Latvian Orthodox Church 1917-1940

 

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The Nativity of Christ Cathedral in central Riga

 

Latvia historically has become a crosspoint between three main confessions of the Christianity. Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodox Church share almost equal ground in Latvian society. While Western Christianity had greater influence in Latvia and the Baltic States as the whole, it was the Orthodox church that had it first official converts in Latvian territory. However, it became prominent only in the 19th century when Tsarist authorities started the policy of spreading Orthodoxy among Latvians and supporting of building churches and monasteries. When talking about Orthodox the common stereotype is that Orthodox church is commonly for Slavic nations like Russians, Ukrainians, and others. However, since the first converts in the 11-12th century, the Orthodoxy was also popular among Latvians. After the fall of Russian Empire and Bolshevik takeover the leader of the Orthodox church was Latvian national Archbishop Jānis Pommers (Иоанн (Поммер) – Архиепископ Иоа́нн (Священномученик Иоанн Рижский). He was the Archbishop and leader of the Latvian Orthodox Church from 1920 to his tragic death in 1934. During his reign, the church was independent both from Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchate and took a very antagonistic stance towards Bolshevism, Social Democracy. He was also elected as a deputy in Latvian parliament and lead the Russian Orthodox conservative forces. Pommers was met with controversy. Leftist forces despised him as he despised them. Latvian nationalists accused him of being a Tsarist and Russian nationalist. Russian liberals, leftists and the Old Believer faction opposed him. Struggling with opposition a staunch and fanatical Pommers met a horrible fate on October 11, 1934, when unknown assassins killed him in his summer cottage. His death was a major tragedy for Orthodox church and prompted to cut all ties with Church in Moscow and establish itself under Constantinople patriarchate. Jānis Pommers in 1981 was first declared a Saint a hieromartyr (sanctus martyr, cвященному́ченик, svētmoceklis) by Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. In 2001 the Russian Orthodox Church and its now subordinate Latvian Orthodox Church canonized Archbishop Jānis. He is the only Latvian who had entered Sainthood.

First Orthodox missionary in Latvian lands was Scandinavian Torvald Kondarnson who was appointed by Byzantine Empire as envoy for rulers of Rus. The closest Rus duchy to early Baltic tribes was Polotsk ruled by Duke Ragvald whose daughter Raghilda or Gorislava entered monastery that was built in present-day Krāslava. No archeological evidence back this legend. However, because Latvian territory was on the path between varyags (Vikings), Rus and Byzantines it was crossed by missionaries from both sides. In 12th century the Latgalian rulers of Jersika and Tālava became Orthodox and built first Orthodox churches. In the city of Jersika ruled by Orthodox Visvaldis the gospel was translated to Old East Slavic language in 1270.The Orthodox clergyman introduced words baznīca (church), gavēnis (fast), krusts (cross), svēts (saint) grāmata (book) klanīties (kneal) svētki (celebrations) and nedēļa (week) from Old Slavic that became used in the future unified Latvian language.

Some Russian historians have speculated that if Rus would not be invaded by Mongols, the Rus duchies would eventually overcome and conquer pagan Baltic lands. Kievan Rus had already been weakened and divided in smaller duchies years before Mongol invasion. The duchies of Novgorod, Pskov, and Polotsk had placed the Latgalian rulers under tribute payment in return for nonaggression. However, the Rus rulers had no will and power to conquer and forcibly baptize the Baltic tribes. During this time the Catholic crusaders from the West took the upper hand and established Crusader states in the present day Latvia and Estonia. Jersika was sacked and Orthodox churches were destroyed. Crusader advance to the east was halted in 1242. Lithuanian Grand Duchy a union between Lithuanian and Slavic duchies who later became Belarus, converted to Catholicism. The spread of Orthodoxy was halted for centuries.

 

St. Peter and St. Paul Church – the oldest Orthodox church in Riga

 

At last, Orthodoxy returned in the 17th century when Russia made major church reforms and those who opposed it often was forced to seek refuge and came to Inflanty of Latgale and Duchy of Courland. Old Believers established continuous minority in Latvia. In the 19th century, Russian Empire took over all lands of present-day Latvia. In first decades the Tsarist authorities tolerated mainly Lutheran Baltic German nobility and the Catholic church in Latgale. The absolute majority of Latvians were either Lutheran or Catholic. However, Tsarist and Baltic German relations worsened and in the 19th century, 30’s the Orthodox church was used as a countermeasure to weaken Baltic German influence. While there were reports of a small church of St. Nicholas in Riga mainly for merchants and diplomats, the first major church in Riga was St. Peter and St. Paul Church was built in 1785 for Russian garrison. In 1836 the first church authority was created in Riga. The Riga Vicariate of the Pskov eparchy and its head was bishop Iriniach who started to build churches in the countryside. Doing so he ignited the will among Latvian peasants who despite abolishment of serfdom still felt oppressed, to convert to Orthodoxy and gain rights to leave the Baltic German nobles to whom they paid high rents for their small land plots and were still forced to do corvees for the nobles. In 1841 after draught the conversion became massive and peasants came to bishop Iriniach to ask for help. Baltic German General Governor of Baltic province von Palen tried to suppress the “Movement of Warm Lands” and arrested the main leaders. Armed clashes followed. This movement was also partially caused by the fact that Tsar Nicholas I had made manifest for the establishment of Jewish agricultural colony in Kherson region in Ukraine. More than 2 thousand Jews from Courland moved there and Latvian peasants also wanted to move to “Warm lands” away from Baltic Germans.

In 1841 Filaret became Bishop of Riga and further contributed to the mass conversion to Orthodoxy. In Vidzeme governorate, the amount of Orthodox reached 12%. In 1896 Russian Empire made census and  33,6% or 56 003 were Latvians. As in this time, Riga and Eastern Latvia became colonized by migrants from Russia and Belarus creating Slavic majority among Orthodox in Latvia. 236 churches and 488 church schools were in Latvian territory before the war. As state church, the Orthodox church enjoyed privileged level. However, almost none of Latvian converts could move to new lands to Russia and Ukraine. Most lost their lands. Their children moved away from Orthodoxy, while some who were registered as Orthodox still lived as Lutherans. Only small portion of Latvians became true Orthodox followers.

 

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Jānis Pommers

 

One of them Jānis Pommers who was born in Prauliena parish near Madonna city in 1876. He studied in Riga Orthodox School and graduated Riga Orthodox Spiritual Seminary in 1897. From 1900 to 1904 he studied in Kyiv Theological Academy and in 1901 entered monastic rank. After gaining a degree in theology he worked in  Chernihiv Spiritual Seminary, then in Vologda, then as rector of Vilnius Lithuania Spiritual seminary. In 1912 he was appointed as Bishop of Slutsk. He was also present in Mensk, Taganrog, and Ekaterinoslav (Dnipro). In 1917 he met the Russian Revolution in Tver.

Jānis or Ioan in Slavic languages, he was popular among worshipers. He was loyal to the Tsarist government and was strictly against Bolshevik revolution. In so he was seen as a danger by the Bolsheviks. In 1918 he was prevented from going to Odessa and was moved to Penza. According to Orthodox church biography during his time in Penza, the Bolshevik Cheka made an assassination attempt on him and also shelled monastery where he lived. In the end, he was arrested and moved to Moscow. In 1921 after Latvia gained independence Pommers moved to Riga.

 

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Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow 1917-1925

 

The Orthodox Church in Soviet Russia was in a precarious state. It existed while faced repressions, arrests, and executions of the clergy and destruction of churches. The Church survived mainly because of Patriarch Tikhon who on November 4, 1917, restored the Patriarchy that was broken since February revolution. At the start, he condemned the murder of the Tsar family and opposed the Bolsheviks, by open means. However, as he saw that Bolsheviks had won the war he started what was known as Tikhon’s affair to gain common ground with the new power. Doing so created schismatic movements within Russian Orthodox Church often inspired by Cheka. New sectarian movements like True Orthodox Church or Catacomb church and the Living Church emerged that declared resistance against “Tikhon heresy”. Tikhon died in 1925 and Soviets prevented from appointing new Patriarch. New Patriarch of Russia was only allowed in 1944 when Stalin wanted to clear out the clergy who supported Nazi occupation. Jānis Pommers meanwhile was positive towards Tikhon and wrote long speech marking his death and acknowledged his effort in keeping the Church together and facing the Soviet oppression.

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Anti-Orthodox caricature suggesting removal of the Orthodox cathedral and replace with  Monument of Freedom. From Svari 1930

In new independent Latvia, the situation for Latvian Orthodox was not as negative as in Russia but it was still problematic. Among the Latvian national political elite, many despised the “Tsar church”’. In 1922 the St. Alexius church and monastery in Old Riga was give back to Catholics. The main center of Latvian Orthodox the Nativity of Christ Cathedral was also considered for demolition. What was demolished was the chapell near Riga Train Station that was built to celebrate the miraculous Tsar family survival of the Borki train disaster in 1888. Church also lost the St. Peter and St. Paul Church that was taken over by Lutherans. The Spiritual Seminary building became Anatomicum for University of Latvia.

 

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Archbishop Jānis with nuns of the Riga Orthodox Female Monastery

 

The Latvian Orthodox Church had to prove its loyalty to the Republic of Latvia, while it still in their hearts and minds griefed the fall of the Tsar. Only in 1926 the Latvian lawmakers issued regulations for the Orthodox church and gave it equal rights as all other churches, Moscow Patriarch Tikhon had issued order Nr. 1026 that allowed the independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church while keeping canonical ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Theological Faculty of the University of Latvia included the Orthodox chamber and seminary was opened to educate young clergy. During the independence, the Latvian Orthodox observed the main Christian holidays at the same time as Catholics and Lutherans. Before the war, the Russian Orthodox Church observed and still observes all Christian celebrations according to old Julian calendar. Jānis Pommers defended the celebration by the new style as he argued that Orthodox people cannot celebrate while being at work and the Orthodox fate must survive in new Latvia. He also based his decision on both Moscow and Constantinople patriarch who also accepted celebration according to the new calendar. In 1930 there was 169 000 Orthodox.

 

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Archbishop Jānis basement chamber in the Riga Orthodox Cathedral

 

Jānis Pommers an authoritative person, fanatical and good speech giver was an obvious candidate for the leader of the Church. Patriarch Tikhon gave him his blessings and relieved him of duty in Penza. He returned to Riga in 1921 July 22 and started the first service in Riga Cathedral since 1917. Because of his efforts, the church was recognized by the state, but to secure the rights of the Orthodox he also chose to run for parliamentary elections.

 

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Deputy Pommers fighting Social Democrats. From Vecais Sikspārnis 1931

 

Latvian Russian politics had no unity. There was strong Russian social democratic fraction. There was also a faction in Saeima for Old Believers and various liberal nationalists. Then there was White Guard emigrants and open monarchists. Latvian Secret Police fought Monarchists and suspected Pommers of being such. The main Latvian Russian newspaper Сегодня (Today) belonged to Jewish investors and pursued liberal social democratic agenda. The Russian conservatives had less money and reader base to raise their voice. For a few years, Pommers used newspaper Слово (The Word) to pursue his political agenda.  During his political career, he was a staunch enemy of the Social Democratic party in the parliament and also stood against Latvian nationalism. His enemies accused him of being Tsarist, he was attacked on the streets. In his speeches and writings, he raised great concerns over the state of the Orthodox church in the Soviet Union. He stood against Latvian-Soviet trade agreement in 1927 as it became known that Moscow had asked Latvian government to limit anti-Soviet publications in Latvian and Russian press. In his writings and speeches, he warned about the danger of Marxism, Soviet agents. He was an uncomfortable enemy to rivals in Latvia and also to Soviet government as he always stood against every Latvian-Soviet agreement. While keeping his faith and admiration to fallen Russian Empire and his authoritative church, he was patriotic anti-communist and kept his church within these lines. As a monk he chose to live in the basement chamber of the Riga Cathedral, however, he also had a small cottage in Riga, Šmerlis suburb, that belonged to the Church.

 

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Archbishop Jānis funeral

 

His political career ended on May 15, 1934, when Kārlis Ulmanis dissolved the parliament and established his Authoritarian dictatorship. Saddened by the loss of political say, he asked the Church Synod to call the new council to determine the state of the Church and arrange rules for choosing new church leader. This was prophetic. On October 11, 1934, he was visited by Russian opera singer who seems to had also opened doors to the murderers. The investigation concluded that the Archbishop was dragged downstairs and the brought back up and dosed with petroleum and then set alight, He was still alive when was set on fire and died a martyr’s death. The opera singer was also found dead. The investigation failed to find the perpetrator. The Church and Russian minority in Latvia and exile placed blame on Soviet Secret Service. Others blamed the relatives Maria Viola Beatere who had accused Pommers of rape, however she failed to prove it and Pommers was proven not guilty. Others blamed members of the Latvian Orthodox Student organization who conflicted with him. It was not proven. The theory that it was done by Kārlis Ulmanis government also seemed unbelievable and unproven. While Ulmanis removed Pommers from politics they both were allied against left-wing forces. Pommer’s death was a grand tragedy and his funeral was attended by many of the politicians including Jānis Balodis the second man in power after Ulmanis. Pommers was laid to rest in Pokrov cemetery in Riga, special chapel was built from the materials of the demolished chapel that was built to celebrate the Tsar survival in the 1888 train disaster.

 

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Gravesite of the Archbishop Jānis

 

The successor to Pommers was  Augustīns Pētersons who in 1936 made the transition from Moscow Patriarchate to Constantinople. That was done because of fears from Moscow after Pommer’s murder and also to fix practical issues in church rule due to the lack of bishops.

In 1940 Latvia was occupied and annexed by Soviet Union. Soviets removed Augustīns Pētersons and sent in Sergy Voskresinsky from Russia. Pētersons after “confessing his sins” was sent to pension. He tried to restore authority during Nazi occupation, however only few congregations followed him. When Soviets came back he escaped to Germany and spent his last years helping the Orthodox refugees. The new head Jānis Garklāvs fully restored the Latvian Orthodox church dependence with Russian Orthodox Church.

During the Soviet occupation church suffered. The main cathedral in Riga was closed and turned into planetarium, many churches were either closed or even demolished like in Daugavpils. Church as other religious movements in Soviet Union survived in strict observation by the authorities.

In 1990 Aleksandrs Kudrjašovs  became Metropolite of Riga and All Latvia. He saw the regain of the independence and in 1992 made decision to preserve Latvian Orthodox church autonomy within Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. The main cathedral in Riga was given back to the Church. Many churches were restored thanks to the donations from Russia and support from Latvian state. In 2001 Jānis Pommers was made  hieromartyr – a Saint. In 2006 church issued special Order and Medal of the Saint Martyr of Ioan the Archbishop of Riga.

 

Icon of Saint Martyr Ioan the Archbishop of Riga

 

According to official data there are 350 thousand Orthodox in Latvia with 117 congregations. The scholars meanwhile note that if regarding the size of active church goers this size is much smaller. The Church observes the celebrations according to the old Julian calendar. There have been many attempts in Latvia to get official Christmas holidays for Orthodox. Latvian politicians have argued this as unpractical and harmful to economy and reminds that before the war the Church observed new calendar. Since the worsening of the relations between Latvia and Russia, the expected visit by Patriarch of Russian Orthodox church Kirill was canceled. Church receives support from Russian politicians in Latvia, but its influence in Latvian politics has been limited. Some of the most radical Russian and Latvian Christian politicians in Latvia are connected to New Evangelical movement rather than Orthodox church. During the screening of the movie “Matilda” a small peaceful protest activity of the people against the movie was observed also in Latvia. Various foundations from Russia publishes and exports faith books in Latvia and even translate books in Latvian. Latvian percentage in Orthodox church has however downsized during the Soviet occupation. Orthodox church possibly the oldest Christian confession in Latvia continues its existence and commemorates the legacy of the Archbishop Jānis.   

 

Sources:

Rīgas un visas Latvijas Arhibīskaps Jānis (Pommers) II. Svētrunas, raksti, uztāšanās. Rīga. Labvēsts. 1993.

http://www.la.lv/pareizticiba-latvija-ne-tikai-krievu-ticiba%E2%80%A9/

http://www.pravoslavie.lv/index.php?newid=48&id=34

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“Belarusian” issue in Latvia. Belarusian struggle for recognition as sovereign national minority

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Logo of the Latvian Belarusian newspaper “The Voice of Belarusian”

The events in former Russian empire between from 1918 to 1920 were significant and dramatic. Many new nations formed such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland regained independence. However, a very large nation by population and territory failed to gain national independence and was divided between its captive homeland and three above mentioned new states. Belarusians had large diaspora in Poland and Lithuania, and the eastern part of Latvia had significant Belarusian population.  Among the Belarusians in Latvia a national movement emerged to open and maintain schools for Belarusian children to teach Belarusian language and culture. However, this initiative met resistance from rival national and political groups. Polish minority in Latvia, Russian nationalists and Latvian Latgalian nationalists questioned the sovereignty of the Belarusian minority in Latvia and speculated that large part of the so-called Belarusians in Latvia are in fact Latvians, Russians or Poles to each of their own. This political campaign caused a imposed trial against Belarusian school authority in 1924, closure of the Belarusian schools and significant drop of people calling themselves Belarusians. This was part of the very deep cross-national issues between Latvians and national minorities.

During the free press period of 1918-1934 the newspaper media discussed the national issues very openly. A notable feature when reading Latvian newspapers about Belarusian minority issues is that often term Belarusian is placed in inverted commas marking it as artificial nation that does not really exists. Various writers, politicians and even scholars questioned the existence of the Belarusian minority in Latvia, but not the existence of Belarusians as whole, since there were Belarusians in Belarus itself and a large part in Lithuania and Poland. That was not questioned, however very specific ethnic issues of we will speak ahead existed in Eastern Latvia that allowed these people to question the existence of the Belarusian minority. The bottom point of this “Belarusian” discourse was the reasoning behind state financing for the Belarusian schools. If there were no real Belarusians or their size was insignificant it meant these schools should have been be closed.

To understand the issue, we must observe the demographical data. In 1920 the first national census was held and 75 630 people registered themselves as Belarusians. In 1925 38 010 people called themselves Belarusians. In 1930 36 029 and the final census was held in 1935 and there was 26 867 Belarusians left in Latvia. We see a significant drop in the number of Belarusian minority in Latvia. What happened? One local pro-Russian historian made outrageous claim that Belarusians were deported from Latvia to Soviet Belarus. None of this happened also there was no significant emigration, nor there was high mortality. The core of the issue is seen in next two statistical figures. In 1930 62% of Belarusians were Catholics, 25% were Orthodox and 11% were Old Believers. 64,7% of Belarusians were literates (62,8% among Russians). The issue here was that Belarusians mostly lived in Eastern Latvia known as Latgale. They lived in joint communities with Russians, Poles and Latgale Latvians also not to mention Jews. Latgale Latvians were mostly Catholics just as Poles. The high illiteracy among Belarusians created problem that they could have been easily persuaded into registering themselves as Pole or Russian or even Latvian. This was the issue of the so called “tuteishi” the commoner. It was a person with insignificant or no national identity. His identity was the village or city he lived in and church he belonged to. Catholic churches were often multilingual giving prayers in Latvian or Polish.  If Belarusian nation can be divided in regional branches, then Belarusians in Latvia were part of Western Belarusians who were mostly Catholic with strong ties with Poles. However, as Latgale had high number of Russians they influenced Belarusians quite much. In result, a struggle for the hearts and minds of the tuteishi was fought in Latvia, between national activists among Belarusian, Russian, Polish and Latgalian factions. It was important as the person with low national self-identity could be convinced to join other national groups. Joining one of the groups meant sending children to an appropriate school, being part of the appropriate national society and voting for the appropriate national minority party. In 1920-1934 Latvia, the school financing was a grand issue. Latvia had allowed to host a system of national minority schools in early 1919. Russians, Jews, Germans, Poles and Belarusians had rights for their state supported schools and had their own school authority within the Ministry of Education, formed by people elected by the minority. More people meant more and better funded schools, lesser meant schools were poorly maintained and even closed down.

Historians like Aivars Stranga argue that Belarusians did not need their own schools as there were too many schools for other minorities and Belarusian schools were purely a caprice of a poet and social democrat leader Rainis who was very friendly with Belarusians, and to appease him, the right-wing parties approved at least one of his active demands. However, Belarusians were a large sized minority in 1920, their language was independent from Russian and Polish, however it was under a great pressure. In early 1920s Belarus there was an upsurge of the national Belarusian culture and language, however Stalinist policies became oriented towards Russian culture and inclusion, so over the years the usage of the Belarusian language within Belarus was severely weakened. In Lithuania and Poland, the national insecurity was on a larger scale and growing feud between Poles and Belarusian and Ukrainian minorities created grand issues for Belarusian education. Latvia as country with less territorial issues with Belarus and more liberal education laws could have been a haven for Belarusian national education as Belarusian activists and Rainis hoped. However, this proved to be a futile,  because the issue of how to determine who is Belarusian proved to be a complexity.

The Latvian Statistical authority was aware of that but they refrained to make tuteishi a statistical entity. The authority also knew about claims that Belarusians are not a sovereign nationality, although it refrained from such speculations and indicated that Eastern Slavs in Latvia must be divided between Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians, while admitting it’s a great challenge  to draw a clear line between Russians and Belarusians because of tuteishi presence. In so the mistakes were made or sometimes intentional ones. Statistical authority complained that it had sent low grade students to eastern parts that were unable to precisely determine the nationality of the people they interviewed. There was also presence of actions from local national organizations who issued leaflets like the one saying: “Who speaks Polish very badly, but prays in Polish is a Pole! Tell them you are Pole”. In other events, the persons who collected data on local tuteishi themselves talked in them into associating with one of the nationalities.

To illustrate this situation we take a look on small parish of Istra near Belarusian border. In 1925 there were 3 411 Belarusians, 1 475 Russians, 1 260 Latvians and 114 Poles. In 1930 a grand shift happened there were now 6 179 Russians and 296 Poles. Belarusian majority dropped 258 people and Latvians were 924 people. In 1925 the general population was 6 320 and in 1930 7 759 people. But, that was not result of major Belarusian emigration from the parish. 746 of the counted Russians were Catholics. Some had prayer books in Latvian and Polish. So, what had happened that Belarusian majority became Russian and Polish and small part of Latvians also gave up their nationality.

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The nationality shift in Istra parish

To look more generally the size of the Russian and Polish minority from 1920 to 1930 generally increased not by natural means. In 1920 there was 124 746 Russians, in 1930 201 778 Russians. In 1920 there was 54 567 Poles and in 1930 59 374 Poles. While fertility rate played its part it, when comparing the downsizing of the Belarusians it was clear that these two minorities boosted their size on expense of Belarusian weak national identity.

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Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians in Latvia according to census

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Poles in Latvia from 1897 to 1930

The main implication here is that this weak national identity was effectively hindered on purpose by prominent politicians and factions. Among the critics of the Belarusian school autonomy was Polish national leader, deputy in Saeima (parliament) Jan Wierzbicky, the right wing Latgalian nationalist Francis Kemps and his counterpart, Jezups Trasuns. Latgalian nationalists strived for national cultural autonomy of the Latgale region, some even political. Often they were in conflict with Poles and Russians over many issues including schools. They viewed Belarusian schools as another attempt of degrading Latgalians. They also truly claimed that one part of Belarusians are just Polonizied or Russificated Latvians. Similar assertions were made by certain elements of Russian minority, however Russians had no joint political opinion as they were divided in multiple rival factions, some more liberal, and others nationalistic. Latvian nationalists primarily based in Riga and nationalist elements in various state authorities including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Interior viewed Latgale as danger zone of threats from ongoing Polonization and Russification and Latgalian separatism. In their view, they had sacred mission to educate and illuminate the “dark Latgale” to became more Latvian. In so they viewed Belarusian schools as a threat to Latvian Latgale and result of Polonization and Russification of the Latvian people. They highlighted the poor standards in the Belarusian schools, poor Latvian language and indicated that Belarusian language itself is poorly taught and is more Russian than Belarusian. This claim had two sides – it was low funding and low education of the Belarusian teachers, then again, the question is how qualified were these critics to determine linguistic differences between Belarusian language, its dialects and Russian language.

The discontent against Belarusian schools grew steadily in 1922 and in 1923 during budget proceedings turned into open attack. Polish deputy Jan Wierzbicky made a statement that after the war, by his surprise, some people he knew before have turned into Belarusians. According to him, some people from Polish intelligentsia, and former Russian tsarist officials and army officers who had no occupation and didn’t know the state language are creating an artificial nation called Belarusians in Latvia. Francis Kemps proceeded and claimed that Belarusians even physically look like a “pure Latgalian tribe” and called for closure of the Belarusian school authority and remove 395 661 Ls support for Belarusian schools and leave just 18 000 Ls support. He made claims that only 5% of the so called Belarusians know the  Belarusian language other 95% speak in Russian or Latgalian. He called to close 11 Belarusian schools since by his words only 2-5 Belarusians are studying there. While Rainis of the Social Democratic party went on tough defense for the Belarusian schools, the Russian fraction was against the closure of the schools as whole, but offered to make precise statistical survey of Belarusians in Latvia to determine how many schools and money they really need. Kemp proposal was turned down. The Russian political view was divided. The main Russian newspaper in Latvia “Сегодня” that was liberal and social democrat leaning and owned by Jewish businessmen was more neutral towards this issue. While more nationalistic Russian newspaper funded by Polish businessmen “Рижский курьер” raised issue that while Russian schools are poorly funded, for some reason the state wastes money on Belarusian schools, while Latgalians have proven that Belarusian population in Latvia is insignificant. Francis Kemps already in 1922 made first firm claims and demands against Belarusian schools in Saeima.

The heated debates raised hostility in Latvian press and echoed the words of these politicians. Francis Kemps published headline article in the main newspaper “Jaunākās Ziņas” on February 4 1924 where he explained his views, but also accused the leader of the Belarusian society Kanstantin Ezavitau of being communist. Konstantin Ezavitau was a member of the government of the Belarusian Peoples Republic in 1918-1920 that opposed the Soviet Russia. Ezavitau filed a lawsuit against Kemps and Kemps was sentenced for 2 weeks in prison.

The view of the Belarusians themselves was expressed by Ezavitau himself in the monthly journal of the Ministry of Education that sparked Kemp’s anger. Ezavitau gave throughout scientific explanation why Belarusian nation and language are real and gave large number of sources including Russian sources. Ezavitau claimed that denying Belarusians is within the Polish and Russian interests who have placed claims and occupied the Belarusian lands. The Polish and Russian nationalists in Latvia are raging campaign against Belarusians to hinder the opening and maintaining their schools. Ezavitau also revealed the core issue – because of rising number of Belarusians – Polish and Russian schools close and becomes Belarusian. Because, of this the Poles and Russians seek to get these schools back. And they do this by influencing the dark uneducated Belarusians to force them to give up their nationality.

The campaign against Belarusians has reached its climax in 1924. In one Belarusian school in Kapiņu parish, the school inspector found a map called “The map of Belarus”. In the map, the eastern border areas of Latvia were included in the Belarus raising suspicions of separatism. Years before, in Poland and Lithuania, Belarusian activists were placed on trial because of accusations of separatism. The map was sent from Polish Vilnius. What followed were multiple arrests of the Belarusian teachers and activists also some ethnic Ukrainians who wanted to work with Belarusians. The Belarusian school authority was temporary closed down. The Belarusian gymnasium in Ludza was closed. Some official newspapers like Police Herald enthusiastically claimed since there were arrests then its means there is crime and will be proven in court. However, the prosecution failed to prove the intent of separatism. The map was simply a mistake as it was meant to be called “The Map of the Ethnographic borders of the Belarusian nation”. The case was dropped and all accused were released. But, the damage was inversible.

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The extent of the Belarusian ethnic borders that in 1918-1920 was claimed by Belarusian Peoples Republic. Number 2 is Ilūkste district of Latvia also claimed by Poland

In 1925 the national census was held. The drop of people calling themselves Belarusians significantly dropped and dropped even more in following years. Belarusian newspapers like “Голас Беларуса” called for national mobilization among Belarusian and remove the pro-Russian and pro-Polish elements. Meanwhile the schools continued to close down. In 1925 there was 35 Belarusian schools, in 1934 16 schools and in 1936 just one school.

The press’ tone towards Belarusians softened after 1924. Some authors condemned the trial and campaign against Belarusian national movement. Others because raising national hostility with Poles in 1930-1931 openly called Belarusians a victim of the Polish nationalism. Authors like Dr. phil. Ernests Blese who before was critical towards Belarusian schools now called to help and improve them in struggle against Polonization.

However, the decline of the Belarusian minority seemed irreversible and the Kārlis Ulmanis’ authoritarian regime in 1934 liquidated all minority school authorities. The dream of Belarusian national revival in Latvian diaspora reached a solemn end. In following decades of the Soviet occupation, Belarusians became the second largest minority in Latvia. But these people were immigrants from Soviet Belarus. The Soviet Belarus went through harsh Russification that was more effective in Belarus than Ukraine. The result being present day Latvian Belarusian minority speaking Russian and only a very small number of them use Belarusian as their home language. This happened because there weren’t any Belarusian schools in the Soviet Latvia and most Belarusians went to Russian language schools. Also as the Belarusian language lost its prominence in Belarus itself, the people in Latvia saw no reason to learn it. In 1994 in Riga Belarusian school, named after the national poet Yanka Kupala, opened its doors and works till this day. The Belarusian society in Belarus is divided in two conflicting national identities. The majority has a post-soviet identity that associates itself with its soviet past and sees Moscow as their primary ally. They speak Russian while still associate them as Russians. The current regime of Alexander Lukashenko represents this majority.  The other minor part, a large part of them are young people and people with higher education and better skills in Belarusian language associate themselves with more older past of Grand Lithuania Duchy that joint Lithuanian-Belarusian state, they also associate with Belarusian Peoples Republic and their symbols. Their orientation is Warsaw, Kyiv, Vilnius and Western Europe. This divide has made grave difficulty for outside observers to understand Belarusians, their culture and language. The problem is seen in plain sight when people argue if Belarusians are Byelorussians, Belarus is Belorussia, as well as should we call the capital city Minsk or Mensk as in proper Belarusian. And this is a very an issue within Belarusians themselves.

That being said Belarusians were and are the one of the most complicated nations in Europe with a fluid and divided national identity. Being at the crossroads between Europe and Russia has created such issues. In 1920-1940 Belarusian nation was also at the crosspoint between conflicting political and ethnic factions and evidently lost the struggle. While they were recognized as sovereign nation they lost the battle for schools and minds of the uneducated people and significantly lost their prominence. It needed a grand effort in education to turn large masses of tutieshi to Belarusian identity and keep this identity solid. Belarusians lacked resources and state support to do that. The issue of Belarusian identity and campaign against the Belarusian schools is one of the less known parts of the Latvian and Belarusian history.

Selected Sources:

  • Голдманис M. «Белорусский» дискурс в латышской прессе (1920−1934): эволюция представления о белорусах как о самостоятельном национальном меньшинстве. Латыши и белорусы: вместе сквозь века: сб. науч. ст. Вып. 5 / редкол. С.П. Кулик [и др.]. – Минск: РИВШ, 2016.

     

 

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Great Myths of Latvian History

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As years, decades and centuries pass most important events like wars, regimes and cultural events are starting to lose their initial sharpness. In social memory these events are becoming either more dull, either romanticized or condemned and seen in black and white palette. There is no black and white in history, as events, past, present and future are created by various people regarding their interests that have various means and justifications for their actions. Events are also dictated by circumstances often beyond people’s control. Historical timeline is moved by perpetual rivalry within mankind, when various interests clash in personal, group, state or international scale.

In the process of interpreting these events no matter how old or new, people often create myths, falsehoods and outright lies. This can happen unintentionally as the knowledge about past events is often limited, this is especially relevant to prehistory and ancient ages, when there is lack of good archeological or written material. This also happens because over the decades, many events like wars or despotic regimes are becoming more romantic in people’s memory. Events like Crusades that was a harsh, controversial and bloody struggle, now is even a subject of comedy and the Crusader knights or their Muslim or Pagan foes are idolized. Similarly, many events are made darker than they were seen people at that time. For instance Russian history century long obsession with “Mongolian –Tatar yoke” and general idea about Dark Ages between 5th and 10th century.

Then again history is mythicized on purpose to gain important political goals in the past. “Who controls the past, controls the future, who controls the past, controls the present” a George Orwell quote from “1984” summarizes this need. Nationalist forces in 19th century on purpose idolized the ancient and medieval past, the Nazi and Communist regimes made great efforts to construct new historical understanding. It’s even present in democratic countries like British nostalgia for great imperial past and US American nostalgia for pre-1950s social order.

There words define historical myths. Nostalgia – for the past that was better than present and bringing it back would improve our present and future. Legendary – that makes events and historical personalities glorified. Condemnation – making events and people worse than they were, making these events and people as a warning from happening again. Also this reflects certain groups of people, like nations, religions and movements whose actions were made blacker then they were a warning from them in the present.

This article attempts to name and describe some of the myths in Latvian history, and seeks answers why they are wrong and what are the reasons for these myths.

Before 12th century ancient Latvians and Livonians had own countries, recognized by Christian countries and brutally uprooted by them.

It’s true that Catholic chronicles like the chronicle of Henry called some of the leaders of the early Latvian tribes kings – rex in Latin and some of their ruled territories –  kingdoms – regnum. Their micro states were set around their wooden fortresses. The civil societies were not as advanced as in other nearby lands like Lithuania and lands of Rus. Some historians compare the early Latvian statehood to Celtic society prior to Roman invasion. Also the Baltic tribes Latgalians, Curonians, Semigallians and Selonians had no common perception that they lived in Latvia and must unite to create such country. In Lithuania the unification of Lithuanian and Belarusian tribes was forceful event by strong warlord Mindaugas. In ancient Latvia there was no such leader. However, even if these rulers were called as Rex in Catholic chronicles does not mean they were fully acknowledged and regarded as sovereign rulers. They simply were not Christian. They had no recognition by Rome and even their conversion to Christianity placed them in vassal status rather than senior. The reason why Lithuanian Grand Duke Mindaugas was recognized was because he converted to Christianity and was strong enough to be accepted as senior. While in case of ruler of Jersika Visvaldis who was Orthodox his conversion was not respected by Catholic crusaders and he lost ownership of his land. So as pagan rulers the Latvian tribal warlords were certainly seen as second-hand rulers to Catholic crusaders, Holy Roman Empire and the Papal State. Their conversion was not enough as they could not be strong enough to hold their senior status. While there was early form of states in Latvian territory it was more a tribal microstate not recognized by Christian countries as weak Pagan states with no hope to gain recognition as senior kingdoms.

Latvian Pagan religion was brutally destroyed by Christian invaders and conversion was forceful

Archeological and written sources gives very light details about religion in Latvia prior to 12th century. There are examples of burial traditions, some items that were used in religion. Often the early Latvians used Christian regalia traded from Christian countries for their own needs. The chronicles give very light details about Latvian pagan beliefs. Apart from Baltic Prussians there is no evidence of ancient Latvian priesthood. The Latvian Mythology as it is known is based on writings, beliefs and folksongs from 15th to 19th century as gathered by folk song studies and observations. That means the pagan religion if such was, rather a tradition was kept for centuries and experienced transformation. And not always the conversion was enforced. In 11th-12th when Latvian territory was visited by traders from West and East many of the local rulers and their families converted to Christianity for benefits that came with it. While their subjects mostly did not or embraced Christian faith rather passively. That just shows how important were the traditional views as they could be easily replaced by another religion for material benefits. Also for many centuries most of Latvian ancestors has very light understanding of Christianity as all rites and writings were in Latin. The Reformation and Enlightenment in 15th -18th century started teaching Christian beliefs in Latvian and Bible and other Christian works were translated into Latvian. Also in many cases the true cause of resistance to Christian conversion or moving back to Pagan beliefs was because becoming Christian meant becoming vassal to Crusaders.

Some authors argue that initially the mostly Germanic traders and Bishop Meinard had no initial intention to baptize Livs and Baltic tribes by force. In 1170 from Segeberg Bishop Meinard first came to Liv land around Daugava and started peaceful mission. He also asked permission to Duke of Polotsk (knyaz) Vladimir who imposed Livs to pay tributes to him, to build small church in Ikšķile. In 1184 such was build and small congregation of freely converted Livs were made. However, Meinards was attacked by Lithuanian and Semigallian riders so he asked permission to Liv leaders to build stone castle in Ikšķile in exchange for baptism. It was done and one part of the Castle belonged to Meinards others to Livs. Livs soon broke the agreement and dropped Christianity and attacked Meinards. Meinards tried to leave Ikšķile, but received warnings of Liv attempt to kill him and remained in castle where he died. Then a monk Theoderich came to Ikšķile and assessed that small Christian congregation is in danger and called for military support igniting the Baltic crusades. The Crusades led by more ruthless Bishops as Berthold and Albert were violent, as Crusaders used force to baptize tribal Balts and Livs if there was no other option. Soon it turned out that the war was not about faith but about the land. Becoming Christian meant becoming Crusader vassal and subject and many resisted resulting permanent loss of land. While it did not mean that Crusaders managed to completely uproot ancient Baltic beliefs, they stayed within peasantry and Crusader seniors did very small effort to counter them. More efforts were done by Lutherans in 15th -18th century. First by educating Christianity in Latvian and second by exporting witch trials that were mostly carried out in Lutheran Swedish Vidzeme. Also Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine movement managed to fully convert Latvian peasants. In 19th century Pagan beliefs were weakened by Christian education. A revival was made by Latvian nationalists who as their commoners in Germany and elsewhere looked for symbols in the ancient times creating a legend of old peaceful Latvian pagan religion destroyed by while Crusaders. In reality the situation was far from simple and the religion, tradition, education and land ownership each played its part.

Battle of Saule was joint victory by the Baltic tribes over German invaders

Voldemārs Vimba created an epic painting to please nationalistic authoritarian ruler Kārlis Ulmanis. In the painting soldiers carrying Latvian and Lithuanian flags charge Crusaders in the Battle of Saule in 1236. While first mentions of flag similar to Latvian national state flag dates to 1279 when Latgalian soldiers came to assist Crusaders who were attacked by Semigallians, the Lithuanian flag as well as Latvian flag itself certainly could not be used in the Battle against Crusaders. Because Latgalians and Estonians fought together with Crusaders against Lithuanians and Semigallians. There was no Baltic unity in the battle, as such unity was not possible. Lithuanians regularly raided Latvian territory and even Estonia. Each tribal leader had their own interests and Semigallians were not always allied with Lithuanians. Lithuanians viewed Latgalians and Estonians allied with Crusaders as enemies and had no intention on liberating them from Crusaders. And the battle was mainly Lithuanian victory as it halted Crusader advance in Lithuania while it not do much for Latvian territory. However, nationalistic minded people has made September 22 as Baltic Unity Day. A day that is required, but September 22 is not Unity Day. Its Victory Day for Lithuania only.

Latvia is native Russian land. Before the arrival of Crusaders many ancient Latvian micro states were vassals of the Russian duchies and converted to Orthodox

It’s true that Russian and Belarusian duchies held influence on Latgalian, Liv and Selonian tribes. In return for protection and trade rights they made them pay tributes and some ruler families like Visvaldis of Jersika converted to Orthodox. Russian traders lived in Koknese and visited other small castles and Crusader Riga. Crusaders often had to deal with Duchy of Polotsk and Pskov because they recognized them as seniors over these tribal leaders. But, it seems hardly that these duchies recognized these micro states as their land. Other than tribute paying and building the church and sometimes hosting a war party, there was no limitations to their sovereignty. Latgalians, Livs and Selonians were simply a client that paid tributes and traded with them. A very limited effort were made to reclaim them from Crusaders and Duchies only cared for their own safety from Crusaders. As yet of 12th centuries the Duchies of formal Kyivean Rus had no Russian or Belarusian identity rather than Orthodox people of Rus. Also amount of people from present Russia and Belarus were very small to call Latvia a native Russian land. The duchies of Rus were in complicated situation as they were invaded by Mongol hordes and were vassals to Golden Horde themselves. There was no interest in conquering the Baltic lands. This interest showed up during the reign of Ivan IV The Terrible who first aspired to seize control over Catholic Livonia.

The Swedish rule in Vidzeme between 1629 to 1700 was generally better for Latvian peasant population

During the Crusader order rule in Vidzeme the Baltic Germans gradually seized all top positions in politics and economy and became the major land owners. Latvians had only few full titled senior land owners in Courland, most were subjects to lands belonging to Livonian Order and the Church. Gradually in 14th -16th century the changes in economic order and advances in agriculture forced the land owners to empower their rights over their peasant subjects and limit their rights of movement and land ownership. Land owners needed full control of the agricultural workforce and that created serfdom that sometimes were exceptionally harsh. This serfdom remained after fall of Livonian Confederation and became harsher under Polish rule. In the result of war between Poland and Sweden in 1621 the Northern Latvia and Riga was annexed by Sweden. What Sweden did in contrast to Duchy of Courland and Polish Latgale was the reduction of agricultural lands. 40 percent of land was given to Swedish nobles limiting the monopoly for Germans. About five-sixths of estates in Vidzeme were reclaimed by Swedish crown. This was done to increase the revenues for Sweden and it succeeded because tax incomes grow substantially. While Swedes tried to improve the life of peasants of building schools, allowed to translate Bible in Latvian, they did not fully abolish serfdom as in 1681 it was rejected by Livonian Knighthood that represented German interests. Swedes also imposed heavier tax and corvee burden and created harsh physical punishments for failing to pay them. Swedish Lutherans also increased witch hunts in Vidzeme. In the end the Sweden managed Vidzeme for their own interests that weakened German nobility, but kept the relations in balance. The serfdom was only abolished in Latvia by Russian Empire in 1817 and 1819 after very long and complicated negotiations with Livonian Knighthood while in Latgale it was only abolished in 1861 with rest of Russia as it was not considered part of Baltic provinces.

The Duchy of Courland is first form of Latvian statehood. 

The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was outcome of collapse of Livonian Confederation and its subjection to Poland-Lithuania. The leadership of Livonian Order sought agreement with Poland and the last master of the Livonian Order Gotthard Kettler became Duke of Courland and Semigallia. It was a vassal state of Poland-Lithuania led by Baltic German nobility where Latvians had their secondary roles with no say in politics. In their rule the Duchy was quite independent and also could create their own fleet and colonize lands in Caribbean sea and Africa. While all these colonies were hopelessly lost some romantic inclined people want to claim them as Latvian property. The ownership of Tobago and Gambia may improve Latvian standings in Olympic Field Athletics and Football, but that is more a joke. The Germanic dukes of Courland while sending Latvians to their colonies never saw their Duchy as Latvian state, it was impossible in 15th-18th century. For them the Duchy was sovereign part of former Livonia associated with Polish throne. Even Poland cannot claim these colonies as Polish government did not care about Couronian efforts and did not gave any support and hardly noticed that Duchy had lost them.

The period between 1200 to 1918 was 700 years of slavery, afterwards Latvians won full political and economic freedom

In 1920 when Latvia become independent many noticed very grim appearance in economic and social statistics – while ethnic Latvians held 80% in agriculture, they were minority in finance and industry where major players were Germans, Jews and Poles. Obvious answer was to blame the 700 years of slavery. A time when foreign powers enslaved Latvians, took away their land and abused them in economy and politics. While in 12th -16th century the various peasants and small traders and craftsmen did not identity them as Latvians as whole and saw their subjection as unfortunate social reality that in many cases was not so grim as they still had lot of freedom in income gathering and movement, later in 19th century in result of nationalism a ethnocentric thinking emerged placing Latvians against other nations as victims. This victimhood was even boosted by some radical German thinkers as Garlieb Merkel who in 1796 wrote his epic work “Latvians” where he protested serfdom and accused Germans of gravely abusing poor dark Latvian peasants. As controversial book was it contributed to the abolishment of serfdom and greater German efforts to educate Latvian peasants.

While Latvians were never only a peasant nation. There was small Latvian nobility in Courland, there were Latvian traders, craftsmen and house owners. Latvian only congregations appeared only in 16th century in the result of reformation. Latvian traders had their own guilds and trader unions.

The hash times for Latvian peasants in 16th -18th centuries were favorite subject for nationalistic and Marxist authors while despite of all Latvian peasants had their own schools, churches and some peasants could also gain relative wealth. It’s because Germans cared that Latvians receive education and live in relative wellbeing so they can work better and live according to their standards of modernity. Before abolishment of serfdoms Germans viewed Latvians as their lower-class neighbors, workers and occasional rivals in commerce. In 19th century as Latvian nationalism and social democracy emerged Germans now felt threatened by the Latvians both politically and economically. And it was not because they suddenly became stronger after serfdom was abolished – it’s because they were rivals to Germans all the time and gradually became stronger as their economic and political situation improved.

The confrontation between Latvians, Germans and other nationalities were required for nationalists and Marxists for their own goals. For that the myth of 700 years slavery was essential. In 1905 when in many places Latvian peasants attacked German mansions the revenge for serfdom was called the main reason for these atrocities. That also boosted German hate towards Latvians and this mutual confrontation expressed itself in War for Independence in 1918-1920 while also some German units served for Latvian cause. Latvian fear of German knighthood continued in political battles with Baltic Germans in 1920-1939. Finally, in 1939 Nazi Germany called for repartition of Baltic Germans to Germany and it was greeted by nationalistic Latvians. Later the Soviet Latvia historiography continued to exploit the 700 years of slavery by showing serfdom as feudal atrocity in contrast to progressive communist society.

The idea of independent Latvian state was born even before 1905 and strengthened in the ranks of the Latvian Rifleman during First World War

The idea that four historical regions Courland (Kurzeme), Semigallia (Zemgale), Vidzeme and Latgale forms united land called Latvia formed in late 19th century. Before for most the land was known as Livonia that Estonia was part of. For Latgalians it was also not so clear as Latgale was part of Vitebsk province and only in 1917 they fully determined themselves to Latvia. Generally the first Latvian nationalists the New Latvian movement fought for Latvian education and culture, equal rights and some local political say within unified Russian Empire. Such demand was high enough for those times as independent small nation in the age of empires was unthinkable. Latvians first needed to improve education, fight against Russification and reluctant German nobility. Russian Empire as senior ruler was only as bad that it first secured the rights of Germans and later tried to impose Russian language. But, independent country was only some could dream off. The early 20th century was filled with Marxist ideas and the New Current movement demanded major reforms for workers and peasants and were one of the first who made claims for Latvian autonomy within reformed Russia. In 1905 the social democrats were the main fighters for autonomy together with anarchists while most nationalists actually demanded to keep current order or at least make Russia constitutional as promised by Tsar Nicholas II in his October manifesto. As revolution was crushed, many came to conclusion that only way for autonomous Latvia is the collapse of Tsar family rule.  The people creating first plans for autonomy were social democrats like Miķelis Valters, Linards Laicēns, ect.

1915 was crucial time as Imperial Germany invaded Latvia and took over Courland and Semigallia and were close to capture Riga. This was a time of nationalistic fervor to call for Latvian Regiment within Russian army to chase Germans away from Latvian lands. Now also nationalists started to call for national autonomy and hoped that Latvian rifleman will serve as example to the Russian throne. Among Latvian rifleman there was nationalistic enthusiasm, but it was as mainly aimed to defeat Germany and rest will follow. After the crushing defeat in 1916 many of them drifted towards Bolshevism as it called Tsar responsible for the great losses and no friend of Latvians and called for peace. In 1917 after the fall of Riga the most of them moved to Russia and fought for Soviet cause.

What happened in Latvia in 1917-1918 was confusion. In February 1917 Tsar was deposed and Russia became democratic republic. If so then Latvia can now ask for national autonomy, however Russian Provisional government never approved this. Future president Jānis Čakste claimed that while he and his commoners were against Tsar they were never against Russia and never wanted to secede and do not want their own parliament, but want to live in common western influenced democratic Russia.  While others like Latvian National Democrat Party called for fully established autonomous  state within democratic Russian federal republic. Social Democrats also called for autonomous Latvia within unified social democratic state of Russia. In 12 August (July 30) Vidzeme Peoples Land Council called for unified autonomous democratic Latvia.

All these calls for autonomy suddenly became obstructed when German army captured Riga on September 3 1917 and gradually took over all Vidzeme and Latgale. Russia had promised nothing and Germany was more willing to create Livonian Duchy. Then Bolsheviks took power in Petrograd. The Latvian right-wing bourgeoise politicians and social democrats had very few options now. In December 2 1917 Latvian National Provisional Council made declaration calling for creation of national autonomous state its important that this declaration no more talked about being together with Russia but Latvia as autonomous state not saying from whom. As such it was pre-declaration of independence. In November 11 1918 Germany had capitulated. Bolsheviks gathered forces to invade Baltic States. There was no more variants for autonomy – Estonia and Lithuania already had declared independence in February 1918. The right wing parties and social democrats gathered in November 18 1918 to declare independence.

Independence was won by solely Latvian efforts/Latvia gained independence only because of foreign countries

When in 1930 Latvia demonstrated historical epic Lāčplēsis on movie screens the Estonians complained that despite showing Estonian army at one episode the movie grossly downplayed Estonian assistance for Latvians. While this movie showed the support from British and French navy. Then in 2008 movie the Guards of Riga completely omitted both Estonians and Allies from the war effort.

Estonian army pushed away the Bolsheviks from their land and marched in Northern Latvia. There at Cēsis in June 22 1919 they together with Latvian forces defeated the renegade German Iron Division and Landeswehr that staged uprising against Latvian Provisional Government. Months before that these same units together with Latvians made advance against Bolsheviks and took back Riga. The Allied navy was stationed in Liepāja and contributed fighting Bolsheviks and later opened fire against rouge Bermondt forces. Then Lithuanian and Polish army helped in Latgale front. Latvia was never alone in the war and without allied forces it would have significantly harder time to gain independence.

Then again was it only because of allied support? The answer is that independence was gained in the chain of events and circumstances. Allied navy was sent to Baltic sea not to support Baltic independence but to stop the Bolshevik advance. Allied countries mainly wanted unified Russia free of Bolsheviks, the new Baltic States and Baltic German factions from there was only temporary allies and the question of Baltic independence should had been settled out with Russia.  Baltic States were only legally recognized in 1921 when it was clear that these countries will actually exist and not be thrown into oblivion like Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. Estonian forces came deep in Northern Latvia and fought against Germans, because first they needed to completely destroy the Bolshevik threat and defeat hostile German forces. Polish leaders wanted restored Poland as big as possible to the extent of 1776 borders. But, Poland needed to completely defeat Bolsheviks so they agreed to take part in liberation of Latgale. So all parties involved had one major interest – defeat Bolsheviks. Latvia until 1920 was question mark – what if Bolsheviks would be defeated by White forces – would they approve such republic? The German forces in Latvia are quite strong – can weak Latvian army defeat them? But, Bolsheviks is a menace so as long this Latvia fights against it we help them – let’s see how long they will last. So in the end it was also up to Latvians themselves to prove their worth in combined battles in Cēsis, Rīga and Latgale. And with Latvians we must not forget Germans, Russians, Jews, Belarusians, Poles and other national minorities fighting in Latvian army.

The Kārlis Ulmanis regime was fascist

In 1960 Latvian soviet historian Aleksandrs Drīzulis published book called “Latvia under the helm of fascism” at first it may look as a book about Nazi occupation. When you began to read it’s actually about the authoritarian Kārlis Ulmanis regime. Kārlis Ulmanis regime was radical in the way that is fully self-centered. All parties including his own Latvian Green Farmers Union was banned. There was no parliament, constitution was stopped. All was in hands of Prime Minister then President Kārlis Ulmanis. There was no party made after the coup, there was no new constitution it was just Kārlis Ulmanis and his government and his bureaucracy. Along with that loyal army, police and National Guard. Was that enough to be called fascist? There were concentration camps for short time in 1934-1935 but the arrested were eventually released. Secret police fought political opponents among the real Latvian fascists and  Baltic German Nazis, but scale or repression was never severe. Press was censured, while one of the themes banned in media was anti-Semitism. While left-wing Jewish movements were banned the  Zionist movements were untouched. Ulmanis government severed rights of national school autonomy but most of national autonomy schools were kept.  While the economy became more controlled by the state the private sector was never fully abolished. In these terms Latvia resembled more an absolute monarchy.

Then there are plans and tendencies that shows Ulmanis Latvia could become fascist. In late 1930’s Ulmanis started planning of creating national party under his name. He also emulated some of the actions of Benito Mussolini like creating chamber (camera) system to control various sectors of economy and similar to Mussolini he made severe changes in Old Riga by destroying city street quarters to create new square around Dome Cathedral. Mussolini did the same when he destroyed whole city district in Rome to create a new grand entry street into Vatican City. Plus Ulmanis also planned to create new massive monumental buildings like Victory Arch similar to Adolf Hitler vision for Berlin. In the end in 1939 -1940 when economy was in shatters and unemployment was growing Ulmanis made steps to create labor duty that would engage large number of people in forced labor camps. His law specially targeted Jews who were less involved in agricultural labor and wanted to force them to work in the field. Ulmanis Latvia had potential to becoming fascist if it would last for another twenty years.

Before the Russian rule Latvia was undeveloped rural economy, most Latvians lived in farms. Russians brought industry and culture

This claim is sometimes seen in some of the Russian forums and comments. The Russian nationalists claim that Latvians before 1940 where low cultured poor people who lived in farmsteads (hutor) with almost no industry in the cities. This is one of the most absurd myths as Latvia had already well-developed mercantile industry in 17th-18th century and yes the industry gradually grew under the Russian empire which by the logic would grow under Sweden, Poland or any other country. Latvian industry suffered a massive blow when in 1914-1915 large portions of factory equipment even whole workers were evacuated to inner Russia. But in first ten years during independent Latvia the industry gradually recovered and it was not just owned by Germans, Russians and Jews – there was lot of successful Latvian owners. One of the most successful Latvian industrial company VEF made a variety of products from nails to airplanes. What is reality that many of the most successful Soviet Latvian enterprises was nationalized and kept by the Soviets in 1940. And about the hutor – the Latvian agriculture while facing issues in workforce fared no worse than later Soviet collective farms that were imposed on people and those who resisted were deported to Siberia.

Before 1940 all Jews in Latvia called themselves žīdi (yids) and not ebreji (Hebrews) and there was no problem with that. Ebrejs is word imposed by Soviets

There are three common names for Jews in Latvian. Biblical Jews are called jūds. Then there are two words. One is ebrejs that is close to word Hebrew and Russian word evrei. And then there is word žīds. Žīds was the most common way the Latvians called Jews, in Poland and Lithuania a similar word is Żydzi and Žydai. However, this word resembles word Yid that is considered offensive. It’s even more offensive in Russia where it’s also means cheapskate and niggard. During the times of pogroms  a popular slogan was “Spasai Rossiju! Bei židov!” (Save Russia! Beat the Yid!) n 1940 the Soviets banned the word žīds and made ebrejs as only word to describe Jew.  What happened a year later was a Pandora’s box. Invading Nazis on quest to exterminate all Jews used the ban of žīds in their propaganda to prove Soviet occupation main power was Jews. As this word was controversial as it was it now got a very dark tone in the light of the Holocaust. After the return of the Soviets the žīds dropped out of common vocabulary and ebrejs was and is common word in Latvian for Jews. While exiles in west still used žīds and for nationalists in underground it was the true word. Then independent Latvia these people came out and asked to restore the Latvian žīds and drop the soviet ebrejs as it was never used before Soviet occupation and Jews themselves did not used to call themselves. While others started to theorize that there is difference between žīds and ebrejs.

What was in reality that word ebrejs was quite common word among Jews themselves before the war. In most official documents written by Jews themselves the word ebrejs is used. While there was no protests against the žīds word, it seems that Jews really preferred neutral word ebrejs because žīds reminded them of Tsarist time anti-Semitic oppression.

Jews were mainly responsible for Soviet repressions of 1940-1941

There are comments in Latvian main internet news sites. And when a news item regarding Jewish issue is published there is nice bet that at least one of them will mention the word
Šustins. Semyon Shustin was Jewish national from Moscow who worked in NKVD was a ruthless soviet officer who took part mass deportations of June 14 1940. He was never from Latvia and during the repressions hundreds of Jews from Latvia were deported to Siberia. Soviet government closed all Jewish organizations and arrested most social and political activists.

In June 22 19141 Nazi Germany invaded and massive anti-Semitic campaign started. Nazi German propagandists many of them willingly Latvian activists like Ādolfs Šilde made countless accusations of Jews as main perpetrators of the soviet occupation. Year later when killing of the Latvian Jews was mostly finished to justify a propaganda book and movie was made to fully summarize Jewish guilt the occupation. The book the Horrible Year was so successful that still this day many including parliamentary speaker describes the 1940 as Baigais Gads  a name for book mainly about imagined Jewish atrocities in 1940.

In reality while many Jews saw Stalin as lesser evil compared to Hitler, if we start a detailed outlook on Jewish participation in Soviet occupation it shows that Jewish presence especially local was limited and marginal. Important people like Semyon Shustin was from Moscow. Majority of the party members, members of various municipalities and soviet organizations were Latvians. Jews were also prevented from reaching high ranks. Jews were involved in repressive structures, but not  in high percentage and are responsible as Latvians who took part in them. While these words may seem pointless for some people for whom seeing two or five Jewish surnames in the list means approval for their world of conspiracy.

During the WW2 large masses of Latvians actively took part in Holocaust without German orders in revenge for Soviet occupation

This claim was first created by Nazi propaganda who wished to portray mass killings as purely local initiative as revenge for Jewish Bolshevik atrocities. After the war some Jewish survivors continued this theme and published dramatic books fully accusing Latvians who killed Jews without German orders or took part in the shootings willingly. Soviets picked this up and published books directed towards Latvian exiles where they accused them of taking part in Nazi atrocities. Russian propaganda continues this narrative.

So far academic research has failed to prove that in time of so-called interregnum – the period between exchange from Soviet to Nazi power a Jewish killings have taken place. This interregnum happened because Soviets were quick to retreat and in many places Latvian national partisans took power. They regarded Germans as their allies and gradually returned authority to Germans. However, most cases show these partisans were involved in attacking retreating soviets while there were events attacking Jewish refugees from Lithuania, however most of these attacks took place after Germans had taken power and ordered Latvians to attack the refugees.

Holocaust in Latvia has been documented very well and shows that killings took place after the Germans had full installed power and taken control over Latvian national partisans or Self Defense groups. These groups and two main Security Police commandos Arājs and Valgulāns group did the most job of killing Jews while all these murders were directed and observed by Germans. As for the tragic events in July 4 1941 when Arājs men burned down the main synagogue that German propaganda portrayed as major pogrom; the official Nazi documents states that local participation was insignificant and unsatisfactory.

However, no light words are said for Latvian propagandists from Pērkonkrusts (Thundercross) movement who voluntary published hundreds of anti-Semitic articles in the press and before the war some of their publications state that they favored the removal of the Jews from Latvia. After the movement demanded Germans to create Latvian national forces, they were all arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Nazi occupation was far better than the Soviet occupation

The massive deportations of June 14 1940 and many other repressions were grave image of the soviet occupation. During the Nazi occupation the national flag of Latvia was flown only for few days and was banned as well as the national anthem and other symbols. In 1941-1942 there was no German intention for restoration of independent Latvia. Instead plan was drawn to colonize Latvia and integrate into Nazi Germany. Rhetoric changed after Stalingrad and Germans needed Latvian support for continuing war effort. Latvian Waffen SS Legion was formed and promises were made of Latvian national government. Never fulfilled.

As off repressions – Nazis killed 9000 Jews in Latvia and also sent Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Nazis killed about 2000 Roma’s. Nazis killed people supporting soviet partisans. Nazis deported whole families from Belarus to Latvia, where many children died from sickness and starvation. Nazis repressed and killed people calling for independent Latvia. There is no need to compare.

Salaspils camp was a death camp

Germans had diverse classification list for their camps. For instance the Kaiservald (Mežaparks) was called a concentration camp while Salaspils was called simply a camp. They also had camps called extermination camps and death camps. Salaspils was simply called camp. It’s this just a guise? During the soviet occupation in sixties some people were inspired by the new memorials in Auschwitz and Dachau so they wanted similar in Latvia. Salaspils was chosen for a new memorial and thousands of people who died there deserved this. However, soviets published books where they called Salaspils a Death camp. Soviets made claims that there was gas machines in the camp. Another claim that camp served as blood repository, that children from Russia and Belarus were used to collect blood for German soldiers.

There are no proof that there was ever a gas machine used in Salaspils.  There was no logical reason for mass blood collecting without determining the blood type that would make blood transfer out of question. On 1943 because of issues the German medical authority canceled the use of blood doses in the Eastern Front instead preferring direct transfer. Also the blood transport to Western front from Latvia would be costly and unreliable process.  Blood collecting took place, but not in large-scale and mostly for medical reasons as doctors tried to limit the spread of diseases that would endanger not only children but also adult workers. The camp was for most as punishment camp for people of various sorts also soviet prisoners of war, anti-nazi resistance and unemployed. People died there because of harsh work conditions, sickness and starvation. It was a horrible place, but soviet claims and their given death toll is gravely exaggerated.

Latvian Waffen SS is responsible for war crimes

Latvian Waffen SS was formed in 1943 after most of Jewish killing took place. Its two divisions 15th and 19th division and smaller adjacent units  took part in combat from Leningrad to Berlin. The Police Battalions, Security Police commandos are not Latvian Waffen SS Legion. Some of the former members of the criminal units later were enlisted into Latvian Waffen SS legion. That is their individual responsibility. Similarly every Soviet soldier who made war crimes or allied soldier holds individual responsibility.

Latvian Waffen SS truly fought for independent national Latvia. The Latvians within Soviet army or Latvian soviet partisans were either just conscripts or trained saboteurs

Latvian Waffen SS carried out German orders. It fought hard battles and many times stopped great soviet offensives and allowed German units to escape onslaught. They never really had time and chance to fight for independent Latvia no matter how each of them wanted it. Only thing they achieved is that they helped many refuges to escape Latvia by halting and stopping advancing soviets.

Most of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion were conscripts. War was seen to each of his own eyes. So as the soldiers in the Latvian Rifleman divisions in the Red Army. Many of its members truly wanted to liberate Latvia from the Nazis. The Latvian Jews in the Latvian Rifleman division had a clear motivation. While there was practice of trained Soviet partisan drops in Latvia, some of them also did war crimes their motivation was either sense of duty or motivation to fight Nazi’s. Both of these sides had plenty of wrong; Latvians had to take part in both sides. There was no Latvian side in the Eastern front.

Latvian national partisans were bandits created by German secret service and then submitted to the allied secret services

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. After the end of world war hundreds of people did not accept the soviet occupation and went into woods. There was hope for allied war with soviets and these people hoped their guerilla will be short. Instead it resorted to hopeless battle until 1956. Soviets called them bandits and accused of atrocities, murders and looting. In some events it was true as partisans were vicious towards local soviets and attacked shops to get supplies. One could say that it was false to wait for allied war with Soviets, however the allied rhetoric made such hopes. In reality the US and UK leadership was always afraid of Soviet attack and feared to attack first. Soviets also made claim that these partisans were created by Nazis to work behind enemy lines. It’s true that Nazis really created such battalions like SS-Jagdverband-Ost that however was almost completely destroyed by the end of the war. Prior to Nazi invasion in 1941 Nazis made contacts with many members of Latvian anti-Soviet resistance and exiles and also direct Nazi supporters and then trained for operations. However, its doubtful that Nazis managed to train large partisan force as large it was during 1945-1956.

Allied secret services CIA and SIS both made efforts to assist the Latvian partisans. These efforts were soon uncovered by Soviets and used against the allies. People were lured in Latvia and captured. Soviets even created fake partisan units to lure allied agents mostly Latvians into the trap. Since the start the allied secret service operation in Latvia was controlled by Soviets. Did partisans regarded CIA and SIS as their superiors? In their desperate war against soviets they needed every help they can get, but since allied efforts were hindered by the KGB there was no significant way to help them.

Russification during Tsarist times were harsher then in Soviet times

Sometimes in mostly Ukrainian twitter shares an old exhibition piece – a pillory sign – “he spoke Latvian” as punishments in school for speaking Latvian during Tsarist times. In the late 19th century such pillory signs and really did exist and Ukrainians use this to their argument against Russian influence. While Russian would probably say that this shows that Russification in Tsar times was more harsh than in Soviet times when it was always nonexistent. During the harshest period of Russification the Latvians had answer – private Latvian schools that became popular. People tried to avoid official state schools where Russian language was imposed. Russification gradually weakened after 1905. During the soviet occupation, Latvian language was taught in schools, Latvian language was on TV and Radio and there was no fines for its usage outside official use. Officially all documents were in Russian, it was official language in army and police. But, was the most crucial – soviets did not forced thousands of immigrants from Soviet Union to learn Latvian. It seemed useless for them and that made heavy shoulder on Latvian language. It was regarded as a language only for Latvians, it was not needed for Russian speakers and Russian speakers did not speak with Latvians in their language. Of course not all of the new soviet residents were ignorant of the Latvian language, but that was long gradual diminishing of the Latvian language rather than brash suppression that only creates resistance.

During the soviet rule, the Soviet government invested millions in Latvian economy and received very less in return therefore its Latvia that owns debt to Russia

When Latvia speaks about large amount of losses created by Soviets and asks for large refund, Russia always reminds of their massive investment into Latvia. Until now such claim was let to pass however now studies conclude that from 1946 to 1991 Soviet Union spent 24,684 million rubles in Latvia while gained 40,645 revenue from Latvia. 15,961 million were spent less than gained. The money gained from Latvia was used for poor areas in Russia and support other soviet republics. Latvia had valuable agricultural and industrial products and was very valuable and profitable captive nation for Moscow. For this reason there is regret for loss of Latvia and plans always in place of how to return it.

During the Soviet times large part of Latvian intellectuals and cultural workers were involved with KGB

Soviet secret service KGB was the most powerful and biggest spy agency in world history. It both held responsibility of foreign and interior intelligence. And as of interior intelligence it was not just counter intelligence it was complete control of the society in every its aspect to counter anti-Soviet activity. That involved recruitment of people from cultural, academic and artistic circles. There are people who are known and who have confessed, then they rumors. The issue is that even partial list of agents is still classified. The KGB documents research commission has made demands to publish the database, however Latvian Constitutional Defense Bureau   is still against it. This claim will stay unverified as long as the lists of agents that is available in  Latvia remains classified. And people will say that there is a reason why it’s still classified.

Soviet times were generally worse than now

The most harshest years of the Soviet occupation was 1945-1953 during last years of Stalin. These years were characterized with another mass deportation in 1949, enforced collectivization, war with partisans and painful economic recovery. Level of living improved in sixties and level of repressions dropped. In sixties and seventies the soviet technical advancement was lacking in comparison of Western level of technology. However, in most part soviet production was still able provide people with good level of living and welfare. The cultural level despite censorship was reasonably high, advancements were made in arts, literature, cinema and music. Censorship even made artists, writers and musicians to be more creative to express themselves so hidden messages were shown. As of all even despite Nikita Khrushchev vulgar attack on modern arts (he later regretted and said he was just confused) and stagnate conservatism of Leonid Brezhnev the culture in Soviet Union was prosperous although it could not completely avoid the banality of the soviet propaganda. In similar way the education while plagued with obligatory soviet ideology managed to provide good level of knowledge.  Medicine was state funded, while it was often slow and not as technically advanced as in west it served its purpose. Also Soviet Union was not fully closed from the west and many of the western culture and education reached Latvia and influenced the people.

The most negative aspects of the post Stalin years was mass immigration, increased pollution created by industry and the military. Still fear from army and KGB was all the time present, the Latvian men were sent to Afghanistan and later Chornobyl. Latvians could not freely travel the world, the contacts with west was limited. In 80s the Soviet economy went into decline resulting deficit of products, increased corruption and technologic backwardness. It seems that if Soviet Union did not collapse in 1991 and never took any reforms it would go into deep recession and would not be able even to challenge the West. If Soviet Union would try to make approach similar to China, by keeping the state order but introduce free market things may turned out differently, but Soviet elite seemed to completely mismanage their reforms and the empire collapsed from the actions of their own rulers.

Comparing to our days while technology is way advanced, almost none of is made in Latvia. The state and private sector cannot provide jobs to all people in Latvia resulting emigration. Culture is almost free from any sign of censorship, but the main issue is state funding that is always lacking and privately funded culture is of many things. Same as education and medicine almost every sector lacks proper funding. Independent state cannot even fully funds its police and army. Cost of life has increased and issues in education and medicine has created discontent in society. Much of this was evident in 1920-1940 and that is a cost for being independent senior state rather part of large empire.

During the restoration of independence the old soviet communist elite made transition to democratic elite and still rules the country

This is claimed by the nationalists some of them members of Helsinki-86 and the Citizens Congress who wanted more radical way of restoration of independence rather than conventional way that was made by Popular Front that cooperated with Latvian communists who reverted to support the independence. That shows how weak and impotent the communist beliefs had become and most of the communist party members except hardliners steadily approved new reality and became capitalists and sometimes nationalists. This claim is partially true, however it seems that hardline nationalists were in no position to fulfil things their way and live on this accusation for rest of the two decades. What is unfortunate that no proper lustration was done and it was not done in any of the former Soviet Union. In Russia and Belarus it led to a rise of Soviet revisionism, in Ukraine and Georgia it lead to revolutions. In Latvia it simply created an unfortunate situation when some of the old elite tries to operate the country the old soviet way, some of not the best of their ability. Some of these people still tries to maintain good relations with Russia or are their agents. Larger issue is post soviet thinking that is characterized by fake nationalism and fake democratism and economic inability.

Majority of Russian speakers supported independent Latvia from USSR and were betrayed by Latvian government later by creating an apartheid state

In March 3 1991 a poll was made asking for supporting the independence from USSR. 1 227 562 voted for 411 374 against. In 1989 there was 1 387 757 Latvians, 905 515 Russians, 119 702 Belarusians, 92 101 Ukrainians, 60 416 Poles and 22 897 Jews. Surely it could mean that large part of Russian speakers were in favor. And Popular Front made posters asking Russian speakers to vote and try engage them. However, 24,69 of people voted against they were mostly ethnic Russians and military servicemen. Those who supported where mainly people who or their ancestors lived in pre war Latvia or who saw possibility of national cultural revival like some of the Jews.

Still  411 374 was large number and Latvian parties started to dwindle away from Russian speakers. After the independence the new ruling parties had a tough decision. Latvia could either start accession to  EU and NATO as difficult it seemed or try to stay close to Russia. And they feared that Russian speakers will not support course towards NATO and EU and vote for pro-Moscow parties. There already were such and wanted Latvia to stay ‘neutral’. Also in 1989 only of citizens were 52,0% were Latvians and it was obvious to try to preserve. So tough citizenship law was made to give Latvian citizenship to people who were born or had parents in pre war Latvia. Thousands of soviet immigrants became non-citizens.  Russia with its new support policy for Russian speakers abroad immediately condemned Latvia and called the situation in Latvia an apartheid.

Ironically the NATO and EU pressured Latvia to ease the citizenship law and it was gradually done. In result every year more non-citizens gained citizenship. In 2015 there was 262 030 non-citizens. Seems most of the Russian speakers do use their citizenship to support pro-Moscow parties as their support has increased since 2010 and in Riga there is ethnic Russian mayor. Was this support caused by staggering citizenship law? That is one of the reasons, while there some another referendum – in 2012 a referendum for two state languages were initiated. 273 347 people voted for. From 1 098 593 overall voters that is as much as opposition to independence in 1991 poll. It shows that for some people their views had still not changed since 1991 and the Latvian political forces were generally right about their weariness of the Russian speaking voters.

During 1990-1999 the government and ruling elite destroyed the Latvian industry and agriculture inherited from Soviet era on purpose

The first decade since regaining independence was hard one for thousands of workers. Large soviet inherited factories like VEF went into bankruptcy. Government in odds in being unable to maintain all post soviet industry decided to give away to privatization. In various cases the new owners were unable to maintain these factories, while others were simply looted. Many believed it was done on purpose for personal wealth of the new national elite. While some persons involved it was true, the collapse of the soviet industry can be explained for myriad of objective reasons. First soviet industry was all tied to Soviet marked that had collapsed, second the Soviet military had lot of grey orders from these factories that were now lost. Third that soviet industry was hopelessly backwards and foreign investors had no interests in them. A vile version that foreign companies saw new rival in Latvian industry and wanted to destroy it. However, it was so weak that they possibly could not rival Western companies for decades. It was far better to be bought by them for low price, but most like VEF old leadership refused. Fourth factor that new Latvian government that for two years was concentrated for almost impossible task of restoring independence now got in whirlwind of economic and social fallout that was caused by collapse of the soviet economy and rapid transition to free market. The government and new state intuitions were amateurs, often clueless of how to save the industry and made mistakes and fell for bates. Nevertheless it was a major social disaster that has not been fully recovered.

European Union continued to destroy Latvian economy, for instance it closed the Latvian sugar industry

When Latvia joined EU many hoped for immediate prosperity that did not come after 1992. However, many were disappointed by many regulations, directives and recommendations. Also EU investment was and is always under regalement and bigger countries still get the bigger cut. Not only that EU contributed to the closure of the Latvian sugar industry. This action however was not done because EU had vile intentions but because in 2004 it lost a case to World Trade Organization that allowed 49 poorest countries to export sugar into EU without fees and tariffs. To rescue EU sugar industry and compensate those who would be now dropped out of the market. EU offered the companies who can’t produce ton of  sugar for 404 euro were asked to leave the market and received compensations for their closure. And Latvian companies of centuries of experience were one of them. Now most sugar in Latvian stores are from Poland and is one of the most expensive in EU. It is rather unfortunate situation, but EU did that for many other countries because it was forced to.

As much of the EU positive and negative effect to Latvian economy there is many factors. EU has contributed to some sectors of economy and has hindered others. EU tries to work for common good and tries to keep balance and that balance is not always good for some countries. However, EU has no vile intention to sabotage Latvian economy if it had such it would let Latvia go bankrupt in 2008-2009, but obviously that would be against the common good and balance.

These were the some of the myths of the Latvian history. Every nation has its own historical myths and explaining them helps understanding the history better.

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First Latgale Latvian Congress 1917 April 26-27

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The delegates of the First Latvian Congress in Rēzekne April 26-27 1917

The two days of April that according to new style calendar was May 9-10 was one of the most crucial and important days for Latvian nation. On April 26-27 the members of Latgalian Latvian political and cultural elite came to a common congress in Rēzekne and decided that the region of Latgale is part of Latvia and Latgalian Latvians are part of Latvian nation living in Kurzeme (Courland), Zemgale (Semigallia) and Vidzeme. This was crucial decision since Latgale region was separated from rest of Latvia by political means for many centuries. After the breakdown of Russian Empire, Latgale then part of Vitebsk province was in danger of becoming part of Russia, Poland or possible Belarusian state. Latgale that was not ethnically homogeneous region had to decide on their own to whom they want to join – united autonomous or independent Latvian state or Russia and Belarus. And large Russian, Polish and Belarusian minority in Latgale also had their say. In the end despite disagreements within their own ranks the leading Latgalian politicians and cultural workers decided to join with rest of Latvia. But, this act was not made without demands and expectations that Latgalians wanted to receive from rest of Latvia. Many of these expectations were not met, many were misunderstood, leading to new strife and disappointment that was present during first independence and appeared again during our time.

Latgalian tribe (latgaļi) as the largest proto-latvian tribe emerged in 5-8 century. Their area of population was nowadays Eastern Latvia along the right bank of river Daugava, stretching into east and south in present day Russia and Belarus. The Medieval chronicles mention Latgalians as ethnic group that had own statehood’s – Jersika, Tālava (Tolova), Atzele, Lotigola ect. that had extended relations with Russian duchies of Polotsk and Pskov who required to pay them tributes and the ruler of Jersika Visvaldis became Orthodox.

The Northern Crusades of 12-13th century placed all nowadays Estonia and Latvia under the Catholic Livonian order rule who was vassal of the Teutonic order. During the era of Livonian Confederation the Latgale region had no political division as the lands were divided between Livonian knights and the Archbishop of Riga. However, the differences in culture and dialect between Western and Eastern Latvians were present as Curonians in the west had their own distinctions and Latgalians had theirs. However, all of them were united into single state and only vassal and senior restrictions prevented them from visiting each other. Medieval Latvians were mostly peasants tied to their land and senior German land owner either from church or the order.

In 15th-16th century Livonian confederation experienced turbulence caused by Reformation, decay of Hanseatic league and threat from Russia. Large part of population became Lutheran, while others opposed. Livonia became a weak state unable to centralize power and in 1558 Russia invaded Livonia starting Livonian war that was joined by Poland-Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden. On 1561 the Northern Estonia with Reval (Tallinn) became part of Sweden while Livonian Order and Archbishop of Riga surrendered to Sigismund II of Poland-Lithuania. The new rulers divided nowadays Latvia and part of Estonia into Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and Duchy of Livonia (Pārdaugava). Riga, Vidzeme and Latgale became part of Duchy of Livonia.

Polish-Lithuanian rule over these lands were short-lived. In 1600 just 17 years after the end of Livonian war a new war broke out between Poland-Lithuania and Sweden. Sweden took over Vidzeme and Riga. Duchy of Courland remained semi-independent while Poland-Lithuania kept only small part of former Livonian duchy. The border between both countries were sent along the river Daugava and Aiviekste in 1621. The treaty made division between Aiviekste river and Swedish controlled region became known as Vidzeme (Middle-Land). The land on the right bank of river Daugava and Aiviekste was now called Inflanty Voivodeship or Livonian Voivodeship. This province set the boundaries for Latgale region.

Latvian Land map by G. Reyer in 1859 excludes Latgale from Latvian lands

Inflanty was not a duchy, but as simple province of Poland-Lithuania. That meant that religious freedoms and privileges for the German landlords that existed in Livonian duchy was non-existent. Poland-Lithuania was a Catholic nation and it also wanted to send in Polish and Lithuanian landlords. First step was to return the local populace to Catholic faith. While some of the peasants followed their Lutheran landlords, orders simply diverted back to pagan beliefs in absence of landlord or local church. Jesuit order was established and converted the people back to Catholic faith. Lands were acquired by Polish and Lithuanian landlords who also sent in people from Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. Also the Jews migrated in to Latgale and settled in most towns. Meanwhile because of division in Russian Orthodox church the Old Believers settled and made refuge in Inflanty.

 Meanwhile rest of nowadays Latvia was mostly Lutheran, first books in Latvian were published 100 years earlier, despite the Jesuits also teaching in Latvian and publishing books. The peasant conditions are said to be harsher in Inflanty then rest of Latvia. Contacts with rest of Latvia were limited and even contacts within Inflanty was limited because of territorial laws and regulations. In such circumstances Latgalian Latvians made three distinctions – Catholic faith, own special customs and traditional dress and finally the most important the Latgalian dialect with its own regional divisions within Latgale.

In 1772 Russia took over Inflanty and simply joined with Vitebsk province. This did not bring Latgalian unification with rest of Latvians. The rest of Latvia was divided in Courland and Livonian province and was part of special Baltic region that had special rights like abolishing serfdom in 1817-1819, while it was abolished in Latgale in 1861 with rest of Russia. That meant that Latgalians had limited freedom of movement for a very long time, also the Latgalians after the abolish of serfdom as Catholics had limitations to buy land while Orthodox and Lutherans did not. Large part of Latgalians were forced to emigrate to Belarus, Russia and Siberia to get land and often had to convert.

Most crucial was ban on Latin print that was in place from 1865-1904 and multiple russification policies that hit Latgale the hardest because it was simple Russian province. After the ban on Latin was canceled, new Latgalian newspapers appeared, cultural societies emerged and more contacts with rest of Latvia were made. In such circumstances the polonization and russification made crucial advances especially in areas populated by Latvians, Poles, Russians and Belarusians creating identity confusion. A special kind a “nationality” was  tuteiši – the local. These people often know more than one of these languages and their own means of identity was their local village and church they belonged to.

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Latgalian political leader Francis Trasuns

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Leader of the Latgalian nationalists Francis Kemps

New political leaders emerged such as Francis Trasuns, Francis Kemps and Nikodems Raicāns. Francis Kemps made the term – “Latgale” and “Latgalian”  (Latgalietis). Francis Trasuns was elected in the first Russian Duma who actively promoted the Latgalian national revival. As Russification faced defeat, new schools teaching mainly in Latvian and Latgalian emerged. On 1915 German army invaded and split the Latvia in two. Daugava served as front line and Latgale still in Russian control faced unforeseeable future. 10-12 thousand Latgalians served Latvian Riflemen regiments, despite not having any regional representation.

This long intro leads in to early 1917. The Tsarist government was brought down. Germans were on the move and the future of Latvia had many possibilities.  A national autonomy within Russian Republic, soviet autonomy if the Bolsheviks seize power – or part of German empire.

Two main Latgalian factions had different goals. Francis Kemps who lead the Latgalian Peoples committee was against joining with “baltīšim” or how he called rest of Latvians, with no guarantees for national cultural autonomy to preserve Latgalian cultural and linguistic distinction. Francis Trasuns also wanted to keep the distinctions, but determined that first Latgalians must unite and then ask for guarantees. Other faction was Bolshevik supporters – they were also for uniting with Latvia, but soviet Latvia not bourgeois. The very important Latgalian clergy supported uniting with rest of Latvia so it could be protected from Bolsheviks.

It was important that Latgalians join in common event to proclaim their political intentions to all Latvia and for that the First Latgale Latvian Congress was issued on April 26-27. The congress was held in central city in Latgale – Rēzekne. Congress met resistance from Francis Kemps and Bolsheviks. Kemps and his supporters left the congress while angry mob of Bolshevik supporters gathered around the building where the congress was held and threatened to disrupt the event. The Bolshevik delegates who left the congress called the participants “Latgalian traitors” and called to burn down the building. Angry mob started to throw stones, while defiant Latgalian leader Francis Trasuns declared that he will not leave trough side doors to run, but will come out trough same front doors he entered or will be carried out. A sudden rain shower forced angry crowd to leave and congress went on as expected.

The most crucial result of congress was the declaration that expressed will of joining with provinces of Kurzeme and Vidzeme. That was clear signal for Latvian, German and Russian politicians. The congress also decided to held the elections for Provisional Land Council that was realized and many of its members later joined the Latvian National Provisional Council. On December 3-4 1917 II congress was held that was done after Bolshevik takeover in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and the vote was made of leaving the Vitebsk Province. 202 Russian and Jewish delegates voted against. However, the Bolshevik government approved the succession from Vitebsk.

Latgales_kongress_1917._gadā_plakāts_skolu_vajadzībām

Latgale Latvian congress in Rēzekne. Painting by Jēkabs Strazdinš 1935. Used for schools and public offices

On November 18 1920 in Riga the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed and Latgale as third star in Latvian coat of arms was recognized as part of new republic. Then month later the Bolsheviks invaded and took control over Latgale. The Latvian Soviet Government wanted Latgale as part of Soviet Latvia, while Bolsheviks in Vitebsk did not respect the earlier votes and started to make their own power structures loyal to the Belarusian soviet socialist republic. So in February 20-25 in various cities of Latgale the communist party workers congress made vote to join Soviet Latvia.

During the War for Independence Poland, Lithuania and Belarusian People’s Republic all made claims on Latgale. In the end on 1920 Latvian army with Polish assistance took over all Latgale, leaving out only small spots of ethnic Latvian majority. Poland and Lithuania dropped their claims for Latgale, while Belarusian Peoples Republic ceased to exist. Latgale now had common border with Soviet Russia and Belarus that later joined in Soviet Union and Poland.

Latgale was finally joined with Latvia, but the divisions continued to persist. During the creation of the Latvian constitution the Satversme, Latgalian political parties with Trasuns and Kemps demanded to permit national cultural autonomy – self-rule, use of Latgalian language in official documents and state funded education in Latgalian. All of these demands were overturned and fiercely objected by Latvian Social Democrats and Nationalists. Latgalians were allowed to have newspapers in Latgalian, hold lessons in school in Latgalian. But, more autonomy from Riga was not allowed. Latgalian leaders including Trasuns were disappointed and continued political efforts for Latgalian cause until his death in 1926. He even joined with his past rival Kemps. Latgalian nationalists also had conflicts with Russians, Poles and Belarusians who wanted their own cultural autonomy and schools. While minority schools for them were allowed, the Latgalian activists saw this as continued means of polonization and russification. Meanwhile Latvian nationalists saw the Latgalian language and culture as simple backwardness and made efforts to “bring light” to the “dark Latgalian people”.

Cross national and cultural struggle continued and was signified by Kārlis Ulmanis regime, who regarded Latgalian nationalism as danger to his idea of “United Latvia”. However, Latgalian language never lost its prominence in the region. Soviet occupation further made efforts to diminish Latgalian language. At first Soviet Union was the only nation that in its national census made entry “Latgalian”. After WW2 this entry was removed and all Latgalian Latvians were counted as Latvians even if they did not wish so. The Soviet era saw large move of people within Latvia. Latgalians moved to Riga, even Kurzeme and mostly assimilated into local Latvian culture. Also Latvians moved more to Latgale then before. Latgale also became more subjected to Russian and Belarusian immigration with many cities and areas having Russian speaking majority. Before the war the Jews made majority in most Latgalian towns. After holocaust the towns were taken over by Russian speakers. Soviets never fully destroyed Latgalian culture and language and after the independence the Latgalian revival started again.

latgales_karogs

The flag of Latgale designed during second independence using elements from Inlfanty voivodship and Latvian flag

The second independence brought many of the same issue as during first. While there is no serious talk about Latgalian national autonomy, the efforts of reviving Latgalian language and culture is still important topic. Latgalian historians, cultural workers and folklorists often complain that Latgalian culture is left out of Latvian cultural mainstream and Latvians don’t understand or ignore Latgale. Latgalian municipalities often complain that Riga central government ignores Latgale and leaves it in poverty. While the government is worried about its eastern border especially after the events of 2014.

Latgalian non Latvian speaking population the Poles, Russians and Belarusians always have brought some national political turbulence. During the formation of First Latgale Latvian congress the selection of delegates excluded many non-Latgalian Latvian delegates. Month later Latgale Russian congress was held in Rēzekne and issued clear support for Latgale as part of Vitebsk province. The problematic relations persisted during independence as Poles and Belarusians were accused of separatism.   When Latvia regained independence, according to some historians in early 1990’s Russian secret services had plans for Russian people’s republics in Latgale, similar to Moldova. These plans were never realized, but some provocative forces have expressed demands for national autonomy while these demands have not been supported by Latgalian Latvians. After the Crimea crisis in 2014, there have been various provocations in the internet calling for “Latgalian Peoples Republic”. Even the BBC has made provocation making WW3 movie that starts in Latgale taken over by pro-Russian separatists. Latgale has not been Latvian or Latgalian only for many centuries. However, the Russian speaking separatists do not speak on behalf of even all Russian speakers in Latgale, who want to remain in Latvia.

With its political, ethnic and cultural cross points Latgale is point of interest and very important part of Latvia, its culture and history. For 100 years Latvia has been united with Latgale, many efforts are to be made by both sides to be united forever.

Selected Sources:

Latgales latviešu kongress 1917. Materiālu krājums. Latgales kultūras centra izdevniecība. Rēzeknē 2016.

Zirnis, Egīls. Trešā zvaigznes iedegšana. Sestdiena. 13-20. aprīlis. 2017. 

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Latvia 2016: The Gathering Storm

2016 is heading for closure and it’s time to set the record what happened this year and what to expect of next 12 months. Many has called 2016 as one of the worst years in the decades. It was time of rather unexpected events, sad events and tragic events. While Latvia overall had mostly peaceful year it all can change basing on all the events that happened abroad. The country is planning to spend 60 million euros on 100th anniversary on independence on 2018. Two years are still in wait for that. But, these two years are could be the most crucial for our country and might as well determine will Latvia be able to mark its 100 years of independence at all. For there is a danger that in 2-3 years Latvia might lose its independence and sovereignty. In this review it will be explained why this can happen and what could we do to prevent it.

 

The weakening of the West and its impact on Latvia

 

Two most crucial events that will go down in history of 2016 will be the Brexit and US Presidential election. Both events weakened UK, EU and US on political and economic scale. It revealed a wide fraction of society in US and EU that is not satisfied with politics of the liberal and leftist elites that had ruled for last 20 years and has given their votes for populism, far right clinging politics and authoritarian style of politics. Their dissatisfaction with current so called establishment is both rational and irrational and is based on their personal experiences and misfortunes. Despite the obvious Russian meddling and support for these movements it’s clear that they have strong support base and these movements have managed to strike on both of UK and US and that is bad news for our country. Firstly as UK has yet to make the crucial step to leave EU there is plenty of speculation of how it will affect the thousands of Latvian guest workers in UK, how it will affect the EU market and what impact it will leave on our economy. So far UK has kept its solid position in NATO, the new foreign minister Boris Johnson is widely critical on Russian criminal foreign policy (regarding his past warm connections with Russia), but we will see how this will change after new elections 2020 that is however a long wait from now. In US the situation has become unpredictable every day. The country has been affected by Russian secret service orchestrated hacking that helped Donald J. Trump to win, who has high expectations of friendship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and who has shown disregard to NATO and the defense of Europe. Donald Trump runs his politics as reality show, every day feeding twitter with his outlandish tweets and load announcements and claims. He has made US unpredictable just as Russia has been for years. From words to actions he has appointed an oil cooperation CEO Rex Tillerson as State Secretary who of no doubt is in unfavor of  Russian containment policy that means sanctions against his business partners and low oil prices. Judging by the logic of business not politics his and Trumps decision in 2017 would be full or partial   removal of sanctions against Russia.

For Latvia this means a dangerous return to diplomatic situation of 1938-1940. Back then Latvia had no real allies. UK and France was distant and skeptical about their support for Baltic States against Nazi Germany and Soviet Union. In the end the fate of Latvia was determined by Nazi Germany and Soviet Union, both of whom Latvia had signed non-aggression pacts. Left without support from outside it was forced to choose between bloody war of survival or shameful silent submission. It choose the second option and we still bear the bitter fruits of that. Russia is aiming to repeat this once again. We really cannot predict Trump’s politics – will he remove sanctions, minimize US involvement in NATO and drop pledge to defend every each of them? Or the Trumps expectations of Putin and Putin of Trump would end in mutual disappointment and confrontation would again increase? Then there is more hardly calculable factors in Europe that threaten to create this situation – first its elections in France that would bring right-wing leader Marine le Pen or François Fillon to power. Both has shown their open sympathy to Russia and suggesting the ease of relations on expense of Ukraine and Baltic States. Then there is Germany – Angela Merkel has been in power for 11 years and her leadership is fading in light of integration failure, refugee failure and recent terrorist act. In 2017 she faces Federal Elections. Again her competitors is making criticism on relations with Russia. If both of these countries drop the Russian containment policy the diplomatic and security position of Latvia would severely weaken.

Let’s be clear however, while Germany and France can be still called reliable allies for the Baltic States they are certainly no friends for Ukraine. The so-called Minsk ceasefire that has not been in effect since its implementation, brokered both by Holland and Merkel has made Eastern Ukraine into active frozen conflict where lives are lost almost daily on both sides without much achievements or changes. “No change on the Eastern Ukrainian Front” one would say. The constant bleed out of Ukraine only serves the Russia. US and EU is giving Ukraine both carrot and stick. A carrot of some humanitarian or non-lethal military support on basis of not breaking ceasefire and stick of continuing criticism and pushover for lack of reforms in the country that is not entirely unjustified. But such situation cannot last forever, Ukraine has to strike back and regain villages and cities used as bases for constant attacks on Ukrainian positions. And who to judge Ukraine for doing so – it’s their land, that has been captured by foreign country disguised as separatists. The ones who will judge will be wealthy European countries who does not have an open border with Russia – yet.

So both for Ukraine and the Baltic States a situation can be possible in next two years when they have no allies. One ally could still be Poland. While it’s rigged with inner political struggle between nationalistic government and liberal opposition, its shows a stiff opposition to Russia and calls for militarization and tough response. If Finland or Sweden would join the NATO, with their proximity to Russia they may show reliance to Baltic States. But, if UK, Germany and France would drop out of collective security policy and most important the US than Latvia as well as Poland is in danger. The very aim of Russia is to defeat the NATO adversary without a fight. A direct conflict could end in bitter destructive defeat. So the proper aim for Russia is the break up the collective security, contribute to the election of Russia friendly candidates that may allow another Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. A pact that would give Russia a free hand on Ukraine and Baltic States. Our political and military leaders have vowed to not repeat the mistake of 1939-1940 and resist, but will this wove would be kept knowing of low or confused support from other countries. In the end Europe again could divert to situation of 5th-19th century when it was a collection of warring rivaling countries and brief alliances. In such situation for a country with less than 1 million people and weak economy and army has no place for existence. Latvia can only exist with strong united friendly Europe and strong supportive US. And weak Russia. It’s doubtful Russia and Latvia would ever achieve mutual friendship. So if Latvia cannot attain a concrete support from its western partners it’s doomed to lose at least its sovereignty to Russia.  This will be the challenge for this country for next two years.

Latvian inner political and economic weakening

 

Last year when talking about year 2015 I predicted the rise of nationalistic-isolationist populist government forming in Latvia itself. In result a government lead by Māris Kučinskis from Green Party and Latvian Farmers Party alliance was formed in early 2016. Māris Kučinskis with his lack of English skills keeps low profile in foreign gatherings, but his profile as Prime Minister is also very low profile. While he can be praised for being calm of steel nerves he also quite lethargic and has lead his government into flow of scandals and mishaps without affecting much of himself. The main points of conflicts in Latvian interior policy was grand issues with State Revenue Service and raise of taxes for small enterprises. In the spotlight of this is Daina Reizniece-Ozola a Finance minister a chess champion and a flashy talker. All year we saw her battling the corruption in State Revenue Service and taking sharp criticism for poorly managed raise for taxing the small enterprises. The latter issue brought to a bitter conflict with coalition partner liberal Unity (Vienotība) and even brought to a danger of collapse of government. So far the danger was averted and how long this inept government continues to exist remains to be seen.

On political ratings scale (as much of these ratings reflects the real political opinion is always a question) it has been successful for pro-Kremlin Harmony party (Saskaņa) Green Farmers and National Alliance and misfortune for liberal Unity. Unity lost its leading position gained since 2008, after poorly managed inner party coup that lead to collapse of Laimdota Straujuma government. Unity ratings went downhill and its long standing leader Solvita Āboltiņa had to resign from party leadership. Ex EU commissar Andris Piebalgs the new party leader tries to restore the parties fading image and power. Right now Unity’s poll rating is above 5% that would make a miserable fraction in newly elected parliament. Harmony party rating is 17%, Green Party about the same and National Alliance 7%. Plus the eccentric MP’s Artuss Kaimiņš party KPV and two elected small parties Latvian Regional Alliance and To Latvia from Heart is lagging behind 5% looking to take Unities votes.

If this continues there is a great chance of future Latvian government without a liberal party. Either its share of power would be minimal or it won’t be represented at all. There is a small chance that another liberal party called “For Prosperity of Latvia” (Latvijas Attīstībai) might take Unities place but that depends how its leader Juris Pūce would fair in Riga municipal election against incumbent Harmony party mayor Nils Ušakovs. Ušakovs who leads the capital city with scandals, failed street restoration projects and future projects facing major protests, who still has large support base mainly from Russian speakers, however his image is tainted by his offensive remarks towards Latvians and open support for Kremlin policy. But, knowing the population base in Riga he still has high chance to get clear third term as mayor of Riga.  Harmony party meanwhile in parliament functions as opposition party and supports the coalition when it’s bargained. Green Farmers and National Alliance as for now would not consider them in government at least for now.

In security policy Latvia seems to be doing well. The President Raimonds Vējonis an ex-minister of Defense is good negotiator with NATO so as the current Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis. An important step this year was the NATO’s decision to store permanent NATO’s international battalion in Baltic States and Poland. Lucky for Latvia the head of forces stored in Latvia will be Canada that has always been loyal to the principles of NATO and has taken part in many operations across the world. Of course the governments and policies can always change. Some people may say that these merely thousand troops would provoke and threaten Russia. First of all Russia has some 30 thousand troops stored in Kaliningrad region alone and these forces will be combined into 30th army next year. Russia has stored nuclear capable missiles in this region, plus the Russian forces who are constantly drilled for attack situations in Pskov and Leningrad region are in thousands. While this international battalion and all three Latvian armies would create a great losses for Russians in case of invasion in the Baltic Sates; they are useless for attacking Russia, so who these forces actually provoke Russia is what people saying these things cannot provide no explanation. While this small NATO force is no match for greater Russian armies, it serves as buffer; should one of its soldiers die from Russian hands it would provoke a conflict. However, every soldier and general serves the politician – as we talked here before – its Russian goal to defeat the West on political level before defeating it on military level. Weak politicians mean weak military in the Western world. So this rather small NATO force in Latvia by its means serves as no guarantee to our security and independence.

Latvian economy has been stagnating for last few years. While Latvia did made a tremendous recovery from 2008-2009 crisis by painful austerity policies, the continuation of these policies are rather stagnating economy that might start to enter decay next year. The overall economic and political climate is passively negative and opens door for populist political manipulations. For this reason a future without liberal party is possible. Latvia could be either ruled by alliance of populist right-wing conservatives and nationalists or it can be ruled by pro-kremlin forces. The next year’s municipal elections will show how strong are ruling parties and how strong is pro-Kremlin Harmony. Harmony could take over more cities in Eastern Latvia and the second biggest city Daugavpils that despite its Russian speaking minority has never had a Harmony mayor. For fading liberal Unity the only chance is to use the weaknesses of their conservative foes in the government and act as inner opposition that is doing now slightly successfully and try to achieve great results in Riga and other cities. Rather dangerous move is to bring down the government that again could lead to unforeseen consequences.

The challenge of 2017-2018

 

Some say history goes in circles and one wave replaces another. A wave of liberalism, multiculturalism in Europe and US seems to have dwindled and new wave of nationalism, isolationism and populism has taken its strength. To those who support this wave following lines are not of concern and they can stop reading this article. For those who fear this wave hear the following words. Stand your ground to this wave and don’t let it bring you down. Question, protest and resist policies made against collective security and seeking common ground with Russia. To seek a common ground with Russia as it has emerged today would be same as making common ground with Nazi Germany. It will be another Munich agreement in far worse consequences. Convince people to go to elections. Many of the populist voters are hard to convince as they vote by their emotions rather than reason. As more people avoid elections the higher chance for populists to gain upper hand. The US elections showed how crucial was the number of absent voters. Also support your army every way possible. When surrounded by militant forces calls for pacifism and unreasonable criticism of the home military brings no fruits. There are no civilians in the war for these forces. Question everything that comes from Russian or pro-Russian news outlets, as deception that turns into truth is their main instrument. Question everything that is in the social nets and even from your trustful state TV or relatives or friends. The amount of propaganda and disinformation these days would make Dr. Goebbels role in his grave. Do not give in to threats by terrorists and enemy armies by submitting to their demands or just give empty #standwithyou styled condolences. The time for that has passed. Empty words and hashtags have no power. Resilience and relentless to all the threats and dangers are the one that enemy fears off. Weakness it what it seeks and we cannot give him that weakness.

 The future for Latvia and neighboring countries has become more unclear and shady more than ever. Either Latvia would continue as independent prosperous country that gives others a reason to respect it and stand for it or it will become a pariah state that would be seen as expendable to other countries in the world. The war is what we fear the most. Riga could also turn into Aleppo if enabled so. In the end the war would determine if this nation has deserved and secured its position as independent country or it will go down in the annals of history as another lost kingdom succumbed by outside forces. If we will reach November 18 2018 with this warning as not fulfilled then the words said in this in this article would had reached their purpose.

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VEF: The Illustrated History

vef_soviet

VEF stands for State Electrotechnical Factory (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika). From 1919 to early 1990’s it was one of the biggest and most successful state enterprises in Latvia. Its main production was radios, telephones, Automatic Telephone Exchanges, and various electronic gadgets. In first 20 years of its existence it also produced Minox mini photo camera’s and even airplanes. In independent Latvia VEF was example of industrial recovery after the WWI and was highly regarded by the state and society. After WWII when Latvian was occupied by Soviet Union, the Soviet industrial policy makers saw the potential of the VEF and turned into one of the main radio and telephone producers in whole Soviet Union. VEF was not just a major factory it was also a social and cultural service a symbol of the state prosperity. During Soviet occupation Latvia was one of the most industrialized Soviet republics. It had its major backdrop – high workforce immigration that become crucial in late 80’s. During process of regaining independence the VEF leadership and workforce was divided in their views. While many supported the independence, others had their doubts how the VEF would survive the transition to capitalism and separation from the Soviet market.  These doubts proved to be true: the VEF leadership and the state government mismanaged the privatization process and VEF fell into bankruptcy. The breakdown of the Soviet market, VEF secret connections with  Soviet military industry, failure to enter western market and finding western investors lead to collapse. Hundreds of jobs were lost and factories abandoned. Today few companies and basketball club bear the name of VEF. VEF remains as symbol of the state industrial history.

The history in VEF has been discussed in this site before. This article is rather illustrative representation of history of VEF using illustrative material from official VEF publications, memoirs and TV broadcasts. Article aims to show VEF greatest achievements during the interwar period and Soviet period and its demise at the end of the 20th century.

VEF main montage corpus at the Brīvības gatve 19

VEF main montage corpus at the Brīvības gatve 216

On April 1919 as Postal and Telegraph Department’s repair workshops were established in Riga. During that time Riga was controlled by Latvian Socialist Soviet government. However, month later Soviets fled the capital city and workshops were taken over by Republic of Latvia government. The equipment was brought by Soviets from Tver in Russia. During 1915-1916 much of the industrial equipment was evacuated to Russia anticipating the German capture of Riga. The workshop was located in Post and Telegraph building in Aspazijas bulvāris 5 (now home for economic and history faculties). It also became home for Radio Latvia. As the workshop produced more equipment and required more workforce and work space it needed new location. At first on 1924 it was moved to Slokas iela 2 to five story lombard building (now State History Archive). Finally on 1928 the workshops were moved to abandoned buildings of Russian-German factory “Union”. “Union” was electrotechnical factory founded by German citizen Henrich Detman who on 1887 bought a plot of land near Pskov freeway at edge of the city. On 1899 designed by architect Henrich Shiel a marvelous neo-renaissance style building with sculpture of Zeus was built. More new buildings were built around it as the enterprise prospered. On 1915 the company along with its 3000 people were evacuated to Kharkiv.  The company was transformed in to Kharkiv Electromechanical company that still works today.

Former “Union” buildings became ideal place for new state electrotechnical company. On 1929 the Postal and Telegraph company workshops were called the State Electrotechnical factory “Pērkons” (Thunder). Three years later it was renamed simply as State Elektrotechnical Factory – Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika – VEF.

The main factory corpus at the former German-Russian company "Union" at Brīvibas iela 214

The main factory corpus at the former German-Russian company “Union” at Brīvibas gatve 216. Atop the tower a neon sign VEF was installed.

Areas around VEF became highly populated by its workers

Areas around VEF became highly populated by its workers

VEF workforce

VEF workforce

Material storage

Material storage

Extrusion workshop

Extrusion workshop

Material cutter

Material cutter

Extrusion process for creating chassis ans splinters necessary for radio production

Extrusion process for creating chassis ans splinters necessary for radio production

Automatic extrusion presses

Automatic extrusion presses

Workshop for creating extrusion tools

Workshop for creating extrusion tools

Cutting machine and hand polishing machine

Cutting machine and hand polishing machine

VEF steel oven and sharping machine for cutting tools

VEF steel oven and sharping machine for cutting tools

Turning bench workshop

Turning bench workshop

Turnery

Turnery

Automatic turner. The size parts are measured by the microscopes

Automatic turner. The size parts are measured by the microscopes

Cadmium baths for parts and tools

Cadmium baths for parts and tools

VEF abatement oven. Yielding pulling machine

VEF abatement oven. Yielding pulling machine

Wire spining machine

Wire spining machine

Bakelite workshop

Bakelite workshop

Elements workshop

Elements workshop

Zinc bottom pole soldering machine

Zinc bottom pole soldering machine

Zinc pole casing soldering machine

Zinc pole casing soldering machine

Parts workshop

Parts workshop

Transformer coil spining

Transformer coil spining

Transformer measurement equipment. Capacitor thickness measuring

Transformer measurement equipment. Capacitor thickness measuring

Making condensers

Making condensers

Plywood factory for creation for enclosures

Plywood factory for creation for enclosures for radios

Enclosure workshop

Enclosure workshop

Polishing workshop

Polishing workshop

Polisher polishing the enclosures

Polisher polishing the enclosures

Assembling workshop

Assembling workshop

Equipment tuning

Equipment tuning

Assembling the loudspeakers

Assembling the loudspeakers

Radio casing and final check up

Radio casing and final check up

Products are being packed and sent to storage

Products are being packed and sent to storage

Electrical measurement laboratory

Electrical measurement laboratory

Measurement of the sound distortion and receiver calibration

Measurement of the sound distortion and receiver calibration

Measuring the sensitivity and selectivity of the receiver

Measuring the sensitivity and selectivity of the receiver

Material testing laboratory

Material testing laboratory

Special measurement equipment workshop

Special measurement equipment workshop

Radio transmitter in Klaipēda, Lithuania assembled by VEF

Radio transmitter in Klaipēda, Lithuania assembled by VEF

VEF made radio transmitter

VEF made radio transmitter

Transmitter "turning field"

Transmitter “turning field”

Radio beacon for transmitting timed interval signals

Radio beacon for transmitting timed interval signals

VEF Radio Branch library

VEF Radio Branch library

Factory sales bureau

Factory sales bureau

VEF store in Estonia

VEF store in Estonia

VEF stores in Finland and Estonia

VEF stores in Finland and Lithuania

During the interwar period VEF produced mainly radios, telephones and telephone exchange systems that were installed in Riga and other major cities.  Factory produced all electronics that had any market demand – communication devices, phones, light bulbs, cameras, irons, radios, flashlights, as well as photo paper, work-tables, and even airplanes. On 1936 VEF became famous across the world with its Minox subminiature camera designed by Walter Zapp was first of its kind.

On 1940 Latvia was occupied and VEF was nationalized by Soviet government. While some of the factory executives and workers faced repressions, the factory continued its usual work until June 22 1941 when Latvia was invaded by Nazi Germany. Factory was managed by Nazi authorities but was in decay. On 1944 following Nazi retreat from Riga, factory was looted and several buildings were destroyed.

Soviet government made great efforts to restore pre-war factories and VEF became part of enormous Soviet industrial sector. Soviet policy was to assign specialization for its many republics. Latvia became the main producer of radios, telephones and other electronic equipment. Such industry never fully developed in Estonia and Lithuania. Closest rival to VEF and  Radiotehnika was Minsk Radio Factory and several factories in Russia. VEF radio design was so good it was adopted by Minsk and other radio factories in the Union. Radiotehnika was other main radio producer in Latvia that produced more advanced radio receivers, however VEF became the most popular. VEF products were imported to Soviet satellite states  and Western Europe. The five largest state companies were VEF, Radiotehnika, Alfa, Komutators and Elar (which produced components for the other four). In its peak in 1991, VEF employed 20,000 people. However, part of the production went for soviet military needs. Latvian industry greatly boosted the Soviet economy. According to latest researches Latvia as Soviet republic made greater payments for other Soviet republics then Moscow actually invested for Latvia. The fact that Soviet government overextended the Latvian industry brought to need of workforce from other Soviet republics. VEF working force was multi ethnic of Latvians, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, ect. As before the war, the VEF was highly regarded as pillar of state economy and became symbol of Soviet Latvian industry.

vef_ww2_monument

Georgijs Gaile was the first post war factory director

Georgijs Gaile was the first post war factory director

Soviet newspaper Komsolovska Pravda reports patriotic VEF campaigns to reach over production

Soviet newspaper Komsolovska Pravda reports patriotic VEF campaigns to reach over production

VEF old block during Soviet era. Soviets built more new buildings around pre-war area

VEF old block during Soviet era. Soviets built more new buildings around pre-war area

Radio workshop

Radio workshop

From 1945 to 1960 VEF produced lamp radio receivers. On 1961 VEF produced "Spīdola" transistor radio one of the first in Soviet Union (below left).

From 1945 to 1960 VEF produced lamp radio receivers. On 1961 VEF produced “Spīdola” transistor radio one of the first in Soviet Union (below left).

VEF 206 (left) became one of the most popular export products. VEF Sigma (above left) was one of the most popular radio-cassete players in Soviet block

VEF 206 (left) became one of the most popular export products. VEF Sigma (above left) was one of the most popular radio-cassete players in Soviet block

Over the decades various models were made. On late 80's the radio models had stereo sound and FM band

Over the decades various models were made. On late 80’s the radio models had stereo sound and FM band

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Ukrainian photographer David Dubnitskiy, from Ukraine has made a series of pictures featuring VEF-206 radios

vef_radio_cehs0001

Mass production of radio cassette player models

vef_telefon

Soviet built building for telephone production

Soviet built building for telephone production

VEF Telephone production

VEF Telephone production

In 80's the round dials were replaced with button dial and telephones became more advanced

In 80’s the round dials were replaced with button dial and telephones became more advanced

Manufacturing the Automatic Telephone exchanges

Manufacturing the Automatic Telephone exchanges

ATE measuring and testing

ATE measuring and testing

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vef_atc0002

vef_atc0004

Production of conveyors. automatic assembly lines and other production items

Production of conveyors. automatic assembly lines and other production items

VEF also attempted to use robots for mass production

VEF also attempted to use robots for mass production

While still lacking behind western industry the VEF reached great level technical advancement

While still lacking behind western industry the VEF reached great level of technical advancement

Early computers were also used by VEF

Early computers were also used by VEF

A large dictionary would be needed to list all notable VEF workers and executives

A large dictionary would be needed to list all notable VEF workers and executives

vef_kruminsh

vef_boss

vef_vefietis

VEF was always closely watched by the Soviet Communist party

VEF was always closely watched by the Soviet Communist party

VEF made contacts with counterparts in Eastern Block. Ideas were exchanged.

VEF made contacts with counterparts in Eastern Block. Ideas were exchanged.

While VEF did not made much contacts with leading Western producers some contacts were made with Asian countries

While VEF did not made much contacts with leading Western producers some contacts were made with Asian countries

VEF was not just a major factory. It offered a vast social welfare possibilities for its workers.  VEF run sanatoriums, kindergartens, sports schools and Palace of Culture and Technology. Being a worker for VEF meant to be member of special social caste who received many advancements and privileges.

Special sanatorium for VEF workers and their family members

Special sanatorium for VEF workers and their family members

Inside the VEF sanatorium

Inside the VEF sanatorium

VEF Pioneer organization

VEF Pioneer organization

vef_pioners

"Vefietis" public catering center located next to new soviet built VEF blocks was one of the most advanced in Latvia. Now demolished

“Vefietis” public catering center located next to new soviet built VEF blocks was one of the most advanced in Latvia. Now demolished

vef_shop0001

vef_shop0002

vef_vorkerrs_exersise

vef_sportsman

vef_gimnast2

VEF Palace of Culture and Technology located near central VEF complex was place of various cultural activities

VEF Palace of Culture and Technology located near central VEF complex was place of various cultural activities

VEF palace had library, young technicians learning center and artist workshop

VEF palace had library, young technicians learning center and artist workshop

VEF Palace hosted worker meetings, had VEF history museum and own choir

VEF Palace hosted worker meetings, had VEF history museum and own choir

1989 VEF marks its 70 birthday. VEF veteran A. Bērziņš in charge for finding and creating parts for Minox camera gets awarded

1989 VEF marks its 70 birthday. VEF veteran A. Bērziņš in charge for finding and creating parts for Minox camera gets awarded

VEF celebrates its 70 years of work in VEF palace

VEF celebrates its 70 years of work in VEF palace

Layout of the VEF factory complex

Layout of the VEF 32 hectare  factory complex.

Various VEF badges and pins

Various VEF badges and pins

 

On 1989 VEF celebrated its 70 years of work. Around that time the country affected by Perestroika was ridden with protests against increasing industrialization and immigration. What first started as massive environment protection protests turned to major movement demanding restoration of independence and the end of Soviet occupation. Many workers of the VEF joined the movement. Latvian Popular Front established a branch in the VEF factory. Mostly Russian speaking factory workers opposed this and supported the Interfront. On May 1 1989 flag of Latvia was raised above the VEF tower marking the official factory support for independence.   Almost no one was sure at that time and until very August 1991 that independence is fully possible.  And that’s why most did not consider what will happen afterwards the goal would be reached.

VEF supporters of independence gathers to raise the flag of Latvia

VEF supporters of independence gathers to raise the flag of Latvia

VEF workers in protest. The protest banner reads "Against immigration"

VEF workers in protest. The protest banners reads “Against immigration!”

Flag of Latvia raised above VEF tower

Flag of Latvia raised above VEF tower

vef_lv_karogs0002

 

Situation for VEF started to went downhill in 1991-1993. The Soviet market had collapsed, the connections with Soviet military was lost. VEF leadership failed to find efficient ways to enter Western market. In many ways the VEF production was already outmatched by western counterparts. The government instead  of slow transition from communism to capitalism choose to allow the privatization of all state industrial enterprises. There was limited interest from foreign investors and the VEF leadership could not determine their new worth according to Western standarts. A decision was made to split the large VEF enterprise in several smaller companies. One by one these companies entered bankruptcy.   In next decade VEF disintegrated; most factories were abandoned, some small companies bearing VEF name survived. Most successful is VEF Radiotehnika RRR that was born in uniting with Radiotehnika that also suffered major crisis after independence. Few other companies produced phones and electrical equipment but are too small to compete the western importers. VEF products soon became obsolete. The telecommunications provider Lattelecom choose foreign technology for new modern communications service. All governmental services  ordered new foreign equipment and did gave any chance for VEF to modernize. VEF radios and telephones were obsolete in 10 years and now can be found as relics in flea markets and antique shops. Could VEF survived the transition and transformed into new modern company remains a open question. Some say that VEF breakdown was favored by rival companies who wanted to exclude it from free market. Others say that VEF breakdown was result of poor management, in which one blames another for their mistakes. VEF breakdown could also be inevitable – there was too many unfavorable factors that it simply could not survive in 90’s crisis. Similar fate awaited almost every major factory in Latvia. The breakdown of the industrial sector is the most crucial social disaster in Latvian history.

Crisis begins. No pays means empty factory with nothing but the birds

Crisis begins. No pays means empty factory with nothing but the birds

Workshops abandoned

Workshops abandoned

Workers still try to do their jobs while the pays are delayed

Workers still try to do their jobs while the pays are delayed

Last generation VEF phones

Last generation VEF phones

VEF workers gathers in protest

VEF workers gather in protest

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Initial strong support for independence was now shadowed by strong disappointment as decades of work was lost

Initial strong support for independence was now shadowed by strong disappointment as decades of work was lost

The leader of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party Juris Bojārs tried to stand up for workers with little success

The leader of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party Juris Bojārs tried to stand up for workers with little success

Desperate call for government to save the VEF and do not be grave diggers of own state

Desperate call for government to save the VEF and do not be grave diggers of own state

Most factory buildings soon became abandoned

Most factory buildings soon became abandoned

Factory equipment was either sold or stolen

Factory equipment was either sold or stolen

Some abandoned spaces as this sometimes is used to events such as markets or museum nights

Some abandoned spaces as this sometimes is used to events such as markets or museum nights

The main assembly building is used by Goodwill nightclub. On the tower a ham radio transmitter is installed for local UHF radio club

The main assembly building is used by Goodwill nightclub. On the tower a ham radio transmitter is installed for local UHF radio club

This corpus where VEF airplanes were assembled was ruined for many years. Now is in the process of being restored

This corpus where VEF airplanes were assembled was ruined for many years. Now is in the process of being restored

Former VEF factory yard

Former VEF factory yard

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Some former VEF buildings are now used by companies, shops, clubs, even religious organizations. Some still remains abandoned and sometimes are used by artists for their exhibits and workshops

Stairway in abandoned VEF building

Stairway in abandoned VEF building

Largest VEF factory building now serves as Domina Supermarket

Largest VEF factory building now serves as Domina Supermarket

The historic VEF building has been taken over by Latvian company Mikrotiks and has been renovated

The historic VEF building has been taken over by Latvian company Mikrotiks and has been renovated

VEF palace of culture kept his function as place for various cultural festivities and was home for VEF history museum. Since 2016 its been under renovation

VEF palace of culture kept his function as place for various cultural festivities and was home for VEF history museum. Since 2016 its been under renovation

A full worded history of VEF remains to be written.  The pictures speak for themselves and they speak a thousand words of former glory and demise. Its doubtful VEF would ever be restored to what it was 25 years before. The preservation of the industrial heritage is important goal for our and future generations. 25 years after the demise of VEF its starting to become another subject of social memory about Latvian soviet and industrial past. Often full of myths so its important to preserve the history of the VEF, its workers and products they made. This article was dedications to all of them and I hope it will contribute to the memory and research about the VEF.

 Sources:

VEF. Radio fotoattēlos. Rīga : Valsts elektrotehniskā fabrika, [1935].

 Каталог / Рижское ордена Ленина и Октябрьской революции производственное объединение ВЕФ имени В. И. Ленина. Рига, 1987.
Bražis, Ivars, Minoksa mantinieki / Ivars Bražis ; redaktore / korektore un tekstu tulkotāja Alīna Melngaile. Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC, 2013

Deviņdesmitie. Privatizācija. Piķis un papīrīši. 2016 – Dokumentālās filmas

http://spoki.tvnet.lv/foto-izlases/Bijusi-VEF-eka-tgd-drupas/69338/1/2

http://nickwidescreen.livejournal.com/2245121.html?thread=2671873

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Latvia and Ukrainian People’s Republic

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1920 map of claimed lands by Ukrainian People’s Republic. Note: Eastern Ukraine – Galicia and Lviv has been already to Poland.

Ukrainian People’s Republic (Українська Народна Республіка УНР or UNR) was first modern Ukrainian national statehood that existed between 1917 and 1921. Similarly to Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) it did not survive the tides of war, however contrary to BNR, UNR received greater support and recognition from Latvia. Latvian officers also took part in UNR national forces and both sides had high hopes towards each other. On 1920 as Ukraine was divided between Soviet Russia and Poland in pursue for peace with Soviets, Latvia had to abandon its support for UNR. Article highlights Latvian – Ukrainian diplomatic relations and Latvian participation in UNR armed forces.

On March 17 1917 after the collapse of Russian Empire Central Council of Ukraine (Українська Центральна Рада UCR) was established in Kyiv. One of its main demands was national autonomy that was not supported by Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd. In response Ukrainian national forces under the command of General Pavlo Skoropadskyi started to assemble to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. On October 25 (November 7) Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and their supporters took over some areas in Ukraine. UCR managed to control much of Ukraine and on November 7 (November 20) the Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed. Meanwhile in Kharkiv on December 11-12 1917 Ukrainian Soviet Republic was founded. Bolsheviks advanced and gained control over much of Ukraine and on February 8 captured Kyiv. Chief Otaman Symon Petliura who commanded UCR armed forces faced gruesome defeat at the battle of Kruty where Ukrainian 1st Student company and Cadet Corps suffered great casualties. On January 9 (22) UNR again proclaimed full independence and severed all ties with Russia. On February 9 in Brestlitovsk UNR signed peace treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary gaining their military support in return for food provisions. German forces entered Ukraine and on March 1 captured Kyiv. On March 3 Soviet Russia ceded Ukraine to Germany in peace agreement in Brestlitovsk. UNR forces of 15 000 men entered Kyiv and Crimea. UNR was recognized by Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Great Britain.

Ukraine was taken over by Germans and Austrians who came in early conflict with UCR who protested against German military courts. German authorities formally dissolved UCR. In response UCR proclaimed new leftist leaning UNR constitution. Ukrainian right-wing rushed to prevent Ukrainian-German confrontation and rise of left-wing on April 29 seized power. General Pavlo Skoropadskyi became dictator under the title of Hetman of Ukraine. UNR faced resistance from Bolsheviks and peasants lead by anarchist Nestor Makhno. More countries however recognized UNR such as Finland, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Persia. As of November 11 1918 when Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed situation changed in Ukraine. UNR elites supporting Allied powers created Directory lead by Symon Petliura, who in December 14 deposed hetman Skoropadskyi and proclaimed second Ukrainian People’s Republic (during hetman’s dictatorship UNR was called “Ukrainian State”). Meanwhile in Western Part of Ukraine a Western Ukrainian People’s Republic on October 19 1918 was proclaimed in attempts to split from Austria- Hungary who controlled Lviv (Lemberg). On January 1919 it united with UNR. The Western Ukraine with Lviv in center was claimed by Poland and both sides engaged each other in battles until June 1919.

Soviet Russia immediately after German surrender to Allies canceled Brestlitovsk peace agreement and UNR had to declare war on them on January 16 1919. On February 5 Bolsheviks again captured Kyiv and reached Zbruch River west of Ukraine and entered Crimea. Ukrainian peasants and anarchist groups resisted Bolsheviks while un summer of 1919 the monarchist White Guard South Russian Volunteer army lead by general Anton Denikin attacked Bolsheviks and captured Kharkiv on the way to Moscow and on August 31 entered Kyiv. As his forces were defeated and chased away Bolsheviks again took over much of Ukraine in March 1920.

Situation demanded an alliance with Poland that was reached by Symon Petliura. On April 26 1920 Polish-Ukrainian forces attacked Bolsheviks on May 7 captured Kyiv. Polish forces reached river Dnipro. Bolsheviks ignited counter offensive and On June 12 Poles abandoned Kyiv, on July 4 Bolsheviks started attack in Belarus and reached Warsaw. On August 12-17 the Bolshevik offensive was finally stopped at the gates of Warsaw. On March 18 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Russia signed peace agreement dividing Ukraine in two. Central, South and East Ukraine was granted to Soviets while Western Part of Ukraine including Lviv (Lwov in Polish) was ceded to Poland. Recognized also by Ukrainian delegation the Riga peace agreement was death sentence to UNR. Symon Petliura dismissed Directory and withdraw his forces to Poland where he was interned. Rumania and Czechoslovakia also gained Ukrainian ethnic lands. Symon Petliura lead the UNR in exile until he was assassinated by Soviet agent on 1926. UNR continued to work in exile in Poland until 1939 and the moved to France where it ceased to exist after Nazi occupation. After the war in western exile Ukrainian National Council (Українська Національна Рада) that existed until 1991 when it recognized new Republic of Ukraine that formed in result of collapse of the Soviet Union.

During dramatic and fast changing events in Ukraine during Soviet-Ukrainian war many Latvians were involved army in state matters. Firs before the First World War and during the war some Latvians traveled to live and work in Ukrainian provinces of the Russian empire and secondly the Latvian officers who served the Russian army were sent on duty there. Large numbers of Latvians ended up in Ukraine as refugees during 1915-1916.  Also campaigners for Latvian independence were interested in Ukrainian independence movement and were seeking for cooperation. On September 8-15 (21-28) in Kyiv the UCR organized “congress of the minor nations” where 80 representatives took part along with 10 from Latvia. Latvians were represented by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics from Vidzeme land council Kristaps Bahmanis from Kurzeme Land council and Staņislavs Kambala from Latgale land council. Z. A. Meierovics gave speech describing the history of Latvian history and present situation and voiced call for Latvian self-determination. Meierovics, Kambala, Bahmanis and lecturer at Kyiv University M Bruninieks were elected in All-Russia Council of Nations. On November 18 1917 in Valka the newly founded Latvian National Council (LNC) also discussed Ukraine and judged that Ukrainian politicians are generally friendly towards Latvians like rest of the small nations. On December the Council received telegram from UNR about their declaration of independence and replied back with warm greetings towards Ukraine and voiced support for Ukrainian freedom and federation of nations.

On January 1918 LNC decided to send representatives to Ukraine to gain support promised by UCR. At first Latvians wanted to travel to Brestlitovsk to take part in Ukrainian-German peace talks to gain things to their favor, however the idea was dropped and Latvian representative K Bahmanis went to Kyiv on February. There he contributed to the creation of Kyiv Latvian Central Committee and spread information about the work of LNC. Because of war activities he could not contact Latvia and his report about his activities was only reviewed in June. Bahmanis became the representative of the Latvian Provisional Government in Kyiv and since 1919 visited new governments in Georgia, Armenia, White Guard Armies in Crimea, Don and Kuban. He returned to Latvia in September 1920.

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Latvian General Pēteris Radziņš who served in UNR amy

Many Latvians who were at Ukraine decided to join Ukrainian national armed forces lead by General Pavlo Skoropadskyi. Latvian officers also served in Symon Petliura Directory army. Most known was colonel Pēteris Radziņš who was chief of organizational and training department of the General Staff. After hetman was deposed he served as deputy to the chief of General Staff Mykola Yunakiv. On September 1919 escaping UNR defeats against White Guards and Bolsheviks he got himself in Poland and then returned to Latvia. There he was appointed for the Chief of the Commander-in-Chief Staff of the Latvian army. From 1924 to 1928 he was commander-in-chief of the Latvian Army. He also was author of many military history books and died in age of 50 in 1930. Lieutenant Colonel Jānis Ceplītis served Skoropadsyi and then under Petliura was chief of the Operational department of the General Staff and returned to Latvia on December 1919. Captain Pēteris Miķelsons on 1918 voluntarily joined the hetman’s army in the Chief Artillery headquarters and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In Petliura army he served as chief of Inspectional department of Chief Artillery headquarters. On January 1920 he was retired, but as Ukrainians started attack with Poles he was mobilized again. On 1921 he was promoted colonel and was retired few months later. Collegium  assessor  Vilhelms Klotiņš  joined the hetman’s army on June 1918 and served in Petliura army as administrative colonel the chief of the board of main intendancy money and payments. He returned to Latvia on Summer 1919. Aviator captain Nikolajs Jeske on December 1918 joined Petliura’s army as deputy for the chief 5th aviation division later chief of Proskuriv (now Khmelnytskyi) aviation school and commander of 1st aviation detachment. On 1920-1921 he was the head of UNR aircraft purchase commission.  Staff captain Hermanis Klīve on December 1918 served in hetmans army but after coup he was sent to court as hetmans officer but was found not guilty. He then served Poltava regiment until March 1920. Podporuchik Kārlis Drengeris served in UNR army 3th detached engineer battalion until September 1920. Podporuchik Arnolds Drukēvičs from December 18 to May 1919 served in UNR 7th artillery brigade and was captured by Poles. Adrejs Lejasslauss on 1918 took important posts in hetmans Provisions ministry and after coup served Provisions ministry in Galicia and Bukovina later in Ministry of Economics as vice-director Leather industry department and later director. Kārlis Brože served in most effective UNR unit the 1 Cavalry Regiment of Black Zaporizhians as commanders deputy, later in Latvia he served in police and municipalities.

As of diplomatic relations the first contacts between Latvia and UNR  emerged on spring 1919 in Paris Peace Conference. UNR as most politically unstable country of the time was mainly interested in gaining support from Latvia. The Latvian foreign minister Z. A Meierovics considered Ukraine as ally and wanted to include Belarus and Ukraine into Baltic entente that compromised Baltic Sates, Finland and Poland. Belarusian and Ukrainian delegations took part in Dorpat (Tartu) Baltic states conference as observers. In meetings with them it was agreed to create a common military alliance. On September 1 1919 UNR consul Nikifor Bederovsky arrived in Riga. The UNR consulate managed to get some Ukrainians in Latvian army to retire and join the UNR army. Along with new UNR citizens some were Germans as consul deputy Erich Fleisher who asked Latvian General staff to command him to Jelgava for “consulate affairs” on November 28 1919 (Jelgava was just liberated from Bermont-Avalov army) and was granted. His goal was to search for UNR citizen local German Heinnrich Brade who voluntary joined Baltic Landguard on July 14 during his duty in Riga Latvian soldiers confiscate his bicycle that became point of active communications between consulate and Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fleisher himself was local German.

Latvia and UNR consulate sometimes entered situations of conflict during siege of Riga on October-November 1919. On October 24 UNR consulate filed a request to give back horse that was confiscated to consulate coachman Mykola Jukatch however was denied. In result UNR together with Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia filed nota to Foreign ministry where it protested against search-ins in one of the consular buildings and car confiscation by Latvian army and expulsions and mobilizations of their citizens.  The nota demanded to make assertive steps until 8 December 12:00 or else the consulates will inform the representatives of Etente and make similar steps towards Latvian citizens in their territory. UNR was concerned by significant flow of refugees of Ukrainian nationals from Russia into Latvia. Latvian Foreign Ministry mostly supported the consulate and even gave it a credit for refugee transit and organization of the courier service.

Latvia and UNR also had numerous contacts in other countries. In London, Great Britain Latvian representative Georgs Bisenieks and UNR counterpart Yaroslavl Olesnitsky made regular meetings informing each other of the military events in both countries. In Warsaw, Poland the Latvian representative Atis Ķeniņš considered an establishment with UNR a top priority. He reported to Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis that Ukrainians eagerly wants to make friends with Latvia from whom they want to receive support such as military instructors and aides for economic recovery. Ukrainians also hoped that after liberation of Daugavpils, Ukraine could receive a transit of clothing, shoes and ammunition for its army of 200 000 men. Atis Ķeniņš in talks with Ukrainian side suggested that Latvian Provisional government needs to send emissary to Kyiv. On December 10 1919 the head of UNR directory Symon Petliura with UNR foreign minter A.Lvicky gave nota to Keniņš in Poland where they recognized Latvian independence and their Provisional Government.

On January 2 1920 Volodomir Kedrosky arrived in Riga to establish UNR diplomatic mission. The diplomatic mission was located at Antonija iela 6 (presently within the territory of the Russian embassy). In spring a UNR press bureau was established that informed Latvian press about military and political events in UNR. UNR expected that Latvia will recognize their independence in return without delay. However, Latvian priority was to gain acceptance from Poland first as both countries shared important military ties and shared common border. Only after Latvian –Polish relations suffered brief deadlock after failed talks in Warsaw in March 1920 on March 25 Z. A. Meierovics sent nota to Symon Petliura where he recognized UNR independence. Polish emissary Bronislav Boufal expressed disappointment and call it a result of change in relations between Poland and Latvia. A. Meierovics explained his policy in People’s council on March 10 where he rejected Polish demand to restore the Polish borders of 1776 that would include Belarus and Ukraine. He instead accented the need for sovereign countries in Belarus and Ukraine and reviewed the UNR situation as difficult regarding its relations with Soviet Russia who is not looking for peace with UNR and instead has created a rival Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Polish society was generally against Ukrainian and Belarusian independence while Polish government including General Jozef Pilsudsky was cautiously supportive. Meanwhile UNR military representative in Poland colonel general Viktor Zelinsky asked Latvian military representative Mārtins Hartmanis to support the transfer of Ukrainian soldiers within former units of Yudenich White Guard army stationed in Alūksne to Ukraine including Belarusian general S. Bulak-Balahovich of whose 884 men 24% were Ukrainians. While Latvian side expressed support the UNR mission in Riga was not interested and did not make any contacts with Latvian General Staff. As joint Polish and Ukrainian offensive started Latvian side asked to find out if within soviet prisoners of war there are Ukrainians who could be sent to UNR and found 11 men. However, UNR diplomatic mission did not respond.

On June 2 1920 in Vinnytsia UNR governmental declaration stated that it’s in most importance to have good neighboring relations with Romania and gain most positive agreement with solidary Baltic States. For that reason on June 2 all Latvian citizens serving in UNR army were relieved of duty as both countries have recognized each other. In return Latvia promised to work on refugee re evacuation to Ukraine. Latvian government sent the representative of Refugee re-evacuation society to Ukraine Stulmanis who on June 1 arrived in Kovel and June 3 in Zhytomyr  to make talks with Polish military who was widely responsive and then planned to go to Kyiv, but as situation in front quickly changed he was forced to head back to Latvia.

In August 6 1920 in Bulduri the Baltic States conference was opened to discuss foreign affairs between Baltic countries. UNR tried to gain direct entry into conference. Ukrainian and Belarusian people’s republics sent applications and sent a delegation of journalist Alexander Sadikovsky, V, Kedrovsky, A, Shlugin, economist Mykola Dobrilovsky, businessman S, Frankfurt and L, Zadorzhnij. The head of Lithuanian delegation Jons Šaulis on August 19 issued declaration where he expressed concerns over Ukrainian participation as it would cause protest from Soviet Russia and also doubted the need of Ukrainian participation in the Baltic States conference. Lithuanians however, would still participate even if Ukrainians were admitted. On August 20 it was decided that Belarus cannot take part while UNR can take part as full-time member of the conference. UNR issued memorandum about their state history and current demands and interests. On August 31 UNR representatives signed the project for political convention where member states committed for joint de iure recognition and settle their quarrels in a peaceful way. Few days later a military council was made to create a joint military convention (Lithuania stepped out of it for political reasons) UNR representative colonel Danilchuk and lieutenant colonel Didkovsky. The project for military convention was concluded on October 18-30 that had to be approved by all five member states. Both these conventions were never realized.

Month later in September 21 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Union came to discuss peace agreement. Also Soviet Ukraine delegation took part. On October 5 a ceasefire was signed after which UNR senator present in Riga V. Sheluhin and chief of the diplomatic mission V. Kedrovsky gave nota to head of the Polish delegation Jan Dabski where they protested that UNR and Polish diplomatic relations were not taken into concern and UNR had to take part in peace talks. Same nota was also given to Latvian side. Meanwhile Latvia was concerned over the fate of thousands of Latvian refugees in Soviet controlled Ukraine and decided to start talks with Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic causing UNR protest that reminded of joint independence recognition and that Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic is just puppet regime by Soviet occupants. On February 19 1921 Latvia replied that it always supports the Ukrainian strive for freedom, but the real situation demands to hold talks with power presently in Ukraine. On February 21 1921 UNR diplomatic mission left Latvia and closed the consulate. On May 1921 both Latvian and Ukrainian Socialist Soviet representatives met and both recognized each other’s sovereignty. Thus the Latvian and UNR relations were completely canceled even if year later the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic ceased to exist as sovereign state and was included into Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.

Latvian and Ukrainian relations during 1917-1921 was based on mutual sympathy even more than between Latvia and Belarus. Contrary to Belarussian People’s Republic the UNR had more chances to establish independent nation and therefore received more international support. However, similar to Belarus it could not survive the wars with Soviets, Poles and anarchist warlords. Plus it was disturbed by its own inner power struggle. Had the events for UNR inside Ukraine would be more fortunate the relations between Latvia and UNR would continue in positive environment as contrary to Belarus both countries had no territorial or ethno-political issues. However, Latvian foreign policy was based on realpolitik – after the Polish-Soviet peace agreement ­it was clear that UNR has no more possibility to exist and Latvia moved on to start talks with Soviet Ukraine. As Latvian top priority was to gain peace agreement with Soviets and settle the refugee question. Today Ukraine is top priority to Latvia foreign policy. Latvian policy is to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russia and it does not recognize Russian occupation of Crimea. Both sides supports each other in various way. However, one must always beware from times when fates of many are dictated by realpolitik and survival.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons Ēriks. Latvijas attiecības ar Ukrainas Tautas Republiku (1919-1921) Latvijas Vēsture  Jaunie un Jaunākie laiki 2003 4(52)

Miņins, Aldis (2015) Cīņa par varu Krievijas postimpērijas Rietumu perifērijā. 1917-1920

http://garnizonakauss54.blogspot.com/p/pradzins-fotgrafijas.html

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