I've been doing a little research on the so-called "June communists" - the puppet government of Estonian literary men and ne'er-do-wells that was assembled in the Soviet legation in Tallinn in June 1940.
The sitting Estonian government had been given an ultimatum to form a pro-Soviet government on June 15. President Konstantin Päts first put forward August Rei, a Social Democrat and Estonia's ambassador to Moscow, as a candidate for prime minister of this "pro-Soviet" government.
The Soviets rejected Rei's candidacy. Instead, they chose a prime minister for the government themselves. It would be Johannes Vares, a 50 year-old, wealthy Pärnu doctor and radical poet who dabbled in cubism and anarchism. In modern American parlance, Vares would be considered a "limousine liberal" -- a person of wealth who expressed compassion for the plight of the working people of Estonia.
At first, Vares seemed like the perfect man for Moscow's plans. He was a genuine national cultural figure who could assuage the masses that Estonian independence would remain intact, and that their indepedence was secure, until the Soviets fulfilled their plans of annexing the country.
For the Soviets, though, there would be one problem with Dr. Vares, according to the memoirs I am reading. The main issue was that he was a naive dope who proved incapable of carrying out their basic orders. Most of the June communists were men who had no political background at all. Vares had none. Nor did his "foreign minister," Nigol Andresen, a schoolmaster. Vares' personally selected deputy prime minister, Hans Kruus, a professor of history in Tartu, similarly had no political experience.
According to the memoir of Ants Oras, a professor of English who knew most of the "June communists" personally, none of these men were even communists. He describes Vares as an "anarchist by temperament," whose grasp of political problems was "uncertain." Vares was "a type destined to remain opposed to any regime, pouring forth magniloquent dreams and vituperations in verse."
During the month between Vares' installment as prime minister and Estonia's request to join the USSR, Vares, Andresen, and others made daily radio broadcasts assuring the Estonian people of Estonia's intentions to remain an independent country that would now, thanks to its Soviet protector, have more freedom and equality than ever before. Vares himself was kept under 24-hour supervision by the NKVD and complied with all the requests of the Soviet legation.
An issue though was that he himself did not understand what to do as prime minister. According to Oras, Vares visited Soviet emissary Andrei Zhdanov several times a day for instruction. Sometimes the government itself did not understand the Soviet legation's orders. Vares was "in a state of miserable confusion" as to how his statements on air were contradicted by the actions that he was ordered to take, Oras writes.
Zhdanov himself had assured Vares that Estonia would not be incorporated into the USSR. When Vares was told that Estonia would be annexed he was "horrified." The June government made a last-ditch effort to negotiate for "Outer Mongolia" status -- then a Soviet-dependency but not part of the USSR. According to Oras, Zhdanov threatened to shoot Vares if he did not comply with the order to vote for joining the USSR.
Vares, who called the vote a "fiction," himself did not speak in Moscow in favor of joining the USSR. He had written his own speech and was not permitted to speak by his handlers. Instead, Johannes Lauristin, deputy foreign minister, read the prepared speech in the presence of Stalin. The Soviets deliberated, and unsurprisingly accepted Estonia as the 16th republic on August 6, 1940.
Vares was evacuated from Estonia in 1941 after the German advance. He returned to fulfill his duties as a puppet political figure in 1945, but committed suicide in Kadriorg Palace in November 1946, though some speculate he was killed by the Soviet secret police.
Several other June communists were eliminated by the Soviets after they had outlived their usefulness. Maksim Unit, minister of the interior in Vares' government, was executed by the NKVD in July 1941. Economy Minister Juhan Nihtig-Narma was deported by the NKVD to Siberia where he died in 1942. Boris Sepp, the minister of justice, simply disappeared. War minister Tõnis Rotberg was also deported by the NKVD in 1944. He died in a Soviet prison camp in 1953. Similarly, Nigol Andresen, the foreign minister, was purged as a "bourgeois nationalist" in 1950. He was sentenced to 25+5 years in Siberia, but was allowed to return home after Stalin's death.
The central question of my research was whether the June government were willing collaborators who gave up Estonia's independence or whether they were useful idiots who were manipulated by their Soviet handlers and then discarded. Right now, I am leaning towards the latter.
( http://palun.blogspot.com/ Esmaspäev, 6.aprill, 2009)
Dr. Vares (33)