn Latvia into an authoritarian state based on a new élite with a new corporatist economy", with its politics defined by "integralist nationalism".
Aside from the party's newspaper, "Pērkonkrusts" (1933–34), the main source of information on the political platform of Pērkonkrusts can be found in the 1933 brochure, "Pērkonkrusts: What Is It? What Does It Want? How Does It Work?" ( _lv. Kas ir? Ko grib? Kā darbojas? Pērkonkrusts). This publication not only outlined the movement's political programme, but also included the complete party statutes.
With its slogan "Latvia for Latviansndash Work and bread for Latvians!" ( _lv. Latviju latviešiemndash latviešiem darbu un maizi!), Pērkonkrusts wished to place all political and economic control of their country exclusively in the hands of ethnic Latvians. As a result, the party rejected the existing legislation that gave national minorities cultural autonomy. Pērkonkrusts aimed its propaganda against minorities who supposedly had taken over the Latvian economy (i.e.
Baltic Germans, Jews) and the contemporary parliamentary politicians, whom it accused of corruption.
Christianityas a foreign influence and suggested instead adopting Dievturība, which was an attempt to revive an assumed pre-Christian Latvian religion. [cite journal |last=Misāne |first=Agita |year=2005 |title=Dievturība Latvijas reliģisko un politisko ideju vēsturē |journal=Reliģiski-filozofiski raksti |volume=X |pages=101–17 |id= |url=http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=327041b4-8dad-4951-9e82-2d6f130602ab |language=Latvian |accessdate=2008-06-02 ]
Despite its rural ideals, Pērkonkrusts gained most of its support in the urban areas like
Riga, more specifically among students at the University of Latvia.
"Thunder Cross" is one of the names for the
swastikain Latvian, which was used as a symbol of the organization.
The group used a variation of the Roman or
Hitler salute, and greeted with the Latvian phrase "Cīņai sveiks" ("Ready for battle"cite book |last=Lazda |first=Mara I. |editor=Kevin Passmore |title=Women, Gender and Fascism in Europe 1919–1945 |year=2003 |publisher=Rutgers University Press |location=New Brunswick, NJ |isbn=0813533082 |oclc=52359136 |chapter=Latvia ] or "Hail the struggle").
Although the party used both the swastika and the Roman salute, it was neither affiliated with, nor a copycat of German
Nazism—as was the case with the United Latvian National Socialist Party ( _lv. Apvienotā Latvijas nacionālsocialistu partija) headed by Jānis Štelmachers.
The uniform of Pērkonkrusts was a grey shirt and black beret.
Development before World War II
The fascist group Ugunskrusts (Fire Cross), [Cf.
Croix-de-Feuin France.] also a term for swastika in Latvian, was founded in Latvia in 1932 by Gustavs Celmiņš, but was soon outlawed by the government of Latvia. The former Ugunskrusts organisation reemerged immediately under the new name of Pērkonkrusts. By 1934, Pērkonkrusts is estimated to have had between 5,000 and 6,000 members, although the organization maintained that it had more. Kārlis Ulmanis, leader of the conservative nationalist Peasants' Union Party and then Prime Minister of Latvia, proposed constitutional reforms in October 1933, which socialists feared would target the left more than the right. In November of the same year, seven communist deputies were arrested, while Pērkonkrusts officials were left alone. Because of political unrest, stemming partially from the growing power of the right, Ulmanis staged a bloodless coup d'étatin May 1934, banning not only the Communist Party and Pērkonkrusts, but all parties and the Saeima(Parliament). Following the coup, Pērkonkrusts leader Celmiņš was imprisoned for three years and then banished from Latvia.
Although Pērkonkrusts did not exist officially after 1934, many former leaders and members acted with a degree of unity in subsequent years.
In the late 1930s, Celmiņš set up a 'foreign liaison office' of Pērkonkrusts in
Helsinki, Finland. During his peripatetic exile, Celmiņš had established personal contacts with the representatives of other fascist groupings in Europe, most notably Romania's Corneliu Codreanu.cite book |title=The Radical Right in Interwar Estonia |last=Kasekamp |first=Andres |year=2000 |publisher=Macmillan; St. Martin's Press |location=Basingstoke, Hants.; New York |isbn=0333732499 |oclc=42290323]
During World War II and the Holocaust
Not long after the
Molotov-Ribbentrop pactin 1939, Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Whereas the Soviet regime released the Communists imprisoned by Ulmanis with great ceremony, political prisoners from Pērkonkrusts were not freed. Instead, more members of Pērkonkrusts were arrested by the Soviet authorities during 1940–1941, some of them being deported to Siberia.cite book |title=Pērkonkrusts pār Latviju: 1932–1944 |last=Paeglis |first=Armands |year=2005 |publisher=Klubs 415 |location=Riga |language=Latvian |isbn=9984940543 |oclc=62894045 ]
When the Germans invaded Latvia in late June 1941, Celmiņš, who had moved to Germany following Latvia's occupation in 1940, returned to Latvia as a "Sonderführer" (special officer) in the service of the German
Wehrmacht.cite book |last=Lumans |first=Valdis O. |title=Latvia in World War II |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=IPv1gjLhtZ4C&dq=lumans |series=World War II—The Global, Human, and Ethical Dimension |volume=11 |year=2006 |publisher=Fordham University Press |location=New York |isbn=9780823226276 |oclc=64595899]
In early July, Pērkonkrusts was briefly permitted to operate openly again. Former Pērkonkrusts members were actively sought by the German authorities as volunteers for the
Arajs Commando. According to research by historian Rudīte Vīksne, however, it remains unclear as to how many members of Pērkonkrusts actually ended up joining this killing squad that played a key role in the Holocaust in Latvia. [cite book |last=Vīksne |first=Rudīte |editor=Valters Nollendorfs & Erwin Oberländer (eds.) |title=The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia under Soviet and Nazi Occupations 1940–1991: Selected Research of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia |url=http://www.president.lv/images/modules/items/PDF/item_1619_Vesturnieku_komisijas_raksti_14_sejums.pdf |format=PDF |accessdate=2008-06-03 |series=Symposium of the Commission of the Historians of Latvia |volume=14 |year=2005 |publisher=Institute of the History of Latvia |location=Riga |isbn=9984601927 |oclc=60334164 |pages=pp. 188–206 |chapter=Members of the Arājs Commando in Soviet Court Files: Social Position, Education, Reasons for Volunteering, Penalty ]
The German authorities decisively banned the organization for good in August 1941. Some former Pērkonkrusts members collaborated with the Germans, while others maintained an anti-German sentiment and joined those groups subversively opposed to German occupation.
Celmiņš continued his outward collaboration with the Germans in the hopes that sizable Latvian military formations would be created. From February 1942, he headed the Committee for Organising Latvian Volunteers ( _lv. Latviešu brīvprātīgo organizācijas komiteja), the main function of which was the recruitment of Latvian men for the Latvian Auxiliary Police Battalions, known in German as "Schutzmannschaften" or simply "Schuma". [cite book |title=Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival |last=Bassler |first=Gerhard P. |year=2000 |publisher=University of Toronto Press |location=Toronto; Buffalo |isbn=0802044131 |oclc=41347251 ] [cite book |title=Latviešu leģions: Dibināšana, formēšana un kauju gaitas Otrā pasaules karā |last=Silgailis |first=Arturs |year=2001 |publisher=Junda |location=Riga |language=Latvian |isbn=998401035X |oclc=48959631 ] Aside from front-line combat duties, these battalions also participated in so-called anti-partisan operations Latvia and Belarus that included the massacres of rural Jews and other civilians. [cite book |title=Hitler's Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East |last=Westermann |first=Edward B. |year=2005 |publisher=University Press of Kansas |location=Lawrence, KS |isbn=0700613714 |oclc=56982341 ]
Pērkonkrusts members working within the SD apparatus in occupied Latvia would feed Celmiņš information, some of which he would include in his underground, anti-German publication "
Brīvā Latvija". This eventually led to Celmiņš and his associates being arrested, with Celmiņš ending up imprisoned in Flossenbürg concentration camp. [cite journal |last=Felder |first=Björn M. |year=2003 |title='Die Spreu vom Weizen Trennen ...': Die Lettische Kartei—Pērkonkrusts im SD Lettland 1941–1943 |journal=Latvijas Okupācijas Muzeja Gadagrāmata |volume=2003 |pages=47–66 |issn=1407-6330 |language=German ]
In Latvia today
A self-proclaimed successor group to Pērkonkrusts emerged in the 1990s as an organization whose stated goal was the overthrow of the current unsatisfactory government and the establishment of a "Latvian Latvia". [cite web |url=http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=103452&lang=lv |title=Extremism in Latvia |accessdate=2008-06-03 |last=Muižnieks |first=Nils |date=2002-06-11 |publisher=POLITIKA.LV] Its members tried three times to bomb the Monument to the Liberators of Riga from the German and Fascist Invaders. In one of the most serious incidents, two of the members were killed in the explosion. [cite web |url=http://www.axt.org.uk/antisem/archive/archive2/latvia/latvia.htm |title=Latvia |accessdate=2008-06-03 |publisher=AXT |year=1998 ] In 2000, most of the leaders of the current Pērkonkrusts were arrested and tried. The group ceased organised activities thereafter.
In recent years,
Igors Šiškinshas tried to re-activate Pērkonkrusts again. He has claimed to represent Pērkonkrusts at various events, such as the marking of Latvian Legion Day[cite news |title=Leģionāru piemiņas pasākums noritējis bez starpgadījumiem |url=http://www.delfi.lv/news/national/politics/article.php?id=20520524 |publisher=www.DELFI.lv |date=2008-03-16 |accessdate=2008-06-03 |language=Latvian ] and Soviet Victory Day ( 9 May) in Riga. On 9 May 2007, Šiškins was arrested for wearing forbidden symbols in public. [cite web |url=https://www.osac.gov/Reports/report.cfm?contentID=69995 |title=May 2007 Latvia Crime Report |accessdate=2008-06-03 |publisher= Overseas Security Advisory Council|date=2007-07-02 ]
In its relations with Latvia, the Foreign Ministry of the
Russian Federationat times brings up the history of the Pērkonkrusts movement as evidence of present-day Latvia's "fascist" heritage. [cite web |url=http://www.un.int/russia/other/latv1941.htm |title=Involvement of the Lettish SS Legion in War Crimes in 1941–1945 and the Attempts to Revise the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal in Latvia |accessdate=2005-12-02 |author= Russian Federation, Permanent Mission to the UN |date= |work= |publisher=www.un.int ]
* [http://old.lnb.lv/digitala_biblioteka/Plakati_Latvija/tables/HTML/333.htm Pērkonkrusts poster from 1930s] , from the collections of the National Library of Latvia.
* [http://www.historia.lv/alfabets/P/Pe/perkonkrusts/perkonkrusts.htm Story of Pērkonkrusts] lv icon
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