May 4 199o is a landmark day in Latvian history. On this day Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted declaration On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia who made way for regaining independence from the Soviet Union. Even though the real independence was gained in 1991 August 21, May 4 has been celebrated as second independence day in Latvia.
It’s complicated to discuss the whole process of making the declaration possible there is a need a for a few big posts, so this post will give a short survey what has happened in Latvia since May 4 1990.
The people behind the regaining of independence were Latvian Peoples Front a large national organization turning into a political force. Since the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev allowed opposition to communist party LPF gained large success in the election. A large representation of LPF in Latvian SSR Supreme Soviet made possible to restore independence. Also important factor was support of progressive communist party members. The chairman of Supreme Soviet was Anatolijs Gorbunovs who backed whole process. The Latvian Communist party was split in the orthodox anti nationalists lead by Alfrēds Rubiks and progressive communists who were ready to support independence. Strong opposition was International Workers Front an organization created to tackle LPF. However the nationalist politicians won the upper hand. The soviet government from Moscow were unable to shut down the Latvian independence movement completely, it had all necessarily armed force in hand, but it lingered to use it until the end. The two episodes of Moscow response the January 1991 barricades and failed Soviet coup in August were not enough to prevent Latvia from separating from the union.
After the complete restoration of independence leading politicians were quickly thrown in big challenges. Before it the main goal was the restoration of independence, few had exact ideas what to do after. Latvia needed to quickly switch socialism to capitalism and communism to democracy. First years of restored freedom were painful as reforms drastically changed the situation in Latvia.
Economy got a big hit because new leaders lacked a clear view on how things should be done. In the Soviet period Latvia was the industrial center in the USSR. Soviets build a large amount of factories in Latvia and sent thousands of workers from whole union to Latvia. This caused mass immigration and downsize of Latvian majority. This leads to speculate that massive industrialization was intended to assimilate Latvian nation. Large industrial enterprises worked only for Soviet market and were associated with main company bodies in Moscow. Also they were deeply connected with the Soviet military complex and half of the civilian industrial production was actually used for military purposes. After the fall of USSR these factories could no more compete with free market and lost contact with state and Russian military. Large enterprises such as State Electronics Factory, Red Star, Alfa and others bankrupted. State officials done little to prevent whole industry collapsing. Today is still hard to answer could industry be saved and what should be done. However many say that it was impossible to save it. But the loss of large enterprises made a large amount of unemployed people. In the Soviet era there were no unemployment possible since everyone could find the job in a factory.
Reforms hit hard also on agriculture. In Soviet era all agricultural property was in state hands. Collective farming (kolkhoz) was the main subject in the country. When private property was established kolkhoz’s failed as the land was privatized. In Soviet times all farm land was sowed and farms were rich, now because of poor handling of private property land became poor and undeveloped.
Despite those large problems politicians finished reforms and introduced capitalism in Latvia. This was done on high prices on peoples wallets. One side became poor other side became rich. Social inequality is eminent today in Latvia.
Politics in Latvia after the restoration was divided more than ever. Latvian Peoples Front quickly split in many political forces. Progressive communists became democrats and assembled new political carriers. The two main leaders of national revival Dainis Ivans and Anatolijs Gorbunovs lost their power. New leaders came from numerous parties. Latvian Way won first election and pushed the reforms ahead. But in next elections new parties showed up. Parliament was divided into small fractions, it was impossible to make stable government. At every election new “savior party” showed up. Parties like Saimnieks (lord), and For Latvia promised more than they accomplished. The first stable party was Peoples Party lead by Andris Skele who won two elections. Party New Era was its main counterpart. Left wing parties always failed in elections. Before the World war Latvian Social-democratic workers party was an eminent elected leader in Latvia, now party is a weak reflection on past party. Russian parties always posed as left wingers and the today Harmony Center is a most successful left-wing party in Latvia. Far right parties have been present in Latvia but not attracted big popularity. An eminent factor in Latvian politics is oligarchs- the gray cardinals. Latvian journalists name three men- major of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs, politicians Andris Skele and Ainars Slesers. The so-called A- team plays a big role in Latvian politics.
Latvia was hit by large financial crisis many times. In 1995 the large bank Banka Baltijai collapsed, Latvia was hit by the Russian default in 1998.The world financial crisis in 2008 hit Latvia so hard that the government had to make big cuts to save the state from bankruptcy. The large unemployment, expensive education forced Latvians to look for work in the European Union. Ireland and Great Britain have large Latvian diaspora. Latvia is again losing its Latvian majority thanks to Latvian migration to the west. However Latvian Russians are migrating to Russia also.
Despite the impending difficulties Latvia achieved many victories. It accomplished its goal to enter the European Union and NATO. The Latvian army took part in NATO missions in Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. Latvian sportsmen won many victories in international competitions. We have Olympic champions, strong hockey team and other sports achievements. Latvian artists especially in the classical music field are worlds best.
The restoration of independence was a logical and important step. The difficulties that go with sovereign state are always present. 20 years are a small period in one states life so Latvia needs to work more to survive in a globalized world. Moses needed 40 years to carry his Jews around the dessert so they could rule on their own, Latvians may need 20 more years to gain more than they have gained today.