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Swedish Vidzeme

Swedish army Garrison gate in old Riga. A symbol of Swedish rule

After the war with Poland Sweden acquired Vidzeme (Livland) as a new part of its empire. Riga was also added to Sweden and became one of the main trade centers of Sweden. At the time of Swedish rule Vidzeme became economically stable and its population grow from 50 000 to 142 000. Because of somewhat liberal Swedish attitudes to Latvian peasants and their staunch policy on German landlords, Swedish times are sometimes called “The Good Swedish times”. However this is disputed by modern Latvian historians who see this as a myth.

The Swedish administration gave 40 percent of land to Swedish nobles; another part still belonged to the Germans. German landlords used widely serfdom to expand their labor.  Serfdom meant that peasant family who lived within the noble owned land were subjects of the noble. They could not inherit land they maintained nor could they leave it. Serfdom was a form of slavery in all parts of Latvia. However serfdom was not used in mainland Sweden so Swedish king Karl XI suggested abolishing it entirely in Swedish empire. That was met with resistance from German landlords who wanted to expand their rights to enslave local peasants.

To somehow control the situation in Vidzeme, Swedish government used the reduction policy since 1681.  About five-sixths of estates in Vidzeme were reclaimed by Swedish crown. This was done to increase the revenues for Sweden and it succeeded because tax incomes grow substantially. However German control over their estates did not weaken and it had no big effect on the lives of Latvian peasants. Serfdom was not abolished however in Swedish controlled estates the treatment of peasants were less bad than in private German estates.

Riga surrendered to the Swedish army in 1621. Swedish government allowed Riga to keep its privileges even if it meant that Riga could have relative autonomy from Sweden. An inconvenience for people of Riga was Swedish garrison, in times of Poles, Polish army stayed out of Riga. This caused conflicts between Riga town council and Sweden, more quarrels happened because of Riga privileges. Swedish absolute monarchy contradicted the feudal rights of Riga. The Swedish administration made much effort to hold control over Riga and weaken its autonomy. But Riga Town council managed to keep their rights. In 1645 Riga became the administrative center of Vidzeme.

Riga was under attack by Russian army during the Swedish-Russian war (1656-1661). Riga was besieged by Czar Alexis Mikhalovich himself. Riga was under Russian artillery fire but did  not suffer much damage. In outcome Russian army was defeated and the siege was lifted.

Riga under Russian siege in 1656.

One of the notable achievements of the Swedish rule was opening of the Dorpat (Tartu) university.  It was the first university in the Baltic region. The university was established by King Gustav Adolphus. Latvian language was also studied there because it was needed for new pastors who wanted to work in Vidzeme. Later times first Latvian students started to study there. From the graduates of Dorpat University the first Latvian national intelligentsia appeared.

In Vidzeme for the first time Christian Bible was translated into Latvian. It was done by Ernest Glik from Aluksne. In 1685 he made translation of the New Testament but the whole translation was released in 1689. This was a significant effort in development of Latvian language. This was also a good start to introduce Christian teachings to simple Latvian peasants who were still more or less pagan. Before that Bible was only available in Latin or German.

The relative peace in Vidzeme came to an end when Denmark, Saxony and Russia allied in a war against Sweden in 1700. Vidzeme once again became a battlefield and got new owner – Russia.

Selected Sources

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1962) Latvijas vēsture, 1600-1710. Stockholm: Daugava.

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1938-1941) Vidzemes 1638. gada arklu revīzija = die Hakenrevision Livlands 1638. 1-6 Vol. Riga. Latvijas Vēstures institūts.

Alexis Mikhalovich

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The Move of Faculty of History to new home. A story of old home

The old building at Brīvības Boulevard right in middle between Monument of Freedom and House of Ministers

Today The Faculty of History and Philosophy of University of Latvia are moving to new address.  Yes the finance crisis has finally forced us studying and educating historians move from old place at Brīvības Boulevard 32 to Mārstaļu street 28/30. The rumors and discussions about leaving old home has been present for a long time. The house did not belong to University, it was property of ” State Real Estates” and University paid rent for it. Now since the finance crisis has affected nearly everything in Latvia, the University finally decided to save money and move historians and philosophers out. There were three possible destinations the Lomonosov street in one house Social Science faculty, the University main building and Mārstaļu street in Old Riga near river Daugava. The first two choices were not satisfactory and even disgraceful as we would have to share place with students from other faculties. The building at Mārstaļu street was smaller than old building, but at least was located in Old Riga and was Universities property.

Even if move destination was not bad common resentment about the move was shared among many students, professors and other graduates. For old building was home for every historian since 1946. All of our professors, lecturers and other workers has studied and worked there all their lives.   For many of them building in Brīvība Boulevard was their second home.

Today at 22. December the ceremonial removal of faculty sign occurred and processions by students and professors took place to new home.  Professor  Alberts Varslavans one of the first who started his carrier in Brīvības Boulevard give a small speech and told that this building will forever will be related to historians, “no matter what will happen with this building after we leave, there will always be flavor of historians present in every corner of this building”.

The Dean of Faculty removes the old sign

The building was built in 1875. by architect H.K. Sheel   It was property of German family von Trazee. At 1917.  it was home for Latvian Rifleman regiment united soviet executive (The Iskolatstel). At 1918. it was home of Separate Student company- one of the first military formation of Army of Latvia.  At times of Freedom, building was used for many purposes.  Mentioned creditors and estate owners settled there.  Restaurants and even cabaret club was there. Cabaret Restaurant “Parka Pagrabs” (“Park Basement (Vemanis Park was nearby)) was famous among many Latvian artists, writers and journalists.

Soviet regime did not respect any private property so they decided to move historians and philologists to this new home. Before they shared the main building at Rainis Boulevard. The First floor was used by popular souvenir and clothing shop “Sakta” (“Brooch”). It was popular shopping place in Soviet Era.

Philologists eventually became separate from historians and philosophers came together with them. Both had their own libraries. Main lecture room was 1. auditory- big hall capable of holding more than 100 students. There the main lectures and exams took place. Others were smaller. The third auditory was most technically advanced, presentations and  movie shows took place. In there the examining of Bachelor and Master works  were taken. Last floor was mostly used for philosophers.  In Soviet Era faculty even had its own cafeteria. After it was closed, students were forced to use coffee machine of head to main building or use private cafeterias. At 2006. legendary shop “Sakta” was closed and space became used by Latvian Post service and Narvesen shop and Index cafe.

Now Faculty has new home. It’s near river Daugava. In front of new faculty stands abounded House of Darnenstein a monument of history. At first glance the new stairs and corridors of new home feels narrow, but at least we are on our own in Old Riga.

Farewell and Good-by Brīvības Boulevard, Hello to Mārstaļu street.

The new location at old Riga

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90. Years of University of Latvia


The emblem of University of Latvia

Today 90. years ago when prospects of independent Latvia was still at fade the University of Latvia was founded. Before that all young Latvian students needed to go to Tartu, Estonia or Petersburg Russia to get higher education for their future life.  There was no University in Latvian land before. The proclamation of Republic of Latvia in 18. November 1918. made possible the dream of Latvian own High Education.

It happened in 28. September 1919. The site for future university was Polittechnical Institute  of Riga. It was beautiful old building located near Riga canal in heart of Riga. Building was decorated with red and white flags and symbols of Curland, Vidzeme and Latgalia. The opening ceremony was attended by members of Peoples Council, Cabinet, army commanders, diplomats, senators and professors, students and many more. By singing the Latvian national anthem “God Bless Latvia!“, and Jāzeps Vītols song “Castle of Light” the ceremony was opened. Two opening speeches were conducted by Minister of Education Kārlis Kasparsons.  Second was by pro rector  professor Eižens Laube. At first University was not called so, it was founded simply as High School of Latvia. First year of High School was troubled because of War for Independence, students were conscripted into army and the outcome of war was important for the future for Latvian High Education. In 1920. the war was won and serious work was to be done.


Main building of University

In 1923. with help of President of Latvia Janis Čakste the Satversme (Constitution) of Latvian University was founded and the High School of Latvia officially became University of Latvia. Many professors who were in exile during World war returned to work in new university. Aleksandrs Dauge, Jānis Endzelīns, Ernests Felsbergs, Kārlis Dišlers Francis Balodis was one of those who were needed for further progress. At twenties there were 185 workers in LU, but in thirties there were 360 workers with 73 professors. First rector of university was Ernests Felsbergs from 1922 to 1923. Felsbergs were famous Art Historian. 1923.-1925. rector was Jānis Ruberts an ophthalmologist. He was replaced by Augusts Tentelis, historian. From 1927. to 1929. rector was Mārtiņš Zīle who was a doctor who first organized international scientific conferences in Latvia. In 1929. A. Tentelis again was chosen as rector. First ten years were intense work of rebuilding the war ruble and making new generation.

During the thirties Latvian University got its best times. 141 new dissertations mostly in field of medicine were made. Grands for students were growing making more new lecturers and professors. University got it own botanical gardens. The humanitarian field were also progressing.  University was available for students of all nationalities. Jews were active students in many exact studies. Germans got many professors, and they constantly collided with Latvian nationalist views on basis of teaching. Leonīds Arbuzovs was Russian- German talented and prominent historian who were battled by Latvian professors, and was forced to leave the university. When in 1934. the Authoritarian regime of Karlis Ulmanis took power, University was forced to adjust the regime’s nationalist ideological ideas. However Ulmanis cared much for universities finance and give fine credit to it. In 1939. the Faculty of Agriculture departed from University and became an Academy of Agriculture of Jelgava. Today its name is University of Agriculture of Latvia.

1940. brought major change to Latvia and its University. In June 17. the Soviet tanks rolled in and the Sovietization was under way. The personal of university was changed with people from Soviet Union with Soviet education. The Theological faculty was closed and the university was renamed as Latvia State University. Statutes were taken from Moscow State University. Soviets removed the obligation of writing diploma work so more than 600 students finished university. Soviets propagandized that they have given high education to the masses.

After World war II the Stalinist regime took crucial policies to reform the university. Many great prewar professors like Jānis Endzelīns the grand Latvian linguistic was removed and so many others. The main personal was Latvians from Soviet Union with hard bone Soviet Education and immigrants from Soviet Republics. Many professors like historians Teodors Zeids and Jānis Zutis were forced to publicly denounce their prewar views and change them to Marxist ones to keep their jobs. Such public humiliations were common in Stalinist times. In 1958. the USSR Cabinet of Ministers gave university the name of Pēteris Stučka. Stučka was leader of first Latvian Soviet government in 1918.-1920. and issued order of making Soviet Latvian High School.  After Stalin’s death and beginning of Khrushchev Thaw, the hand of repression lifted making more hopes for the future.

During sixties the university enjoyed modernization and extension. Soviet government hoped  science and education could bring closet the  victory of communism. So large funds making university buildings more modern. However the Soviets forced the teaching of philosophical and Marxist concepts. The history of Communist party of USSR was more important than history of Latvia. University was awarded with Order of the Red Banner of Labor and the name of order was extended for universities name it was now- Order of the Red Banner of Labor awarded Pēteris Stučka Latvia State University.

In seventies the progress of university continued. This was the time when many present day professors including such historians as Aivars Stranga, Gvido Straube got their education and begun their scientific carrier. In this time university was slowly taken by locals making old Soviet exiles and immigrants to step aside. In seventies as the youth grow more rebellious and western influenced, problems with academic failure and academic disobedience begun to take its pace.

At first eighties was just as peaceful as seventies, but when in 1986. the new Perestroika policy was issued things begun to change. As the Soviet Conglomerate begun to shake, new national movement in Latvia begun to rise. It started in 1988. beginning in students than taking the university workforce. Popular Front of Latvia gathered many university graduates and students. During the changes many symbols of university were changed so as the  guidelines of teaching were changed. Historians removed the Marxist conception and made way for new history of Latvian nation.

In March 1990. university was renamed again as University of Latvia. During the nighties university did fine transition from soviet style education facility to modern western educational center. However university could no more afford to finance every student, so large part of students were forced to finance themselves. This divided students in financed and un-financed groups.  Grands were much lower than Soviet Era ones, that was price to pay for independence. However the number of students grow each year, the student corporations were re-founded making them popular. University got international, making contacts with Germany, Great Britain, France. Modern languages, like English, French, Japanese, Chinese were making its way into university. University got even more modern state of the art technologies.

Historians finally enjoyed more freedom. All Marxist burdens were removed. Latvian History, Western History, Medieval History got its good years. Philosophy also enjoyed freedoms and new moves.

Today University of Latvia faces many difficulties- the financial crisis of the state puts many barriers for future advancements.  Grands are more lesser, state paid places are smaller and many projects at risk. Some faculties are at risk of closing and uniting with others. Many graduates are at risk of not getting their designed jobs. However the goal of university is high- the university must be the top university in Baltic Region. Will this vision will be fulfilled? It counts on financial situation of the state and fulfillment of youth getting education in their homeland. More and more  talented students move to Western Europe to get their education.  The future of education in Latvia counts on our government who must do everything to protect rights of people getting their education.

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