Monthly Archives: July 2013

Jews of Latvia fighting for Latvian Independence 1918-1920

The cover of the Jewish Liberators Society almanac "The Liberator"

The cover of the Jewish Liberators Society almanac “The Liberator”

During the war of independence the new Latvian Republic faced many enemies and nearly impossible task to form own Latvian armed forces. The Bolsheviks wanted Latvia as part of the new Worldwide Socialist republic, while the Baltic Germans striven for Baltic Duchy. However, Latvian Provisional government managed to form an army capable to secure our independence. Not only Latvians fought under the Latvian banner. Latvia was a multi-ethnic country and many national minorities also came to help. One of them were Jews. During the war for freedom more than 1000 Jews fought in the lines of the Latvian army. Some of them received highest state awards. 22 men lost their life’s. Many continued their service after the war. This is a story about them. Some of these soldiers were my personal relatives that make this story even more special.

Latvian Jews were at first quite skeptical about the new Latvian state. Many did not believe it could last for long, others still had a sentiment for collapsed Russian empire or even the new Bolshevik regime. Many searched ways to escape conscription and acquired the citizenship of the short lived Peoples Republic of Belarus and Ukraine. Some just declared allegiance to  non-bolshevik Russia, that was still legally acceptable. However, there were people who joined the Latvian army voluntarily or did not resist conscription.  Some Jews gave charity to Latvian army in Ludza the most contributors for the funds to buy a new flag of Latvia were the local Jews.

On Autumn 1919 most Jews started to support the Republic of Latvia. The support rose sharply during the attack of the Army of Bermont.  Jews understood that the free democratic Latvia is the best form of rule for them. The chance for autonomy of education, political and economic freedoms were more tempting than the brutal Bermont rule and the Red terror.

According to latest research 1000- 1200  Jews took part in the war of freedom. With them 12 officers, 19 medics and war employes. Jews also took part in the Latgalian Partisan Regiment. There were also Jews serving the Landeswerh and German land guard.  The most oldest Jewish soldier was 59 year old Haims Šteins and the most youngest was 10 year old Kopel Gorelik. He could be the youngest Latvian soldier ever. He took part in the 2th Cesis Battalion, later 2th Ventspils battalion where he fought the Bolsheviks for four months. He died in Riga in 1935. Jēkabs (Jakovs) Rics was 13 year old when he joined the 4th auto service. Many young Jewish boys either joined or were conscripted. Some had wrong birth date in the passports Mozus Dobrins was considered as 16 year old, while really he was 3 years younger. He was wounded near Jelgava on 20 November 1920 and later discharged as underage.

Many 18-19 year old’s took part. Hiršs Hermanis from Dobele took joined by his own will already on March 1 1919. He was lost in action against the Bermont army on October 9 1919, in the same day 18 year old Hiršs Hirholm also auxiliary soldier lost his life. Many Jews joined simply because they were unemployed and short of money.

On July 1919 when the Estonian army entered Vidzeme, a mobilization for Latvian armed units were issued. From 40 Jewish families, 20 youths showed at the draft point on the first day. Most of them were sent to 4th company, that was nicknamed the “The Mozes Squad”. In the battles of Cēsis 1 man was lost and six were wounded 2 Jews with them. Some Jews from Estonian towns were also called in the Latvian ranks. Jews supported Latvian army in the Latgalian front and joined the partisan units. Others helped in field hospitals. Many Jewish schoolboys defended the city of Liepāja during the Bermont attack, later they came to Latgalian front.

After the war Jewish veterans formed their own societies. Jewish Liberators of Latvia were active society releasing the journal “Liberator” where they gathered all the info about the Jewish soldiers. Also Jewish retired soldier’s society was present.  At the end of the war there were 84% of Latvians, 5,6% Germans, 3,9% Russians, 1,8% Poles, 1,3% Belorussians, and 1,7% Jews. It was a rather high number knowing the situation. Most Jews were only soldiers or private first class (dižkarievis), first class sergeants were Movša Hemohs Maļeckis, Sergejs Mahmoņiks, Jēkabs Zilberbrants, sergeants Boriss Kessels, Mirons Solomonovičš, Boriss Joffe, Leo Goldarbeiters, Šloms Taube, Rafails Sļedzevicš, Josifs Aļšvangs, corporal Oskars Goldblats, Nahmans Hiršovičs, Leiba Models, Nikolajs Zilberts, Nahmans Jakubovicš, Zamuels Klemptners, Jozefs Taics, Šloma Sandlers and others.

According to information gathered by the Jewish organizations 37 men lost their life’s for Latvia. Their names were imprinted on memorial stone made in 1935 in the Riga Old Jewish cemetery.  However, the latest research concludes that actually 23 Jews lost their life’s, 3 died from other causes, one was part of the Landeswerh unit before it was submitted to the Latvian command. One actually survived. 4 men were not Jews, who simply had surnames that resembled Jewish surnames. 4 others may not be Jews. That however does not wash away the courage and dignity of each of these men who gave their lives for Latvia.

Four Latvian Jews received the highest Latvian military award – The Order of Lāčplēsis. All of them were awarded with 4th Rank of the order.  Josifs Hops born on 1898 was from Parnu Estonia and was mobilized into Latvian forces. Before he served in the Russian armed forces. He was admitted to the 1st Valmiera infantry regiment. He fought the Bolsheviks and the army of Bermont. From September 1 1919 he was the squad commander. He was promoted to private first class. He was decorated  with 4th Rank of the Order of Lāčplēsis  for crossing the enemy lines from behind, cutting the telephone wires and assaulting the Mamoņu house. Under heavy crossfire they first reached the enemy post and captured the machine gun along with its crew. After that they turned the machine gun towards the enemy and retreated leaving behind many dead and wounded soldiers. After retiring from office in 1921 he and his brother who also served returned back to Parnu Estonia. In 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded Estonia he joined the Soviet destroyer battalion where he was lost in action.

His brother Zamuēls Hops born on 1890 also served in the Russian army was medic, he then was admitted to Latvian army where he gained the rank of sergeant. He was decorated for his outstanding service as a medic. He survived the Holocaust by evacuating to Russia. He then returned to Estonia where he died on 1962.

Robrts Simons Maļeckis born in 1899 September 17 in Riga was mobilized on October 3 1919. Together with his brother Herman he was admitted to the 1ts Liepāja Infantry regiment. He was decorated for outstanding courage against the Bolsheviks. His brother lived in Soviet Russia and was a high rank official. He joined his brother in USSR and became a communist party member. He and his brother was killed in Great purge of the 1937.

Maksis Gringūts was born in 1896 in Jēkabpils. Served in the Russian ranks, was decorated with the Cross of St George fourth rank. On 1919 he was mobilized in the Latvian army North Latvian brigade. He fought both Germans and Bolsheviks. He received the award for entering the enemy lines from behind and with a rifle fire he dispersed the whole enemy squad allowing for attack to continue and capture two enemy canons. He was later suffered a concussion  and was sent to Border guard. After retiring was caught in smuggling over the Estonian border and fined. He went to France on 1923, later on 1935 returned. He was soon arrested for using fake Czechoslovakian passport. He was jailed from 1936 to 1938 and was dishonored by the Jewish Liberators society. He died in Riga on 1941. Latvian first foreign minister Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics was a Jew from a fathers side, but considered him a Latvian.

Four Latvian Jews received The Order of Three Stars. They received the 5th rank. Hiršs Berkovičš  was from Estonia and voluntary joined the Latvian army. He was a brave soldier who was assigned to difficult tasks and left memoirs of his action in the field. Eliass Rihters fought the Bermont army in Ķemeri, Rīga and Jelgava and was outstanding first line soldier. Zālmans Levinsons and Dāvids Bērs also were awarded.

Nine others were nominated for the order but did not received. Filips Farbmans was a Lithuanian citizen, but joined the Students Company. He showed courage at the battles near Jelgava and Kalnciems. Later he joined the Lithuanian army, but went back to Latvia after the war. Beiness Bērmans a lieutenant of the 5th Cēsis regiment and sergeant Leopolds Šalīts who was the member of the Oskars Kalpaks special Latvian battalion were among the nominated.   The corporal of 4th  Valmiera infantry battalion Jāzeps Binders also my distant relative received the award for capturing the enemy machine gun and as a skilled mechanic he repaired it and used against the enemy. He fought both Bermont and Bolsheviks. Later he was a member of Aizsargi (Civil Guards) and received the Civil Guard cross. From the same 4th Valmiera infantry regiment Zālamans Levitāns made an outstanding act of courage by capturing two Red army soldiers and their machine gun with out using a single weapon. Mozus Lihmans was captured by the Soviets, but escaped captivity. Together with other Latvian soldier he for nine days in cold and hunger reached back his army lines. Leiba Blumbergs was part of the original Kalpaks battalion. Mozus Špungins was one of the first who joined the Latvian army by his own will. Izāks Jāzeps Usikers was nominated to be awarded posthumously.

There was some deserters among the Jews, however their numbers were low. Some Jews fought in Latvia in the enemy ranks mostly in the Bolshevik army together with Latvian Red Riflemen. The Latvian Army was not always tolerant to Jews, there was event of looting the Jewish shops and assaults. Polish army who was present at Daugavpils also made many robberies were Jews suffered. However, in this hard years were Latvia faced many enemies and little support the outstanding courage of these men is to be remembered for ever.

Memorial to fallen Jewish soldiers who fought for free Latvia

Memorial to fallen Jewish soldiers who fought for free Latvia

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks (2013)  Aizmirstie karavīri – ebreji Latvijas armijā 1918.-1940. gadā.Rīga : Biedrība “Šamir”

 Atbrīvotājs : almanachs : Žīdu tautības Latvijas atbrīvotāju biedrības izdevums.  (1931-1933.) Rīga : Žīdu tautības Latvijas atbrīvotāju biedrība.

Dribins, Leo. (2002)  Ebreji Latvijā. Rīga : Elpa


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Modern day Latvia

Latvian Government lead by Māris Gailis on 1995

Latvian Government lead by Māris Gailis on 1995

It’s a bit too early to write a history of the last twenty years of the independent Latvia. Many things that happened and happening right now needs a greater period of time to objectively understand them. Only now Latvian historians are starting to understand the period of the Soviet occupation that was not so long time ago. And me who spent most of youth in the 90ies and 2000ies are not the one to fully describe this time.

Latvia began its second period of independence on a rocky road. The transformation from Communism to Capitalism was a painful experience for many. The difference between Latvia and Russia that Latvia actually had an experience of capitalist economy. So it was Latvian will to restore the former glory of pre-war Latvia.

To enter the free market economy many things had to be sacrificed. Most of the Soviet industry including VEF and Radiotehnika went bankrupt leaving thousand of unemployed people.  There were many reasons for this – 1) the Soviet industry was only made for the Soviet market that broke down completely 2) large part of the civil industry was actually secretly used by the Soviet army 3) Latvian government made an insufficient privatization program that allowed many to do schemes and ruin the enterprises that could be saved. Similar problems happened in the countryside where long hated collective farms were disbanded. However, the new local landowners could not accumulate all of the cultivated lands. In both cases the new private owners of factories and farmland lacked recourses to develop them. Lack of money and working force was the reason why so many things made during the Soviet times went to waste. The new Latvian government could make a pragmatic slow transition to free trade market like Slovenia. However, the newly elected Saeima was again caught up in endless multi-party struggle. A banal reason for the failures of the 90ies was simply the incompetence of the ruling people and will to gain easy money.

Until the new elections in 1993, the official government was the Higher Council of the Latvian Republic a relict from the Soviet past. The leading Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis started a wave of reforms and was best remembered for his portable stoves he introduced for houses without no central heating. The time of 1991 to 1993 was the time of the great lack of recourses and rather chaotic privatization.

Latvian politicians did not learn from the past experiences of the too many political parties. In 1993 the Saeima was elected again since 1931. The Latvian Popular Front that led the independence movement had broken into many movements. It did not even make it to Saeima.  Instead the ex members of the communist party and new born politicians formed a “Club-21”. It was a political interest group that formed a new mass party called “Latvian Way”. It was a right wing centrist party that scored 36 seats in the parliament. The Latvian National Independence Movement (LNIM) scored 15 seats, “Harmony of Latvia, Rebirth and Economy” won 13 seats, Latvian Farmers Union 12 seats, The Russian minority party “Equality” 7 seats, For Fatherland and Freedom 6 seats and Latvian Christian Democrat Union (LCDU) 5 seats. 15 other parties did not gain a single seat.

The fragmented parliament opened the way for the governmental instability that was present before the war. Two short lived Latvian Way governments by Valdis Birkavs and Māris Gailis failed to meet the expectations of the people. Māris Gails ended his reign in 1995 when the country was caught in its first major bank crisis. The Banka Baltija was a large holder of deposits that collapsed because of the scams of their owners. In result large number of people lost their money and the government was unable to return it. For many years the people responsible for the bank collapse was not sentenced showing the impotence of the Latvian juridical system.

The elections of the 6th Saeima on 1995 was even more frustrating. It was the rise of the populism caused by the economic crisis. The Democratic Party Saimnieks (Landlord) gained a 18 seat lead by Ziedonis Čevers, a Minister of Interior during the Godmanis government. Latvian Way scored 17 seats. The Party lead by eccentric German national Joachim Zigerist won 16 seats. Fatherland and Freedom 14 seats, LNIM and Green Party union – 8 seats, Latvian Union Party -8 seats, LFU, LCDU and Latgalian Democratic party-8 seats, Peoples Harmony Party-6 seats and the Latvian Socialist Party -5 seats. That was the apogee of the political instability. No one was able to form a stable government. Then the president of Latvia Guntis Ulmanis elected in 1994 a relative of Kārlis Ulmanis step in proposed and independent candidate – successful non party businessman Andris Šķēle. He managed to lead the country from 1995 to 1997 with two cabinets. During this time certain stability was reached and people started to lose faith in populist parties.

 Latvian people came across on a very sad reality. First: many leaders of the independence movement had lost it’s place in Latvian politics right after the restoration. Instead the political arena was taken by the new born businessman, functionaries of the ex communist party and people who had no connection with the struggle for independence. Second: Latvia inherited heavy burden from the Soviet past – the Soviet immigrants. They did not want to leave and Latvia was unable to force them. The ex Soviet forces now the Army of the Russian Federation was still in Latvia until the full withdrawal in 1994. In so the attempts of decolonization could cause similar bloodshed as in Moldavia and Caucasus. The first instance of the Citizenship law made in 1994 was very strict granting citizenship people born before 1940 and their descendants. That left a large part of the Soviet immigrants. This made Russia to start a constant campaign against Latvia who accused her of discrimination of the Russian speakers. The citizenship law had been improved many times allowing people to naturalize more easily. Until this day some 326 735  people are still without proper passport. The process of naturalization has slowed down because many have chosen the Russian citizenship instead and those remaining are simply unable to pass the language laws. Others want automatic citizenship.

These two problems also the economic failures because of it made many protest groups. The ones who resent the current political system and strive for more national authoritarian government, others who want to revise back to communism. And the third part of people who oppose the government by simply leaving for another country.

The most important decision made by the early leaders was the goal to join the European Union and NATO. It was a door to both economic and political stability and most external security from Russia. The path to integration was hard as Latvia had to fill many obligations, but it was a logical step. Knowing the pre-war experience when Latvia was mostly on its own the membership of the EU and NATO who were seemingly strong at that time was a right move.

The elections of 1997 was a victory for the new Andris Šķēle party known as the Peoples Party (PP). Second came the Fatherland and Freedom, third Latvian Way. Russian Peoples Harmony Center, Latvian Farmers Union, and Latvian Social Democrats the New Party lead by emerging businessman Ainārs Šlesers. This was the landmark election as it sets a new order of the parties that was lasting for many years. The top political leaders – Andris Šķēle, Ainārs Šlesers and the major of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs who supported the LFU became the main political players. Later they were called oligarchs, the A team and was associated with corruption and state forgery. Aside from them the old timer nationalists gathered around The Fatherland and Freedom. In theory they believed in the ideals of the independence movement, but in practice they were caught up in the corrupt political games. The other side growing stronger over the years was the Russian party lists that were born out of remnants of the Interfront movement and new generation of the Russian speaking politicians. As the most Latvian parties except the Social Democrats was right wing, these Russian speaker parties posed as leftist. As the amount of naturalized soviet immigrants rose up this political fraction became stronger to the level until this day. And not without the help from Moscow.

Allegoric painting showing Andris Šķēle as the new God of the Latvian politics

Allegoric painting showing Andris Šķēle as the new God of the Latvian politics

Andris Šķēle won elections, but lost the Prime Minister seat. The nationalist Guntars Krasts became PM, but was replaced by Latvian Way Vilis Krištopāns on 1999. Andris Šķēle finally took back the PM seat in 1999, but May 2000 lost it to New Way Andris Bērziņš (not to confused with the current President of Latvia).

The elections of 2002 brought new political faction in the Latvian politics. The president of the Bank of Latvia Einars Repše decided to stand against the oligarch parties. His new party The New Era achieved 26 seats, Peoples Party 20 seats, Latvian Farmers Union 12, the Ainars Šlesers Latvian First Party – 10 seats, Fatherland and Freedom 7 seats. The Russian party “For Human Rights in United Latvia won 25 seats marking first great success of the Russian fraction. The old timers Latvian Way was voted out of the parliament.

Einārs Repše became the PM and issued ambitious reforms and austerity policy. During his reign, Latvia finally joined the EU. The referendum results was 67,5% for and 32,5% against. Some say since the treaty for joining was signed before the referendum, it had no real effect. However, Norway had signed the treaty for joining EU twice and twice it was rejected by the Norwegian people. And Norway never became the member of the EU. Latvia officially joined the EU on May 1 2004.

In the same year on April 2004 Latvia joined NATO. Latvian National Armed forces were finally found eligible for such organization. Latvia had taken part in the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Consequently Latvian Armed Forces joined the peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali.

NATO summit in Riga 2006 Vaira Vīļķe Freiberga in the middle

NATO summit in Riga 2006
Vaira Vīļķe Freiberga in the middle

From 1999 the new President of Latvia was Professor Vaira Vīķe Freiberga an exile Latvian from Canada. With her great intellectual skills and charisma she gained much respect and admiration in the Western world. Her efforts boosted the joining the EU and NATO. Her tough stance on justice and corruption also made many politicians worried.

Repše did not manage to hold until the official joining in both EU and NATO. He was forced to resign after inter-coalition conflict. The leader of the Green Farmers Party in union with Latvian Farmers Party Indulis Emsis took power. He however made a minority government since the New Era party was against him. On December 2004 his coalition member Aigars Kalvītis from Peoples Party deposed him by voting against the state budget. In a conspiracy a period of oligarch influenced politics followed. Aigars Kalvītis took the PM office, three A – Team parties PP, LFU/GP and Latvian First Party made the monopoly of power for years.

The entry into the united European market opened doors to many goods and many evils. Latvia was overblown with foreign investments; Swedish banking took over most of the local bank sector. Latvia received EU funding. Areas such as education and road building benefited. Soon it also became the source of corruption to gain EU funds for scam projects.

The evils were the completely opened European workforce. Latvians slowly started to travel to places as Ireland, the UK and Germany for better paid work. Latvia reached the EU levels in prices, but not in pays. Another old problem that came from EU was the “servant syndrome”. The servant attitude to foreign powers was inherited from the times of serfdom and became pathologic during the Soviet occupation, when local communists were the most zealous of all to meet the Moscow demands. In the same way the Latvian bureaucracy was eager to meet every EU obligation and recommendation. Sometimes such diligence was disastrous as in example of ridiculous restrictions in the fishing industry that was struggling for years. And also the completely incompetent full liquidation of the Latvian sugar industry. However, it was not 100% strict order from Brussels to destroy all the sugar companies. The owners had a choice either to limit their production and make adjustments or sell their companies. They choose the easy way and sell the companies for large sums of money. Estonia, Lithuania and Poland on the contrary had many times defied the EU demands, interpreted them on their own and used the EU as practically they can get.

The modern Riga skyline - The Swedbank headquarters. Symbol of the so called fat years

The modern Riga skyline – The Swedbank headquarters. Symbol of the so called fat years

The 2006 election was the victory for right wing A team parties. Peoples Party and Latvian First Party used holes in the election law to make a large scale election campaign funded by third party organizations. The massive deception using notable personalities who praised the ruling candidates resulted that in the first time after the regaining of the independence, the ruling parties received a mandate to rule further. The 2006 was also the first election for the Russian party block The Harmony Center.

Aigars Kalvītis took the PM seat again. The economics were booming, real estate market and bank credit business flourished. Kalvītis made an infamous New Year speech where he declared “If no foolishness be done, then we are awaited by seven rich years, fat years if we remember the story about the Joseph!” He promised that Latvia will achieve the European levels of prosperity and Latvians will not work in foreign lands, but be the masters of own land.

The ruling coalition tried to achieve this with little interference in the free market. Swedish banks and local as well encouraged people to take loans for their new homes as the real state market was doing well. From 2006 to 2008 an illusion of prosperity came to many. The austerity was in the past, as Ainars Šlesers declared “It’s time to push the gas pedal!”

However, already in 2003 the British historian Niall Ferguson predicted that the real estate bubble in US will someday burst starting the global economic crisis. As the time went by more people in Latvia also warned of the impending burst of the Latvian economic bubble. People such as the president of the Bank of Latvia Ilmārs Rimšēvičs were ignored by the government. An eminent problem became the inflation that the government was unable to tackle.

However, it was not the faulty economic policies that lead to downfall of Kalvītis. It was an arrogant abuse of power. First such abuse was done in 2007. Vaira Vīķe Freiberga finished her second term in office. Kalvītis felt resentment after she blocked the provisions in the security law. So he needed a loyal president. And in the secret meeting in the Riga city zoo, a famous surgeon Valdis Zatlers was chosen as the right candidate. The fact that a man with no political background was put forward for the highest office of the state was seen as arrogance of the ruling parties by many. The Russian party Harmony Center placed their candidate – Aivars Endziņš – the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, but Zatlers was elected sparking great resentment.

Then Kalvītis went further and tried to remove the head of Anti-Corruption Bureau Aleksejs Loskutovs who was inconvenient for him. However, Loskutovs saw this as an illegitimate act and seek legal action. He was supported by massive protests and people went against Kalvītis corrupt arrogant government. After 3 years of rule Kalvītis resigned on December 2007.

The mass movement against the Kalvītis government was nicknamed the "Umbrella revolution" because of the bad weather that made protesters to bring their umbrellas

The mass movement against the Kalvītis government was nicknamed the “Umbrella revolution” because of the bad weather that made protesters to bring their umbrellas

The Ivars Godmanis came back as PM. He was a long time member of the Latvian Way party and took part in the Saeima. After the Latvian Way went decay and joined with the Latvian First Party Godmanis continued to work in politics as the Minister of the Interior affairs.

Godmanis started good; however he excluded the New Era party from his government that was the instrumental of so called “Umbrella Revolution” that achieved the downfall of Kalvītis. Latvia marked the 90 year anniversary on November. But the long predicted global economic crisis started in the US in August and later reached the EU. At autumn the Latvian locally owned bank the Parex went bankrupt. Godmanis took the step and went to bailout. The bank was nationalized. Again there were certain elements of unlawful activities and two former owners of the bank are in court.

Soon it became apparent that because of the burst of the real estate bubble and inability to cover all the costs the Latvian state budget is in real danger. Kalvītis declared that he has achieved the only surplus state budget in history. Now it turned out that Latvia may be heading for default. Godmanis was forced to ask for International Monetary Fund support. Whole Europe and especially Sweden were desperate to save Latvian economy.

On January 13 2009 the anger about the crisis erupted in full scale riots in the streets of the Old Riga. Valdis Zatlers issued a tough warning on Godmanis to make political changes or risk the dissolving the parliament. Godmanis survived however on March 2009 national resentment and mistrust by the president forced him to step down. Finally the New Era party had a chance to revenge on the oligarch parties. Aivars Lembergs had been already infamous about his corruption charges that lead him to temporary arrest and removal of the major powers of the Venstpils city. However, he has kept his major seat until this day and still holds great influence despite the charges. Andris Šķēle had already left the active politics in 2003 and lead the Peoples Party from behind. Ainārs Šļesers was in active politics. All three parties experienced the great downfall of the voters support. So they were not ready to take responsibility. The new PM from the New Era party Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Other parties had thrown the power upon our feet!” Contrary to eccentric Einars Repše, arrogant Kalvītis and erratic Godmanis, Dombrovskis is cool and well balanced man who could keep calm in most serious situations. Under his guidance Latvia went trough hard austerity reforms that made many unemployed and cut pensions. Latvian Education system and health care suffered greatly.

On 2009 historical turnout was reached in the Riga Municipal elections. The Harmony Center together with the Latvian First Party secured wins in Town council. Nils Ušakovs became the first Russian major of Riga. On 2010 The Harmony Center was wowing to win the Saeima elections and enter the parliament. Since the Harmony Center was union of many Russian parties, the Latvian parties also decided to gather forces. The outcome was rather strange: Unity was formed from New Era Party, Civic Union that actually broke away from New Era and also Fatherland and Freedom, and breakaway party Society for Different Policy that from dissenters of the Peoples Party. Two nationalist parties – the old Fatherland and Freedom/LNIM and new All For Latvia!, Joined to form a National Alliance. And two failed oligarchic parties – the Peoples Party and Latvian First Party/Latvian Way joined in For Good Latvia Block. 3 Latvian party unions against one strong Russian party union, plus the Green Farmers block lead by Aivars Lembergs. Harmony Center declared that are they firmly sure that they would win the elections. However the Unity managed to score 33 seats, Harmony Center – 29, Green Farmers – 22, For Good Latvia – 8 seats and National Union – 8 seats. Unity and Green Farmers formed a two party coalition that proved to be unholy union. Unity politicians and Dombrovskis himself soon found that the coalition work is heavily influenced by Lembergs, who was still in court (and still is). The relations between those two parties became volatile, but nobody was ready to finish them, because there was no real alternative.

Then one of the most decisive moments took place. President Valdis Zatlers looked for support for re-elections. During his four years in office he tried to wash away the reputation of oligarch elected president. He was no longer respected by the Peoples Party that went decay, Green Farmers also sought to remove him. The Unity was reluctant but openly declared support for his re-election. As the re-elections were heading close an unprecedented event occurred in the Saeima. Ainars Šlesrers received as a search order from the corruption bureau.  However, his deputy immunity required a parliament vote to allow the search and persecution. Saeima voted against. The vote was secret, but it was obvious that the oligarch parties and the Harmony Center voted against. Valdis Zatlers used this as a pretext to fulfill his long desire to dismiss Saeima. On May 28 in historical speech Zatlers issued an Order Nr.2 to issue the referendum to dismiss Saeima. He explained that the oligarchic rule is enough and it’s time to elect new parliament that defends justice.

The reaction from the ruling coalition and the parliament was not overly positive. To revenge on Zatlers, the dismissed parliament proposed new candidate Andris Bērziņš from the Green Farmers fraction. He started as the chief of the executive Soviet of Valmiera, later joined Latvian Peoples Front and voted for the restoration of the independence. He achieved great wealth by working as the chief of the Unibank and Latvanergo. He is the wealthiest retired person in Latvia. As Zatlers was still candidate for presidency he was voted against and Andris Bērziņs became the new president. Seen as stooge by the dismissed Saeima Bērziņs was booed by the angry crowd and still has not attained significant support.

Zatlers however did not back down. After the absolute majority voted for the dismissal of the Saeima, he founded a new party. Zatlers Reform Party was the mixture of the members of the old presidential administration, careerists and idealists. However, Zatlers failed to gather popular intellectuals in his party. The election of the 2011 was another turning point. Harmony Center won the elections, Zatlers Party came in second, Unity third, the National Alliance and Green Farmers also made it.

Harmony Center was unable to form the government themselves. They even lacked proper candidates for the Minister posts. The overall standpoint was not to allow Harmony Center into the government. But, then Zatlers came out with an imprudent proposal to form the government with the Harmony Center. In the time of one day the national hero turned into national traitor. It is possible that during his visit to Moscow where he met Russian leaders Putin and Medvedev, Zatlers had privately promised to support Harmony Center entry into the government. To put a more misery to his action Zatlers even said that his decision can only be changed with tanks, sparking memories of June 17 1940. After large opposition from National Alliance and Unity and protests within his own party, Zatlers withdraw his decision. A new government lead by Valdis Dombrovskis, a third time in office was formed. A “Justice Coalition” made of Unity, Zatlers Reform Party and the National Alliance were formed.

The initial battle against the oligarchs had been won, Andris Šķēle and Ainars Šlesers was voted out of the parliament. Ainars Lembergs Green Farmers had been placed into deep opposition.

But, a new national battle was called by the Russian national radicals and the Harmony Center. An ex national Bolshevik Vladimirs Lindermans and his henchmen managed to gather petitions for Russian as the second national language. After it was officially supported by Nils Ušakovs the major of Riga and the leader of the Harmony Center the referendum had to happen. On February 2012 more than 80% of people turned down the two state language solution. But, the radicals had achieved to spark an ethnic confrontation. Similar referendums took part in Ukraine and the Russian occupied territories of Georgia.

The Russian influence of Latvia has been growing steadily over the years. If the Latvian government had given citizenship to all soviet immigrants in 1994 the ethic confrontation had begun earlier. It’s doubtful that the new citizens would support the Latvian right wing parties. The majority of the naturalized citizens vote for the Russian parties anyway. If the ethnic confrontation on the parliamentary level had already occurred after 1994 Latvia would have a harder time to join the EU and NATO. However, because of the help of the Russian soft power and local unwise Latvian politicians the ethnic confrontation steadily formed. Latvian media are filled with Russian radio and TV. The local Russian press is one sided, their cable and satellite TV is filled with Russian retranslated TV sparking Putinist propaganda. Russia has installed many so called “compatriot NGO’s” who supports Russians outside Russia. Russian Foreign intelligence has proven connections with many parties including Latvian. Latvia is one of the weak spots on the EU and NATO map who is prone to even greater intrusion from Moscow.

Book by Dombrovskis and economist Anders Aslund explaining the Latvian crisis policies

Book by Dombrovskis and economist Anders Aslund explaining the Latvian crisis policies

On 2012 -2013 Latvian government declared that the recession has been ended and new growth has been begun. The International Monetary Fund mission ended in 2013. The heavy austerity policies, tax raise and pension cuts that averted state bankruptcy, but made many unemployed and boosted the immigration was called “a success story”. After all the relative recovery and growth was reached. To justify his long years in office and his policy Valdis Dombrovskis pushed for Latvian entry into the Eurozone. This was achieved in 2013 and on January 2014 Latvia will change Lats to Euros. This was done regardless of the opposition and skepticism, Dombrovskis managed to escape from referendums and stiff parliamentary opposition. We will see how good will be this step in Latvian future, but it will be beginning of the New Era.

The true Latvian success story is not made by the government, but by our people. Our talented opera singers, movie directors, actors and sportsman who have brought positive outlook about Latvia. Creativity, willpower and physical strength used for wise and just means are what can bring Latvia forward.

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Latvians in the Western Exile 1944-1991

Latvian Song Festival parade in exile

Latvian Song Festival parade in exile

Latvians have always been proud of their homeland. However, the calamity of WW2 and second Soviet occupation forced many to seek refuge in the Western world. It was a political exile. Exiles where middle class citizens, politicians, intellectuals and patriots. Together with the support of the exiled Latvian diplomats, Western Latvians made organized societies and campaigned for the restoration of independence. For nearly 50 years they actively waited for Latvia to be free again. When the dream was finally realized, many of them were unable to return home and were disappointed about the politics in Latvia. As a new wave of emigration to west dictated by economic means became more important, these people became forgotten. But, the western exiles were the ones who deserve praise for their unity and active struggle for Latvian freedom. A new generation of the Latvian economic exiles needs to learn from these people. Never forget your nationality, language and will to return to Latvia. And make Latvia a better place even being a million miles away.

Before the WW2 about 45 thousand Latvians lived in the west. Most of them in US and Brazil. Their exile was dictated either by political and social reasons. Most of them assimilated, some 15-20 thousand people kept their Latvian identity. The WW2 was a demographic disaster: Latvia lost about 0,4 million people. Many perished in Soviet repressions or sent to Siberia. Latvia also lost its Baltic German and Jewish minority. Large  numbers of Latvians died at the war front. The approaching Soviet army in 1944-1945 made many Latvians find escape routes to allied countries. About 250 thousand people became refugees. Many got stuck in Courland, some 50-60 thousand were murdered by the Soviet troops in Poland and Germany. After the war 6 thousand Latvians found refuge in Sweden, West Germany 120 thousand, Austria 3 thousand and Denmark 2 thousand.  In later years Latvians spread out to US, Canada, Australia and other places. First years were harsh: from refugee camps in the Western Germany to countries without any proper language skills.  However, after many years of adjustment Latvians were able preserve themselves and be socially and politically active. It’s not exactly known how many Latvians were in the numerous western countries. 165 -180 thousand or even 200 thousand. Many were not counted as Latvians, some countries also included Latvian born Jews and Germans as Latvians. Latvians gathered in global organization – Worlds Free Latvian Alliance (WFLA- PBLA in Latvian) founded in 1955. Also The Hawks of Daugava is an international support organization for Latvian war veterans. In every country with a large Latvian population, active organizations, schools, newspapers and even radio stations were active. Latvian exiled diplomats were officially recognized by most countries and supported the cause.

United States of America

First Latvians came to North America already on 17 century when Latvian colonists together with Swedes entered the shores of river Delaware. Some Latvians moved to the island of Tobago a colony owned by the Duchy of Courland. In 1780 in the state of Connecticut immigrant iron forgers founded a colony and named mountain and lake after Riga. The so-called Reggies could be the same colonists from Tobago, who moved to US after the Courland duchy was dissolved. Latvian missionaries also moved to US. However, first dedicated emigration occurred in 19th century eighties. So called Old Latvians were people who pursued more freedom and wealth. Some of them made it good and opened farms, workshops and factories. Augusts Krastins was about to outscore Henry Ford with his own cheap and fast automobile. He managed to release 10 such models in 1902, however his business was short-lived as his factory burned down. The future president of Latvia Kārlis Ulmanis also owned a farm in Texas. The main Latvian social center was Boston. On 1889 Jēkabs Zīlbergs founded the Latvian Society, on 1891 the first Latvian Lutheran congregation was made. First Latvian newspaper “Amerikas Vēstnesis” (American Herald) was released from 1896 to 1920. On 1918-1921 active Old Latvians assisted the Latvian War for Freedom and founded the American Latvian National Union. The movement campaigned for US to acknowledge Latvian sovereignty which was achieved in 1922.

The Revolution of 1905 brought many political exiles to US. Four thousand exiled revolutionaries found refuge. Many of them started a leftist movement. American Latvian Socialist Workers Federation and American Social Democrat united organization had constant quarrels over ideology and goals. After 1917 3,5 thousand of these emigres left US for Latvia or Russia. Those who stayed joined the American Socialist Party that became part of the American Communist Party. On 1935 the Latvian group separated from the American Communist Party and made American Latvian Workers Unity. They were the main Latvian exiles sparking soviet propaganda until ALWU disbanded. There were other types of 1905 exiles like Kārlis Ulmanis, who was right-winger and later went back to Latvia. Other famous Old Latvia exile was Edward Leedskalnin who came to US in 1912. He took part in the revolution, but his official reason for leaving Latvia was being heartbroken after his “sweet sixteen” Hermīne Lūse abandoned him in the wedding. He then moved to Miami, Florida where for the rest of his life he built a castle made of the coral blocks. The symbolic stone structure with many mythic themes still lies a mystery to many. Nobody knows how exactly he made this castle and his love story laid for inspiration for the Billy Idol song “Sweet Sixteen”.

Latvia had official diplomatic envoys in Washington DC. Alfreds Bilmanis was the official envoy from Latvia. When Latvia was occupied by the Soviets he officially condemned and  defied the aggression. With his efforts the US Foreign Department officially condemned the Soviet occupation and kept the Latvian gold reserves from the Soviet hands. US never accepted Latvia as juridical part of the Soviet Union. So the Latvian diplomats in exile could act officially. The Latvian Embassy worked in the Washington trough out the Cold War and was an official support center for exiles. Alfrēds Bilmanis was the ambassador until 1948, when he was replaced by Jūlijs Feldmanis who acted until 1953, then replaced by Arnorlds Spekke to 1970, and then Anatols Dinsbergs took the office. Old Latvian from New York made Latvian Relief Fund in 1941 and helped 17 thousand people to get immigration visas.  Some other 40 thousand entered in illegal means. The US Congress in 1948 allowed to welcome war refugees without immigration quota. From 1947 to 1952 some 40 thousand Latvians from West Germany, Austria, Sweden and other parts entered the US.

Latvian ambassador to US in exile Anatols Dinsbergs

Latvian ambassador to US in exile Anatols Dinsbergs

Latvians moved to New York, California and Florida. Every year 200-300 Latvians entered the US from South America and Western Europe. In 1951 the main American Latvian Alliance was founded. Its main newspaper is “Laiks” (“Time”) Latvians united in student, educational, press and economical sectors. ALA opened schools to teach Latvian. Latvians gathered in their own churches Lutheran and Catholic. Song and Dance festivals in exile were occasional. American Latvians were supported both by Democrats and Republicans who were against the occupation. Most Latvians however were supportive of the Republicans. Usually during the election campaign both presidential candidates approached Latvian exiles and even invited them to the White House. Latvian exiles made constant pressure on the US politicians to do more for Latvia and be tougher against USSR. So both US leading parties regarded the Baltic exiles as an important part of their electorate.  During the awakening from 1987 to 1991 the American Latvians became the most active and made contacts with Latvian freedom fighters in Latvia and helped them to talk to the US leaders. In 1991 US finally fully supported the restoration of Latvian independence.

Latvian leaders in exile D Rudzītis and A Deksnis with President George Bush Senior

Latvian leaders in exile D Rudzītis and A Deksnis with President George Bush Senior


Canada a vast and rich country was the ideal second choice for many Latvian exiles. First Latvians already came in the 19th century. There were 1 thousand of them before the WW2. On 1932 Latvian consulate was established in Toronto and Montreal. Canada was also against the Soviet occupation and allowed consulates to work. Canadian lawyer Rey Braison was the Latvian consul who made great effort to support the Latvian exiles. Latvian exiles in Canada were well established and strong fighters for independence. On 1947 Canadian government recruited German refugee camp people for work in forestry, building and mining. Many Latvians took this chance. In 1961 the Canadian national census counted 18, 1 thousand Latvians. The main organization is the Latvian National Alliance in Canada (LNAK). At the end of the eighties there were 20 thousand Latvians in Canada. The main newspaper is “Latvija Amerikā” (Latvia in America”). Important intellectual magazine is “Jaunā Gaita” (The New Path). Canadian Latvians and American Latvians had active cooperation.


It’s been reported that the duke of Courland Jakob also intended to send colonists from Courland to Australia. The plan failed because the possible investor Pope Innocent X died too early. Latvians came to Australia in the 19th century. 250-300 Latvians escaped from the 1905 revolution as far as possible. On 1933 430 people from Latvia with 230 children lived there. Most Latvians came to Australia from 1947 when Australia signed the International Refugee treaty.  Australian government placed them in transit camps, teach English and then sent them to license work for two years. After that people had to find a place for their own. Since apartments were scarce they had to build house. Some 25 thousand people lived in main cities. The main organization was the Latvian Alliance in Australia (LAA). The main newspaper “Austrālijas Latvietis” (Australian Latvian). The Latvian political activity reached a peak when on a 1974 Labor party Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam decided to accept the occupation of the Baltic States to improve relations with USSR. Large scale protests supported by local Australians wrecked the Labor government. After it was replaced with Liberal government the occupation of the Baltic States was not recognized once again. It was a clear signal for other real-politicians in other countries. In 1991 the Australia officially recognized Latvia.

Latvian Education Center "Dzintari" in Australia

Latvian Education Center “Dzintari” in Australia

United Kingdom (Great Britain)

First Latvians entered UK during the 1905 revolution. Some 400-500 Latvians lived before 1940. The UK government was quite reluctant to give official condemnation of the soviet occupation, because it wished the Soviet support for the war against the Nazis. But, the UK was also quite reluctant to accept the occupation and for the rest of the Cold War kept this policy of non-recognition. In 1946 the UK labor government was first to welcome all war refugees. This was needed to attain more working force. On 1950 18 thousand Latvians lived in the UK. However, some restrictions  made many to move to the US and Canada. On eighties 9 thousand Latvians remained in Latvia. Latvian diplomats worked in London under constant British pressure who were joggling between the American and the Soviet demands. The most famous Latvian diplomat was Kārlis Zariņš. Latvian Society in Great Britain was the main organization with “Londonas Avīze” (London Newspaper). The Latvian exiles came in bitter conflict with the labor prime minister H V Vilson who spent the Baltic gold reserves to pay clearing debt to the USSR. Protests continued until 1969 when H V Vilson promised to reexamine the Baltic gold question when Latvia attains sovereignty. Even if Latvians were more supportive of the Conservative party their prime minister Margaret Thatcher was quite skeptical about the restoration of the Latvian independence until the end. It finally happened in 1991.

Latvian exiles in protest

Latvian exiles in protest

West Germany

Latvia had deep diplomatic and commercial ties with Germany before the war. About 300 Latvians, and more Latvian born Jews and Germans lived there. The Baltic Germans left Latvia in 1939 by the will of Hitler. 55 thousand Baltic Germans together 1 thousand Latvians came to Nazi Germany. Those Latvians who came along had family connections with Germans, or were pro-German. Others used this chance to escape the coming soviet occupation. Nazi Germany used the Latvian exiles for the invasion on the Soviet Union in 1941. During the Nazi occupation 20 thousand Latvians were sent to work duty in Germany. The Nazi German Workers Front had a special cultural section for the Latvians in Germany. When on 1944 Soviets came back to Latvia, large masses started to move to Germany. 35 thousand Latvian Waffen SS Legion members were caught up in the battles of the East Prussia and Pomerania. The survivors made it trough Berlin and reached the Western allies. 202 thousand civilians tried to reach Germany far from the Soviets as possible. 50 thousand Latvians were taken to Germany by force.

Many did not make it. Soviets either killed them or sent them back to occupied Latvia. Latvian Refugee Authority and Latvian Red Cross tried to help refugees. There were 400 Latvian refugee camps in Germany before the end of the war. After May 9 there were 135 thousand Latvians in the Western allied captured German part. 9 thousand came back to Latvia, because they were taken to Germany by force and wanted to reunite families. From 1946 to 1949 the West Germany turned into “Little Latvia” filled with refugee camps full of Latvians. Many believed that war will start again and the allies will chase away the Soviets. There were 1 million refugees from all Eastern Europe in sole Western Germany. Civilians could either try to make living in West Germany or live with others in the camps. 23 thousand war veterans from Latvia were placed into internment camps. Since the Allies disregarded the Latvian Waffen SS as criminal organization they were released in 1946. Veterans made social support organization “The Hawks of Daugava” that worked and works in every country with a significant Latvian population.

The Hawks of Daugava International meeting

The Hawks of Daugava International meeting

Latvians made many organizations in the refugee camps. German Latvian Central Council, Latvian National Council and exiled resistance movement Latvian Central Council. The Latvian Red Cross was restored. Western German occupiers formally did not recognize these movements, but did not make any steps against them. When the Western allies rejected the Soviet demands for repatriation, people felt more relaxed. Many now moved to another countries or crossed the ocean to US and Canada. In 1986 there were 9-10 thousand Latvians remaining in Western Germany. The main Latvian newspaper in Germany is “Brīvā Latvijā” (Free Latvia).


The relations between the Latvian exiles and the Swedish state has always been tense. Latvia placed high hopes on their neighbors. Sweden was the only country on 1940 who accepted the Soviet occupation and evicted the Latvian embassy. Despite that the exiled Latvian diplomat Voldemārs Salnais organized cooperation with the Latvian Central Council and helped about 5,2 thousand people to cross the Baltic sea to Sweden. About 2 thousand was lost because of the Nazi and Soviet counteractions. 150 deserting Latvian Legion members made it to Sweden. On January 1946 they were handed back to the Soviets. Latvian soldiers resisted by making hunger strike, when it did not help they self-injured themselves or even made suicides. Whole Swedish society including the archbishop, officers and the king himself were against the handover. However, the government was afraid of the Soviet Union and hand over the soldiers.

Latvians mistrusted the Swedish government. 2 thousand Latvians left Sweden for more friendlier country. 4, 5 thousand Latvians remained in Sweden. Latvian organizations helped them. Sweden soon became the center of the Latvian intellectual activity. However, there was a great split between leftists and nationalists. Swedish Latvian National Council rivaled with the Swedish Latvian Central Council. Exiled Latvian Social Democrats stood on their own. Their leader was Bruno Kalniņš, a chameleon personality social democrat, Soviet spy, soviet collaborator, anti-nazi resistance activist and the social democrat leader in the end. During the national awakening the colorful Swedish Latvian exile was the closest to support independence movements. As in 1990 even the Swedish social democrats stood up for Latvian independence, Latvia finally received support from Stockholm.  Official apology was given to deported Latvian legion members and the diplomatic relations were restored.

Latvians went all over Europe, in the Benelux countries, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France ect. In every country there was and are small societies to assist local exiles.


For Latvians the Brazil is rather unusual place to take refuge. But since the end of the 19th century many Latvians have started to go there. The first ones were Latvian Baptists who looked for free agricultural land. In the first wave 600-800 people emigrated from Russian owned Latvia to Brazil. In 1906 400-600 colonists came in and formed the Novu Odessa colony. From 1923-1924 2,3 thousand Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists came to Brazil. This was a part of the popular campaign among Baptists and other small Christian movements who believed that their mission is to go to Brazil and teach Christian values to locals and live with them. After WW2 1,5 thousand Latvians arrived. Most Latvians who came as Baptists and did missionary work mixed with locals and lost the Latvian identity. Most Latvians escaping war soon emigrated to US and Canada.  Latvians were also to be found in other South American countries like Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina.

After Latvia regained independence, many did not knew what to do next. Some were too old and social and economic situation in Latvia was lot worse than in their place of exile. Some were disappointed about the national ethnic situation that was lot worse than expected. However, some found their new place. Vaira Vīķe Freiberga from Canada took the office of President of Latvia from 1999 to 2007. Many took part in the politics. Nils Muižnieks also from Canada serves as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Gunārs Birkerts is the architect of the National Library that will be finished this year. Jānis Kažocinš from UK was the head of the Latvian counterintelligence service SAB. Two notable media personalities Kārlis Streips and Juris Kaža has been around for years.

For years Latvian exile was the place for many Latvian historians. Egars Andersons, Ādolfs Šilde, Arnolds Spekke an Edgars Dunsdofs was written many great works about Latvian history. Their view of history is national conservative. Two rather radical historians Haralds Biezais and Andrievs Ezergailis has challenged the usual positive view on Nazi occupation within Latvian exiles.   Today the most prominent exile Latvian historian is Andrejs Plakans from US.

During the last two decades Latvia has witnessed a great wave of economical emigration to EU countries and US. This emigration is economic not politic. People are forced to leave Latvia because of financial problems and unemployment. The challenge for these people is even greater than WW2 exiles. While WW2 exiles had common cause to be united and keep their identity to return to free Latvia someday, the economic exiles main cause is to survive by  material means. They are waiting for Latvia to improve its economy and repay all the debts. It’s the responsibility of the Latvian government and its people to make at lest some part of them to come back. It’s also the responsibility for the new generation of Latvians not to lose their national identity so they don’t feel as strangers when they come back. The status of the new economical exiles are not the same as the WW2 exiles. They are not political refugees, they are just part of the multimillion immigrant workforce that is often viewed rather negative by the locals. The risk of alienation and assimilation is great. So the challenge for Latvian people and these new exiles is far more greater and will affect our future most greatly.


Selected Sources

Veigners, Ilgvars. (1993) Latvieši ārzemēs. Zinātniskā asociācija “Latvija un latvieši pasaulē”. Rīga : Latvijas enciklopēdija.

Veigners, Ilgvars. (2009) Latvieši Rietumzemēs : un vēl dažās zemēs. Rīga : Drukātava.

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Five years of the


On July 6 2009 I Maris Goldmanis made first two posts in this new blog Back in 2009 I was a Bachelors study course student in the Latvian University. My inspiration for this blog was the finest English books I came across from great authors like Niall Ferguson, Walter Laquer and  Norman Davies. However, I came to the sad conclusion that our Latvian historians have not done enough to spread out our national view of the Latvian History in English. Yes there were some books made by them, but the internet has lacked valuable information about our history in English language. So it was my personal duty to my homeland to spread the word of Latvia in a language that everyone could easily understand. And I am grateful to everyone who have found this blog useful and interesting. There is too much deformation made about Latvia in the foreign media coming from the East, so I as Latvian and a patriot see as my personal duty to show the Latvian History in the way as we Latvians see themselves.

I have made 134 posts until this day. Most of them are based on authentic academic sources. At first my English grammar skills were not the finest ones, I say thanks to all who have pointed out my mistakes and gave some healthy criticism. According to WordPress stats 156,844 people have viewed this blog in five years, if one or two has found it useful I am very grateful. I say a big thank you to people like Kevin O Connor and  from Gonzaga University Washington US, who have personally endorsed my cause  and I fully support their strive for understanding the Latvia better. Latvia belongs to the western world and I want to keep it that way.

I will not abandon this site as there is more to be told to about Latvia and its history. Soon to mark this five years of work I will release something big. I would like to say great thank you to all my followers in WordPress, Facebook and Twitter. It’s been my joy and honor t0 serve the needs for everyone striving for knowledge and wisdom.  Thank you! Paldies!

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KGB in Latvia

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The main KGB headquarters in Riga. The tallest building in Riga since people could see Siberia from its tower.

The Soviet Secret Service widely known as Committee for State Security or KGB was a direct successor of the All-Russian Extraordinary Committee to Combat Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or simply known as Cheka founded in 1917. Since then the Soviet secret service has changed its name many times. It was known as OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB and finally from 1954 as KGB.  But, the very basis of this secret police has always stayed the same: strict protection of the communist party and its power. The KGB was omnipresent in every part of the Soviet life and it did everything to combat any means of the anti-Soviet movement.  For 50 years KGB also did everything to keep Latvia under the Soviet Iron fist.

During the first years after the war, the Secret police was preoccupied with battling the armed resistance movement. There were even cases of CIA and M16 involvement when Western allies sent special commandos to aid the national partisans. The CIA and M16 had naive belief that the partisan movements in the Baltic States and the Eastern Europe will weaken the Soviet Union and would help to crush it. However, the NKVD was aware of this and all western agents fell in their traps. The national partisan movement was eventually crushed and KGB now was more afraid of the non-violent resistance.

The Khrushev “Thaw” pawed way for more freedoms for the intelligentsia. For instance Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was freed and released his eponymous One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which revealed the Stalinist crimes. This made many to question the Soviet policies and their past. As Khrushchev was deposed, KGB started to combat such authors. On 1967 the new Fifth Department was made in the ranks of the KGB to combat “ideological diversions”. KGB believed that the intelligent anti-Soviet movement is directed by the Western secret service. Before that the task combating the “anti-Soviet elements”  was given to the Second Department of the counter-intelligence. While the Second Department was searching for foreign agents the Fifth Department now was searching for ideological dissidents.

The usual task was monitoring the Latvian emigration and foreign radio stations. The creative intelligentsia – artists, writers, actors and composers were under the KGB watch.  The Latvian nationalist movements like “Helsinki-86”, “Latvian National Independence Movement” and the “Environmental Club” was monitored and persecuted. When “Latvian Peoples Front” became the most active force for independence it was under the KGB watch. The KGB also monitored the national minorities like Germans and Jews. The KGB was involved in youth and student activities and closely watched them.

The nationalism was a prime concern for the KGB. Latvia was overflown with immigrants from the Soviet Union. The cultural differences between Latvians and the immigrants was very visible. Despite the official calls for national equality the Russian speaking immigrants were more privileged than  local Latvians. Also the Russian language was placed above Latvian language. However, Latvians themselves did not do much to force immigrants accept Latvian language and culture. For instance in Estonia, the local Estonians were more reluctant to speak Russian and enforced their rules on immigrants. Immigrants in Latvia took the Latvian passivity for granted and dictated their rules. This all made very bad national micro-climate in the national relations. However, most Latvians understood that the regime is too stable to stood openly against it.

Because of that KGB was occasionally accusing people of “masked actions against the Soviet order”. This usually involved private conversations where people condemned the Soviet power and praised the pre-war Latvian Republic. KGB had informants in many working collectives. The KGB was concerned about people who refused to hang out the flag of LSSR or USSR. The KGB also discovered that in case of foreign invasion the locals cannot be trusted. Two fake groups landed with parachutes near Ventspils. First group head for the city and was discovered and stopped. Other one was heading inland and met many locals, who did not report them.

Soviets destroyed many monuments built-in the time of the Latvian Republic. However, they were unable to remove the Monument of Freedom and the Brothers War Cemetery. At least what could they do was placing trolleybus depot around the monument. However, people still went there and placed flowers. They were arrested by militsya (Soviet police) and taken to KGB. KGB was aware that many people on every November 2 in so-called Totensonntag – the Lutheran commemoration day for the death comes to commemorate not their relatives, but the leaders of the Latvian Republic. People like the first president of Latvia – Jānis Čakste and general Jānis Balodis. Many restrictions were made and cemeteries were monitored day and night.

Soviets were afraid of the international radio broadcasting. Latvian leading companies VEF and Radiotehnika made brilliant receivers, however they could also receive the Western broadcasts aimed at Latvians. The Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America had their Latvian service. From 1948 Soviets built powerful jamming systems. People who listened to western broadcasters were reported and arrested by KGB. For a short time in the Seventies the jamming was halted when the relations with the US improved. Soon after the crushing of the “Solidarity” movement, the jamming was resumed until it was halted completely in 1986.

KGB was suspicious about Latvians leaving Soviet Union for trips and people from the West arriving here. KGB checked every application for visa. Often when large group of tourists went on a trip, a KGB informant was included to control them. KGB was worried about the intentions of the Latvian exiles who entered Latvia to meet their relatives. Actions were made to monitor them and ideologically influence them. In return Latvian exiles started to view their compatriots who visited Latvia with suspicion. KGB installed listening devices in the main hotels, after the collapse of the USSR they were removed in secret.

KGB was also aware of the anti-Soviet literature. Many sailors brought it home and sell it as contraband. Books by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or the Latvian exiled authors were confiscated. Local intelligentsia made self published books or samizdat. The restricted books were kept in special funds and could only be viewed with special permission. Sometimes even the most loyal communists were affected by the restricted literature.

  Singing songs with national content was also a crime. Old songs from the pre-war times or even worse the Latvian Legion songs were viewed as deeply danger0us. As new tape-recorders were invented, the possibility of copying illegal songs became widespread. The Latvian famous band in exile “Čikāgas Piecīši” became a fad. Everybody had heard about them, but nobody had seen them. KGB disliked the hippy movement and later rock music. Being a hippy or a rocker was soon understood as a sign of dissent. KGB was unable to stop them. Rock bands inspired by the western music appeared. Although it was unthinkable to write openly critical songs, many had “between the lines”. Rock band “Pērkons” (Thunder)  was the experts in this. Even when they were officially shut down, they reformed under the name “Soviet Latvia” and authorities were unable to stop them. After new perestroika policy, the song texts became more aggressive and  open calling for independence. That’s why many call the regaining of independence as “the singing revolution”.

The youth was viewed as potentially dangerous factor to the Soviet power. Soviet ideal youngster first went trough Pioneer movement, then entered the Komsomol – the Young Communist movement and joins the party in result. But, not all were so perfect. Some secretly embraced the national ideals, others joined punk, hippy and Hare Krishna movement. People caught doing anti-Soviet stuff was put under “prophylaxis” that meant ideological re-education. In schools and higher education facilities informants were placed to report illegal activities. The school teachers and lecturers were also under the KGB pressure.

KGB was eager to fight political dissidents. One of the most famous Latvian political dissident was Gunārs Astra. Despite many persecutions and imprisonments he was far from giving up. In his last court he spoke openly about the russification and occupation and said prophetic words “I believe that this time will go away like bad nightmare”. Astra died in prison. Writer Knuts Skuejenieks spent 7 years in Mordovia prison. Lidija Lasmane Doroņina suffered from many arrests and imprisonments. Latvian dissidents were often stabbed in the back by traitors employed by the KGB. KGB was capable of placing listening bugs in the dissident apartments and also listen to the telephone conversations. The head of the KGB Yuri Andropov even wanted to bug the phones of every Moscow citizen. They told him that its technically possible, but it would require enormous size of workers to monitor all the conversations.

The Jewish minority who survived the Holocaust was thankful to Soviets for rescuing them. However, the Soviets answered by suppressing the Zionist movement and openly condemned Israel. Not only that – the commemoration of the Holocaust was deemed as nationalistic. Soviet propaganda disregarded genocide against individual nations, because everyone in USSR was officially viewed as the “united soviet nation”. The mass murder site at Rumbula forest was the center of the Zionist activities. People gathered there to commemorate the victims and placed signs. KGB chased them away and removed the monuments. Eventually Jews managed to place commemorative stones, if they would not include the word “Jewish” and no Jewish symbolism. If not the Star of David was scrapped or monument was even removed. Many Jews wanted to move away to Israel or US. Soviets were desperately trying to stop this, however because of the international condemnation many thousands of Jews managed to leave.  There was even a case when a group of Latvian and Russian Jews attempted to hijack a plane in Leningrad to leave USSR. They were arrested on spot, the international condemnation saved them from death sentence. Also local Baltic Germans who still lived in Latvia wanted to leave for West Germany sparking KGB resistance.

As the time went KGB found it more difficult to control the masses. The technologies went ahead, connections with the Western world deepened. Even illegal possession of western porn movie was seen as act of anti-Soviet resistance. But, when Gorbachev introduced his democratic reforms the KGB became paralyzed. The work of the KGB was thwarted by many new liberties and the Western eyes were watching on the Baltic State more than before. First nationalistic movement Helsinki-86 in 1987 who heated up the society by openly commemorating the deportations of June 14 and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were halted and their leaders exiled. However in 1988 the KGB was unable to stop people waiving national flags and chanting nationalist slogans. All national organizations were monitored, but even placing informants and provocateurs did not help. The economic failure of the USSR was eminent and large masses now stood against the Soviet order.

KGB now have to answer a tough question – return to Stalinist style repressions or let the country collapse. The return to Stalinism was impossible, Gorbachev had promised too much  to the western leaders. Baltic States and Moscow was full with western media. Everyone wished for Soviets to “go west”. After the communist party lost its monopoly and Latvia declared restoration of the independence, KGB played a desperate double game. By using the “Interfont” movement and special OMON forces, KGB hoped to spark national violence to install presidential order from Moscow. When it failed, the last straw was the 1991 August coup. After the coup failed large crowd entered the KGB headquarters in Stabu street. The KGB agents were forced to handover ID cards and all of their archives. KGB was made illegal. Current law states that ex KGB agents cannot take in the politics. However, many of them owns large businesses like Juris Savickis the head of the energy company Itera, that imports the gas from Russia. The full list of KGB agents are yet to published, however the large part of the KGB archives are available to researcher allowing us to see the real nature of this draconian institution.

Selected History:

Bergmanis,Aldis, Zālīte, Indulis.(2007) Latvijas PSRS Valsts drošības komiteja un sabiedrības ideoloģiskā kontole (1965-1990). In book: Okupētā Latvija 1940-1900. Latvijas vēsturnieku komisijas raksti 19. sējums. Rīga. Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds.

Bleiere, Daina. (2012) Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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Latvia under the Soviet Union. Politics and economy 1945-1987

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Monument of Lenin in the Riga City Center

The Soviet Union defined itself as a Socialist country that is on her way to communism. The official name – The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was actually “four words, four lies” as Cornelius Castoriadis called it. The Soviets were not democratically elected, it was not a Socialist, and union for in reality it was Unitarian state not union. The main points for the Soviet order was 1) communist party monopoly, 2) Democratic Centralism, 3) Complete state control over resources and production, 4) Communism as the desired goal of the government, 5) Strive for international victory of the communist order. The word “soviet” or сове́т (council) was intended as democratically elected workers and peasants governing body. However, when in 1922 the official USSR name was declared all power in the hands in the Communist party and the Soviets were under its direct control. This means that whole ideology and politics of the Soviet Union were based on double thinking, lies and imitation. The USSR was just a totalitarian single state centralized dictatorship. The double faced absurd system that actually survived for more than 80 years is still a mystery for many.

Latvia was included in the Soviet system as a full time socialist republic. The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic had limited rights of her own: constitution, own laws, own borders and administrative system. However, it was only on the paper as the Soviet Union was a federal country with the main orders coming from Moscow. However, it was still better because as a full time Socialist Republic Latvia could break away from Moscow more easier. For Autonomous Socialist republics like Chechnya or Tatarstan this proved to be impossible.  The LSSR constitution approved on August 25 1940 was a duplicate of the USSR 1936 constitution. Despite the constitution had promised that the republics may break away from the USSR, there was no mechanism defined how to do that. And even mentioning such possibility in private may cause the repressions from the KGB. There was LSSR passport that was given to all who lived in its territory. But, it had no legal effect , because one could legally live in Kazakh SSR with LSSR passport and with KSSR passport in Latvia. But, if someone wanted to travel outside the USSR, he received the USSR passport.

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Coat of Arms of the LSSR

The Soviet Order was based on the single Communist party. LSSR has its own Latvian Communist Party (LCP) that was subordinated to the Soviet Union Communist Party (SUCP). The main governing bodies were the LCP Central Committee (LCP CC) and LSSR Soviet Council. The Supreme Council of the LSSR sessions was only called in case of  LCP CC appointment. Usually most political decisions were made in informal meetings and later officially issued. LCP CC was responsible for every sector of the republic. But, it was completely loyal to the SUCP CC in Moscow.

The party had committees in every village, city, factory that controlled everything under the guidance of the Central Committee. The Soviet Army had its own system of committees. Slowly the Soviet bureaucratic apparatus grew in enormous sizes, with numerous institutions and various rank officials making the bureaucratic chaos. The most prominent officials were the CC Secretaries who formed the Politburo. The Politburo was the main body above all.Moscow had her own bureaus summoned by Moscow and representatives sent from  Moscow. Local communists often had quarrels and disagreements that ended in the repressions. Moscow sent inspections to Latvia.   Moscow leaders were reluctant to meet directly with the local leaders. Stalin did this only once in 1949 to inform about the deportations, and Khrushchev and Brezhnev were also very distant.

The Latvian membership in the LCP was always quite mediocre comparing to the Lithuania. Lithuanian membership in 1953 in their party was only 37% but in 1965 it was 63,7%. This helped the Lithuanians to have more sovereign say in their local matters. Meanwhile in Latvia in 1959 there were 59% Latvians and in 1989 59% Latvians. The reasons for such low support was the high influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union that was more eager to join LCP. Latvians meanwhile viewed LCP as a rouge Russian party  that they could not join. The main motivation for joining the party was the advancement in carrier and more social privileges. But, the high Russian influence in the party meant that Latvians suffered greater pressure from Moscow and was unable to make nationally beneficial decisions like Lithuania and Estonia did. Estonians and Lithuanians took active part in the system to keep the foreigners away, but Latvians either refrained to work with the foreigners  or submitted to them. Also most Latvian communist leaders like J Kalbērziņs, A Peļše and A Voss where the survivors of Stalinist purges and obeyed every order from Moscow in the result.

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

The Latvian Communist Party XXI Congress

Despite the official slogan for USSR as a completely socially equal country it was divided into complex social castes.  Above all were the nomenclature. It was a party apparatus of the party, administrative, financial and interior security workers. They enjoyed greater social guarantees than simple soviet citizens, better homes and better supply of food and household goods. They enjoyed special secret shops and supply system. The nomenclature was the Soviet bureaucratic elite that was more equal than other equal soviet citizens. While others stood in long lines for a slice of bread and toilet paper the elite communists had the first hand for everything. This was the root of the widespread corruption that slowly teared the USSR apart. After 1965 also WW2 veterans became a socially privileged class.

The Soviet propaganda always pointed the poverty, oppression and low economic advancements in the pre war Latvian Republic. The superiority of the Soviet centralized economy over Latvian trade economy was justified by the enormous Soviet industry. Also Moscow even now says that it invested enormous sums in Latvia.  In reality income gathered from Latvia from 1945-1950 was enough to cover the costs of maintaining the Soviet Army bases in Latvia. From 1945 to 1950 six billion rubles were transferred from Latvia to Moscow. From 1950 to 1959 LSSR gave more income to the USSR than USSR gave back. Money from Latvia was invested in Central Asian Republics and Siberian development. Since Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union this also can be seen as enormous looting of the Latvian resources in a long period of time.

Latvian industry was also advanced before the WW2. After the war much had been looted and destroyed. However, the Soviets managed to achieve great industrial breakthroughs by immigration. From 1945 to 1959 large numbers of people from Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine moved to Latvia. Their original living places were torn apart by the war and Stalinist terror. In 1940 there were 355 200 people living in Riga, but in 1958 489 100. To accommodate these people factories and living blocks had to be built in masses. On 1989 the citizen count in Riga nearly reached million people. Without such immigration Latvia would be unable to achieve such full scale industrialization. The Moscow did little to halt this immigration, because the moving the nations around the Soviet Union and the russifacation was one of the political principles.

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The large residental blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

The Soviet agricultural system was disastrous for Latvian country side. For centuries Latvians had developed a system of private farming. During the period of freedom from 1920-1940 Latvian agriculture was booming. However, Soviets nationalized all agricultural lands and repressed the rich land owners. The deportation of 1949 finally forced everyone to give up their land and join the collective farms- kolkhozs. The state took most production away from the collective farms, making farmers poor. Eventually to find a way out of this people were allowed to keep strictly normed “nearby gardens”. People could grow their own vegetables and potatoes that were taken away. Strict norms on keeping private cattle made people to device ways to hide their cows and pigs. Soviets changed the usual countryside, by making city like villages and filled them with residential blocks.  People were kept together as possible. Before the war people usually lived in their private households away from each other.

The standard of living in the first years till the death of Joseph Stalin was quite low. Despite the availability of jobs, the pay was low. The countryside was depopulated, people moved to the cities. Riga lacked apartments, in old nationalized apartment buildings built by Baltic German nobles, Soviets made collective flats or communal flats.  Many families shared one living space. In mid fifties new residential blocks were built and building of the new suburban residential areas continued until the end of the USSR. Many were concerned that the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe have a greater standard of living.

After the death of Stalin, his successors understood the danger of the unproductive Soviet system. The Soviet leaders slowly gave up the Stalinist means of repression, but were unable to give up centralized state economy. Khrushchev was a pioneer of many new social and economic policies, but he was unable to change all thing. Khrushchev firmly believed that the modern technology and progressive welfare policies will bring country closer to communism. The pension and payment system was improved, possibility of getting a flat or car was made more greater. People were motivated to work to get advancements. Slowly such things as TV, Radio and the washing machine entered every household. People finally could live more comfortably and enjoy some luxuries. However, Khrushchev also pushed for heavy arms race with US. The Soviet advancements in space and nuclear rocket technology made USSR more prominent. However, the quality and real count of the Soviet super weapons was far lower than the US ones. The US was scared of the Khrushchev threats and weapons therefore greatly overestimated the Soviet military power. That opened doors for mass production of weapons in the US and the reckless Soviet attempts to beat it. US had better chances to survive the arms race because the weapons were made by private industry, while Soviet made more and more weapons at the cost of everything else.

When Brezhnev came to power the Soviet economy faced regression. But, the Soviet politicians were “saved” from making new economic reforms. The Middle Eastern conflict caused the rise of the oil prices. Soviets years before had begun the building of gas and oil pipes, that exported the vast Soviet reserves to the Western world. Stalin had declared that the selling out the nation’s resources is a national treason. Now however, the rising oil prices that were comparatively high until the mid eighties kept the Soviet economy stable.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

A collection of the Soviet everyday items.

Some authors claim that on 1975 Latvia reached the highest standard of living than ever before. However, comparing to Italy, Canada or even Poland it was still lower. Soviets tried to prevent Latvians to go abroad. However, those who saw world outside the Iron Curtain or even within it was shocked by the great difference. Consumer goods were still under deficit, having a car was regarded as the sign of personal wealth. The deficit of food, consumer goods and all kinds of products became eminent for years to come. The statewide Black Market emerged. It was called blat (блат) – the informal agreement between people to gain access to deficit goods. It was a system based on social status and profession. People exchanged goods for favors. The pseudo private trade market became so eminent that in many cases it was legalized. Legal trade like vegetables and flower selling emerged. Soviet leadership officially condemned the grey zone market or black market, but in reality did nothing much to stop it. Police fought illegal trade of currency and jewels.  Also book selling, audio copying of vinyl or cassette records was limited. Also antique collectors had to watch out.

The positive side of the Soviet occupation was the culture. Soviets understood that boosting culture and entertainment can keep them loyal an satisfied. The traditional Song and Dance Festival that had already begun on 19th century was kept by the Soviet ideology. Despite including some propaganda songs, the overall folk tradition was kept. However, there was a certain hostility towards Līgo celebrations. No holidays were set there and people were encouraged not to celebrate them. But, people still celebrated them.  In every five years Song and Dance festivals made Latvians again feel like national Latvians. In the sixties and fifties Latvian popular stage music boomed, composers like Raimonds Pauls and Imants Kalniņs were considered as pop icons. As the western records and video tapes entered Latvia, rock, disco and electronic music groups became popular. Despite some restrictions the Latvian music became more western. The Latvian Cinema was making high quality movies every year and artists also enjoyed relative freedom. There was a certain code of “do nots” for the artists, movie directors and the actors, but they received greater state support.

A negative side in the culture was the suppression of the national themes. Nationally driven writers were persecuted by the KGB. Soviets banned any kind of national minority movement. For instance Jews had double feelings about the Soviet power. From one side Soviets rescued them from the Holocaust, from other side any kinds national and cultural movement were suppressed.  Zionist activity was banned, all Jewish cultural life was based around few legal religious congregations. Because of this many Jews emigrated from Soviet Latvia making a bad image on the USSR. Other national minorities suffered from this too.

Education was sufficient, however students had to go through months of boring lectures about Marxist theory. In humanitarian sciences there was a high pressure of the Soviet propaganda and double speak. Books were widely available in Latvian and Russian. Western authors were translated. The youth spent their time in the pioneer movement, all kinds of sport activities were available.  Latvian sportsman brought golden medals from almost every Olympic games.

Meanwhile all that, the corrupt, infective and absurd soviet system was heading for collapse.  Brezhnev decided to do nothing about it since he knew the danger of reforming the totalitarian system. Gorbachev wanted reforms when it was too late. While Brezhnev was slowly sinking in a pool of the marsh, Gorbachev wanted to get out of it fast – in result he was sinking even faster.  And that brought a great chance for Latvia to finally break loose and restore independence.

Selected Sources:

Bleiere, Daina. (2012)Eiropa ārpus Eiropas : dzīve Latvijas PSR. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

Grava-Kreituse, Ilga. (2009) Pagājušo gadu Latvija 1945-1990 : kā dzīvojām, no kā iztikām, ko apsmējām, par ko priecājāmies.Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Prikulis, Juris. (Ed) (2012) Starptautiskā konference “Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā”. Padomju Savienības nodarītie zaudējumi Baltijā : Rīgā, 2011. gada 17.-18. jūnijs : starptautiskās konferences materiāli.Rīga : Latvijas Okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

Pavlovičs, Juris. (2012) Padomju Latvijas ikdiena : mūsu vienīgā vakardiena.Rīga : Jumava.

Суворов, Виктор. (2011)  Кузькина мать : хроника великого десятилетия : к 50-летию Карибского кризиса, новое историческое расследование от автора супербестселлеров “Аквариум” и “Ледокол”. Москва : Добрая книга.

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