John Skujins was one of many who left Latvia after World War II. He came west. Others were sent east from their war-torn Baltic country into Russia.
Skujins, a retired Utah State University soils scientist, recently returned to Latvia. He talked on campus recently about the Baltic countries."Following the defeat of Germany, the destruction of these countries began," Skujins told the audience. "Collectivism and genocide were initiated. Over 200,000 Latvians were killed or deported to gulags.
"Russification was initiated. Use of pre-1940 Latvian culture, particularly Latvian literature, was prohibited. The influx of Russian migrants was promoted," he said.
"Latvia suffered most. There are close to 50 percent migrants, Estonia has about 35 percent and Lithuania is 25 percent migrants now."
Behind the banner of perestroika and glasnost, political parties were formed and Western-style democratically elected parliaments came into being. The Lithuanian parliament declared independence March 11, 1990, followed by Latvia and Estonia.
"Currently the parliaments and the rest of the governing bodies of these republics function on their own terms," Skujins said. "Important legislation has been passed on privatization of land and industry and on the education system."
State official languages have been established. The migrants must learn Latvian, Estonian or Lithuanian, depending on the country in which they now reside.
And, western-style taxation has been introduced, the soils scientist said.
The Soviet coat-of-arms has been removed from government agency designations and replaced by the old coat-of-arms of Latvia, Skujins noted.
However, at the beginning of the year, the situation began to deteriorate.
"As is well-known, the military and hard-liners imposed their power on Gorbachev to counteract the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
"On January 2, the Latvian Press Building, printing offices and paper mills were taken over by the USSR Ministry of Interior troops. Printing of news became impeded. The Latvian newspapers are now printed on wrapping paper," Skujins said. "The printing of school books became difficult."
January 13 and 14, the Russian troops occupied TV-Radio headquarters in Vilnius, Skujins said. The Latvian Police Academy was disarmed.
On January 16, the first Latvian - a government driver - was killed by Black Berets, the Russian forces, Skujins said.
The downhill trend continues.
Changes are beginning to occur again, however. Skujins said more than 50 percent of the migrants voted for Latvian independence. Food prices are closer to real market prices, and food is available without standing in line. Certain shortages still exists - fresh milk is hardly available, but yogurt is plentiful. And because of food shortages in Russia, the Baltic countryside is arming against expected marauders, he said.
Within the Baltic countries, there are industrial development problems, in addition to lack of raw material and machinery.
The major industries belong to "the center all-Union Moscow" and pay no taxes, Skujins said.
"Production does not contribute to the Republic financially. These industries cannot be nationalized without provoking an armed conflict.
"Scandinavia and European countries are initiating economic help with investments, but not the USA," Skujins said. "And, to date, diplomatic recognition has not been forthcoming."
"It is a waiting period," the USU professor emeritus said. "Everybody is scared of a possible military dictatorship by Moscow."