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Negotiating Lives, Redefining Repressive Policies: Managing the Legacies of Stalinist Deportations.

Administrative collective exile, implemented in 1940 and 1941 and again from 1944 onward, involved the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people from the western territories annexed by the Soviet Union after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in August 1939. These forced displacements fitted into a broader policy of Soviet mass deportations, which had started with the collectivization of the countryside in 1929-32. More than six million people were deported and assigned the degrading, restrictive status of "special deportees," "special settlers," or "exiles," a status that evolved during subsequent waves of deportation and over time. (1)

It was the task of the Soviet authorities that succeeded Stalin in 1953 to manage this population, scattered over a vast territory but strictly delimited in administrative terms, and to decide whether or not to release people in these categories and reintegrate them into mainstream society. Rather than abolishing the special regime governing the special settlers, the Soviet authorities kept it in place for many years. Decisions about the special deportees were not coordinated with the policy to release and rehabilitate former prisoners, which covered both ordinary criminals and political detainees. (2) The timeframes were not the same, and the types of procedures implemented also differed. Although Lavrentii Beria's intention was evidendy to follow up the amnesty decree of March 1953 with similar measures applicable to a large percentage of the forcibly displaced population, any such measures were suspended after Beria's arrest. (3)

While for the camps the authorities opened both individual and collective judicial procedures in the form of sentencing reviews and amnesties, these mechanisms were not extended to the special settlers, who had never been sentenced by a court. Instead, their status had been assigned and their deportation effected on the basis of administrative decisions (orders issued by the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs [NKVD], the USSR Council of Ministers, or the Council of Ministers of the republic concerned), or decisions emanating from an extrajudicial body with sentencing powers--namely, the NKVD Special Conference.

The Soviet authorities, extremely wary of this population, dismantled the world of the deportees very slowly, mirroring the gradual nature of its constitution. The system was dismantled by collective decrees and instructions issued by the central government between 1954 and 1965, regulating the deportees' release and return. (4) These decisions took effect last on the western fringes of the Soviet Union. The status of "special settler" did not disappear completely until 1965, some 12 years after Stalin's death. And it was not until perestroika, in 1988 especially, and subsequently in the states that became independent in 1991, that more general legislation finally overturned the Stalinist decisions.

Until 1988, therefore, decisions on the release of individuals and the restitution of property were still underpinned by Stalinist political and social categories. Those who had been deported as "bandits," "accomplices of bandits," "members of a bandit's family," and "relatives of kulaks" did not receive the same treatment by the Soviet authorities. Rather than challenge these Stalinist representations, the actions of the authorities only mitigated their impact on the lives of the people concerned. Release did not automatically entail the right of return or the restitution of confiscated property or housing, for which deportees had to make separate demands.

During the crucial decade of 1954-65, each wave of collective release of millions of special setders was decided and organized at the highest level of the state. But these decisions were sometimes anticipated by the republic authorities, which implemented various procedures for the release of certain individuals. State hesitancy and the relative leeway granted to republics led to an entanglement of collective procedures initiated by Moscow and of individual procedures initiated by the republic authorities. In this article, we do not address the mechanisms of collective releases, which are well known. (5) We focus instead on individual release procedures and therefore on the practices implemented by the republic governments, as illustrated by the case of Lithuania. The example of Lithuania is at once emblematic and specific: emblematic of the wariness of the center and of local authorities in the western regions toward the "un-Sovietized" populations who had been deported from those territories; and specific in the invention by the Lithuanian authorities of practices that partly anticipated the collective measures decided at central level.

Our research revolves around three strong hypotheses.

The mass submission of complaints and requests by deportees and/or by their relatives who stayed behind in the territories of origin put pressure on the republic government, which led to a modification of the norm from late 1953 onward. The routine procedure for dealing with complaints prior to 1953, under which petitions generally came to nothing, was transformed into an administrative procedure to release persons from a discriminatory status. The procedure introduced elements of interaction and even dialogue, albeit unequal, between the petitioner and the administration processing the application. Informal rules were applied to the individual treatment of cases. They were rules because they set the criteria whereby the administration granted or rejected the requests. And they were informal because they were not specified in any written instruction and can be uncovered only through a meticulous examination of the cases concerned.

The practices implemented through this procedure reveal how the various administrative and political actors, from the most local to the republic level, reformulated and reinterpreted the Stalinist mental constructs in a way that was more favorable to the populations concerned, without ever abandoning them. Many studies have already shown the prevarication and tension at the highest level of the state after 1953 with regard to the legacy of Stalinism. While addressing the major political aspects, such as the modes of governance, the use of repression, or economic management, these studies have paid less attention to the changes in social mental constructs and their enduring features. Recent historical literature rarely deals with how the changes that took place between 1953 and 1989 affected the representations and practices of local actors, when they were faced with specific, individual cases of past repressions. The latter aspect has rarely been studied in connection with cases of deportation; (6) attention has tended to focus on the "punished peoples," such as the Crimean Tatars, (7) Chechens, and Ingush, (8) and on the political negotiations and dialogues between representatives of those communities and the central authorities, rather than on local relationships, conflicts, and negotiations between the authorities in the localities of departure or return.

Last, our work examines the relationships that developed between the republic government and Moscow in the implementation of post-Stalinism. Several studies have looked at the forms of autonomy of the republic or regional authorities. They tend to concentrate more on the Stalinist period than the Thaw and to highlight policies of repression. (9) We demonstrate, for our part, that this policy response to the influx of complaints was developed at the initiative of Vilnius without direct intervention from Moscow. Of course, those decisions were consistent with the changes taking place across the Soviet Union and the key features of de-Stalinization. But both their form and their practical implementation reflect genuine autonomy. In this instance, de-Stalinization took place via a relationship that did not go through Moscow.

Writing Complaints

Sending requests and complaints was a widespread practice in the Soviet Union. (10) Frequently, petitioners sought a response to a request that could not be dealt with via legal channels. The practice of sending complaints has been abundantly researched over the past 20 years. It is sometimes analyzed to describe the relationship between the individual and the state (paternalism, forced trust, etc.). (11) It has also been analyzed as a tool of communication between the citizen and the authorities and a source of information for the latter. (12) Complaints are also often studied as texts that can reveal the values and representations of Soviet citizens and their discursive strategies. (13) In these studies, complaints are usually considered as a body of texts, often with no link to the individuals concerned beyond the information contained in the letters themselves. This approach is largely dependent on the conditions of access to the sources: such bodies of complaints are held by the institutions that received or processed them, so the only information about the petitioners is that contained in the complaints themselves or in the replies from the authorities.

One of the most comprehensive and enlightening studies based on complaints as a source is Miriam Dobson's work on Gulag inmates, closely related to our own research. (14) She draws primarily on two bodies of evidence: the complaints archived in the files of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR; (15) and the individually processed complaints archived at the prosecutor's office, which contain the complaint and the prosecutor's report for each person. (16) Miriam Dobson thus had information about the petitioner contained in the letter or in the report made by the prosecutor who saw the petitioner's file, as well as the results of any additional investigations. But these documents provide no details about the grounds for granting or rejecting a complaint or the investigations and other procedures involved in processing a complaint.

Here we propose a more in-depth approach. We analyze individual and family files of deportees, which contain their complaints as well as the documents generated by the examination of the complaints and the replies given to them. The administration opened files on families at the time of their deportation, which often remained open for decades, with further documents added over the course of subsequent years. The files contain materials about the deportation itself, sometimes documents about life in the places of settlement, and finally the complaints and the correspondence between various institutions that they occasioned, as well as the materials involved in their processing and the reports they generated. The Lithuanian Special Archives contain around 39,000 of these files. (17) We used two complementary methods: first, a statistical survey of a random sample of 5 percent of the files; (18) second, a detailed study of around 100 files. The complaints are thus placed in the context of the petitioners' lives and the concomitant political timelines. By tracking expectations and outcomes, practices and procedures, we were able to detect changes over time in the consequences of sending a complaint and thus to identify a temporal process of distancing from Stalinism. To complement this analysis of deportees' files, we examine all available documentation on the implementation of the deportations and releases, at the republic and central levels.

Writing to the Authorities before 1953

Complaints were an important means of expression for deportees. Forcibly displaced by an administrative act applied collectively or by an extrajudicial act applied to an individual or a family, they could not appeal the decision through the court system.

Their complaints were processed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (First Department, in charge of deportations), although the formal decisions to reject or accept the petitioners' requests were made by other bodies. Let us briefly recall how the deportations were conducted. In 1941, the order to deport populations from the western territories came from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR. (19) From 1944 onward, the many mass deportations from those territories were also prompted by orders from the NKVD/NKGB. They were approved, usually after the fact, by the NKVD Special Conference. (20) They were an instrument for the repression of all those suspected of participating in the fight against Soviet power--namely, "bandits," "accomplices of bandits," "members of a bandit's family," and so on. Other deportations were officially decided by decrees of republic councils of ministers. From 1948 onward, they targeted the peasant population during the collectivization of Baltic agriculture but were also designed to weaken the anti-Soviet insurgency, whose main base was in the countryside. They were divided into several operations: for example, Operation Priboi (Coastal Surf) (21) and Operation Vesna (Spring) in Lithuania. (22) The police implemented the measures after compiling lists of people to be displaced on the basis of information supplied by local administrative bodies.

The revocation of the deportations of individuals and families was subject to precise rules: only the Special Conference could revoke its own decisions. The Council of Ministers could revoke an individual deportation conducted as part of a collective operation, if this operation was ordered under a council decree. Until 1953, it did so in exceptional cases but always based on an opinion issued by the Ministry of Internal Aifairs, which thus maintained control over the processing of these complaints.

The displaced individuals were unaware of the intricacies of these procedures, which were kept secret. Starting in 1941, many nonetheless wrote to various institutions at the federal level (NKVD, USSR Council of Ministers, chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet), or at the republic or local levels (in the places of settlement or in their regions of origin), to protest decisions they considered to be groundless and to prove that they or their relatives had been wrongfully deported. (23) The interlocutors therefore did not necessarily have the power to revoke the deportation but were chosen because they were perceived to be the highest state authorities. For example, the institution that received the largest number of complaints was the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet. (24) Among the tens of thousands of complaints it received in 1949 (Fig. 1, Table 1), about one in five concerned deportations. The proportion in that year was much higher than in the preceding or following year, probably as a consequence of the deportations conducted in the western territories in 1948 and 1949.

Numerous requests were also addressed to the republic authorities. Between 1945 and 1953, the Lithuanian authorities received between 1,500 and 5,000 complaints a year from special deportees or their families, either directly or forwarded to the republic level by federal bodies (see Table 2 for 1952-53).

Between 1948 and early 1953, the complaints received by the Lithuanian Council of Ministers, whether directly or via another institution, were processed by the Commission of the Council of Ministers for the Examination of Complaints and Requests (Komissiia Soveta ministrov Litovskoi SSR po rassmotreniiu zhalob i zaiavlenii). (25) Unlike the most common types of complaints about housing, pensions, and so on, letters about deportations were classified as "secret" or "top secret." After preparatory work (described in more detail below), the complaints and corresponding documents were examined by the commission, which consisted of a representative of the Council of Ministers, a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and a representative of the Prosecutor's Office. According to a well-established bureaucratic formalism, the commission had two options: if the deportation resulted from a decision by the NKVD, the commission could only submit an application to the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs (vozbudit' khodataistvo o vozvrazhchenii); alternatively, if the deportation resulted from a decree issued by the republic Council of Ministers (in Lithuania, only from 1949, the year of Operation Priboi), the commission could decide whether or not to allow the petitioner to return.

There are no statistics on the number of deportees' complaints processed by the commission prior to 1953. Evidently, there were very few. We found only a handful of files containing such documents. For example, on 1 February 1949, the commission processed 29 complaints from families or relatives of deportees requesting their return or the restitution of confiscated property. (26) A positive response was exceptional. (27) We found no traces of any decisions to release people from "administrative exile" by a decree of the Council of Ministers earlier than 1951, when nine families, totaling 14 people, were released "on the proposal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Lithuania." (28) They had all been "administrative deportees" (29)--that is, deported by a decision of the Council of Ministers as part of Operation Priboi in 1949. In 1952, another four families, totaling 14 people, deported in 1949 or 1951, were released. (30)

Very few complaints resulted in release, but an examination of the files processed by the Lithuanian Council of Ministers commission reveals certain decision-making mechanisms and sheds light on the changes that took place after the death of Stalin. Stase B.'s husband wrote a request for his wife to be released in 1948. (31) She had been deported as a member of her father's family, designated as a "kulak family." After several failed requests, each time followed by a new one, she was finally released in 1951. The commission acknowledged that she was a member of her husband's family, not her father's. (32) Her sister, Naste, then sought, in vain, to use the same argument, emphasizing that, like Stase, she was not responsible for their parents either. Her request was rejected because she was not married and lived with her parents.

Vladislava D. was deported with her mother and stepfather's family, even though she did not live with them, because she rushed over to their house to say goodbye to her mother when the latter was being deported with the family of her second husband, the "kulak" G. Some peasants from the kolkhoz where Vladislava lived sent a complaint to the first secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania in late November 1951. After some inquiries among the peasants, who all testified that the daughter did not live with the mother, Vladislava was released in March 1952. Here, as in many other requests, the family to which the person belonged and the definition of what is to be considered a household were grounds for challenging the deportation. Whether in the petitioners' argument or in the reasons given for the--few--positive responses, the principles were very different from those behind the release of young peasants deported during the mass collectivization of land between 1929 and 1931. The rationale there was to break family ties in order to turn the children of "kulaks" into loyal Soviet subjects. (33) In the case of the later deportations analyzed here, an administrative, bureaucratic logic prevailed. There was no attempt to demonstrate the loyalty of a son or a daughter or to prove their detachment from their parents in order to secure their release. The sole aim was to find out whether the deportee was indeed a member of the deported household, living under the same roof and sharing the same budget. (34)

How a "Bottom-Up" Practice Changed the Norm

Prior to 1953, therefore, decisions to release deportees were extremely rare. Most involved the acknowledgment of a technical error committed at the time of deportation. The commission for the examination of complaints, which had issued a handful of release orders--a tiny drop in an enormous ocean--nevertheless exercised unusual power in this regard, stemming from a specific feature of the Lithuanian deportations, which were decided by an order of the Council of Ministers. The same power existed in the other two Baltic republics, as well as in Moldavia, where some of the waves of deportation had also been decided by the republic Council of Ministers. A significant percentage of releases were also decided by the Council of Ministers in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldavia even before 1953. (35) By contrast, all of the deportations from Ukraine resulted from orders of the NKVD, and consequently almost no releases were decided by the Council of Ministers.

In Lithuania, a new commission was created in 1953, focusing exclusively on requests concerning deportations. Named Commission for the Examination of Applications from Citizens and from the Relevant Bodies about the Revocation of the Administrative Exile of Certain Citizens Displaced outside the Borders of the Lithuanian SSR, it met for the first time on 18 June 1953. (36) A practice that was intended to be exceptional thus became an administrative procedure. From then on, the commission operated as an administrative jurisdiction, with the key difference that some of the "judges" were the same people who had made the contested decisions in the first place. The requests of deportees, wherever they were sent--to Moscow or Vilnius, to the Party or to the Supreme Court--were forwarded to the commission if the case fell within its remit.

The new commission was clearly the Lithuanian authorities' response to an unprecedented situation: almost immediately after the death of Stalin, they were confronted with a massive upsurge in the number of requests, whose growth can be tracked month by month in the years 1953 and 1954 (Table 3), reflecting the speed of the reaction to Stalin's death or the hopes raised by the amnesty decree of March 1953. (37) The number of complaints received reached a peak in 1956-57 (Fig. 2). (38) Roughly 70,000 complaints were sent in the four years between 1954 and 1957, for 35,000 deported families, an average of two complaints per family. The volume of letters is all the more striking, given that there had been no official law or announcement informing people that they could apply to the commission.

The decision-making process also changed, reflecting an early change in authority structures at the republic level. The Council of Ministers no longer acted only in response to requests from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which lost its absolute power, at least formally. Before May 1953, each order had concerned a single family and was issued in response to "a request from the Lithuanian Ministry of Internal Affairs" to the commission for the examination of complaints. From 27 June 1953 onward, the decisions were titled "Decree on the Partial Amendment of the Decrees of the Lithuanian Council of Ministers on the Administrative Exile of Various Citizens" and were taken "on a proposal from the commission."

The terms of the new practices were established by trial and error from June 1953 on. (39) It was not until the commission session of 10 November 1954 that the procedure, the terminology, and the hierarchy of the decisions were set in the form that would remain in place until 1988. (40) The decisions taken fell into three categories: otmenit' kak neobosnovannoe (revoke as groundless), a category that appeared on 3 July 1953; (41) otmenit' v vide iskliucheniia (revoke on exceptional grounds); and dlia otmeny vysylki net osnovanii (no grounds for revocation). The differences entailed significant consequences for the deportees: an individual whose deportation was revoked as groundless was effectively rehabilitated and entitled to recover his or her confiscated property (directly or via a monetary compensation). (42) Naturally, that opened the floodgates to numerous claims and local conflicts, particularly over the restitution of houses, which were often occupied either by new residents or by institutions (schools, clubs, or administrations). By contrast, a revocation "on exceptional grounds" did not entitle the person to any compensation or the restitution of property, so those former deportees had to send new requests after their release to try and recover their property.

This republic-level experiment, evidently a response to pressure "from the bottom up," nevertheless fit into a pan-Soviet process of de-Stalinization guided by Moscow. But it was not the direct consequence of that process, since Moscow, hesitating over what changes to make, acted later and in a different form. This is reflected in the management of the people deported in response to a decision by the NKVD/NKGB, approved by the Special Conference. The commission of the republic Council of Ministers did not have authority over such deportations. On 1 September 1953, the Special Conference was dissolved, but its decisions were not overturned. The central authorities therefore had to transfer the power to revoke them to another institution. Their preference was for the judicial system: the USSR Supreme Court was given responsibility for answering claims. That is, it had the authority to review cases, without challenging the legality of the deportations themselves. That authority was not initially transferred to the republics or regions. (43) But in response to pressure from the petitioners, Moscow was compelled to gradually delegate its power. In 1954, and again in 1955, the USSR Supreme Court reported being overwhelmed by the massive influx of claims about the decisions of the Special Conference. (44) The right of review was then given to the supreme courts of the republics from where the petitioners had been deported. (45)

Given the growing number of requests, the decentralized procedure also soon proved inadequate, thus prompting the Lithuanian authorities to act on their own initiative. On 21 January 1957, despite the central decision, they established a commission of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet with the power to review deportation decisions made by the Special Conference. (46) In practice, the two commissions seem to have operated as one: they met on the same day and had the same members. Only the form of their decisions differed: the first issued decrees (postanovleniid) of the Council of Ministers, and the second of the Supreme Soviet.

Deportees increasingly wrote to republic bodies, sending their letters more often to Vilnius than to Moscow. A growing percentage of the letters was also sent from Lithuania, not only because deportees had gradually been allowed to return, but also because some returned without waiting for permission (Figs. 3-4).

The earlier commission sat until 1969, and the later one until 1988, albeit less and less frequently (Fig. 5). The remit of the Council of Ministers commission was reduced in May 1958, when the "kulaks" and their families were released by a collective decree promulgated by Moscow. As a consequence, the commission no longer had to process individual requests for release. From then on, it processed only requests for the right to return (the decree of 1958 did not grant that right), requests for the restitution of property, and requests for the deportation to be recognized as groundless (equivalent to rehabilitation).

The Tortuous De-Stalinization of Soviet Mental Constructs

These institutional changes, summarized in Table 4, were not only an attempt to rationalize administrative operations. They brought about a fundamental change in practices, introducing a direct relationship between the population of deportees and the Lithuanian republic authorities, which did not involve Moscow. That change was simultaneous with the huge increase in the number of requests and appears to represent the intersection of a bureaucratic rationale--the need to respond urgently to a massive influx of complaints--and a post-Stalinist political transformation. The complaints investigations and the decisions taken reveal a gradual, incomplete revision of a Stalinist mental construct, brought about partly by the new interaction between the central republic authorities, the local authorities, and the population.

A kind of virtual dialogue developed between the authorities and the petitioners, with the latter hoping that a previous negative response might be revised as the country moved further away from Stalinism. They used arguments they thought were likely to be accepted, adapting them to the new times. This dialogue involved multiple actors because the receipt of a request often led to the opening of an investigation, requiring the intervention of the local authorities and residents in the localities from where the petitioners had been deported, and so on. Upon receipt, the complaints were forwarded by the vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers to the district executive committees, and sometimes to the deputy minister of internal affairs, who then requested a local investigation, which usually involved questioning people who had known the petitioner prior to his or her deportation. The inspector in charge of the investigation then drafted a summary report, explaining the grounds for the deportation or the general background to the situation.

An examination of the letters, replies, investigation reports, and the commission report shows that, whatever the substance of the complaint, the investigations sought to verify only a limited number of points, which were all connected to the Stalinist mentality that had underpinned the deportation.

The persistence of a "Stalinist culture" is probably most obvious in the persistent representation of the peasant world characterized by the presence of kulaks. The dishonorable social status of "kulak" was the most common object of the investigations, as most deportees had been exiled on this basis. The MVD investigators checked the local administrative registers for information about the type and size of the farm before the agrarian reform. (47) They asked witnesses whether a particular farmer had employed wage labor (the witnesses were often former employees of deportees). They also sought to determine past ownership of "sophisticated" farm equipment (mills, threshing machines, etc.), another sign that a farmer was a "kulak." The MVD investigators recorded such witness statements until the early 1980s, referring back to a period some 40 years past to determine whether a particular person had been a member of a kulak family! (48)

The investigations also covered other aspects, although more rarely: family affiliation, war decorations, or a son serving in the Red Army were also grounds for release; this exception for loyalty was set forth in the legislation as early as 1942. (49) Last, for those who had been deported as "members of a bandit's family" or "accomplices of a bandit," the investigation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs verified the dealings between the person and a particular "bandit" and any assistance he or she had provided. Additionally, persons who were unfit for work (because of their age or invalidism) were also frequently released "on exceptional grounds": these were individuals who had been deported alone and whose family agreed to accommodate and support them after their return. This criterion had sometimes been used before the death of Stalin, and the practice was also applied to camp detainees. (50) The rationale was that families, rather than society, should bear the burden of disability. The last factor that could serve as grounds for release, but was used only under the broader de-Stalinization initiated by Moscow, was the rehabilitation of a family member who had been sentenced under article 58 of the Criminal Code and whose conviction had been the reason for the family's deportation.

Several factors determined the line of investigation: the arguments contained in the complaint (those pertaining to the initial accusation that had justified the deportation were checked); the general context of the deportation, meaning the deportation category of the individual or family concerned; and additional circumstances discovered after deportation, during a previous investigation, and so on (e.g., collaboration with the Nazis for a person deported as a kulak).

The continued use of Stalinist categories of exclusion did not mean, however, that former deportees remained trapped in their excluded status. On the contrary, growing numbers of requests for release received a positive response. The increase was initially small (in the first half of 1953, the number of releases did not change much, since only 4 families (5 people) were released by a decree of the Lithuanian Council of Ministers before 1 May 1953, and 56 families (109 people) received a positive response from the Council of Ministers between 1 May and 16 October 1953. (51) But the numbers then increased rapidly, up until 1958 (Fig. 6). The pace slowed after that date, because most requests concerned the restitution of property (which required the authorities to acknowledge that the deportation had been groundless). A majority of positive responses were given "on exceptional grounds," often after repeated requests had been sent, with some lost in the meandering byways of bureaucracy, and others initially rejected, then accepted after a second or third attempt.

The increase in positive outcomes was so significant that by the time the members of kulaks' families were finally liberated from their status as special deportees through a decree issued by the authorities in Moscow, a great many of them had already been released on an individual basis. When the decree was promulgated in 1958, of the 12,285 files on peasant families deported from Lithuania kept at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, almost three-quarters (8,944) had already been examined by the Council of Ministers commission, which had issued a positive response in 4,511 cases--that is, on slightly more than half of that number. The assessment by the Lithuanian Ministry of Internal Affairs on 2 June 1963 is also edifying (Table 5).

No legislation, regulation, or order of the Council of Ministers seems to have set the criteria for these decisions. (52) Even a detailed examination of the many files provides no clear answers, since similar cases received different responses. In particular, there was no definition of the category of "released on exceptional grounds." It was not a pardon or any other legal category, since these were administrative decisions. A detailed examination of the files shows that the decisions to revoke on exceptional grounds were taken when the deportation was accepted as justified--for example, the status of kulak was considered to be true--but certain characteristics of the person or the family prior to deportation or during exile were considered sufficient to overturn the decision.

The complaint submitted by Vladimir K., an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested for corruption, sheds some light on the criteria that underpinned the decisions. (53) This enlightening document suggests that there were indeed rules, communicated orally to the inspectors in charge of processing the claims. On 16 March 1959, Vladimir K" who had worked for state security for 35 years and been a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) since 1932, wrote from his cell in Prison no. 1 in Vilnius. Prior to his arrest, his role at the Lithuanian MVD had been to process complaints and requests from families of special deportees. (54)

Vladimir K. complains of having been wrongfully accused "of abuse of office and corruption." He had allegedly approved, without proper grounds, the rehabilitation of a kulak family deported in 1948, in exchange for several liters of vodka. Keen to explain his decision, he describes in detail the bureaucratic rules he followed when processing the files:
   If the family had not employed wage labor, had owned less than 30
   hectares of land, and no member of the family had been convicted of
   a crime, unless that member lived outside the household when he or
   she committed the crime, [the family could be included on the list
   of families "released on exceptional grounds]."

   If the family had owned less than 20 hectares of land, and if all
   the other above-mentioned conditions were met, the deportation
   could be considered groundless. (55)

The letter reveals, with surprising precision, the delicate balance between the Stalinist past and the slow emergence from Stalinism, characterized by the persistence of inherited mental constructs that structured social, economic, and political representations. First, there was an enduring representation of a rural society dominated by the kulaks. In the post-Stalinist period, the authorities recognized that the criteria used to define this population category were rather too severe and acknowledged that ownership of smaller amounts of land should not have been grounds for designating someone a kulak. Second, echoes of the war, collaboration with the Germans, and the insurgency of the "forest brothers" against the Soviet authorities persisted; having a relative with a criminal conviction was still a criterion for rejection. Conversely, assistance provided to Soviet partisans was a mitigating circumstance or even grounds for release, and this criterion had already been accepted before the death of Stalin.

However, the rules to which Vladimir K. alludes, never officially formalized, were not the only ones and were not applied evenly. Our study of personal files and successive complaints reveals an evolving situation of multiple reinterpretations and contradictory decisions on files that were otherwise comparable. The range of interpretations reveals a progressive increase in the degree of flexibility, which was also probably dependent on the person making the decision.

The importance of this flexibility is particularly evident in relation to the "exceptional grounds" category, which gave rise to a form of malleable de-Stalinization. The authorities of Soviet Lithuania could thus release people and return property without ever challenging the Stalinist grounds for the deportations. The greater the chronological distance from the Stalinist period, the greater the likelihood that initially rejected complaints would receive a positive response. Some requests led to the repeated questioning of witnesses before they were granted, in full or in part. (56) This negotiation of the norm was sometimes expressed in tensions between the local civil authorities (often, with few exceptions, the most hostile to rehabilitations) and the judicial authorities (the prosecutor) or the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who did not always reach the same conclusions. (57) Deconstructing the process requires a detailed examination of the files.

Pranas P., his wife, and their children were deported because they had been living with his wife's family since their marriage. The head of the household--Pranas's mother-in-law, Adele V.--was designated a kulak. P.'s repeated requests to be released were rejected. His family was released in 1956 because he had fought in the Great Patriotic War, but he was not rehabilitated. P. finally secured his rehabilitation in 1965 by claiming in his request that although he had lived in the same house as his mother-in-law, they occupied separate rooms and were in conflict. He thus claimed not to be a member of her family. Following an investigation, the commissions accepted his definition of the family and rehabilitated him. (58)

Julius Z., born in 1914, had shown no disloyalty to the Soviet Union. He had supported the Soviet partisans during the war, supplying them with weapons and providing them with information about German activities. The commander of a partisan unit testified to this in 1955. But two of Julius's brothers, Zigmas and Juozas, were accused of having joined an armed group to avoid conscription. They had been killed in a skirmish with Soviet troops. Julius's entire family--including his wife and his two sons, aged one and three, as well as his father, Kostas Z., born in 1860, and his father's wife--were thus designated as "members of a bandit's family" and deported in 1945.

Julius disowned his relatives and claimed to have been unjustly punished for their actions. In a complaint he sent in 1955, he asserted that he did not live with his two brothers. An investigation was conducted, and a resident of the village testified that although Julius lived in the same house as his parents and brothers, he "was an estranged member of his father's family; they ate dinner separately." Another witness said that Julius had married in 1939 and "was estranged from his father and his brothers, Zigmas and Juozas; he continued to live in the same house as his father, but at the other end of it. They prepared meals separately." Two other witnesses repeated almost exactly the same words (prompted by the investigator?). On 2 October 1956, Julius and his wife Vlade were rehabilitated. His parents were released on exceptional grounds because of their old age. Several factors were taken into account in this case: a statement of not belonging to the family (for the son and his wife); dependency on their son (for the parents); and heroic actions or loyalty (for the son). Here the authorities applied the rules on the definition of a family (co-residence, sharing meals) in this difficult case of brothers on opposing sides; the fact that Julius had helped the partisans probably made the authorities more sympathetic to his arguments. Demonstrating their punctilious attachment to the letter of the law, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet commission approved the restitution of half of the house to Julius in 1959, contrary to the opinion of the district executive committee, which affirmed that the house did not belong to Julius but to his father and was therefore kulak property. The decision to return half of the house was probably motivated by a concern for consistency with the grounds for his rehabilitation: that he had occupied half of the house! (59)

Loyalty or heroic actions also carried varying weight. Loyalty could be demonstrated by war decorations (which were accepted as evidence in some years and rejected in others) or by proof of participation in or support for Soviet partisan units. Complaints based on such arguments prompted lengthy investigations, which sometimes led to reinterpretation. Kostas D. was deported as a kulak during Operation Priboi, with his son. His wife and daughter managed to escape deportation. In 1952, he wrote to the chairman of the Lithuanian Council of Ministers, declaring that he was not a kulak. An investigation conducted in August 1952 found that he had owned 45 hectares of land and employed five paid workers. His request was therefore rejected. His subsequent requests were similarly rejected. He was not released and permitted to return until the collective decree of 1958. After that date, he continued to apply for rehabilitation, on the basis of another argument: that he had hidden Jews during the war. When questioned in February 1965, he named three Jews he had hidden, one who had left the Soviet Union, one who had been shot by the Germans, and a third who had moved to Vilnius. (60) He was unable to cite any witnesses because he had kept his activities secret from his grandchildren and from his neighbors, fearing they might talk. His only neighbor, who had also hidden Jews and whom he supplied with food, had died. The commission nevertheless returned his house to him in May 1965. His presumed loyalty during the war, even if it could not be proven, seems to have supported his case. He was rehabilitated on the benefit of the doubt, although his request had earlier been denied precisely because of doubt.

Last, reflecting a period when the prosecutor's office had greater powers than the Ministry of Internal Affairs, we found several cases where the prosecutor rejected testimonies against the petitioner's claim. He highlighted identical phrases used by several witnesses, suggesting that the texts had been written entirely by the investigators themselves.

This is what happened, after considerable delay, to Kazys V., whose large file contains most of the elements described above. The file concentrates all of these rationales but is not atypical. (61) On 19 March 1946, Kazys and his family (his wife, Ona, and two of their children--Marija, aged 24, and Mikas, aged 13), were included on the list of kulak families to be deported. In 1949, during Operation Priboi, Ona, Marija, and Mikas hid from deportation, whereas Kazys was deported in convoy no. 97353 on 25 March 1949 to the Irkutsk region. His wife was captured a short time afterward, before the operation was over, and deported in convoy no. 97497 on 21 April of the same year to the same region. Their children, Marija and Mikas, remained in hiding and were never deported.

Kazys's older son, Jonas, born in 1927, had been arrested in 1946 for "joining a nationalist group for ten days and for not denouncing the group after running away from it." (62) He was sentenced on 5 July of the same year by the military tribunal of the Kaunas garrison, at a closed hearing, under article 58-12 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, to five years in a labor camp and the loss of his civic rights for two more years. The sentence states that, before his arrest, Jonas "lived with his parents, who, before the land reform of 1945, owned a kulak farm, which employed agricultural laborers [batraki]." Released at the end of his sentence in January 1953, Jonas returned to his village. However, he was arrested again by an order of 28 October 1953 and deported to the place of his parents' resettlement on 1 December. Some eight months after Stalin's death, the repressive authorities thus applied a Stalinist decree that ordered the deportation of former bandits after their release from the camps. The decree had not yet been revoked. (63) Jonas thus arrived in the Irkutsk region, where his parents had been resettled, on 29 December 1953.

From April 1954 onward, various family members sent requests for their release and then for their rehabilitation, declaring, among other things, that they were not kulaks. (64) Kazys was the first to write, followed by his daughter Marija in 1956. More than 22 letters were sent between 1954 and 1975 by Kazys, his wife Ona, and their children Marija, Mikas, and Jonas. The first claims were rejected, after either the district executive committee or the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that they were indeed a kulak family. Disability certificates produced for both the father and the son were disregarded, since the family had been resettled together. On 6 May 1958, their claim was rejected again when various bodies confirmed their kulak status. On 19 May 1958, their case was covered under the collective decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR releasing "kulak" families, and they were released on 3 July 1958, but with no right of return.

This decision sparked a new round of requests for the right to return. Clearly, the family had returned without waiting for permission, since they sent their claims from Lithuania.

The interpretation of their situation then changed slightly: the district executive committee now affirmed that the family had not employed permanent laborers, only seasonal ones. Was this because the local authorities were confronted directly by the petitioners, who had returned to the village? In any case, the family was granted the right to return on 31 October 1960, and this enabled all the family members to secure residence permits, essential for living and working without constant pressure from the police. But their struggle for full rehabilitation did not end there. They then fought to recover their house: first Kazys, until his death in December 1968; then his descendants. The authorities' position changed gradually. At first, they argued that the family was kulak (as the district chief of police asserted, "according to several local residents"). This led to a rejection of the request for restitution on January 1966. The rejection was upheld by the Lithuanian prosecutor on 23 May 1968, who confirmed all the incriminating elements, mostly based on "testimony from local residents and archives": 15 hectares of land; a thresher, a horse-powered thresher, and other agricultural machinery; seasonal labor, supported in particular by the testimony of a person who had worked for the family as a seasonal laborer; the fact that the farm had been listed as a kulak property; a son with a criminal conviction; and a prior rejection (in 1966) of a request to have the deportation acknowledged as groundless.

In May 1970, things changed when the prosecutor who reviewed the file after a new request began to challenge the testimonies because he did not think the investigations had been conducted "OBJECTIVELY" (written in capital letters in the text). He suggested that the witness statements were expressed in vague, general terms and had not been properly verified. For example, one M. S. V. said on 13 October 1965, "I think V. was deported from the republic because he was a kulak ... and for helping the bandits."

This was a different approach: it challenged the impartiality of the local authorities and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Although the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was asked to conduct a thorough investigation, confirmed its earlier findings, the prosecutor was not satisfied, because there was no documentary proof, only testimonies that were suspicious because they sounded formal and impersonal. The prosecutor then requested written statements from five witnesses, neighbors of the family, which led him to the conclusion that the family was not kulak, because although they had owned 15 hectares of land, a horse-drawn thresher, and a chaff cutter, they had not employed permanent wage labor.

The prosecutor thus relaxed the criteria. He considered that a seasonal laborer was not a "permanent laborer" and therefore that hiring seasonal labor was not sufficient grounds for designating someone as a kulak. He did not rehabilitate the family, however, noting that they were relatives of a "bandit" (the son had been convicted of banditry). His argument thus substitutes one set of grounds (bandit family) for another (kulak family), since banditry was not the original reason for deportation.

The decision against rehabilitation was issued on 23 August 1971. Yet on 6 December 1972, the Lithuanian Supreme Court rehabilitated Jonas, lifting all accusations of banditry. This opened the way for rehabilitation of the whole family, which it obtained on 28 June 1975. Jonas's daughter, Ona, was informed on 30 June 1976 and could thus recover the family's property by applying to the district executive committee of Kaunas. The whole process had taken 21 years.

The V. family showed particular determination in their pursuit of rehabilitation, as can be seen in the breakdown of deportees' files by numbers of letters sent (Table 6). Indeed, it was not unusual for families to send multiple requests, revealing the multiplicity of steps that were needed, not only to ensure release but also to obtain the restitution of property or rehabilitation. It also reveals the gray area created by illegal returns, which were more or less tolerated. By the early 1960s, fewer than 15 percent of requests for the right to return were sent from the places of resettlement, compared with between 80 percent and 90 percent sent from Lithuania. (65) The returnees undoubtedly faced numerous difficulties, even if some evidently managed to find work. Although they were no longer sent back to their places of resettlement, they lived a semiclandestine life, a situation that prompted the chief of the Lithuanian KGB to call for the revocation of all prohibitions on returns in 1970. (66) Hie V. case shows the fluidity of the criteria that paved the way for a gradual reformulation of the social contract, still characterized by Stalinist forms of social representation. It also shows that this reformulation took place independently of--but naturally not in opposition to--any injunctions from Moscow.


The procedures to release special deportees were multiple and complex, taking the deportees through a procedural labyrinth in which the requests and the complaints played a central role. The complexity of the process can be attributed to the convergence of multiple concerns for the central and republic authorities. On the one hand, Stalinist mental constructs and the absence of any challenge to the legality of the Stalinist period profoundly influenced the decisions of central and local leaders. The stigmatization of better-off peasants, labeled "kulaks," was one of the salient features of a system of thought that endured beyond Stalinism to characterize the entire Soviet period. Some elements of that system--products of a doctrine ("class war") and producers of discourse ("the suppression of the kulaks as a class") (67)--were incorporated into the procedures and continued to be seen as valid grounds for exclusion. At the same time, these elements proved malleable when confronted with the realities of society and were reinterpreted more leniently, offering a way out of a repression whose meaning was becoming lost with the passing of time.

The persistent wariness toward the populations deported from the western territories reflected another mode of thought that echoed the real reasons, which went well beyond Stalinism, behind these areas' resistance to the occupation. This wariness lasted for many years, often mingling with stigmatization of the peasantry or with the heritage of World War II. (68)

The political hesitancy can also be attributed to the practical challenges of managing the deep wounds left by Stalinism. Both central and local authorities were fearful of the mass return of a population liable to demand the restitution of its confiscated property, in particular its homes, which had since been occupied by other people. (69) They feared local conflicts among those who had passively watched the deportations, those who had participated in them, and those who returned. (70) Some of those fears were certainly justified. But rather than seeking to mitigate them by addressing the issues openly and condemning the measures taken in the past, they refused--until 1988--to revoke the many Stalinist decisions and to pronounce them illegal.

Our study also reveals that broad powers were delegated to the republic authorities in that process, including the power to release some of the deported populations. This delegation of power can be measured by the increasing volumes of correspondence (requests, complaints) addressed to the republic authorities rather than to the central Soviet authorities.

The fact that decisions were not simply approvals or rejections, but rather "multiple choices" (release without the right of return; the right to return but not to recover property, etc.) encouraged interaction and dialogue on both sides, because it also offered the authorities an opportunity to be more flexible in cases where they would probably have said no if the choice had been a yes/no binary. This situation created room for hope and negotiation without, however, eliminating all the arbitrary, unjust elements from the processing of the requests.

Appendix A1. 5% Files Survey

The following years were obtained by drawing a random sample of 1,500 files among the 39,000 kept in the special archives of Lithuania. (71) We have over-represented the files created in 1941, as they are fewer in number, and this explains the variable sampling rates, as indicated below. The files are numbered from 1 to 44025, and from R-4482 to R-9506. The files preceded by the letter R are those of persons who were rehabilitated before 1989.

We drew a sample on the basis of the file numbers, as follows, then applied a corresponding sampling rate:

Files 1-2150: 10 files out of 100

Files 2151-4400: 10 files out of 150

Files 4401-41301: 9 files out of 300

Files R-l-R-5099: 10 files out of 100

Files R-5100-R-5699: 10 files out of 200

Others: 10 files out of 300

See Table Al (online) for a summary of these data.

Appendix A2. Rehabilitations versus Releases

Some of the reports of the commissions of the Council of Ministers of Lithuania and the presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania are kept in the Lithuanian Central State Archives (LCVA f. R-754, ap. 11, 12, 13), although most are in the Lithuanian Special Archive (LYA, f. V-135, ap. 7), in the following files:

LCVA f. R-754, ap. 11, dd. 90, 98, 106, 112, 122, 127;

LCVA f. R-754, ap. 12, dd. 135-37;

LCVA f. r-754, ap. 13, dd. 238, 486, 488, 500, 511-13, 515-16; and

LYA f. v-135, ap. 7, dd. 370, 376-81, 387-409, 422-24, 429, 431-44, 450-57, 548.

Table A2 (online) is based on an analysis of these files.

Appendix A3. Reasons for Complaints Received by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR

The offices of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR filed most of the complaints received (or a part of them at least) by subject. These subjects were grouped into subcategories, and then into categories, which varied from year to year (some subjects disappeared, generally because they rarely featured in the requests and complaints). For our part, in order to obtain consistent series throughout the observation period, we grouped certain subjects together on the basis of these subcategories and categories. The results are presented in Table A3 (online).

For more detail on these categories and subcategories, let us take the example of the summary table established in 1966: the housing complaints concern dwellings that are too small, unwarranted expulsions, a lack of comfort; the agricultural questions concern problems arising in the kolkhozes and sovkhozes, support for kolkhozes, taxes paid by the rural population, and so on; complaints linked to the police concern the obligation to carry a passport (propiska); arbitrary arrests, refusal to record requests and complaints; questions linked to the army concerned conscription, searches for lost soldiers, and others; justice questions concern requests to review legal decisions, inquiries that were taking too long, and the like.

All the data collected in this way and the appendices with their associated tables are available at, linked via the table of contents for Kritika 19, no. 3 (Summer 2018).

We would especially like to thank the Lithuanian Special Archives for their survey of the files, which enabled us to take a quantified approach to the complaints and requests, as well as for their warm welcome and generosity with their time. This article is the product of several presentations at seminars and conferences: a conference on personal petitions in Moscow; a presentation at the CEFR/DHI seminar series in Moscow; and a presentation at CERCEC in Paris. We are grateful for the helpful suggestions of those who attended. This paper also benefited from the support of the CEFR, which hosted one of the authors and pardy funded the examination of personal files in Vilnius. It also received funding from CERCEC and INED. We would like to thank Marc Elie for his careful reading. Our numerous discussions on the complaints with Simona Cerutti were also highly constructive. Last, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their very useful comments.

The appendices and raw data for this article are available for download via the issue page at

(1) On the kulak deportation and the system of special settlements, see, esp., S. A. Krasnil'nikov, Serp i molokh: Krest 'ianskaia ssylka v Zapadnoi Sibiri v 30-e gody (Moscow: Rosspen, 2003); Krasil'nikov, M. S. Salamatova, and S. N. Ushakova, Komi ili shchepki: Krest 'ianskaia sem 'ia na spetsposelenii v Zapadnoi Sibiri v 1930-kh-nachale 1950-kh gg. (Moscow: Rosspen, 2010); Helene Mondon, "Les premiers 'deplaces speciaux' de Staline et leur destinee dans le Nord europeen de l'URSS (1930-1948)" (PhD diss., Paris-Sorbonne, 2011); Lynne A. Viola, Peasant Rebels under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture of Peasant Resistance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Viola, The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin's Special Settlements (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); and Viktor N. Zemskov, Spetsposelentsy v SSSR, 1930-1960 (Moscow: Nauka, 2005).

(2) Marc Elie, "Les anciens detenus du Goulag: Liberations massives, reinsertion et rehabilitation dans l'URSS poststalinienne, 1953-1964" (PhD diss., ficole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales [EHESS], 2007); Elie, "Rehabilitation in the Soviet Union, 1953-1964: A Policy Unachieved," in De-Stalinizing Eastern Europe: The Rehabilitation of Stalin's Victims after 1953, ed. Kevin McDermott and Matthew Stibbe (New York: Palgrave-McMillan, 2015), 25-45; Nanci Adler, The Gulag Survivor: Beyond the Soviet System (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001); Adler, "Life in the 'Big Zone': The Fate of Returnees in the Aftermath of Stalinist Repression," Europe-Asia Studies 51, 1 (1999): 5-19; Alan Barenberg, Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Lts Legacy in Vorkuta (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014); Stephen Cohen, The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag after Stalin (New York: Publishing Works, 2010); Miriam Dobson, Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform after Stalin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).

(3) As indicated in the report by Sergei Kruglov, then minister of internal affairs, in May 1953. See Alain Blum, "Decision politique et articulation bureaucratique: Les deportes lituaniens de l'operation 'Printemps' (1948)," Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine 62, 4 (2015): 64-88.

(4) For a recapitulative table of the collective release decrees applying to Lithuania, see http://

(5) P. M. Polian, Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004).

(6) Amir Weiner, "The Empires Pay a Visit: Gulag Returnees, East European Rebellions, and Soviet Frontier Politics," Journal of Modern History 78, 2 (2006): 333-76.

(7) Aleksandr Daniel', "Ekho deportatsii: Krymskotatarskoe dvizhenie za vozvrashchenie i predposylki k ustanovleniiu sviazei s pravozashchitnym soobshchestvom," in Migratsionnye posledstviia Vtoroi Mirovoi Voiny: Etnicheskie deportatsii v SSSR i stranakh Vostochnoi Evropy. Sbornik nauchnykh statei, ed. N. N. Ablazhei and A. Blium [Alain Blum] (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 2012), 1:234-50; Aurelie Campana, Gregory Dufaud, and Sophie Tournon, Les deportations en heritage: Les peuples reprimes du Caucase et de Crimee, hier et aujourd'hui (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009).

(8) V. A. Kozlov et al., Vainakhi i imperskaia vlast': Problema Chechni i Ingushetii vo vnutrennei politike Rossii i SSSR, naehalo XlX-seredina XX v. (Moscow: Rosspen, 2011).

(9) Yoram Gorlizki, "Too Much Trust: Regional Party Leaders and Local Political Networks under Brezhnev," Slavic Review 69, 3 (2010): 676-700; Gorlizki, "Structures of Trust after Stalin," Slavonic and East European Review 91, 1 (2013): 119-46; O. V. Khlevniuk et al., Regional 'naia politika N. S. Khrushcheva: TsK KPSS i mestnye partiinye komitety, 1953-1964 gg. Dokumenty sovetskoi istorii (Moscow: Rosspen, 2009); Elena Zubkova, Pribaltika i Kreml', 1940-1953 (Moscow: Rosspen, 2008); Juliette Denis, "La fabrique de la Lettonie Sovietique, 1939-1949: Une sovietisation de temps de guerre" (PhD diss., Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense, 2015); Tonu Tannberg, Politika Moskvy v respublikakh Baltii vposlevoennye gody, 1944-1956: Issledovaniia i dokumenty (Moscow: Rosspen, 2010); Elena Zubkova et al., Sovetskaia model' ekonomiki: Soiuznyi tsentr i respubliki Pribaltiki, 1953 g.-mart 1965 g(Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi fond "Demokratiia," 2015); Rolf Binner, Marc Junge, and Terry Martin, "The Great Terror in the Provinces of the USSR, 1937-1938," Cahiers du monde russe 42, 2-4 (2001): 557-613.

(10) One of the first to highlight the importance of this practice was Stephen White, "Political Communications in the USSR: Letters to Party, State and Press," Political Studies 31, 1 (1983): 43-60.

(11) Geoffrey A. Hosking, ed., "Trust and Distrust in the USSR," special issue of Slavonic and East European Review 91, 1 (2013); Alexey Tikhomirov, "The Regime of Forced Trust: Making and Breaking Emotional Bonds between People and State in Soviet Russia, 1917-1941," in "Trust and Distrust in the USSR," 78-118; Larissa Zakharova, "Devenir sovietique grace aux echanges epistolaires? Preparer la reinsertion sociale des prisonniers du droit commun en URSS des annees 1960-70," Cahiers du monde russe 54, 3-4 (2013): 491-516.

(12) Franijois-Xavier Nerard, Cinq pour cent de verite: La denonciation dans I'URSS de Staline, 1928-1941 (Paris: Tallandier, 2004); Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Supplicants and Citizens: Public Letter-Writing in Soviet Russia in the 1930s," Slavic Review 55, 1 (1996): 78-103, as well as collections of documents, such as Pis ma vo vlast', 1917-1927: ZaiavUniia, zhaloby, donosy, pis 'ma v gosudarstvennye struktury i bol'shevistskim vozhdiam (Moscow: Rosspen, 1998).

(13) Juliane Fiirst, "In Search of Soviet Salvation: Young People Write to the Stalinist Authorities," Contemporary European History 15, 3 (2006): 327-45; Golfo Alexopoulos, Stalin's Outcasts: Aliens, Citizens, and the Soviet State, 1926-1936 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).

(14) Dobson, Khrushchev's Cold Summer.

(15) Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF) f. 7523, op. 107.

(16) GARF f. 8131.

(17) Lietuvos ypatingasis archyvas (LYA) f. V-5, ap. 1.

(18) Henceforth this source is referred to as the "5% files survey" (see Appendix A1).

(19) With the exception of short periods, from 1941 on two ministries (people's commissariats until 1946) existed side by side: the Ministry (Committee from 1954 on) of Public Security (NKGB, MGB, then KGB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the NKVD, later the MVD). At various times, responsibilities for forcibly displaced people shifted between the two ministries. For the purpose of simplicity, we use only the name Ministry of Internal Affairs.

(20) An extrajudicial body of the NKVD/MGB, with the power to sentence people to long sentences and deportation.

(21) Alain Blum and Emilia Koustova, "A Soviet Story--Mass Deportation, Isolation, Return," in Narratives of Exile and Identity in Soviet Deportation Memoirs from the Baltic States, ed. Tomas Balkelis and Violeta Davoliute (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017); Heinrihs Strods and Matthew Kott, "The File on Operation 'Priboi': A Re-Assessment of the Mass Deportations of 1949," Journal of Baltic Studies 33, 1 (2002): 1-36.

(22) See the table at, which lists the deportations carried out in Lithuania.

(23) Unfortunately, we did not have access to the complaints sent to local bodies in the places of settlement, which were transferred to the First Department of the NKVD, which had charge of displaced populations. Those archives, kept in Moscow in f. R-9479, remain inaccessible to date.

(24) See, e.g., GARF f. R-7523, op. 75, d. 1587, l. 125. In 1956, the number of complaints received by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR reached a maximum of almost one million letters (GARF f. R-7523, op. 75, d. 1587).

(25) The first trace we found of institutional processing of complaints from deportees by the Lithuanian Council of Ministers dates from August 1948 (Lietuvos Centrinis Valstybes Archivas [LCVA] f. R-754, ap. 13, d. 237, l. 35).

(26) Ibid., d. 238, ll. 114-44. Complaints are gathered in dd. 237 and 238.

(27) One of these was in response to the complaint sent by one Alfonsas A., an actor with the Lithuanian National Dramatic Theater, on behalf of his deported mother, Ursula A. (ibid., d. 239, ll. 131-32; d. 242, l. 25).

(28) Two inventories in LCVA f. R-754 of the Lithuanian Council of Ministers contain information about those releases: ap. 11, which contains the secret and top secret decrees issued by the council, and ap. 12, which contains the documents appended to those decrees. The release orders were signed by the chairman or vice-chairman of the Lithuanian Council of Ministers. They are dated 1 and 22 August 1951 (four families totaling seven people on 1 August; two families totaling three people on 22 August--ap. 11, d. 90; ap. 12, dd. 103, 105) and 13 October 1951 (three families totaling four people--ap. 11, d. 98).

(29) The term used in the sources is administrativnaia vysylka.

(30) LCVA f. R-754, ap. 11, dd. 106, 112; ap. 12, dd. 119, 120.

(31) We identify individuals using only first names and initials to protect their privacy.

(32) LYAf. V-5, ap. l, d. 11986-5.

(33) Krasil'nikov et al., Komi ili shchepki-, Mondon, "Premiers 'deplaces speciaux' de Staline."

(34) That definition of the family is the one used by the Statistics Department in censuses and surveys (Alain Blum and Martine Mespoulet, L'anarchie bureaucratique: Pouvoir et statistique sous Staline [Paris: Editions La Decouverte, 2003]).

(35) See, e.g., GARF f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 932, l. 1.

(36) "Komissiia po rassmotreniiu zaiavlenii grazhdan i khodataistv sootvetstvuiushchikh organov ob otmene administrativnoi vysylki otdeFnym grazhdanam, vyselennym za predely Litovskoi SSR" (LCVA f. R-754, ap. 12, d. 135, ll. 168-70). The commission was composed of the vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR (chairman of the commission), the minister of internal affairs of the Lithuanian SSR, and the prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR. The same members met again in July and September 1953.

(37) "Spravka o kolichestve zhalob i zaiavlenii spetsposelentsev i rodstvennikov, ikh postuplenii i zatrudneniiakh po ikh rassmotreniiu," signed by the deputy minister of internal affairs of Lithuania, A. Gotsev, and the deputy head of the First Special Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Internal Affairs (D. Nosov), on 21 August 1954 (LYA f. K-6, ap. 2, d. 45, ll. 56-61). This report was probably sent to the Prosecutors Office, since f. K-6 contained correspondence between the MVD and the Prosecutors Office. The figures provided do not correspond to the later numbers, probably because they included only complaints sent to the MVD, hence a partial estimate.

(38) For the exact figures, see Table A2 (online).

(39) Commission meeting of 18 June 1953 (LCVA f. R-754, ap. 12, d. 135; ap. 13, d. 504).

(40) On the 1954 meeting, see LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 370, ll. 134-46.

(41) LCVA f. R-754, ap. 12, d. 136; LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 370, ll. 1-2.

(42) Postanovlenie SM LSSR no. 952-s, "O poriadke vozvrata konfiskovannogo imushchestva grazhdanam, kotorym otmeneno administrativnoe vyselenie," 14 December 1953 (LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 371, l. 2). The decree refers to a directive of 17 April 1943: "Polozhenie o poriadke ucheta i ispol'zovaniia natsionalizirovannogo, konfiskovannogo, vymorochnogo i beskhoziainogo imushchestva."

(43) About the role of the prosecutor of the Supreme Court and for a detailed description of the operation of the commission, see ibid., d. 541, l. 44 (27 March 1969).

(44) GARF f. R-9474, op. 16, d. 434, ll. 68-71; d. 475, ll. 7-10.

(45) Ibid., d. 475, l. 15; LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 541, l. 48.

(46) In 1964, the deputy prosecutor-general of the USSR reiterated that only the Supreme Court was empowered to make such decisions, not a commission (LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 541, l. 48).

(47) On the agrarian reform, see Zubkova, Pribaltika i Kreml'.

(48) See, e.g., the file of Juozas V. (LYA f. V-5, ap. l, d. 18829-5), especially l. 63, dated June 1987.

(49) NKVD and Prosecutors Office of the USSR Directive no. 252 of 27 June 1942 prohibited from deportation the close relatives of a person serving in the Red Army, participating in Soviet partisan units, elected to Soviet or party bodies, or awarded Soviet decorations ("Direktiva NKVD SSSR i Prokuratury SSSR no. 252 ot 27 iiunia 1942 o torn, chto ne podlezhali vyseleniiu sem'i, imeiushchie blizkikh rodstvennikov v riadakh Krasnoi Armii, prinimavshikh uchastie v partizanskikh otriadakh, izbrannykh v partiino-sovetskie organy i nagrazhdennykh ordenami i medaliami SSSR," LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 549, l. 64).

(50) Golfo Alexopoulos, "Destructive-Labor Camps: Rethinking Solzhenitsyn's Play on Words," Kritika 16, 3 (2015): 499-526.

(51) LCVA f. R-754, ap. 11, d. 122.

(52) We found no reference to any such instructions, despite a detailed search of the archive collections relating to those releases and a meticulous examination of dozens of deportees' files.

(53) Letter addressed to Comrade Antanas Snieckus, first secretary of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of Lithuania (CPL), on 16 November 1959, and forwarded by Snieikus to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for urgent processing (LYA f. 1771, ap. 205, d. 23, ll. 99-104).

(54) His title was "starshii operupolnomochennyi 1-go spetsotdela MVD Litovskoi SSSR po rassmotreniiu zhalob i del semei spetspereselentsev iz Litovskoi SSR"

(55) For the full text of the letter, see

(56) For example, in the case of Viktoras K., four witnesses were questioned in January 1953 and eight in July 1954, after a new complaint was laid (LYA f. V-5, ap. 1, d. 13960-5).

(57) For example, the files of Ona 2., ibid., d. 33556-5, or Alene B" ibid., d. 23398-5.

(58) Ibid., d. 30380-5.

(59) Ibid., d. 40599-5.

(60) Ibid., d. 23160-5, ll. 90-91.

(61) Ibid., d. 18531-5.

(62) Ibid., l. 27.

(63) Decree of the Council of Ministers of Soviet Union of 21 February 1948, revoked on 10 March 1956 by a decree from the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet.

(64) The detailed chronology of the letters sent and the responses can be viewed at museum,

(65) Estimates based on the minutes of several meetings of the Council of Ministers commission between 1961 and 1965. See LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, dd. 87-89 (1963); d. 439 (1964); d. 440 (1965).

(66) Ibid., d. 541, ff. 64-65.

(67) Michael David-Fox, Crossing Borders: Modernity, Ideology, and Culture in Russia and the Soviet Union (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015).

(68) Amir Weiner, "In the Long Shadow of War: The Second World War and the Soviet and Post-Soviet World," Diplomatic History 25, 3 (2001): 443-56.

(69) Some republic authorities sought to prohibit the return of certain categories. In response to a request from the first secretary of the CPL (LYA f. 1771, ap. 190, d. 10, ll. 101-4), in November 1956 the Lithuanian authorities secured a decree prohibiting the return of the people deported in 1941. In September 1956, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) made a similar request (Tsentral'nii derzhavnii arkhiv hromads'kikh ob'iednan' Ukraini [TsDAHO] f. 1, op. 24, d. 4297, ll. 4-7 [25 September 1956]). Moreover, the Ukrainian authorities, fearful of the return of people they deemed disloyal, introduced administrative procedures in the absence of legislation, listing people whose return they deemed undesirable (see, e.g., Galuzevnii derzhavnii arkhiv Sluzhbi bezpeki Ukrai'ni [GDA SBU] f. 2, op. 26 [1960], d. 3, ll. 51-56 [20 January 1957]).

(70) Decree issued by the Bureau of the CC CPL, signed by Snieckus, 5 November 1956 (LYA f. 1771, ap. 190, d. 10, ll. 101-4); draft letter from Nikolai Podgornyi, first secretary of the CPU, to the CC CPSU (TsDAHO f. l, op. 24, d. 4297, ll. 4-7).

(71) We would like to thank K?stas Remeika, deputy head of the Special Archives of Lithuania, who organized this work and was very attentive to our request, as well as the archive personnel who carried out the sampling procedure.

Translated by Madeleine Grieve and Catriona Duthreuil

Alain Blum

Institut national d'etudes demographiques (INED) and

Centre d'etudes des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-europeen

(CERCEC, Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales)

54, boulevard Raspail

75006 Paris, France

Emilia Koustova

Groupe d'etudes orientales, slaves et neohelleniques

University of Strasbourg

22, rue Rene Descartes

67084 Strasbourg Cedex, France

Caption: Figure 1. Distribution (%) of subjects of complaints received by the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1938-1966

Caption: Figure 2. Number of complaints received by the Lithuanian authorities, by date of sending (curve 1: 1940-98) or receipt (curve 2: 1954-57)

Caption: Figure 3. Origin of requests and complaints, by year sent (1945-84)

Caption: Figure 4. Destination of requests and complaints, by year sent (1945-84)

Caption: Figure 5. Annual number of meetings of the complaint-processing commissions of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet and Lithuanian Council of Ministers (1954-88)

Caption: Figure 6. Percentage of total requests resulting in rehabilitation or release (1954-63)
Table 1. Number of Complaints Received by the Presidium of the
Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1938-60

Subject          1938      1939      1940      1941

Total           55,285    64,099     N.A.     44,649
Total stat.     55,285    64,099     N.A.     44,649
Of which        14,140    10,953     N.A.      6,460
% deportation    27.2      17.1                13.0

Subject          1947      1948      1949      1950

Total           158,426    N.A.     185,166   233,142
Total stat.     119,612    N.A.     167,796   204,390
Of which                            26,776    11,930
% deportation                         16

Subject          1955      1956      1957      1958

Total           885,468   977,083   797,638   622,879
Total stat.     743,854   970,229   797,638   619,094
Of which        52,238    28,775    13,095     8,415
% deportation     7.0       3.0       1.6       1.4

Subject         1942-43    1944      1945      1946

Total            N.A.     167,740   228,239   282,039
Total stat.      N.A.     138,817   188,884   233,407
Of which         N.A.     11,974    19,078    20,792
% deportation               8.4      10.1       8.9

Subject          1951      1952      1953      1954

Total            N.A.     281,216    N.A.
Total stat.      N.A.      N.A.      N.A.     808,834
Of which                   N.A.      N.A.     64,492
% deportation                                   7.9

Subject          1959      1960      1961      1962

Total stat.     456,906   451,619   295,262   254,834
Of which         3,611     N.A.       690       573
% deportation     0.8                 0.2       0.2

Source: See Figure 1.

Notes: 1. The period covered in 1941 stops in mid-June, the date of
the German invasion; in 1944, the figures are estimated on the basis
of the first ten months of the year. 2. "Total" counts all complaints
received by the Presidium. "Total stat." reflects the number of
complaints used by the Complaints Bureau to establish statistics. 3.
Complaints presented directly to the reception office of the
Presidium are not included in this table. Data about complaints
concerning deportation were no longer given in official statistics
after 1962, because of their small number.

Interpretation: In 1956, e.g., the Complaints Bureau of the Presidium
of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR received 977,083 complaints and
requests, of which 970,229 were classified by subject. Of these, 3.0%
concerned forced displacements.

Table 2. Addressees of the Complaints from Special Deportees Written
before 1954, Processed by the Lithuanian Ministry of Internal Affairs
on 6 July 1954 or Contained in the Deportees' Files

                   Processed by Ministry of
                   Internal Affairs in 1954

Original             N       %     Cumulative %

                   Lithuanian institutions

Lithuanian         4,200    39.4       39.4
Supreme Soviet
and Council of

Lithuanian          560     5.2        44.6
Ministry of
Internal Affairs
and its local

CC CPL               20     0.2        44.8

Other Lithuanian     24     0.2        45.0
Office, Ministry
of Justice)

                   Central Soviet institutions

Supreme Soviet     4,402    41.3       86.3
and Council of
Ministers of the

Soviet Ministry    1,236    11.6       97.9
of Internal
Affairs and
local bodies of

Prosecutor's        167     1.6        99.5
Office of USSR

CC CPSU              45     0.4        99.9


Other (including     12      0         100

Total              10,666   100        100

                   Written in 1952/53 and
                   contained in files

Original             N      %     Cumulative %

                   Lithuanian institutions

Lithuanian         1,786   22.9       22.9
Supreme Soviet
and Council of

Lithuanian          875    11.2       34.1
Ministry of
Internal Affairs
and its local

CC CPL              13     0.2        34.3

Other Lithuanian    75     1.0        35.3
Office, Ministry
of Justice)

                   Central Soviet institutions

Supreme Soviet     2,346   30.1       65.4
and Council of
Ministers of the

Soviet Ministry    2,401   30.8       96.2
of Internal
Affairs and
local bodies of

Prosecutor's        220    2.8        99.0
Office of USSR

CC CPSU             75     1.0        100.0


Other (including                       100

Total              7,791               100

Source of Ministry of Internal Affairs reports: LYA f. V135, op. 7,
d. 421, ll. 107-8 for the first three columns (with some grouped in

Source of written complaints in deportees' files: Estimate based on
the 5% files survey for the last three columns.

CC--Central Committee; CPL--Communist Party of Lithuania;
CPSU--Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Table 3. Monthly Numbers of Complaints and Requests Received by the
Lithuanian Ministry of Internal Affairs (1953 to First Semester 1954)

           1953                     1954

Jan.        35   Jul.         117   Jan.       1,067
Feb.        17   Aug.         511   Feb.       1,077
Mar.        24   Sep.         370   Mar.         800
Apr.        40   Oct.         640   Apr.         902
May         32   Nov.         869   May        1,077
Jun.       103   Dec.         703   Jun.       1,266
Total H1   251   Total H2   3,210   Total H1   6,189

Source: LYA K6/2/45/58, Ministry of Internal Affairs report.

Table 4. Timeline of the Various Commissions and Various Collective
Release Decisions

Year          53   54   55   56   57   58    59

Lith. CM      Kulak release, rehabilitation,
              and right to return

Lith.                                  Release and
Supr.                                  rehabilitation

Sov.          Release and
Supr.         rehabilitation

Lith.                   Release and rehabilitation

Collective                             (1)

Year          60    61    62   63   64    65   66-

Lith. CM

              Rehabilitation and right to return



Lith.                                     Release and
Supr.                                     rehabilitition

Collective    (2)   (3)        (4)  (5)     (6)

(1) Accomplices of clandestine nationalists and their relatives;
former kulaks and their relatives; relatives of former landowners,
manufacturers, etc.; former members of Anders Army and their

(2) Relatives of former gang leaders, former traders, etc.

(3) Former participants in clandestine nationalist groups, aged under
18 at the time of their arrest.

(4) Leaders and participants in clandestine nationalist groups and
armed groups.

(5) Former members of anti-Soviet nationalist organizations.

(6) Jehovah's Witnesses, members of the True Orthodox Church, Reform
Adventists, Inochentists, and their relatives.

Table 5. Number of Families Exiled from Lithuania and Outcomes of the
Examination of Their Files by the Commissions of the Presidium of the
Lithuanian Supreme Soviet and the Lithuanian Council of Ministers, 2
June 1963

                                   No. of families   Of which, by
                                                       order of
                                                      Council of

Total deportees                     32,230 (100%)       12,285

Of which

  (1) Released from special         25,583 (79%)      9,154 (74%)
  settlements by the commissions
  of the Presidium of the
  Supreme Soviet of the
  Lithuanian SSR and the Council
  of Ministers of the Lithuanian

  Of which:

  Exiled without grounds or         1 2,847 (9%)      1,443 (12%)
  having exceptionally had their
  property returned

  2) Released from the special       6,610 (21%)      3,131 (26%)
  settlements by various decrees
  of the Council of Ministers of
  the USSR or the Presidium of
  the Supreme Soviet of the USSR

Permission to reside in                 2,147            1,048
Lithuania for families who did
not have that right

Released by the Presidium of        27,697 (86%)     10,202 (83%)
the Supreme Soviet of the
Lithuanian SSR and the Council
of Ministers of the Lithuanian
SSR with the right to reside
in Lithuania or permission to
reside in Lithuania for
families already released and
who did not have that right.

Remaining in special               1,067 (persons)
settlements on 1 March 1960

Of which

  (1) deported on the basis of     1,030 (persons)
  the decree of the Presidium of
  the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
  on 11 March 1952, having
  already served a sentence for

  (2) Jehovah's Witnesses           37 (persons)

Source: LYA f. V-135, ap. 7, d. 421, ll. 150-51.

Note: Altogether, 19,945 families were deported under a decision of
the Special Conference and 12,285 under a decree of the Council of

Table 6. Breakdown of Files by Number of
Requests Sent before 1988

N   %    N    %   N    %

0   4    6    5   11   2
1   11   7    6   12   2
2   11   8    5   13   2
3   11   9    4   14   2
4   10   10   4   15   14

N = Number of complaints and requests per file.

% = Percentage of files containing this
number of complaints and requests.

Sources: See Appendix A2.
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Title Annotation:situation in Lithuania from Joseph Stalin's death to Soviet collapse almost 40 years later
Author:Blum, Alain; Koustova, Emilia; Grieve, Madeleine; Duthreuil, Catriona
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXLT
Date:Jun 22, 2018
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