Tag Archives: Belarus

Latvia and the Belarusian Peoples Republic

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People's Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People’s Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

On March 25 1918 national and democratic forces representing the Belarusian nation proclaimed Belarusian Peoples Republic (Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika BNR)  It was done in the spirit of other nations proclaiming independence from the collapsed Russian Empire. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were example for Belarusians and Ukrainians who strived for their own unified state. However, during the crucial years of 1918-1920 the BNR did not survive the tides of war and ceased to exist. At the time of its short existence it had established relations with new Republic of Latvia and for a period of time BNR government was stationed in Riga. BNR had military and diplomatic mission working in Riga and its leaders placed hope on Latvian support. Latvia itself was caught in the tough battle for survival in war against Soviet Russia and pro-German forces and had complex relations with Poland so its relations with BNR at start were generally positive, but as BNR went into oblivion Latvia abandoned its support. Latvian main goals was to establish peace with Soviet Russia and settle issues with Poland so in the end BNR was more a obstacle for Latvian foreign policy and its diplomatic mission left Riga forever. This article marks the anniversary of Belarusian Peoples Republic and tells the story of short and forgotten Latvian and Belarusian relations between 1918 and 1921.

Belarusian nation has deep roots from medieval times when its territory was part of Lithuanian Grand Duchy. According to many historians mostly Belarusian ones, the leading elite of the Duchy was not Lithuanians but Belarusian ancestors. Later when Lithuania united with Poland Belarusian lands were influenced by Polish culture. Only after Polish partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795 Belarus was integrated in spiral of Moscow. During these long years a distinct Belarusian language and culture evolved but it had to survive under heavy Russification policies and also Polonization. On 1918 Russian Empire had collapsed and was forced to cede Belarusian lands to Germany according to Brest-Litovsk peace agreement. An agreement that allowed nations within German occupied lands to decide their own fate. Similar to Baltic nations, there were people among Belarusians who saw chance to establish a national democratic state.

On December 5 – 17 1917 in Minsk (Mensk in Belarusian language) in All-Belarus congress a Central Belarusian Rada was formed however the Russian Soviet of Peoples Commissars in Petrograd rejected the rights of Belarusian autonomy. On January 1918 the All Russia 3th Congress declared the Rada an illegitimate. No repressions followed as on February 1918 Germans stared major offensive and took control over all Belarusian lands.  On February 20 a Belarusian Peoples Secretariat was formed with J. Varonka in the lead. On March 9 Belarusian Rada issued the creation of democratic Belarusian Peoples Republic. On March 25 the BNR proclaimed independence.

Germany did not recognize BNR as it regarded it as a Russian territory. Rada nevertheless created a War Affairs Committee with Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau, in charge. In April Germans banned the Peoples Secretariat. Meanwhile Belarusian Rada fragmented in many leftist parties and with some difficulties created coalition government. Right wingers also joined pleasing the Germans and trade, industry and social welfare was transferred to Peoples Secretariat. BNR was recognized only by Ukrainian Peoples Republic so action was taken to get more diplomatic recognition from its neighbors. On October BNR made white-red-white flag as its official symbol and knight Pahonia the symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was made as coat of arms.

Situation became crucial after Germany stepped out of war and BNR had real chances for independence. However, the Bolsheviks were boosting up offensive to retake lost lands. BNR made agreement with Lithuania. Many members of Rada joined Lithuanian Council (Tariba) and Belarusian Affairs Ministry was made within Lithuanian government with J. Varonka as minister. On December 3 1918 BNR moved to Vilnius while Bolsheviks were approaching Mensk. Soon Bolsheviks headed for Vilnius and BNR moved to Hrodno (Grodno). BNR was in conflict with Poland who had territorial claims on Belarus and after deepening tensions its government moved to Berlin.

On May 1919 Polish forces captured Mensk and BNR leadership moved there. Polish leader Pilsudsky urged Belarusians to join in common union with Poland and make Rada an autonomous body with jurisdiction only in education and culture. BNR rejected and asked for full independence. BNR Rada was weakened by breakup into BNR Supreme Rada and BNR Peoples Rada. Both Rada’s were lead by rivaling leftist parties and Polish government suppressed Peoples Rada.  After major issues BNR government moved to Riga. Poland did not recognized BNR while all three Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Turkey had formally recognized.

BNR territorial claims were issue on its own as its included territories claimed by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. BNR would include Smolensk (Smolinsk), some small portions of Latvian Latgale and Sēlija regions and parts claimed by Lithuania and Poland. There were some maps that included whole Latgale as BNR territory. The BNR borders were drawn according to Belarusian ethnic borders that conflicted with all neighboring states. Ethnically diverse Latgale was also under dispute by Poland and Lithuania, while Vilnius was major hotspot between Poland and Lithuania. The western Belarus main centers Hrodna and Brest had large Polish populations that wished to be under Warsaw. While neither Bolsheviks nor White forces of Russia did recognize any national independence at all. This created a problematic situation for Belarusian independence.

On autumn 1920 Polish and Soviet peace agreement talks were underway in Riga. BNR government observed that Poles and Soviets are taking part in partition of the Belarusian lands and were not successful in breaking up these actions. This finally made BNR conflicting sides the socialist revolutionaries and socialist federalists  agreed to form unified government. A government led by V Lastovskau became official representative of BNR and BNR Peoples Rada was renamed the BNR Rada. BNR left Riga on November 11 and made agreement on common military union against Poland and started work in Kaunas. On 1923 BNR government and Rada left Kaunas and moved to Prague where it remains until this day still coordinating opposition efforts against Alexander Lukashenko (Lukashenka) authoritarian government in Republic of Belarus.

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR had high interests in Latvia. First contacts were made on summer of 1919 when BNR Minister of Interior Affairs K Tereshchenko arrived in Riga to establish relations with Latvia. He was interview by local Russian newspaper Rizhkoe Slovo where he issued his plans of creating unified front with Latvians and Lithuanians against the Bolsheviks. BNR had a small armed force incapable defeating Bolsheviks alone. On July 24 he met Kārlis Ulmanis the Prime Minister of Latvian Provisional Government who granted his plea to open BNR consulate in Riga. On August the consulate begun its work with B Shmikovich in charge later replaced by R Kazyachi. Consulate was located in Old Riga at Pils street. BNR flag was raised and consulate begun looking for potential BNR citizens issuing calls in press for Belarusian nationals to apply. BNR tried to level down its territorial claims on Daugavpils district until arrival of military – diplomatic mission to resolve the issue.

 The mission arrived on October 1 1919 with Kastus Jezavitau in charge. He was born in Daugavpils on 1893. On October 3 his delegation met the Latvian Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meirerovics, to whom he assured BNR support for Latvian independence and wished to join the planned Baltic Union. During the siege of Riga on October-November 1919 by pro-German Army of Bermondt BNR consulate remained in Riga. After Estonia made peace agreement with Soviet Russia BNR wanted to move the armed units led by general S Bulak-Balahovich or so called Belarusian corps to Latvia and use as BNR attack force. BNR stared talks with Latvian side to mobilize men within Latvia for BNR army however the talks failed. Only way to enlist people in Latvia into BNR forces was to make them BNR citizens.

During Battle of Riga and afterwards there was a brief positive period of relations between Latvia and BNR because of BNR representatives supported Latvians in many ways. However, soon many became aware of BNR claims on Latvian border areas most prominently the Ilūkste district (it was also disputed by Poland and Lithuania) and started to question the relations with BNR. As most part of Belarus was under Polish or Soviet rule with active combat actions these good relations were declarative that could change if BNR would gain control over Belarus. BNR could not convince Latvians to station Bulak-Balahovich forces in Latvia or include them into Latvian armed forces; Latvians only agreed them to transit to their homeland. A conflict emerged between BNR consulate and Latvian Army command. BNR consulate was on drive to recruit as much BNR citizens as possible without looking much into their motivation and ethnicity. In result some Latvians and Jews applied for BNR citizenship simply to avoid enlisting in Latvian Armed Forces.

On early 1920 Bulak-Balahovich forces of 800 men entered Latvia and stationed near Alūksne at Estonian border. Jezavitau tried to convince Latvians to include them in to offensive against Bolsheviks in Latgale but talks again failed. On January his unit was included in BNR but soon general broke ties with BNR and moved to Poland to join their army. When Latvian and Polish forces liberated Latgale from the Bolsheviks BNR wished to establish consulates in Daugavpils and Rēzekne. However, the talks with Latvian authorities failed. The Latvian military was skeptical about BNR citizenship registers for they served as tools to avoid army and as BNR only existed on paper there was great doubts. At this time much of Belarus was overrun by Bolsheviks and Polish armies on the Western side.

Latvian side became more reserved to BNR claims and requests. To sort out the Latvian and BNR border issues Latvian foreign ministry offered to create a Latvian-Belarusian commission.   Jezavitau requested secretary J Charpulka and consul B Shimkovich to work in commission, meanwhile Latvians did not rush to name their delegates and the commission never begun work. BNR most success in Latvia was laying foundations for national Belarusian minority by creating Belarusian culture and education society “Batjkovschina” (Fatherland) in Riga. Also a journal in Belarusian “Na Chuzije” (In foreign land) was issued, but only made single issue that contained information about Belarusians in Riga and BNR goals.

Latvian authorities started to feel colder towards BNR and Latvian police started to check BNR citizens to see how valid their citizenship is and even made arrests. BNR authorities protested and checks were stopped. Even some official BNR officials were arrested for instance secretary of BNR Rada J Mamonka was arrested at the Latvian border and 14 600 Russian Imperial Rubles he brought to Riga was confiscated. Border guards disregarded his BNR passport and also his diplomatic papers and only after protests he was released and money returned. BNR was not allowed to take part in Baltic States conference in Bulduri, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania voted against, while Latvia abstained. Only Poland this time because of partial loss of the Belarusian territory had nothing against the BNR participation. On August 11 1920 Latvia made Peace agreement with Soviet Union and relations with BNR was now seen as disadvantageous. The Polish – Soviet peace talks also took place in Riga and both sides were splitting Belarus in half. On October 20 after much Latvian pressure BNR started to gather its bags to leave Latvia. On October 27 BNR leader V Lastovsky pledged Baltic States to support BNR both politically and financially and wished that request for BNR war bases in Baltic States would be considered sometime in future.

On November 11 after making successful talks with Lithuania, BNR moved to Kaunas. Last BNR armed units stationed in Latvia left it after Polish takeover of Vilnius. Most of the Belarusian active community left Riga excluding   Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau who became leader of the Latvian Belarusian minority. Belarusian minority received autonomy in education, had their own societies however on 1924 because of false accusation in separatism many of the Belarusian leaders including Jezavitau were placed on trial greatly straining Latvian-Belarusian relations.

The situation in Belarus between 1918 and 1920 was greatly disadvantageous to Belarusian national independence. It was against the interest of both Bolsheviks and Poland who regarded Belarus as their territory. Latvian relations with BNR were based on realpolitics placing Latvian relations with Soviet Union and Poland above BNR interests. BNR certainly had high hopes in Latvian support, but their powers to defend their homeland were too short and in the end BNR became a state on paper. We can only speculate what would happen if Poland would support independent Belarus and ally with it against Soviets. In the result a fourth Baltic State was lost. The Republic of Belarus that was formed after dissolution of the Soviet Union at first tried to relive the legacy of BNR by using its flag as its national symbol. A few years later Alexander Lukashenko dropped all references to BNR and switched back to Soviet symbolism and turned Belarus into authoritarian nation with Russian tanks marching on the streets on Belarusian independence day. But, BNR is not dead. Its Rada still works in Prague. The BNR flag and its coat of arms has become a symbol of the democratic opposition and praised by the Belarusian democratic youth. If democratic Belarus has any future then ideas of BNR will be its guideline for Belarus to become a full fourth Baltic State and member of Europe.

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Selected sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1996) Latvijas un Baltkrievijas Tautas Republikas attiecības. (1919-1920) Latvijas Arhīvi. 1-2. 

Advertisements

Comments Off on Latvia and the Belarusian Peoples Republic

Filed under Historical Articles

Latvia 2014 The Year or Peril

Another year is heading for an end. The last post of this year will be review of events that took place in Latvia during 2014.  In past I called the 2011 as the year or troubles, the 2012 the year of quarrels, the 2013 the year of struggles. What I choose for this year will be the Year of Peril. It was the peril of the aggression coming from our eastern borders, it was the peril of the new economic backslide and peril of perpetual troubles and struggles that started on 2009. Yet to start reviewing this year we must go back to November 21 2013. First it was the start of the protests in Kyiv, Ukraine that later affected our country and the Maxima supermarket roof collapse that took away 54 people’s lives  and lead to the collapse of the long-standing Valdis Dombrovskis government. Both these events that took place on the same time affected the Latvian inter and foreign policy. Around these two events the story of the perilous 2014 year will  be told.

Latvia and the Ukrainian Conflict

Last September I had chance to listen to the famous journalist and author Anne Apelbaum. The author of Gulag A History  and The Iron Curtain was no rushing to finish the book about the Golodomor the Great Ukrainian famine on 1932-1933. The book was delayed for many years because the publisher considered Ukraine as unimportant topic as nothing ever happens there that would boost the sales. So it seems that suddenly 2014 became actually the year of Ukraine. But, what started in Ukraine was no coincidence nor it was unexpected. The signs of brewing revolution and conflict were visible on summer 2013 when nation was discussing the coming EU Association agreement that the pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych had promised to sign. At same time some publications were suggesting of possible conflict between Russia and Ukraine in case of moving towards west. One publication was called “Russia could blow up the situation in Crimea”.

The initial protests in Ukraine echoed in Latvian media and social circles. First support actions took place on December near the Ukrainian embassy. They were attended by 20-30 people, mostly the members of the Latvian Ukrainian Congress and the members of the National Alliance that expressed the support to the Ukrainian revolution. Yet the National Alliance  is pro-EU only for geopolitical reasons and their members like to play hockey with the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Yet, every further Ukrainian support action gathered more people from all kinds of political parties and social circles. For the starting slogans of the Euromaidan were for joining EU, saying no to corruption and adapting the western values of democracy were appealing to Latvia. We had our barricades on 1991 were we stood against communism and destroyed the communist symbols. While Kyiv was celebrating the demolition of the Lenin monument in Kyiv we are wondering what happened to most Lenin monuments that were taken down on 1991. Yet it was not just about monuments and agreement signing it was a fight for independence and sovereignty. What the 2004 Orange revolution failed to achieve the Euromaidan struggled with blood – full freedom from the yoke of Moscow. Something that every Russian neighbor strives for and for Ukrainians it is matter of historical honor the original Kievan Rus against the Grand Duchy of Moscow – the remnant of the Golden Horde.

The Latvian official policy towards the Ukrainian revolution was supportive and it welcomed the new government that formed in the outcome of February 24 events. Yet what followed next – the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and further invasion in Eastern Ukraine started the year of Peril. Many call this ongoing situation as the “New Cold War”, originally this therm was coined by British journalist Edward Lucas on 2008. When Russia provoked Georgia in to war and occupied two of its regions. Later both Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev   later admitted that they planned this war to prevent Georgia from joining EU and NATO. Yet back then the Western leaders swallowed this event with shame. Soon the worldwide economic crisis shadowed the events that took place during summer. Yet the warning was given but not heard – Russia is always in for confrontation towards west no matter the costs. For the Cold War thinking was never given up for the Kremlin rulers.

To explain why Russia in confronting the west right now and has did for last 20 years is to tell the metaphor or the bear and octopus.  Russia likes to portray herself as angry bear. Yet, the bear mostly sticks to own territory and himself. He only goes outside his territory when  he runs out of food. Otherwise he is mostly peaceful if not attacked or disturbed. That is not Russia. Russia is an octopus. Its head and main body is within Moscow but its testicles stretches all around the Eastern Europe and Asia. It tries to hold all its neighboring countries within its grasp. Any attempt of trying to break free is met with hostility and anger. The octopus is also afraid of others trying to cut of his testicles and reach for its head. Without all of its captured assets the Moscow would be powerless and left to decay. And that’s why Russian propaganda is  telling tales of encircled fortress, the hunted bear and struggle to prevent aggression. But, from the history we know that all foreign invasions in Russia from the western side started as response to Russian aggressive policy towards the west. Since the octopus is trying to hold all whats around him this the reason why Russia did not respect the sovereign independent policy of Georgia and Ukraine, while open intervention in neighboring country is “brotherly help”, the involvement of the western countries in the Russia’s neighbors is viewed as aggression against Russia itself.   Therefore Russia views all its border states as their sphere of interest that no other country can mingle. And it’s not like EU and NATO really wants the Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia for their sphere of interest. Ukraine needs west more than west needs Ukraine. And the reason is the claws coming from Moscow.

Vladimir Putin may have prevented Georgia from fully joining NATO and made the same harder for Ukraine. However, his most crucial failure was to prevent the Baltic States from joining the Western block. The Baltic States joined NATO and EU on 2004 leaving Russia frustrated and trying to bring their claws back ever since. The Russian aggression in Ukraine suddenly raised the question of the Latvian security. The Latvian political games had managed to remove the influential minister of defense Artis Pabriks from the main political scene. The often hawkish politician for years called for boosting up the neglected Latvian defense budget. It never reached the NATO 2% of the state budget standard.  After collapse of the Valdis Dombrovskis Pabriks was called as one of the potential candidates for the Prime Minister. However, the President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš rejected him. Later he was elected as member of EU parliament.  The current minister of defense Raimonds Vējonis is a leader of the Green Party. A seemingly unusual choice for such post yet nothing is its seems in the Latvian politics. Vējonis has taken his job seriously and taken steps to boost our military budget. He has brought more NATO troops in Latvia, even tanks from US. However, the army itself needs capable army. The lack of armed vehicles is compensated by buying used ones from UK. The army needs new anti air radars to intercept low flying Russian KA-50 attack helicopters that were stationed near the Latvian borders. Even more crucial is the training of the new servicemen, the support for the National Guard and so on. As Latvia just cannot relay on Estonia that has barely reached 2% defense budget requirement and  slightly more equipped Lithuanian army. Furthest neighbor Poland is boosting up military while Sweden is just waking from confusion of the Russian submarine within its waters. Russia is constantly testing the Baltic security by doing almost daily air force flights near the Latvian air space. With their transponders off they force the NATO Baltic patrol planes to take off to intercept them. Recently even the old but majestic TU-95 strategic bombers took flights within the Baltic Sea. Recently Russia has brought Iskander missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave for “drills”. All this has made opposite effect – NATO is bringing even more resources to ensure the Baltic security.

The Latvian inner security is also under question. The underfunded police force and seemingly slow and invisible special services raised doubts. The Security Police had change in leadership – the ongoing general Jānis Reiniks was replaced by Normunds Mežveits. Trough out the year there were various attempts by locals to support terrorists in Eastern Ukraine.  From raising donations to sending actual recruits. While Estonian security service had exposed many Russian agents, the Security Service and Constitutional Defense Bureau had found none. The other important question was the Residence Permits in exchange for real state property program for Russian citizens. By buying real estate in Latvia the Russian, Chinese or other non-EU citizen could gain residence permit within EU countries. The National Alliance had campaigned to close it down for years, sparking concerns of danger to the state security. The defenders of this policy says its helps the crisis hurt real estate to survive and that some of the residents from Russia are opponents of the Putin’s policy. True that small portion of Russian dissidents has left Russia for Latvia, for it’s a country with high use of Russian language and that the former Lenta.ru banned by Putin is now working in Riga as Meduza.ru. But its only a small number. One part of the Russian investors only buy the real estate but is not living there, renting or selling to others and giving no other investments to Latvian economy. Russia a country with official anti-western policy but with tons of investments and property within EU and US is a danger to Latvian economic and inner security. So far this residence permit security has not fully abolished.

Latvia joined the EU and US joint sanctions against Russia. The Russian response – to ban the import of EU food products, meat, fish and dairy products affected some of the Latvian companies. Not only that the Lithuanian and Polish apple importers were forced to send their production to Latvia alarming the local apple sellers. But, the local apple harvest was poor this year anyway.  While most Latvian traders accepted this and tried to compensate the losses others openly protested therefore boosting the Russian propaganda. One of the most prominent complainers was Major of Riga Nils Ušakovs. Leader of the mainly Russian speaking voters party left unreasonable rants about the sanctions in twitter and said that he is going to Moscow to “beg” to allow at least some of the Latvian products. His main concern was his special Rishij Dvorik Latvian food stand that grew empty after sanctions. Despite his visit to Moscow were he met Dmitri Medvedev and Grand Patriarch of the Moscow Orthodox Church   Kirill his Rizhkij Dvorik remained empty and went to rock bottom after Russian currency crisis.

Ušakovs also sent apologies to the blacklisted Russian singers and actors who expressed support for the Russian aggression. Among them Josif Kobzon, Valeria and others. In the end International Music festival “New Wave” hosted by the Russian television decided to leave Jurmala resort and move somewhere else presumably Crimea. The Ušakovs rants about sanctions and blacklists raised another issue- the issue of the pro-Moscow parties within Latvia. The Harmony Center now known simply as socialdemocratic party “Harmony” found itself unconformable with the Ukrainian issue. While confirming they support the Ukrainian territorial integrity, they were reluctant to denounce the Russian invasion and broke the association agreement with the United Russia party – the leading party in Russia. While Harmony balanced as usual the other one the Latvian Russian Union openly supported the Crimean annexation. Their leader Tatjana Ždanoka – the communist orthodox from the 1989-1991 came to Crimean “referendum” as EU observer. Despite the condemnations Ždanoka was re-elected as member of EU parliament openly pushing the Kremlin interests within Brussels. Her party however failed to reach any success in the parliament elections. The other more radical forces the movement “Zarya” (The Awakening) run by far right Ilarions Girss and Jevgēņijs Osipovs were preaching that Latvia should become another Donbass. Throughout the year   various Russian ideologues entered Latvia as part of the organization Media club “A-3” and expressed the ideas of Russian world and Euroasian state. Also the newly elected member of the parliament Ingūna Sudraba raised doubts about her connections with the Russian secret service and Kremlin elite. More bizarre was here connections with bogus religious group “Urantia” that believes in reptilian conspiracy against Russia and Putin as the holy savior. The invisible yet so visible reach of the Moscow octopus takes many passages to be described but this is a short glimpse.

The Collapsed Roof of the Latvian politics

The Maxima disaster left great shock to the Latvian society. The radicals wanted heads to roll immediately. However, the Latvian old saying of responsibility – Everyone is responsible, therefore no one is responsible again worked. The president Andris Bērziņš who called disaster as major mass murder had to approve his rhetoric.  After harsh talk with prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the latter resigned. Dombrovskis who had been Prime minister of several governments since 2008, lead the country trough the crisis and pawed Latvia to Eurozone had to resign ending an era. A question yet remains who stands behind his resignation that seemed unintended, – the president, parliamentary speaker Solvita Āboltiņa or the oligarch Aivars Lenmbergs   or all of them together will not be answered now. It will take time to answer what happened on late  November 2013. Right now Dombrovskis serves as European Commissioner for the Euro and Social Dialogue.

What was left after  Dombrovskis was political vacuum before 2014 October general election. As mentioned Artis Pabriks was turned down by the president or he was let down by his own party. The leader of the Unity party Solvita Aboltiņa refused to take PM office. The grey cardinal was growing unpopular within the voters so placed forward a compromise figure – the non party minister of Agriculture Laimdota Straujuma. A discrete careful woman the Straujuma became the first female PM in Latvia.  As the anti-lemberg Reform Party went into decay, the Lembergs lead Green Party Union returned to coalition and took over many important sectors such as Defense. Straujuma firstly considered herself only as temporarily Prime Minister until elections in October.

However, the power gap in Unity party was clearly visible. Two most prominent leaders Dombrovskis and Pabriks were elected to Brussels. The other members were not strong and influential to lead the country. So Straujuma remained as PM candidate for the elections and now serves her second therm.  The elections became nightmare for the party leadership. The party chairman also the chairman of the parliament (Saeima) Solvita Āboltiņa was not elected. The ongoing red-haired speaker has grown infamous for here arrogance and schemes. However, let’s be honest – the Latvian society dislikes strong powerful woman in office. But, Āboltiņa did not surrender. Jānis Junkurs the member of the Reform Party separatists, rather quiet and mysterious young man, now turned to Unity to run in elections. With his self funded election campaign he gained more points than the Grey Cardinal with Red hair and made in to parliament above here. But he was absent from the public scene after the election. Then on the day when the  new parliament was called he announced his resignation from the parliament. In such matter according to election laws the Solvita Āboltiņa replaced him. Leaving no comment the Junkurs left the scene and founded new company in Hong Kong.   Many obviously pointed that he was forced to give his seat to Āboltiņa. She soon took the seat of the National Security Parliamentary Commission showing that foxes never give up.

The National Alliance gained extra seats in the elections. Known as champions in conservative ideology they were known as champions in justice corruption. Of course nothing is proven. Only that both of their ministers for Justice and Regional Affairs were rejected to receive state secrets. So were taken out of game. Still Nationals secured the control over justice after the elections, and also gained the most valuable parliamentary speaker  seat that was taken by Ināra Mūrniece.

The Green Farmers – alliance between Latvian Farmers Union and the Green Party and the Ventspils city party of Aivars Lembergs benefited the most from the Dombrovskis downfall. Their main opponents the Reform Party had went into collapse. The Green Farmers returned to coalition and secured their old sectors – agriculture and welfare and also conquered the strategically vital ministry of defense and ministry of economy. The later was taken by chess champion Daiga Reiznience-Ozola.

The Harmony party failed this year. Despite winning the election by percent, they did not gain enough seats to form coalition. Nor they were asked to because of the  Ukrainian conflict. Their potential allies – For Latvia With Heart only gained 7 seats. More interesting was the new Regional Party elected member Artuss Kaimiņš. Outspoken, aggressive, often rude actor, he owned videoblog that was aired on radio for some time, where he interviewed his guest in the most bombastic way now entered politics. His main flagship was the Maxima disaster investigation on parliamentary level  and exposure of the corruption and injustice. After few months he was denounced for his drunk fight in rock cafe.  Its remains to be seen if he will evolve into Latvian Alexander Zhirinovsky.

Latvia so far rather successfully survived the national currency Lats transition to Euro. The patriotic nostalgia of the old beutiful currency soon was washed away by the war in Ukraine, as it was more important to be part of the strong global currency. The Russian propaganda tales  of the Eurozone collapse now is dwindled away by the real collapse of the Russian ruble. Now our neighbor Lithuania will enter Eurozone on 2015 making Baltic states under single currency.

Latvia – challenges for the 2015

Latvia will become the presiding nation of the EU. The EU presidency during these turbulent times will be crucial. In both of state security and international prestige. Russia openly harassed Lithuania during its presidency this year. Informational war and military threats are potential danger. Latvia has been exposed to the Russian propaganda for years and it will grow even more. Great concern is if Russia is planning more than informational warfare but a hybrid warfare using gaps in our security. Such actions can be dangerous for both Russia and Latvia as we are the NATO member. Another danger is looming in our neighboring country Belarus. For 20 years this country has been ruled by authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko whose semi-socialist economy is depended on Russia. As the ruble in Russia went into decay the over inflated Belarusian ruble took a hit. Lukashenko is looking to avoid maidan in Belarus, by balancing between    Moscow and Europe and his people. Same as Yanukovych the Lukashenko maneuvers will end at one point leaving country in danger of either revolution or the Russian incursion. Since Belarus is our neighboring country that also should be considered as the fourth Baltic State, any major disturbance especially if its involves EU and Russia will be the prime interest for Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Certainly the Belarus could be potential hotspot and game changer on 2015.

  The economical development is at constant caution. Latvia seemingly recovered from the economic crisis on the end 2013. We entered Euro, the remnant of the 2013 crisis the Citadele bank – the former Parex Bank that state had to nationalize was sold to foreign investors this November. The economical and energy dependence on hostile Russia must be limit if not cut all together. Russian economy is collapsing because of the western sanctions and the falling oil prices. Greater economical ties and cooperation must be established with Ukraine and Belarus. Russian economic sanctions are likely to increase on Latvia during 2015. On 2015 Latvia will be on the front of the international rivalry between the West and the Moscow octopus. The 2015 will be the year of the Goat. Goat is symbol of smartness, independence and wealth. Yet Goat is also the symbol of the Devils face. The Goat year previously was 1919 and 1991 the two very crucial years for Latvia. Lets be smart and independent and also courageous on year 2015 and reach new milestone and achievements.

Comments Off on Latvia 2014 The Year or Peril

Filed under Current Events

Belarusians in Latvia

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal "Jaunais Cīrulītis"

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal “Jaunais Cīrulītis”

One of the Slavic nations, besides Ukrainians and Poles  that Latvia shares a common past and future are Belarusians. Latvia and Belarus have common border and cultural and ethical roots. In Latvian the Belarussian is spelled as “Baltkrievs” and not without a reason for the Belarusian ethnic origins come from 5 to 6 century when Ancient Slavic tribes migrated from Central Europe to the lands present day Belarus where the ancient Baltic tribes lived. Various Slavic tribes the kriviči, dregoviči, radmiči moved to lands inhabited by augstaiši, jātvingi, galindi and latgalians slowly assimilating them until the 10 century. The Duchies of Polotsk and Smolensk used old Belarussian language and had political and trade contacts with ancient Latvian tribes. At the 13th century old Belarusian duchies were integrated into  Grand Duchy of Lithuania where Belarusian noble elite played important role. Old form of Belarusian language was used in official jurisdiction of the Lithuanian duchy. No wonder the original Belarus coat of arms was derived from the coat of arms of the Lithuanian duchy. Majority of Belarusian historians consider the Lithuanian Grand Duchy as the state of Belarusians while Lithuanian counterparts tend to disagree.

For various reasons on 16th century the therm “White Russia” or “White Ruthenia” was derived. Consequently people living in it and talking in language different  than in Russia and Ukraine became known as Belarusians. Sadly on the same time after Lithuania united with Poland, Belarusian nobility was slowly removed from the ruling elite. Country had to go trough many destructive wars between Russia and Poland. After the full inclusion into Russian empire the Belarusian nation went into silent decay.

As mentioned the ancient Latgalain rulers had connections with Duchies of Polotsk as early as 12th century. Merchants traveled across river Daugava they called Dvinsk. Larger number of Belarusian settlers came to Latgale when it was under Polish-Lithuanian rule. Either Belarusian nobles or peasants. It’s known that the town of Jēkabpils originated from settlement of refugees of the Orthodox Old Believers, that came from Vitebsk and Smolensk  that may be Belarusian origin. Belarusian migration continued under the Tsarist rule in bordering areas. As Latgale was part of Province of Vitebsk the entry was less restricted than to other parts of present day Latvia.

On 1897 the All Russia National Census concluded that in six districts of the Province of Vitebsk – Ludza, Daugavpils (Dinaburg) and Rēzekne a 66 thousand Belarusians and 63 thousand speaking Belarusian lives in this area. Some Latvian historians and demographers however argued that this amount was boosted by local Poles and Latvians calling themselves Belarusians for their own reasons.    Another crucial factor was the so-called “tuteiši” – people who had no perception of their national identity and simply described themselves as locals or Catholics or Orthodox. Latvians, Poles, Russians and Belarusians not to mention the Jews lived in Latgale side by side and often were prone to assimilation.  As we know today the once national identity is not derived from genes or family roots, but by state of mind and education.  Latgale was ethically and religiously  mixed with a very complicated social structure. For these reasons people in Latgale often had difficulty choosing their national identity.

After Latvia gained independence on 1918, various national census held in 1920, 1925. 1930 and 1935 showed inconclusive results. On 1920. the first national census still counted Russians and Belarusians together, however to distinguish them  Russians were called as “Great Russians” (Lielkrievi). In result according to interpretations 75 thousand Belarusians lived in Latvia on 1920. However, the 1925 census counted now just 38 thousands. Without proper understanding some historians as Viktors Guščins made a claim that a massive Belarusian deportation was organized by Latvian authorities. Since there were no documented proofs of such action taking place the “Belarusian Deportation” is just another of the Guščins wild fantasies. On 1935 just 25 thousand Belarusians were counted. This rapid decrease was dictated by many reasons. Firstly as the Latvian Statistic Authority admitted they often lacked knowledge to determine who is Belarusian and who is not. Some Belarusians were counted as Russians or Poles or even Latvians. Another problem was the low literacy of the Belarusian farmers as some data shows only some 63% of them knew how to read. In same matter Russian and Polish farmers especially in Latgale had this litercy problem. Another factor was the constant Latvian national policy of trying to absorb some nationally unsure Latgalian people as Latvians in same matter as Poles and Russians tried to do same. During the twenties and thirties Latgale was a constant cultural, ideological and  diplomatic battleground to make Latgale more Latvian free from foreign influence. In this matter many Belarusians lost their national identity.

On March 25 1918 the Belarusian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. It had diplomatic relations with the Republic of Latvia and some even took the BPR citizenship. However, the republic was steamrolled by the Bolsheviks and Poles. Part of Belarusians came under Soviet rule with its own Belarusian Soviet Republic. Other part was ended up in Poland and Lithuania. Both countries especially Poland was in uneasy relations with the national minorities. Latvia on the other hand issued a minority friendly laws allowing to form own native language schools. Belarusian intellectuals living in Latvia saw a great chance to start a Belarusian national revival. However, this seemed harder than expected.

On 1922 The Belarussian school authority was established. Baltic Germans, Jews, Russians and Poles already had their own. As much as 40 state funded schools and 2 gymnasiums were opened.  A special courses for Belarusian teachers were made. However, the Belarusian schools had various problems mostly because of the low number of school children. Only 40% of school age children actually attended because of poverty and even lack of shoes. In Daugavpils 19 teachers worked with 86 students in Ludza 5 teachers with 50-60 students. However, it was common sight for many national minority schools such as Jewish schools and others. The national Latvian forces in parliament and press always made a negative discourse towards minority schools calling them “a useless spending of state money” and hostile to Latvians. Even greater was the cross minority rivalry for funding for their schools and school children. Polish and Russian national minority forces were annoyed by the existence of the Belarusian schools and started a campaign against them as early on 1923 resulting a political farce.

Konstantin Jezovitov - the leader of the Belorussian national movement on 1920-1940

Konstantin Jezovitov – the leader of the Belarussian national movement on 1920-1940

Russian and Polish newspapers started to spread propaganda that there is no such nation as Belarusians, but they are just confused Russians or Poles used by ex Tsarist officers who claim themselves as Belarusians. The Latvian press especially the Latvian Latgalian press pick this up and started to write word Belsrusian in commas. In their hypocrisy the Latvian newspapers had no problem writing about Belarusians in Poland or USSR a real nation. On 1923 in the Latvian parliament the “Belarusian”  question was officially discussed. Polish deputy Jans Veržbickis accused the Belarusian national leader Konstantin Jezovitiov and others of intentionally devising a nation called “Belarusians”   to gain national state support and new carrier grounds at the expense of Poles and Russians. The Latgalian deputies Fricis Kemps and Jāzeps Trasuns picked up the subject and agreed that there are no Belarusians but instead accused the Poles of attempting to assimilate Latvians. In their view Belarusians were Latvians mislead by the Poles. Belarusians got themselves into cross national crossfire.

The whole 1923 was spent in arguing between both sides. Konstantin Jezovitov wrote a defending publication outlining the Belarusian history and culture. Fricis Kemps answered with  a strong worded publication that caused a lawsuit where Jezuvitov managed to prove him guilty of personal insult. Then on 1924 the anti-Belarussian campaign reached its height. In the Kapiņu parish Belarussian school a school inspected saw a map showing Belarusian borders including parts of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. This was reported to Ministry of Education because the school inspector believed these borders signify the future state of Belarus taking away Latvian lands. Latvian Secret Police had Jezovitovs and other Belarusian activists on their watch-list.  Partly because of alleged conections with the radical leftist forces and Belarusian organizations outside Latvia. Two years before on 1921-1923 both in Poland and Lithuania a trial was made against Belarusian organization “Gromada” that was accused on plotting uprising against the Polish state. Knowing this the Latvian Secret Police made a suspicion that Belarusian organization “Batjaukaščina” of being separatist force.

Eight Belarusian schoolteachers were accused of treason, with them Jezovitov, A Jakubecky, V Korcius and others. The case against the “Belarusian national separatists”  were orchestrated by negative publications in the press and resulted the closure of many schools. Jezovitov spent in prison 11 months as only one of the accused. On 1925 the trial took place and resulted in fiasco. Latvian Secret Police failed  to prove the existence of the “criminal separatist” organization. The witnesses were mostly agents or hostile Russian schoolteachers. It turned out that the map that caused the process actually showed the Belarusian ethical borders not state borders. Although Konstantin Jezovitov was an ex officer of the Belarusian Peoples Republic his separatist actions could not be proved. In the end all accused were found not guilty resulting a heavy strain on Belarusian national movement.

In the following years Latvian politicians were forced to accept the fact that Belarusians live in Latvia and deserve their schools. Belarusians did made hostile opposition in return, and praised the Latvian state support. Nationalist pressure on Belarusian schools  still continued on 1925 local Latgalian newspaper celebrated the closure of the Belarussian  gymnasium in Ludza. However, as the national and diplomatic relations with Poles and Poland worsened especially on 1931, Latvians now accused Poles of inciting hate between Latvians and Belarusians.

Belarusians had many supportive Latvian friends like Rainis the famous Latvian poet and leftist leader.  With his help Belarusians could find their schools and enter politics within the social democratic party ranks. Later, more intellectual Latvians acknowledged the Belarusian national movement. Cultural developments were on the go despite low funding and other problems.

Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime limited the Belarusian national cultural activities while the Soviet Occupation destroyed it completely.   During the Nazi occupation 0n 1943 48 601 people within Latvia were called as Belarusians. The sharp increase can be explained by the flow of people from German occupied Belarus, who either were moved against there will by the Germans or moved by themselves.  Some Belarusians served in Latvian SS Legion some resisted the Nazis. Konstantin Jezovitov was arrested by Soviet SMERCH and died in captivity on 1944.

Belorussian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

Belarusian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

After the start of the second Soviet occupation people from Belarus, just as from Ukraine and Russia came to Latvia to settle for a new life. Belarus was utterly devastated by the war and soviets pushed to build factories that needed large amount of workforce. In result between 1959 t0 1989 about 120 Belarusians lived in Latvia. Most again settled in Latgale and Daugavpils, while others moved to Riga and other centers. On 1989 43 thousand Belarusians lived in Riga. Large part of Belarusians still lived in rural areas. However, because of the lack state support towards Belarusian language education some 36% of Latvian Belarusians knew the Belarusian language. Same difficulty they had with Latvian  resulting that many were placed in mass of immigrants simply described as “Russians” or “Russian-speakers”. However, not always the lack of native language skills signify the loss of national identity as common for Belarusians, Jews, Poles and Ukrainians.

In same manner as other national minorities Belarusians founded their cultural societies during the events of 1988-1992. On 1988 November 27 the Belarusian cultural society “Svitanak” that gathered established members of society and culture. A Belarusian Primary School is working in Riga, and many cultural activities are taking place. Unfortunately, from the early start the independent state of Belarus was taken over by post-sovietic authoritarian regime with more emphasis towards  Russia, as Russian language is most used in Belarusian majority country. Latvian politicians for economic reasons have often ignored the political situation in Belarus. Some parties have eagerly expressed support towards Ukrainian national movement while praising Alexander Lukashenka. In result the Belarusian opposition considers Lithuania and Poland as more supportive towards their cause rather than Latvia. According to 2012 census 4,1 of Belarusians live in Latvia making them second largest national minority. Only above 600 of them use Belarusian language at home. The bad effect of the Russification policies is clear, but in the spirit of the changing times can be overcome as the Belarusians is a nation of a historical value and legacy.

Selected Sources:

Apine, Ilga. (1995) Baltkrievi Latvijā. Rīga. 1995.

 Jēkabsons Ē. Белорусы в Латвии в 1918–1940 годах (Baltkrievi Latvijā 1918.–1940. gadā) //Беларуская дыяспара як пасреднiца ў дыялогу цывiлiзацый. Матэрыялы III Мiжнароднага кангрэса беларусiстаў. Мiнск: Беларускi Кнiгазбор, 2001

http://www.svitanak.lv/

Comments Off on Belarusians in Latvia

Filed under Historical Articles