In continuation of describing the national symbols we now take our attention to national anthem of Latvia. “Dievs Svētī Latviju! or “God Bless Latvia!” has been the only national anthem since 1920. Written and composed by Baumaņu Kārlis the anthem is another definite symbol resembling Latvia worldwide.
Baumaņu Kārlis or Kārlis Baumanis was born in May 11 1835 was born in Viļķene parish of Libaži district in Vidzeme region. He was the sixth son of the Jānis Baumanis family who rented property from German nobles. As the youngest son he had little chance to lead the family household so he was sent to educate. He studied at Limbaži Congregational School, Limbaži Elementary School and Limbaži District School. After graduating the last, he joined the Valka teacher seminar 1853 lead by composer Jānis Cimze. The Valka teachers seminar was one of the most important educational facilities which purpose was to prepare Latvian teachers to work at schools. Many important Latvian intellectuals finished this school.
On 1856 he finished the seminar with highest marks in every subject and came to work as home teacher at Ķirbižu mansion. The German nobles who owned the mansion however insulted his national feelings on 1858 he left the job and moved to Petersburg. Within few months he passed all necessary exams and became the educator and calligraphy teacher at St. Anna school. Also he worked as home teacher in Rebinder family.
On 1860 he acquired full time job at Petersburg Reformatted Church School and worked there for more than 20 years. He joined the Petersburg Latvian Readers Society and worked at “Petersburg Newspaper” the main Latvian newspaper for those times. Baumaņu Kārlis had acquired the composing skills already at Valka seminary. He first practiced to to harmonize German folk songs. On 1860 he know considered to compose his own songs.
On 1870 he was elected as a spokesperson of Riga Latvian Society and member of the Singing commision. He helped to organize the first Latvian Song and Dance festival. He married the daughter of the renter of the Sārumu mansion Ferdiand von der Vitte Marija Karolīna Elizabete. His job was at the Noble Virgin School at Smolny Institute. On 1873 he was awarded with the Order of St. Anna.
On 1873 the first Latvian Song and Dance festival took place. Baumaņu Kārlis came with three new songs. Two of them- The Song of the Fatherland, and The Song of Latvian Fisherman were included in the song and dance festival the third one was rejected by the tsarist censorship. However, it was sung in the opening act of the Song festival behind closed doors. It was called God Bless Latvia! It was printed soon after and released on Baumanis song book “Austra” on 1874. The second Baumanis song book with this song was issued on 1875 and was called “Līgo”. It was immediately confiscated and destroyed by the Tsarist authorities.
What was in this song that was so compelling to Latvians and so feared by Russian Tsarist government? It was the lyrics that mentioned word Latvia and its people. In time when talks about Latvian sovereignty was completely unimaginable the lyrics sent a strong message. The lyrics went as follows:
God bless Latvia,
Our beloved fatherland.
Oh bless it, we beseech thee! (repeat)
Where Latvian daughters bloom,
Where Latvian sons sing,
Let us dance happily there,
In our Latvia! (repeat)
The future national anthem was written when Latvian nation was divided within three provinces of the Russian Empire. The main economic and political power belonged to Baltic Germans and Russians. Only a small minority of Latvians could live up to Middle Class standards and have a good education. However, Latvians were the national majority that had not full power over their land. The anthem send strong prayer to God above to allow them to live and rule in their Latvia (as euphemism to dance happily there in our Latvia). Understandably this anthem was not just a prayer for God, it was a call for whole Latvian people, as Gods will can only realized by the will of man.
Only on 1895 on Jelgava Song and Dance Festival the hymn was first played however, the censorship forced to replace Latvia with Baltic (Baltija). To make it look more like blessing for the Baltic provinces of the Russian empire. However, the message was clear to everyone. Latvian writer called the hymn as one of the best national hymns that with the help of choir and orchestra becomes even stronger. Hymn became so popular and on 1905 during the revolution the Tsarist regime again renamed as God Bless the Baltic.
Meanwhile Baumaņu Kārlis continued his work as composer and publisher. He made new songs for Song and Dance festival of 1880 and was awarded with the Order of St. Stanislavsky. However, his national activities did not went unnoticed and on 1881 he was fired from the Petersburg Reformatted Church school. He returned to Latvia and worked in social activities. He died on January 10 1905.
The hymn became popular among nationally minded Latvians. On November 18 1918 when the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed, the God Bless Latvia was sung at the end of the proclamation act. Understandably it was chosen as the national anthem on July 7 1920. There were some objections from the Latvian Social Democrats who disliked the use of word “God” and instead proposed more patriotic and strong willed “Latvian Hymn” by Vilis Plūdonis. The lyrics included: “We want to be masters in our native land. We want to make our own rules for ourselves, this land is ours, these cities are ours! We don’t want to beg for what is ours but take by our will!”. However, the Kārlis Baumanis hymn won the upper hand and became the symbol of the Latvian state.
Latvian communists who rebelled the Latvian democratic state meanwhile sang the Latvian version of “Internationale” even during the parliament discussions. Baltic German nationalists especially in late thirties enjoyed provoking Latvians by openly singing the “Deutschland Uber Alles!”. After Latvia was occupied annexed the national anthem was banned. The official anthem was the Russian version of Internationale and later the new Stalinist Anthem of USSR. On 1945 Fricis Rokpelnis and Jūlijs Vanags wrote lyrics for the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Music was composed by Anaotols Liepiņš. With more lyrics than God Bless Latvia, the anthem was melodically similar to anthem of USSR and called for unity with the Russian people.
Let Soviet Latvia live for ever,
Let it shine bright in the Soviet crown!
The Soviet Latvia did not live for ever. The God Bless Latvia was secretly sung or played in closed circles. As the national movement for the restoration of independence started on 1987 the God Bless Latvia returned to public stage. On February 15 1991 just as Flag of Latvia the God Bless Latvia once again became the national anthem. God Bless Latvia! has been present in most public and political activities. The tradition in recent years asks all Latvians in every corner of the world to sing the National Anthem on November 18. National Anthem has entered the sports field. First years after the independence often made confusions. On 1993 during the C group Ice Hockey competition Latvia won the Belgian team, and local Slovenian organizers played the Latvian Soviet Anthem. However, when Latvia won the Russian hockey team in St. Petersburg the God Bless Latvia took over the arena as the arena projectors were showing images of Riga and flag of Latvia. On 2000 Sidney Olympics the Latvian National Anthem was played for the first time as the gymnastic Igors Vihrovs won the first ever Olympic gold. Latvian anthem returned to Olympics at 2008 and 2012 when BMX Cyclist Māris Štrombergs won two gold medals in a row.
In recent years, some people have criticized the Baumaņu Kārlis anthem is its to unmodern and irrelevant to present day Latvia. Some have criticized it for mentioning God as it does not stand with the modern secular values. They also criticize it for being too pitiful and short. to Some have suggested the hymn by Mārtiņš Brauns “Sun, Thunder, Daugava” as replacement. The Brauns hymn is more energetic and powerful, however purely designed for mass choir singing at the Song and Dance festival.
National Anthem despite some criticism is still very strong and powerful song. Short and sonorous the anthem is one of the most beautiful European anthem. Despite Latvia being secular state the presence of God in the anthem is still actual as God exists for all human beings only in different forms each other. The ask for blessings to live and rule in our land has never lost its importance. Strong nations with stable historical background never change their anthems and so the anthem by Baumaņu Kārlis is part of strong national Latvian tradition and will be the national anthem for the time being.