Unveiling Latvia A Concise Exploration of Its Rich History


Latvia was originally settled by the ancient individuals known as Balts. In the ninth century the Balts came under the overlordship of the Varangians, or Vikings, however a really lasting dominance was established over them by their German-speaking neighbors to the west, who Christianized Latvia in the 12 and 13centuries. The Knights of the Sword, who converged with the German Knights of the Teutonic Request in 1237, vanquished all of Latvia by 1230, and German overlordship of the area continued for a very long time, with a German landowning class ruling over an enserfed Latvian peasantry. From the mid-sixteenth to the early eighteenth 100 years, Latvia was partitioned among Poland and Sweden, yet toward the finish of the eighteenth century the whole of Latvia had been annexed by expansionist Russia. German landowners managed to retain their influence in Latvia, yet indigenous Latvian nationalism filled rapidly in the early twentieth 100 years. Following the Russian Upheaval of 1917, Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918, and, after a confused time of fighting, the new nation was perceived by Soviet Russia and Germany in 1920.

Independent Latvia was represented by democratic coalitions until 1934, when authocratic rule was established by President Karlis Ulmanis. In 1939 Latvia had to grant military bases on its soil to the Soviet Association, and in 1940 the Soviet Red Army moved into Latvia, which was soon incorporated into the Soviet Association. Nazi Germany held Latvia from 1941 to 1944, when it was retaken by the Red Army. Latvia’s farms were effectively collectivized in 1949, and its flourishing economy was integrated into that of the Soviet Association. Latvia remained one of the most prosperous and profoundly industrialized parts of the Soviet Association, however, and its kin retained strong memories of their concise 20-year time of independence. With the liberalization of the Soviet system undertaken by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, Latvians began seeking Latvia declared restoration of its independence on May, 1990 and attained full independence from the Soviet Association in August 21, 1991.

The Latvians constitute a prominent division of the ancient gathering of peoples known as the Balts. The first historically reported association between the Balts and the civilization of the Mediterranean world was based on the ancient amber trade: according to the Roman historian Tacitus (1st century AD), the Aestii (predecessors of the Old Prussians) fostered an important trade with the Roman Realm. During the tenth and eleventh centuries Latvian lands were subject to a twofold pressure: from the east there was Slavic penetration; from the west came the Swedish push toward the shores of Courland.

German rule

During the crusading time frame, German- – or, all the more precisely, Saxon- – overseas expansion reached the eastern shores of the Baltic. Because individuals occupying the coast of Latvia were the Livs, the German invaders called the nation Livland, a name delivered in Latin as Livonia. During the twelfth hundred years, German merchants from Lübeck and Bremen were visiting the estuary of the Western Dvina; these visits were trailed by the arrival of German missionaries. Meinhard, a priest from Holstein, landed there in 1180 and was named bishop of Üxküll (Ikskile) in 1186. The third bishop, Albert of Buxhoevden, with Pope Innocent III’s permission, established the Request for the Brothers of the Sword in 1202. Before they converged in 1237 with the Knights of the Teutonic Request, they had vanquished all the Latvian tribal kingdoms.

After the conquest, the Germans shaped a so-called Livonian confederation, which lasted for over three centuries. This feudalistic organization was not a happy one, its three components- – the Teutonic Request, the archbishopric of Riga, and the free city of Riga- – being in constant dispute with each other. Besides, the vulnerability of land frontiers involved the confederation in continuous unfamiliar wars. The Latvians, however, profited from Riga’s joining the Hanseatic League in 1282, as the league’s trade brought prosperity. In general, however, the situation of the Latvians under German decide was that of any subject nation. The indigenous respectability was extinguished, apart from a couple of its members who changed their allegiance; and the rural population had to pay tithes and taxes to their German conquerors and to provide corvée, or statute labor.

Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, and the encroachment of Russia

In 1561 the Latvian territory was partitioned: Courland, south of the Western Dvina, became an autonomous duchy under the suzerainty of the Lithuanian sovereign; and Livonia north of the stream was incorporated into Lithuania. Riga was likewise incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1581 yet was taken by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf in 1621; Vidzeme- – that is to say, the greater part of Livonia north of the Western Dvina- – was surrendered to Sweden by the Détente of Altmark (1629), though Latgale, the southeastern area, remained under Lithuanian rule.

The rulers of Muscovy had so far failed to reach the Baltic shores of the Latvian nation, though Ivan III and Ivan IV had attempted to do as such. The Russian tsar Alexis reestablished the attempt without success in his wars against Sweden and Poland (1653-67). Finally, however, Peter I the Great managed to “break the window” to the Baltic Sea: in the course of the Great Northern War he took Riga from the Swedes in 1710; and at the finish of the war he secured Vidzeme from Sweden under the Peace of Nystad (1721). Latgale was annexed by the Russians at the first partition of Poland (1772), and Courland at the third (1795). Toward the finish of the eighteenth hundred years, therefore, the whole Latvian nation was subject to Russia.

Russian domination

In the period immediately following the Napoleonic Wars, the Russian ruler Alexander I was induced to grant personal opportunity to the peasants of Courland in 1817 and to those of Vidzeme in 1819. This suggested no right of the peasant to purchase the land that his ancestors had plowed for quite a long time. Consequently, there was unrest in the Latvian lands until the emancipation of the serfs throughout the Russian Realm (1861) carried the option to purchase land in ownership from the state and from the landlords, who were still mostly German.

In step with the growing monetary strength of the local peasantry came a revival of national feeling. Educational and other national institutions were established. The idea of an independent Latvian state was straightforwardly advanced during the Russian Upset of 1905. This upset, evoked as it was simultaneously by social and by national groups, bore further witness to the strength of the Latvian reaction to monetary and political German and Russian pressure.


After the Russian Upheaval of March 1917 the Latvian National Political Gathering, met at Riga, asked for complete political autonomy in July. On September 3, however, the German army took Riga. After the Bolshevik overthrow of November 1917 in Petrograd, the Latvian Nation’s Committee, representing peasant, bourgeois, and socialist groups, proclaimed independence on Nov. 18, 1918. An administration was shaped by the leader of the Farmers’ Association, Karlis Ulmanis. The Soviet government established a communist government for Latvia at Valmiera, headed by Peteris Stucka. The Red Army, which included Latvian units, took Riga on Jan. 3, 1919, and the Ulmanis government moved to Liepaja, where it was protected by a British naval squadron. Yet, Liepaja was still involved by German troops, who the Allies wished to protect East Prussia and Courland (Kurzeme) against the advancing Red Army. Their commander, General Rüdiger von der Goltz, intended to fabricate a German-controlled Latvia and to make it a German base of operation in the war against the Soviets. This intention caused a contention with the public authority of independent Latvia supported by the Allies. On May 22, 1919, von der Goltz took Riga. Pushing northward, the Germans were stopped near Cesis by the Estonian army, which included 2,000 Latvians. The British constrained the Germans to abandon Riga, to which the Ulmanis government returned in July. In the meantime, the Red Army, finding itself attacked from the north by the Estonians, had withdrawn from Latvia.

In July the British demanded that the German troops retreat to East Prussia. However, von der Goltz now raised a “West Russian” army, systematically reinforced by units of German volunteers. These forces, headed by an adventurer, Colonel Pavel Bermondt-Avalov, were to battle the Red Army, cooperating with the other “White Russian” armies of Kolchak, Denikin, and Yudenich, supported by the Allies. In any case, on October 8 Bermondt-Avalov attacked the Latvian troops and involved the suburbs of Riga south of the stream. By November 10, however, the Latvians, aided by the artillery of an Anglo-French naval squadron cooperating with Estonian forces, defeated von der Goltz’s and Bermondt-Avalov’s troops, attacked finally also by the Lithuanians. By December 1919 all German troops had abandoned Latvia and Lithuania. Just Latgale remained in Red hands; however this province was soon thereafter cleared of Red troops.

A Latvian constituent assembly, chose in April 1920, met in Riga on May 1; and on August 11 a Latvian-Soviet peace treaty was signed in Riga, the Soviet government renouncing all claims to Latvia. The Latvian constitution of Feb. 15, 1922, provided for a republic with a president and a unicameral parliament, the Saeima, of 100 members chose for quite some time.

The multiplicity of parties in the Saeima (22 in 1922 and 24 in 1931) made it impossible to frame a stable government; and in 1934 Ulmanis, state head for the fourth time since 1918, proposed a constitutional change. This was angrily opposed by the Social Democrats, the communists, and the national minorities. The German minority became Nazified, and Ulmanis had to suppress the Latvian branch of the Baltischer Bruderschaft (“Baltic Brotherhood”), whose program was the incorporation of the Baltic state into the Third Reich; however a Latvian fascist organization called Perkonkrust (“Thundercross”) created furious propaganda. On May 15, 1934, Ulmanis issued a pronouncement declaring a state of siege. The Saeima and all the political parties were dissolved. On April 11, 1936, on the expiration of the second term of office of President Alberts Kviesis, Ulmanis succeeded him. The country’s monetary position improved considerably.

The Soviet occupation and incorporation

At the point when World War II started in September 1939, the fate of Latvia had been already settled in the secret protocol of the so-called German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 23. In October Latvia had to sign a dictated treaty of mutual assistance by which the U.S.S.R. obtained military, naval, and air bases on Latvian territory. On June 17, 1940, Latvia was invaded by the Red Army. On June 20 the formation of another administration was announced; on July 21 the new Saeima decided in favor of the incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R.; and on August 5 the U.S.S.R. accepted this incorporation. In the first year of Soviet occupation about 35,000 Latvians, especially the intelligentsia, were expelled to Russia. During the German invasion of the U.S.S.R., from July 1941 to October 1944, Latvia was a province of a larger Ostland, which included Estonia, Lithuania, and Belorussia.

About two-thirds of the nation was involved by the Red Army in 1944. the Germans held out in Kurzeme for the rest of the war. About 100,000 escaped to Sweden and Germany before the arrival of Soviet forces.

The first postwar decade proved particularly troublesome. The uncompromising exertion of the system to transform the country into a typical Soviet bailiwick intensified the devastation of the war. Severe political repression accompanied radical socioeconomic change. Outrageous Russification desensitized national cultural life. Several waves of mass deportation to northern Russia and Siberia- – altogether involving at least 100,000 individuals – happened, most notably in 1949 regarding a campaign to collectivize agriculture. Large-scale immigration from Russia and other parts of the Soviet Association began and continued throughout the postwar period. In just north of 40 years the proportion of Latvians in the population dropped from approximately three-fourths to minimal more than one-half.

The ruling Communist Party was disproportionately composed of immigrants. A purposeful exertion made to nativize the party and especially its ruling cadres set off a wholesale cleanse in 1959 of indigenous significant level officials. The immigrant component headed by first secretary Arvids Pelse and his successors Augusts Voss and Boriss Pugo remained settled in positions of force during the following three decades.

Restoration of independence

A national renaissance created in the late 1980s regarding the Soviet campaigns for glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”). Mass demonstrations on ecological questions in 1987 were the first non-officially-staged political gatherings in the country in postwar times. In 1988 the Latvian Popular Front arose in opposition to the ruling establishment. It won in the elections of 1990. On May 4, 1990, the Latvian legislature passed a declaration on the renewal of independence. A time of transition was provided. Soviet efforts to restore the earlier situation culminated in savage incidents in Riga in January 1991. In the aftermath of the failed upset in Moscow in August of the same year, the Latvian legislature declared full independence.

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