During the Soviet occupation the usage of the Latvian national flag was strictly forbidden. Public display of it would cause arrest and imprisonment. So people kept their flags hidden in their homes away from the watchful eyes of the KGB. Yet one man dared to raise the flag above the Riga radio tower to display his hope of change and protest to the communist order. However, he was quickly spotted by the Soviet patrols and arrested and his act was kept unknown to many. His name was Bruno Javoišs and last year he published his memoirs. Since this site is devoted both to radio history and the history of Latvian anti-soviet resistance this little known remarkable story will be displayed here.
Bruno Javoišs was a student at 10th grade High School at Red Army Street. Wandering around the Riga Central market and shops Javoišs begun to notice the arrogance of the Russian shopkeepers and customers demanding to speak Russian and disdaining the Latvian language. As he grew older in 11th grade he started to read old books before World War 2. He had to be careful because he lived in communal apartment with immigrant family from Bashkiria who always watched his family moves with suspicion. The books were about so-called “Times of Latvia” or as official Soviet education called – “the bourgeoisie Latvia” where everything was bad, but now in Soviet Latvia everything is fine and it will get better. However, his grandma’s books showed everything the other way around – in difficult history filled with wars and suffering the independence was won with country of its own anthem and century old flag.
In search for more old books he came across the book called the “The Horrible Year”. Today this book is rightfully viewed as a piece of Nazi propaganda that was made to justify the genocide against the Jews of Latvia. However, the book was right that on 1940 Soviet Union had occupied Latvia an inconvenient truth that Soviet propaganda tried to hide. Book by book, word by word he begun to understand that everything is not like it is. The Soviet power was rouge not a Latvian one. He made a group of common minded peers and even came across the idea of spreading leaflets. But, nothing happened as his peers were only active of talking not doing.
He decided to act alone – not sure what he will do, but it has to remain secret. What two knows – rest of the world knows. On his way from one school to other he always came past the Riga radio tower. It was built on 1925 near the old radio building on Aspazijas Boulevard. During the Soviet celebrations on May 1, November 7 at the top of the tower the flag of Latvian Soviet republic was always raised. At one time it came across to his mind that the rouge flag should be replaced with flag of Latvia to mark the change. Off course that was naïve thought that it could shake up the strong omnipresent Soviet regime. The partisans fighting with guns in forests were long beaten there was no hope for Western invasion- yet everything must be started from one small step. Without telling his parents he joined the DOSAAF (Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet) courses for military drivers. To learn the military skills for his future act no matter those courses were in Russian – the language skills also can contribute to the fight.
After finishing High School he was conscripted in the Soviet Army. He came to army with joy and applied for the commander courses. After finishing all courses and gaining all necessary certificates he was told to join the communist party and sign an agreement to loyally serve the regime and fulfill every order. He declined. He was sent away with words: “From mud you came, the mud you must stay”. On 1963 with resentment that he was outside the party and gave up the officer carrier he was accepted into Riga Aviation Engineer Institute. But, Javoišs knew every line of the soviet ideology and the party plans to convince the examiners. He begun the studies with excitement, but soon the harassing Russification had enough of him. Not even in school cafeteria he could freely speak Latvian without suspicious looks. The lectures about history of the communist party and the philosophy of Marxism were a hardship to him. In war school and army he heard all this but now it was enough.
He began to ask questions – from whom Cossack Yermak liberated the people of Siberia, why the Caucasian nations lived better under the Tsar rather than Turks. And why nothing was done to fulfill the great Lenin instructions in national policy and why the plague of the “Great Russian” chauvinism still reigns. The teachers asked to prove the last statement. Javoišs said I don’t have to look deep for that: into that in army I was asked to sing along “”Russia, Russia – my fatherland” in Russian and was told to become an aviator I have to know Russian and it’s pointless to speak to local militiaman (policeman) in Latvia. Teacher replied that these questions are difficult and should be discussed outside the classrooms. And he was called to talk with party representative and asked what you don’t like in this institute. “Oh no! I like everything here!” He stayed quiet until the day of Soviet constitution came across. In discussion about the rights of seceding from the Soviet Union as granted by the “most democratic constitution in the world” Javoišs expressed concerns that Latvian nation against her own will is Russianized in “the prime essence of this word”. Teacher became angry and shouted: “What is holding you! Have you not read the constitution of the USSR? Secede if you nations want so!” Javoišs bitted his lips. Sure it was desire of him and many, but does to whole Latvian nation wants so? Could he speak on the behalf of the Latvian nation?
And then before his eyes the mighty radio tower appeared. He will raise the flag of Latvia on it. Then he will see if the nation will support or condemn him. There were some instances in country side where the flag was raised on church tower or on the tall tree. But, that was in the country side – it has to happen in the main city center to all to see and not forgot. In front of the local soviet government and the occupying force. If he falls down let him to be buried on the Latvian soil. If he succeeds and will be arrested he will describe to all publicly why he had done this. In the court he will use all of his knowledge of the Soviet laws and constitution. Let there be plebiscite! Let the nation decide to break away from the union!
He learned how to climb and loose fear from heights. After all the flag of USSR was raised by skillful alpinist. And he had to tailor the flag himself and use the skills his grandma taught him. The flag was ready and was kept in the drawer till the night of December 5. It was the day of the Soviet Constitution.
When the night came he wrote the farewell letter to his close ones, explaining his motives and asked to be buried in the Brothers War cemetery. The young naivety was still strong. In Russian army clothing and military backpack he came to his target posing as army driver coming to his morning shift. He approached the tower trough the empty winter streets of Riga. Near the tower he was ready to climb but noticed someone in the dark looking at him. He was looking at him from the canal bridge. Javoišs noticed a broom and started to pose as a simple street sweeper and sweep the streets until it begun to rain. The stranger went away. The rain would make the tower icy impossible to climb. He decided to risk, and he also forgot to take his grenade with him
He approached the construction and started to climb. He made it to the first platform where shallow iron stairs lead him upwards. He climbed up step by step until he could hear the sound of the waving LSSR flag. But then the surprise came- the construction ended. Tall spires lead upwards to LSSR flag. And then he found the crossbar above it the flag must be changed. He pulled up to crossbar sat on it and changed the LSSR flag to the majestic flag of Latvia.
Resisting his temptation to enjoy the great view of Riga from the top of the radio tower he climbed downwards. The flag should greet everyone in Riga in the morning. As he approached downwards where the stairs ended he was ready to climb only to saw an armed group of militia officers running towards the tower. The militia building was just near the tower. Now it was clear – he will not see the flag from the ground. The militiamen shouted in Russian: “Jump here!” He jumped down and was hit and beaten accompanied by Russian swear words. “Not a single swear word in Latvian!” he remembered. He was dragged to the main building and the upstairs.
Brutal officers then were replaced by two men of who one in clear Latvian said: “Oh my, what they have done to you?” “Mitrofanov quickly bring some water let him clean himself up!” After cleaning up his face in towel the two Latvian officers said can we have a talk now? The two officers were convinced that he was recruited to climb up to tower and did not believe he acted on his own. “No worries, you will tell everything eventually!”. For eight months he spent in KGB basement and was sentenced for seven years for “anti-soviet agitation and propaganda” the highest crime against the state.
What happened to the flag? Some say that alpinist called to remove the flag was already drunk before celebrations and was unable to climb up until eleven in the morning.
Bruno Javoišs spent his prison days in Mordovia where he met other political prisoners like Gunārs Astra, Juris Ziemelis and others. He worked as driver in Riga on his return was unable to join the Academy of Arts. But, he was helped to join the University of Tartu. He finished it gaining degree in history of arts, married an Estonian and raised family of three children. He stayed in Estonia, worked in art enterprise, later as history teacher in times of independence and now as postman. He is awarded with the Sign of Distinction of the Order of Three Stars. Because of his nationalistic views and political affiliations he was considered dangerous to enter Latvia at March 16th Legion day. Despite this painful accident he came to Latvia last year at the War Museum to commemorate the 50 years since he raised the flag on the radio tower. The radio tower itself was removed on 1994 for it was no longer in working order. But, the flag of Latvia once again is used freely and is a symbol of our national and democratic freedom – a freedom that still needs to be fought for.