Latvia's new party chief: KGB roots and an image as hard-liner

A new generation has assumed power in Latvia, a small and relatively Westernized Soviet republic on the Baltic. Boris Karlovich Pugo, an ethnic Latvian who is in his late 40s, became first secretary of the Latvian Communist Party in mid-April. Until then, he was head of the Latvian KGB.

Mr. Pugo seems to represent a hard-line faction within the KGB. His origins in the community of Latvian Communists in Stalin's Russia are seen as a guarantee of his servility to Moscow. They won't bolster the low level of public respect for Soviet power as the elevation of a locally born Communist who did not have obvious ties to the KGB might have done.

In a broader perspective, Pugo's rise may be a sign that the KGB is continuing to strengthen its grip on Soviet society despite the death of Yuri Andropov, who headed the KGB for 15 years before ascending to the top position in the Kremlin.

Kristian Gerner, a Soviet affairs specialist at the University of Lund in Sweden, says it is too early to say whether Pugo's jump from the KGB to the leadership of the Latvian party was the start of a trend in the non-Russian Soviet republics.

''You would have to see a few more promotions, especially in the Central Asian republics, where there may be problems with Muslim and Turkish nationalism ,'' Gerner declared.

Pugo took over the Latvian KGB in November 1980 and moved swiftly to assert his authority. In the spring of 1981, long prison terms were handed down to Juris Bumeistaris and Dainis Lismanis,Latvians accused of organizing an illegal social democratic movement.

In 1983 at least eight Latvians were incarcerated for their political or religious beliefs, the largest number in recent memory.

Six were sentenced to prison camp, one is in a psychiatric clinic prior to serving a prison sentence, and one man active in the unofficial peace movement has been forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital.

These arrests and trials were part of the accelerated campaign against dissent after Mr. Andropov came to power. They suggest Pugo pursued this campaign vigorously.

Although the KGB is essentially a massive police and intelligence organization commanded from Moscow, the national KGB units conduct KGB work in the local language and engage in ''ethnic espionage'' whenever the local nationality is well represented in the West. This is the case with all three Baltic republics, Armenia, and the Ukraine.

As early as 1981 Pugo's KGB started shifting to a harsh and defensive posture in its relations with Latvian emigres and emigre youth.

Two-week annual summer courses for emigre youth in Riga, which started in 1976 were boycotted by many emigre Latvians and cancelled by the Soviet sponsors in the summer of 1981.

In the spring of 1981, a popular young Latvian-American advocate of cultural exchange with Latvia and a frequent tourist to the Soviet Republic was arrested, questioned, and expelled because of alleged ties to the two Social Democrats, Bumeistars and Lismanis.

Interrogations and occasional expulsion of young ethnically Latvian tourists have continued.

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