Monthly Archives: December 2009

Latvia 2009. A look at the past year

Today at December 30 the year 2009  it’s going to end and new decade will start. As we should know in history the Christian calendar is not the only calendar in this world. Year 2009 is year 5770 for Jews as much it is different for Muslims, Eastern Asians or other cultures with their unique calendars. But since Latvia as much as the Christian world uses the Christian Gregorian calendar let’s have a look what happened in Latvia in year 2009.


2009 January 13 will go down as the Riot day in Old Riga. The cause of the riots was a peaceful demonstration organized by the leftist party Society for different policy (SDP) in Dome square. It took place in the late evening at 18:00 and gathered a large crowd of dissatisfied angry people. Most of them called to dissolve the parliament and many other anti-government calls. After two hours the demonstration ended and people were asked to go home. But most wanted something more than protest and listen to inspiring songs. Among the crowd there were provocateurs who provoke the angry crowd to start a more aggressive protest. One part of the crowd reached the parliament building and attempted to storm it. When they were pushed off Riot police who used tear gas and rubber bullets, they used their own ammunition- stone bricks, which were carved from the streets. Parliament and police were attacked with stone bricks and other objects. When police pushed the crowd from parliament they turned to attack police cars. The main building of Parex bank which was saved from bankruptcy was attacked. The alcohol shop Latvijas Balzāms was robbed and other buildings faced minor damage including National Library. Only one rioter was wounded, he was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet. There many versions why the riot started, it was planed by provocateurs who provoke the crowd to start riot. Indeed there were many young men with masks and riot equipment ready to use. An eccentric rioters were three people two-man and women in fur coat who actively called for storming the parliament.  They were captured in many photos and mocked in many caricatures. But when riots became more violent the bravehearted trio quietly left the scene. It is not clear who were the planners, either local anti-governmetalists, or Russian radicals or even Secret Service of Russian Federation.

Whoever was responsible for the riots, the Government reacted impulsively. Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis called for more security laws to prevent demonstrations around parliament.  He was heavily distressed by the event. But President Valdis Zatlers reacted even more drastic- he gave an ultimatum to the parliament. Until March 31 the parliament must finally enact laws to give rights for the people to dissolve parliament (before only the president had such rights), to change the election laws, to form a commission for economic planning and reorganize the ministries. While some politicians were angry of such ultimatum, since the constitution does not give the president such rights. But the warning for parliament dismissal made them to do it and the demands were met.

At the following month Prime minister done deal with the International Monetary Fund to receive loan to save state economy. The next moths monetary fund was a de facto other government of Latvia, because it actively dictated Latvian government so it can receive the loan.


In February the pressure against Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis become more stronger. Godmanis was first prime minister of independent Latvia when the new country faced tough times even harder than now. So he was remembered as Crisis minister and ironically he again led the country in the event of a crisis. He and his party (Latvian First Party/Latvian Way) was unpopular as well as the Peoples Party who was blamed for the crisis. So he was forced to step down, when President Valdis Zatlers remarked that he can no longer trust him (just a few weeks ago he said that Godmanis is irreplaceable). Godmanis continued to work as deputy and he had more time for his radio show at Radio SWH where he talked about the history of rock. He is still working at Radio SWH as a radio host despite his work in EU parliament.

New coalition was now led by New Era party, the party was in opposition for many years, since it charismatic leader Einars Repse was forced to step down. The prime minister’s office was taken by Valdis Dombrovskis, an ex EU deputy. While Godmanis was an emotional man often sparking anger in discussions, Dombrovskis is serious man not showing any emotions. The coalition was joined by Peoples Party, Civilian Union, Latvia Farmers Union /Green Party, Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and Civil Union.  Latvia First party was left in opposition.   This was a blow to minister of transportation Ainars Slesers– politician determined for power and money. He is a mastermind businessman, a man who has reached the power without any higher education and heartless and vicious politician.

The new government faced large farmer protests in Riga when hundreds of tractors and other farming vehicles arrived at House of Ministers and Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers were angry because of crisis in the milk industry and in other farming sectors. Minister of Agriculture Mārtiņš Roze did not want to resign  until he claimed that he had received threats against him and then resigned.

Another important event was start of the trial against the Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs– viscous and cynical millionaire and oligarch. In the previous year he was arrested for some months, but then set free. He is accused for statewide fraud, corruption, illegal sponsorship of political parties. Despite that he is still a mayor of Venstpils and candidate for the Prime Minister’s office.


In March the Government lead by Valdis Dombrovskis officially begun their work.  During the month it became clear that the crisis will mean the drop of 20% of GDP at the end of the year. The government tried to apply  all demands of Zatlers, despite that all demands were not met. But Zatlers decided not to dissolve parliament for it must solve the crisis problems.


April was a rather calm month without important events. Parliament voted to make possible for people to dissolve parliament, but the law was made so cleverly made that large margin would be needed to dissolve the parliament.  Latvian voters most times are too apathetic to gather a large number of votes in a referendum.

Monetary Fund predicted bad future for Latvia, the financial difficulties which would mean hard times for almost every citizen in Latvia. Education, Healthcare, Police in following months faced real difficulties. Schools were closed, hospitals closed or stripped of money and policemen  fired. The fall of GDP would be biggest in the whole world. And it really was.

April was also the loss of high paid offices to people who were employed by ex-minister of Transportation Ainars Slesers. In his years in office he put in high offices his party members, friends, business partners and even the son of his car driver. He was called an “octopus”  whose tentacles were all around transportation sector.


May was electoral month for Municipal elections. The most bitter fight was fought for Riga. The Mayor of Riga was Janis Birks from Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK. But his party was highly unpopular. The two most prominent rivals for Riga was Nils Ushakovs from Harmony Center and Ainars Slesers. Harmony Center is a union of leftist mostly pro-Russian parties. In past 20 years no Russian party was never close to any high seat. But because of the growing unpopularity of Latvian right parties, Harmony Center now had a chance to secure their first victory. Harmony Center used the Victory Day on  May 9 to stage a large election rally near the Soviet Victory monument. Nationalist Parties to gain Latvian favor used national factor against Harmony Center. Fatherland and Freedom spent a large sum of money for anti-Russian commercials.    The national hysteria was eminent and reached the highest point at Victory Day when a large crowd of Russians gathered to celebrate Soviet Victory. Soviet symbols and songs was all around if that was not enough, the other Russian party For Civil Rights in United Latvia staged a “Russian March”. The marchers were dressed in Monarchist Russian uniforms and were waiving Russian flags.

While Russian nationalists fought battle with Latvian counterparts, Ainars Slesers staged his own election campaign for takeover of Riga. A big posters of Slesers face was all around Riga and TV was filled of commercials with call “Slesers! Who Else?” A rather shorthanded where New Era Party who made foolish commercials warning not vote for parties who will take pies away from citizens. Civic Union leader Girts- Valdis Kristovskis was portrayed as a strong man and was called Krrristovssky!!! to promote his toughness.


The turnout on election in Riga was not surprising. Harmony Center won because of support of the Russians and leftist Latvians. Slesers was beaten by Kristovskis, the New Era party was elected. But Fatherland and Freedom lost all of their seats despite their big election campaign. In same time elections for EU parliament were taken where Civic Union won, as well as Fatherland and Freedom, Latvia First Party and New Era Party. Russian parties took to Brussels two famous enemies of Latvian independence Tatjana Zhdanoka and Alfrēds Rubiks, both during 1988-1991 fought against the succession from USSR. Now they were representing Latvian state.

But just after the election the people of Latvia were taken by big shock.  Government issued that more cuts in budget needs to be taken and another 500 million Lats needs to be saved. This meant the shortage of 20% from salaries, and 10% of pensions.  The pays of working pensioners were cut drastically so working pensioners were forced to quit their jobs.  This big cut was planned long before this but because of elections were not issued to the public.


In July Nils Ushakovs was elected as Mayor of Riga. Ainars Slesers allied with Harmony Center and became Vice-Mayor. It is  a question who is the real ruler of Riga- the young ex-journalist Ushakovs or mastermind Slesers. They both appear together and even wear the same red ties. They are called Sleshakov or Evil Twins or Brothers.

At government the rivalry between two arch enemies New Era Party and Peoples Party started to deepen. Eccentric Minister of Healthcare Baiba Rozentale demanded 45 millions for her sector.  A controversy started when the secret agreement with Monetary Fund was disclosed declaring that if government could not save 500 millions other way then progressive taxes on people with more than 500 Lats salary needs to be issued along with other taxes.


Because the 2010 Parliamentary election campaign was close, three parties- New Era party, Civic Union, and Society for Different Policy joined forces and formed a united force “Unity”.

August was celebration of Baltic Way (1989) and the commemoration of Hitler-Stalin pact.

The last week of August was marked with a small uprising in the town of Bauska. Angry citizens protested against the closure of town hospital and blocked the main road leading to the Lithuanian border. Local police joined the protesters, but Riga sent heavily armed Riot Police and dispersed the crowd.


All September was spent in argues about the new 2010 budget. New Era Party and Peoples party almost collapsed the government.


In October the ex-president Vaira Vike Freiberga applied for candidature for President of EU. She failed to reach important office, but chances were low anyway.    The talks about budget continued.  Andris Skele a man who was prime minister three times and founder of Peoples Party issued that he will come back to politics to save his party from failing in elections and save whole Latvia.

A humorous or other hand stupid event occurred when news of space meteorite impact near town Mazsalaca hit the world. This was welcomed by scientists and people as something exiting until it was clear that meteorite impact was a hoax. The “crater” and “meteor parts” were faked and this was done by mobile phone operator Tele2 to promote their new tariff plan.  Security officials were angry about this and ordered Tele2 to pay compensations for false meteorite  alarm.


At November Latvia first in its history faced deflation, before this inflation was eminent in Latvia. Government organized budget.


In December 1 the Budget was approved. On the approval day big protests by motorcycle owners, University students and the people of town Līvāni.  Motorcyclists were angry about tax on motorcycles, students were outraged by cuts for higher education and people at Livāni tried to blockade Riga-Daugavpils road but were repulsed by police. At the end of the month the Constitutional Cort decided that cuts for pensioners were against the constitution and ordered the government to pay money to pensioners back.

So the year 2009 was year of troubles in Latvia. The next year does not promise any lighter times in the economy. In year 2009 the relations with Russia lightened as the new government of Riga tried to make deals with Moscow. However Russian government still is not making relations lighter by staging military maneuvers near the Latvian border and blocking trade traffic to Russia. It was also a year of emigration- large masses unable to pay their loans and find jobs left Latvia to find a job and home in another country. The amount of emigrants is larger than numbers in 1944-1945 when people fled from the Soviets, now people are escaping from their own country.

As this  year the view of Latvia in the eyes of other world worsened. Latvia was viewed as a Failed State and disaster in Europe. No doubt it is a fault of Latvians themselves that Latvia is viewed so badly, that’s because this blog exists to show what happened and what is happening in Latvia from the eyes of Latvian citizen.


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The Move of Faculty of History to new home. A story of old home

The old building at Brīvības Boulevard right in middle between Monument of Freedom and House of Ministers

Today The Faculty of History and Philosophy of University of Latvia are moving to new address.  Yes the finance crisis has finally forced us studying and educating historians move from old place at Brīvības Boulevard 32 to Mārstaļu street 28/30. The rumors and discussions about leaving old home has been present for a long time. The house did not belong to University, it was property of ” State Real Estates” and University paid rent for it. Now since the finance crisis has affected nearly everything in Latvia, the University finally decided to save money and move historians and philosophers out. There were three possible destinations the Lomonosov street in one house Social Science faculty, the University main building and Mārstaļu street in Old Riga near river Daugava. The first two choices were not satisfactory and even disgraceful as we would have to share place with students from other faculties. The building at Mārstaļu street was smaller than old building, but at least was located in Old Riga and was Universities property.

Even if move destination was not bad common resentment about the move was shared among many students, professors and other graduates. For old building was home for every historian since 1946. All of our professors, lecturers and other workers has studied and worked there all their lives.   For many of them building in Brīvība Boulevard was their second home.

Today at 22. December the ceremonial removal of faculty sign occurred and processions by students and professors took place to new home.  Professor  Alberts Varslavans one of the first who started his carrier in Brīvības Boulevard give a small speech and told that this building will forever will be related to historians, “no matter what will happen with this building after we leave, there will always be flavor of historians present in every corner of this building”.

The Dean of Faculty removes the old sign

The building was built in 1875. by architect H.K. Sheel   It was property of German family von Trazee. At 1917.  it was home for Latvian Rifleman regiment united soviet executive (The Iskolatstel). At 1918. it was home of Separate Student company- one of the first military formation of Army of Latvia.  At times of Freedom, building was used for many purposes.  Mentioned creditors and estate owners settled there.  Restaurants and even cabaret club was there. Cabaret Restaurant “Parka Pagrabs” (“Park Basement (Vemanis Park was nearby)) was famous among many Latvian artists, writers and journalists.

Soviet regime did not respect any private property so they decided to move historians and philologists to this new home. Before they shared the main building at Rainis Boulevard. The First floor was used by popular souvenir and clothing shop “Sakta” (“Brooch”). It was popular shopping place in Soviet Era.

Philologists eventually became separate from historians and philosophers came together with them. Both had their own libraries. Main lecture room was 1. auditory- big hall capable of holding more than 100 students. There the main lectures and exams took place. Others were smaller. The third auditory was most technically advanced, presentations and  movie shows took place. In there the examining of Bachelor and Master works  were taken. Last floor was mostly used for philosophers.  In Soviet Era faculty even had its own cafeteria. After it was closed, students were forced to use coffee machine of head to main building or use private cafeterias. At 2006. legendary shop “Sakta” was closed and space became used by Latvian Post service and Narvesen shop and Index cafe.

Now Faculty has new home. It’s near river Daugava. In front of new faculty stands abounded House of Darnenstein a monument of history. At first glance the new stairs and corridors of new home feels narrow, but at least we are on our own in Old Riga.

Farewell and Good-by Brīvības Boulevard, Hello to Mārstaļu street.

The new location at old Riga

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Latvia and the Hanseatic League

Map of Hanza member cities and trade routes

In Ancient times the main traders in Europe were Romans. They maintained a sharp system of trade routes across their empire. Rome was filled with goods from East and West. After the breakdown of Roman Empire during the so-called “Dark Ages” full-scale trading in Europe was halted. During this time the masters of trade were Byzantines, Arabs, Persians and Chinese.  However when European medieval states started to grow stronger, European traders again begun to compete with their eastern rivals.

Before exploring the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, Europeans sailed three main seas- the North Sea, Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean sea. The Mediterranean Sea was an old trade route. In Ancient times it was the “Greek frog pond“, then it was fully owned by the Romans.  The heirs of Romans were Italian sailors, the Genoa and Venice were the main centers for trade. Constantinople was also important until it was taken by the Turks. North and Baltic seas were less known to Greeks and Romans, few of their sources describes them, there even was expeditions made by Greeks and Romans. But since the shores of these seas were inhabited by less-civilized peoples they did not find them so tempting. So it was the British, Scandinavians and Germans who will make those seas a proper trade route.

One of the first German ports was   Lübeck. It was founded by Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony. Based on good position the city in the 13th century became a base for merchants from Saxony and Westphalia. The word Hansa came from intention to form special guilds to trade with other cities.   Lübeck was especially interested in Baltic region where resources such as timber, wax, amber, furs, etc. came from. Rye and wheat were also important. Also the trade ships were important for the Crusades because ships were used to transport troops to conflict ground.

The Holsten gate of Lubeck

Lübeck and Hamburg made alliance in 1241 marking the start of the Hanse. It was based on cooperation between the cities and guilds to ease up trading and gain profit. Hanse was joined by Cologne and London. The main center of the alliance was Lübeck, it was Imperial Free city which meant that it has vast possibilities than other German cities.  The administration was Hansa Diet founded the 1356.

Because Russia was the important trade source, Hansa moved to the east. Livonian cities, Riga, Venstpils, Cesis, Valmiera, Kuldiga, Limbaži and Straupe became the part of the Hansa.  Ventspils was important port in Courland; ships could sail across river Venta to Kuldiga. Ventspils never lost its port’s importance as now it’s a main rival to the port of Riga. Kuldiga in other hand is no more used for ships.

The port of Ventspils

Riga as the biggest city was center for stock of all trade sources. Many Guilds worked there and it was the main trade spot in Livonia only to be countered by Tallinn ( Reval). From Riga ships sailed to Koknese and from there the route ended in Smolensk, Vitebsk and Polotsk.

The port of Riga

The last trade route from Riga to Tallin (Reval) across the river Gauja was mostly on land and headed to Novgorod and Pskov. In Russian towns Hansa had kontors– trade offices.

The 14th century was “Golden age” for Hansa. It took the monopoly on trading in the Northern seas. Hansa was so powerful that it could even wage war on a sovereign country- Denmark.  Destroying their fleet and sacking their cities Hansa used force to get full control over Scandinavia. However at the end of the century Hansa lost the war to Dutch rival merchants and the Hansa monopoly was broken.

15th century is called the “Autumn of Medieval ages”. The economic crisis did not spare Hansa. As Crusader knight regimes was defeated and Novgorod was annexed by Russian Tzar Ivan III. The cities  begun to rival with each other. Danzig (Gdansk) started to gain much more from Poland and became much larger than Lübeck. The Polish government tried to take over Danzig, but were repulsed. But the Dutch sailors became even more dangerous for Hansa, as they aggressively competed with Hanse. They succeeded making Hansa more and more weaker.

In the 16th century Hansa was no longer a key player. Swedish Empire was more powerful. Russia was no longer in trade business and because of centralization the cities no longer were so independent. Hansa could not make trade route to newly explored New World. The last formal meeting between the cities were held in 1699. The cities of Livonia did not take any part in them long before.

However the power of Hansa has not faded from historical memory. The word Hansa is used in the names of ships, companies (Lufthansa), the Swedish bank Swedbank was called Hansabank in Latvia for many years. There is even a PC Game The Rise of Hansa where Riga is also included (however pretty badly as it is shown as Russian town wit Orthodox cathedrals). Hansa is the symbol for the most active member towns, such as Riga. Riga is proud to be a former member of the Hanseatic League.

The logo of Hansa bakery.

Selected Sources

Hammel-Kiesow, Rolf. (2000) Die Hanse. München: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

Hanno Brand (ed.) (2007) The German Hanse in past & present Europe : a medieval League as a model for modern interregional cooperation? Groningen : Hanse Passage/Castel International Publ.


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