There are many theories about the mystical power of the number 13. Some say that its simply a number and all bad associated it’s just a superstition. Others however note the great power of this number the powerful events good or bad that brings significant change. Those who believe the power of number 13 can turn to pages of the Latvian history and see what happened in Riga in January 13 on year 1905, 1991 and 2009. It was a release of great energy that brought destruction and even deaths and made significant changes to whole nation. The 13 January is a mythical date in Latvia associated with revolution, violence and change. And since five years have passed since the last great 13 January lets take a look of what happened here in Riga at this date.
1905 13 01
In the end of November 1904 in largest Russian imperial oil production city Baku a one day general strike took place. Few days after that a general strike in largest metal production factory in Petersburg took place. Soon many common factories in the city joined them. In 9 January (22 January according to Modern Julian Calendar) 150 000 people joined in march to the Winter Palace to give petition to the Czar about improving their living conditions. At the first ranks the workers marched with pictures of the Tsar Nicholas II and the Saints. The march was led by the Orthodox priest Gapon who later turned out to be agent of Czarist secret police. When people approached the Winter Palace they were met by Tsars guard corps. It’s not clear who gave the order to fire at the unarmed crowd, its doubtful that is was the Czar Nicholas II himself, but the guards opened the fire killing around 130 people making the first Bloody Sunday in 20 century. It was beginning of the 1905 Russian revolution the movement against the Tsar autocracy. Russia was in deep economic crisis and in despair after the humiliating defeat against Japan.
Latvia was no stranger to troubles of Russian Empires. Riga was one of the largest industrial centers in Western Russian provinces with large workers class. The main political movement in Latvia at those times were the Latvian Social democratic Workers Party. The living conditions for Latvian workers were slightly better than their compatriots in Russia, however the national factor was also eminent as the Latvian workers struggled against the autocracy by Russian Authority and local Baltic German elite.
The Social democrats issued a general strike in 12 (26) January in protest of innocent victims in Petersburg. The strike moved to Liepaja, Venstspils, Jelgava, Daugavpils and went on for 12 days.
In 13 January some few ten thousand workers singing revolutionary songs with red flags marched from Moscow suburb on the Great Moscow street to the city center. On the present day Railroad bridge at the time the Iron bridge the protestors were stopped by Riga junior officer school soldier company. The signal of warning was given by the drummer and the order to crowd to fall out was issued. But crowd continued to move ahead. The pressure of last rank marchers to the first rank marchers were so great that the first line of soldiers were pushed back. They took away the drummers sword, one junior officer got hit in the head by a rock. The protestors climbed on the bridge on started to throw rocks at soldiers some even had pistols. In this moment from Kungu (Lords) street another junior officer company came. The protestors were now besieged. When the protestors started to take away guns from soldiers hands, the officer gave the order to fire. Three rounds of fire were held at the protestors as the snow turned in bright red. A panic and disorder came out as the some attempted to jump on the icy river Daugava to escape. But the ice was too thin and many drowned.
73 were killed , 200 wounded and the number of the drowned were unknown. Also the police pristav Bilev was fatally wounded. Seven soldiers were wounded. One of the wounded was the young poet Antons Austriņš. His friend the famous poet Jānis Akuraters who also was in the crowd was so worried about his friend that the idea of new revolutionary song was born. “Ar kaujas saucieniem uz lūpām! (With battle cries on the lips)” lyrics by Jānis Akuraters and music by Jūlijs Sproģis became the symbol for Latvian leftist revolutionists.
The 13 January ignited the revolution in Latvia that went on for two years. The revolution was present in the streets of Riga and other cities and the peasants also joined by uprising against the Baltic German landlords. Although the events in Latvia followed the spirit of the Russian social democrats and communists the nature of them was more nationalistic as Latvians hoped to achieve national autonomy from Russia and break the local Baltic German tyranny. The revolution at the end was crushed by bloody punitive expeditions and repressions. Today some historians and philosophers say that the Latvian revolutionary spirit was killed in 1906 and resulted in Latvian passivity to resist foreign and internal injustice for years to come.
1991 13 01
The center of the main events in January 13 was not in Riga, but in Vilnius Lithuania. By that the revolution in three Baltic states had already started, but this time it was a national revolution to break away from the collapsing Soviet Union.
In 11 March 1900 Lithuania declared full independence from the Soviet Union. This was met with great resistance from Moscow and the president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev who now started to revert his own reforms. All the attempts to stop Lithuanian breakaway failed and in the following months Latvia and Estonia also declared the restoration of independence. A conspiracy was born within the corners of Kremlin and the KGB building to initiate a provocations in all three Baltic countries to install direct presidential rule from Moscow to effectively halt the restoration of the independence.
The task was given to local Kremlin supporters (Interfront in Latvia, Yedvistvo in Lithuania), local KGB and Interior ministry units (OMON in Latvia) and the Soviet Army. The deadline for it started in January 1991. In 2 January the Soviet Interior forces stormed the main building of the Lithuanian communist party central committee and the press center. Next day in Riga the OMON did the same with the Latvian press center. In 7 January a commando units were sent to three Baltic states “to aid the mobilization of the youth in the Soviet Army.” The commander of the Baltic War region Fjodors Kuzmins promised that no active actions will not take place until January 13.
Next day in 8 January the large crowds of Lithuanian Yedinstvo (Intefront) supporters took the streets to demand resignation of the Lithuanian nationalistic government. Mob attempted to storm the parliament building and were pushed back by land guards and police loyal to the national government. Next day the Lithuanian government lead by Kazimira Prunskiene resigned over issues of raising the prices for food products. Latvian government in mean time declared the entry of the Soviet special forces illegal and asked for people not to make any contacts with them.
As the fear of the Soviet reaction is the air in 12 January the Latvian People’s Front issues a All -Latvia manifestation in 13 January with goal to support the democratically elected Latvian government. In Moscow the Latvian prime minister Ivars Godmanis meets the Mikhail Gorbachev who promises to not allow violence in Riga, while secretly plotting one with his KGB colleges.
In the night of January 13 at Lithuanian capital Vilnius the attempt to stop the Baltic independence starts. Soviet tanks along with special forces team Alpha storm the Lithuanian parliament, TV and Radio building and telegraph. The time seemed right as it was night and the world’s attention was driven to Gulf War. But, the Soviet military was not expecting a resistance from unarmed crowd that gathered to defend the TV tower and TV studio and the Supreme Council building (parliament building). In the struggle between civilians and tanks 14 people were killed leaving Soviets to withdraw instead of attacking and making more casualties.
The reaction in Latvia was immediate, as in 04:45 the leader of the Latvian People’s Front Dainis Īvāns on the state radio called people to protect the states strategically important buildings from possible Soviet attack. In 14:00 500 000 people gathered to 11 Novembra Krastmala the same site where the events of the 1905 took place. A protest manifestation condemned to events in Vilnius and called to the defend Riga. The Time of the Barricades had begun. It was one of the landmark moments in history of the Latvian national unity.
2009 01 13
In 2009 it was all different in Latvia. The economic crisis and the great dissatisfaction with the parliament that lead to crisis made many people to come out and protest. This time it was no longer foreign oppressor it was the own elected parliament Saeima.
In the beginning of the 2009 the opposition party Society for Different Policy and 25 other NGO’s signed a petition to the president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers to dissolve the parliament and to make a just, democratic and competent state order. The signers asked people to gather at the Dome Square at 13 January to hold the “peoples meeting”. Soon after that an unknown people on the internet called for violent uprising and gather near the parliament building. The call was investigated by the Security Police. The parliament building is just a street away from the Dome Square.
The gathering took place in 17:30 in 13 January. Ten thousand people came with posters and flags. On the stage many publicly known people held speeches and singers played songs. Many times the call for dissolving the parliament was heard.
The meeting ended with people moving to parliament building. During the meeting some may notice suspicious young people masked in robes with backpacks and group of Russian youngsters waving flag of Russia. There was a aggressive sentiment along the crowd and possible a special unit of provocateurs who drove it even further.
And then the sudden a fights erupted with police and the protesters and people started to throw cobblestones at the parliament building. Apparently someone had necessary equipment to get the cobblestones out of the ground and by that a fire of stones, eggs and bottles were thrown at the police and the parliament building. If that was not enough the crowd tried to break in the parliament building that was closed at that time.
After the hour of struggle the special forces came in and pushed the rioters from the parliament building. The riot was pushed back to Dome Square. However, now rioters turned to vandalizing state and private property in the streets of Old Riga. The windows of the National library were shattered, Finance and Economics ministry were vandalized. A special site for “revolutionaries” was the alcoholic drinks shop that was demolished and robbed. Some say that the crowd even had intention to attack the Monument of Freedom.
Riots were eventually stopped. 50 people were wounded, one schoolboy rioter lost an eye. 13 police members were wounded. The president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers reacted by issuing the three demands to the government to solve the imminent problems or to face resignation. In 16 January a riots broke out in Vilnius on the similar scenario when peaceful gathering turns in the attack on the parliament building.
Only in 2012 first 15 suspects were sentenced for taking part in a riots showing utter inability by law defenders to handle such situations. Although numerous footage showing signs that the outbreak of riots were planed in advance, the Security Police issued that the riots were spontaneous.
The rioters were mainly from the young generation both Latvian and Russian. Many of them jobless or studying for their own money may had violent resentment against the state. Many after the 13 January riots thought that Latvia is again on the revolutionary spirit as in 1905 or 1991. But, no great riots or uprising has not happened again in Latvia after that. While people of Greece constantly rebel the austerity policy set by foreign powers, Latvia peacefully and almost reluctantly came trough the crisis. Many probably felt ashamed by the vandalism in 13 January and the notion that they did not achieve much. Yet the 13 January 2009 is a symbol for many small rebel organizations such as antiglobalists and Russian nationalists. Their leader Vladimir Linderman formed a party called the “13 January Movement” that now is called “For native language!” showing the real nature of the 13 January 2009 riots.
These were the three most important 13 Januaries in the history of Latvia. Today in 2013 January 13 a rather peaceful meeting was held by Solidarity meeting to commemorate the 1905 13 January. Only one person was held by the police. The future will keep secret what will happen in future 13 January’s, but lets hope it will bring only good for Latvian people.