Petr Golub’, Great Stalin is the best friend of the Latvian people!, 1950
Petr Golub’s poster of 1950 is an audacious piece of postwar propaganda which, although seemingly targeted at the Latvian people, was probably actually produced to make the Russian population feel good about their relationship with Latvia. The poster was published in Moscow and Leningrad in the Russian language and was thus most likely intended for a Russian audience.
The Republic of Latvia came under the Soviet sphere of influence/was liberated/was militarily occupied by the USSR under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Latvia had declared its independence in 1918 and, after a prolonged war of independence, made peace with Soviet Russia in 1920:
Russia recognises without objection the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and forever renounces all sovereign rights held by Russia in relation to the Latvian nation and land on the basis of the previous State legal regime as well as any international agreements, all of which lose their force and effect for all future time as herein provided.
On Jun 16, 1940, Soviet troops entered Latvia and Estonia. Elections were organised for July 14-15 with a pre-approved list of candidates from the Latvian Working People's Bloc and the results allegedly published in Moscow 12 hours before the polls closed in Latvia. One week later, the newly installed government petitioned to join the Soviet Union.
Latvia's sovereignty was only fully restored in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. On August 22, 1996, the Latvian parliament adopted a declaration stating that the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 was a military occupation and thus an illegal incorporation.
In fact, even prior to the Second World War in the 1930s, the Soviet leadership had targeted the Latvian community in the purges, and it is very likely that it was renowned poster artist Gustav Klutsis' Latvian ethnicity that led to his arrest and execution in 1938.
Klutsis, who created numerous acclaimed and memorable posters in service of the regime, had also been a member of the Latvian rifle guard that formed Lenin’s personal bodyguard during the days of the October Revolution of 1917.
Klutsis was arrested and executed in 1938 due to his ‘alleged participation, beginning in 1936, in the Latvian fascist-nationalist organization, operating at the time in Moscow’. Prometheus, a Latvian cultural organisation, was established in Moscow in 1923 and shut down by government decree in 1937.*
Petr Golub', a noted poster artist and illustrator, died just three years after this poster was released, one week before his 40th birthday. Rumours that he was executed for having depicted Stalin with a deformed hand with only four fingers may be apocryphal.**
In Golub's 1950 poster, just five years after the end of the Second World War when the Soviet Union was presenting itself as the world leader of the peace movement, Stalin's figure, in his white marshal’s uniform, fills the picture plane. This serves as a pointed reminder of Soviet victory in the war and of Stalin's leading role in bringing about this victory.
Stalin's right arm points the way to a future of victorious communism and a young man and woman gaze, as in a trance, in the direction he indicates. The position of Stalin's hand, held in a gesture of firing at someone, is one of many gestures made by Stalin in posters to indicate movement towards the future.
The young man beneath Stalin wears a suit and tie and the young woman wears the blouse of a national costume. She holds a bunch of carnations that are not offered to Stalin, and probably signify postwar abundance, the payoff for all of the past sacrifices made in the name of socialism.
The caption of the poster, which must have been particularly galling to the Latvian people, states ‘Great Stalin is the best friend of the Latvian people!’
*Margarita Tupitsyn, Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina, p. 1
** See http://www.memiauctions.com/MMA_Sep2011.pdf, p. 69
Dr Anita Pisch
Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.