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Communist Era

Declaration of Latvia’s independence on 18th November 1918.

Author: Taavi Minnik, Tallinn University

1900-1918: Latvia at the Dawn of "the Long 19th Century"

At the beginning of the 20th century, the territory of present-day Latvia was divided among a number of provinces that belonged to the Russian Empire. For barely more than a century, the Latvians had experienced a unique mixture of elites as the local economic, cultural and political life was dominated by the Baltic German oligarchy, while the Russian bureaucracy was in charge of higher spheres of administration. At the same time, Latvia was an agrarian country with almost two thirds of its population engaged in agriculture, which turned arable land into the most important resource. The largest part of land estate, however, belonged to the Baltic German nobility, while the majority of Latvian rural population lacked any land property. This discrepancy was the most urgent issue of the Latvian society in that period.

With increasing impoverishment in rural areas and the emergence of the new urban proletariat, a loose but broad leftist movement called the New Current arose in the late 1880s. Led by Janis Jansons-Braun, Mielis Valters, a Latvian poet Rainis, and his brother-in-law Peteris Stucka, who later headed the Latvian Bolsheviks, the group introduced Marxist social critics to the local conditions. They also challenged the older generation of Latvian nationalists claiming to be the true representatives of the Latvian nation and its will. In 1904, Stucka and Jansons-Braun were among the founders of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP), the predecessor of the Communist Party of Latvia. In 1906, the LSDSP joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which by then had already split into BolsheviksThe Bolsheviks were the majority faction in the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). They ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia during the October Revolution phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and founded the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic which would later in 1922 become the chief constituent of the Soviet Union. Wikipedia , headed by Vladimir Lenin, and the MensheviksThe Mensheviks were a faction inside the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, who strongly opposed Lenin’s plan for a party restricted to professional revolutionaries and called for a mass party modelled after western European social-democratic parties. Wikipedia , headed by Julius Matrov.

1905 Revolution and its Impact on Latvia. World War I

Deep socio-economic splits inside Latvian society and grievances against the authoritarian tsarist regime caused tensions exploding into a violent revolutionary upheaval in 1905. After the shooting of unarmed and peaceful demonstrators in Saint Petersburg (The Bloody Sunday), a wide-scale solidarity strike broke out in Riga where on 13 January 1905, 70 peaceful demonstrators were gunned down by Russian army. This led to an armed conflict between the Baltic German nobility and the Latvian peasants in the rural areas, where hundreds of manor houses were torched and some members of local Baltic-German clergy were lynched. In addition, bands of Latvian peasants surrounded several provincial towns and seized some of them. The violence was finally stopped in December 1905 by the Russian army's punitive expeditions. The "culprits" were in many cases singled out by the local Baltic German gentry whereas the expeditionary forces burned 300 peasant homes, executed 1,170 people without any trial or investigation and exiled many Latvians to Siberia. By the end of 1906, the Latvian revolutionary movement was suppressed

Latvia in WW I

The failed revolution deepened the strife between the Latvians and the Baltic-Germans. Many Latvians viewed the conflict between the Imperial Russia and the German Empire and the beginning of the World War I, as a chance to avenge for their sufferings during the Revolution of 1905. Namely, Germans living in the German Empire were commonly seen as one with the local German diaspora. As the Russian army retreated in 1915, the conflict reached Latvia. Tens of thousands of Latvians were conscripted during the Great War. In August 1915, the Russian High Command permitted the Latvians to form voluntary battalions which became the first seed of the Latvian Riflemen. From 1915 to 1917, the Riflemen fought in the Russian army against the Germans in positions along the Daugava River suffering from serious casualties. This was seen as unfair and therefore led to resentment towards the Russian leaders. Eventually, Riflemen's support towards the Bolsheviks increased as their propaganda was advocating the end of war

The Russian Revolution

In February 1917, revolution broke out in Russia ending the Tsarist regime. On 5 July 1917, Russian Provisional Government satisfied the Latvian political leaders' appeal for Latvian autonomy. Around the same time, the Russian army collapsed, mostly due to the Bolshevik subversion and by the autumn of 1917, much of Latvia was captured by the German army. As the Bolsheviks took over Russia in November 1917, the Latvian Bolsheviks and Riflemen had to flee to Russia, where many of them were granted with high positions in the top echelon. In order to secure their positions against their opponents in Russia, the Bolshevik government tried to end the war by signing the Treaty of Brest Litovsk which gave all Latvia to the Germans

End of WWI and the Declaration of Independence

The armistice treaty between the Allies and Germany signed on 11 November finally ended the World War. This allowed Latvian People's Council, which represented all the major Latvian political organizations (except Bolsheviks), to proclaim Latvia's independence on 18 November 1918. Karlis Ulmanis, a skilled politician, became the head of the provisional government, which combined right-wing parties with socialists

1918-1919: The Bolshevik "Experiment" of Soviet Latvia

Bolsheviks had been waiting for an opportunity to establish their rule over Latvia since Germany showed its first signs of weakness. The Red Army began its invasion on 1 December and quickly captured most of Latvia because the Latvian Regiments had transferred their loyalty to the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolutions. This left Latvian provisional government virtually without any military units forcing them to withdraw to a small pocket of territory around the city of Liepāja. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was formally proclaimed on 17 ecember 1918 but it could not exist without the political, economic, and military backing of Lenin and his Bolshevik government of Russia. Stucka became the head of this short-lived puppet state's government. Soon, radical communist reforms were introduced whereas some of them were initially popular, such as the expropriation of property from the upper and middle class. The support to the Bolsheviks in Latvia, however, began to decline before long as the missteps of Stucka's government led the people in Riga and other cities starve

Red Terror

Red Army's invasion also marked the beginning of the Red TerrorThe Red Terror could be defined as the campaign of mass repressions and coercion, practiced by various Communist regimes throughout the 20th century. Wikipedia. Even though an equivalent for the Soviet secret police Extraordinary Commission or cheka was never established in Soviet Latvia, the scale of terror remained the same. To execute their power, the Bolsheviks established special investigation commissions and concentration camps Also revolutionary tribunals were introduced, first of the kind was founded in Vecgulbene (Maliena) on 18 December 1918 achieving infamy as the bloodiest on the territory of Latvia. Within two weeks, it held three sessions; eventually out of the 144 accused, 98 were imprisoned and 14 shot. The trials took place in a local church which was hastily turned into a clubhouse during the Bolshevik rule.

The terror in Latvia had national and material connotations added to the desire of taking revenge. The Baltic Germans became the victims of the Red Terror only because of their ethnic belonging. Many Latvians considered them to be the "hated barons" and suppressors of the revolution of 1905. Also Bolshevik ideology considered the Baltic Germans to be oppressors. After the Bolsheviks entered Riga, they soon set up slogans like "Death to betrayers!" and "Death to Germans!". Stucka threatened to kill 100 Germans for every killed Bolshevik. Eventually, the Bolsheviks turned against the Baltic Germans as a national group. A clear manifestation of terror as a part of Bolshevik's government policy is the document issued by Stucka's government on 25 April 1919 regarding deportation of the Baltic Germans from Latvia to the Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, this decision was never executed since the Bolsheviks were soon forced to retreat to Latgale where less Baltic Germans were living

The historian Georgy Popov has estimated that 3,632 people were killed as a result of Red Terror in Latvia. Yet, these numbers are inconclusive, as there are no records of how many people were killed in the eastern regions of Latvia. After the Red Army was defeated in May 1919, the Latvian Army and German paramilitary units liberated approximately 18,000 prisoners from Bolshevik prisons and concentration camps. The defeat of the Bolshevik regime, however, led to the White Terror campaignThe counter-revolutionary violence to the Red Terror; this term is often applied to campaigns of violence against real and suspected communists and socialists. Wikipedia in which more than 3,000 people were killed in retaliation.

1920-1940: a Brief Independence

In February 1920, Russia signed an armistice with Latvia, recognizing its independence in perpetuity. At the same time, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland also gained their independence. During its 20 years of sovereignty, Latvia built an independent state, which brought economic, social and cultural prosperity for the majority of Latvians. Additionally, fields of education and arts developed rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s, because for the first time in history, Latvian culture and language enjoyed the state support and were not endangered neither by Russification nor Germanisation. The Latvian Land Reform in September 1920 finally fulfilled the dreams of the Latvian peasantry, making them the owners of their family farmsteads. This step ensured the support to independence, and marked the loss of supporters to the Communist cause in Latvia. Consolidation of the Bolshevik rule in Russia meant that the Latvians were cut off from their primary market, but the country succeeded to shift their exports to Germany and Great Britain instead. In 1930s, however, Latvia suffered severely from the worldwide Great Depression; this was one of the main reasons why the country, which began as a democratic republic, became an authoritarian state in 1934. President Karlis Ulmanis dismantled the Saeima (Latvian parliament) and established a non-parliamentary authoritarian rule. Ulmanis was quite a popular leader, as during his rule, Latvian economy managed to recover from the deep crisis and showed rapid growth in exports, which led to the improvement in living standards.

Latvian Migrants in Soviet Union

Latvians took their independence as an opportunity to start from a clean sheet and leave their difficult past behind. In 1921-1922, more than 11,395 Latvians, who had been fighting in the Red Army, were granted a permission to return to Latvia. Some Latvian Bolsheviks did not want to return to their homeland, as they were not satisfied with the democratic parliamentary form of government and remained loyal to the Soviet regime. Also many Latvian families who had fled to Russia from the World War, were not interested in moving back because they had accepted the reality of Soviet Russia. In retrospect, this was not a wise decision, as most Latvians in Russia did not survive the Stalinist Purges of 1937-1938.

According to the records of Soviet People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, approximately 25,000 Latvians were arrested in 1937-1938 and about 16,500 of them were sentenced to death. It is estimated that in the 1930s altogether about 74,000 Latvians perished due to Stalinist repressions. Many Old BolsheviksOld Bolshevik was an unofficial designation for those members of the party, who had joined before Bolsheviks came to power in 1917. who had pursued a head-spinning career inside the Soviet system, fell from grace and were executed in the cellars of the Lubyanka-the headquarters of Soviet secret police NKVD. Among them were Janis Rudzutaks, deputy chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (deputy prime minister of Soviet Union) and Janis Beržinž, the Politburo member and one of principal organizers of the Lenin's Red Terror during Russian Civil War, Yakov Peters, ex-chairman of the cheka.

1940: Latvia between Anvil and Hammer: The Loss of Independence

Latvia, like its Baltic neighbours, had high hopes for collective security guarantees provided by the League of Nations and various mutual security treaties. However, in the late 1930s, the League of Nations proved to be incapable of preventing aggressions by Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Small nations between these states were left alone which made them an easy target for Hitler and Stalin. Latvia's fate was sealed on 23 August 1939, as Germany and Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression, or popularly known as Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The treaty included a secret protocol dividing Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, anticipating potential "territorial and political rearrangements" of these countries. Latvia was left to the Soviet sphere of influence. After the Second World War, the Soviets began to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the occupation of Baltic countries as a necessary mean to buy time in order to prepare for Hitler's aggression. Still, between 1939 and 1941, the Soviet Union acted as loyal ally of Nazi Germany.

Mutual Assistance Pact

After the Red Army occupied the Western Poland by the 6 October, the Soviet state began to pressure Finland and the Baltic countries to conclude mutual assistance pacts. This diplomatic demarche was supported by a military threat as large concentrations of Red Army were stationed on Latvia's borders. On 5 October 1939, Latvia surrendered to the pressure and the foreign minister, Vilhelms Munters, signed a pact of mutual assistance with the Soviet Union. This agreement gave the Red Army and Soviet Baltic Navy total control over Latvia's national airspace and territorial waters. Latvian army became outnumbered, as 30,000 Soviet troops were garrisoned in Latvia. Latvia was virtually turned into a Soviet protectorate.

Until the spring 1940, the agreement between Latvia and the Soviet Union seemed to hold. This, however, soon changed after Hitler achieved military success in Western Europe and Scandinavia. On 29 March 1940, the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov announced that the execution of the mutual assistance pact had progressed satisfactorily and had created conditions favourable to further improve of the relations between Soviet Russia and Latvia. The German triumph in France, in May and June 1940, riveted the world's attention to these ground-breaking events and Soviets decided to take advantage of the global situation.

Beginning of the Occupation

On 12 June 1940, the Soviet Baltic Fleet started to carry out a blockade against the Baltic countries; Soviet Air Force sealed off Latvian airspace and the Red Army was prepared to take action. On 15 June 1940, NKVD stormed Latvian border checkpoint in Maslenki. In the course of this attack, three Latvian border guards and two civilians were killed, while 10 border guards and 27 civilians-mostly women and children-were taken hostage. On 16 June 1940, the Soviets passed an ultimatum to the Latvian ambassador in Moscow. Under the threat of military aggression, Latvia was demanded to grant free passage to the Red Army in unlimited numbers and to form a pro-Soviet government.

By that time, Latvia had become helpless. Western Powers were tied up, Lithuania had already been taken over by the Red Army and Estonia was in a similar situation. Furthermore, the only power on the European continent that could stand against the Soviet Union-the Germans-were advising both Baltic nations to capitulate. Latvian leaders were left with no other choice but to accept Soviet demands and the Red Army completed military occupation of the Baltic States by 17 June. The action of Baltic leaders is often characterized as a "silent submission" because all three accepted Soviet demands without any protests. Moreover, in many cases, they misinformed their foreign embassies about the true situation. They also closed their countries' borders to its citizens already before the Soviet blockade, making it impossible to flee.

1940-1941: Sovietisation of Latvia

Forming a Pro-Soviet Government

On June 17, a special emissary of the Soviet Government, Andrei Vyshinsky, was dispatched to Latvia in order to negotiate the formation of a pro-Soviet government. Vyshinsky soon drew up a list of Latvian leftists who later formed the new Soviet-friendly government, led by a Latvian biologist Augusts Kirchenšteins. There were only two communists among the new ministers, a fact by which the Kremlin wished to create an illusion of having no connection to the regime changes in the Baltic States. On 20 June, Vyshinsky presented the new members of the pro-Soviet government to Ulmanis who was once again forced to accept the Soviets' demands. The power was therefore officially handed over to Kirchenštein. At the same time, demonstrations were organized in order to demand Ulmanis's resignation. These rallies took place under the Red Army's strict supervision. In addition, the Soviets also began to form paramilitary units of communist supporters that soon took over police functions.

Undemocratic Parliament Elections

Next, as a response to the people's demands, new elections for the parliament (Saeima) were announced. In reality, however, the action ignored democratic principles and Latvian Election Law. The elections were organized in a hurry, with only nine days preparation. The candidates' lists were accepted during a mere three day period, so only Latvia's Communist Party, which was informed much earlier about this fact, could participate at the Saeima elections. People were coerced to vote-those who did not were dubbed "enemy of the people". The ballots, however, had only one option, as only Soviet supported Working People's Block was allowed to be put forward by the new regime. As a result, Communists received about 98 percent of the votes

President Ulmanis remained in office until 21 July, till the first meeting of the installed Saeima which unanimously affirmed the petition to join the Soviet Union. This action did not comply with the Constitution of Latvia of that time. The next day, Ulmanis and his family were deported to the Soviet Union. The Saeima started to pass laws to comply with the new rule. On 22 July 1940, for example, disregarding the pre-election promises, Latvian Saeima issued initial resolutions on the nationalization of land. All land was declared to be "the property of the people", whereas a maximum of 30 hectares of land could be used by a family. During the second Soviet occupation, it was further reduced to 15-20 hectares. On 5 August in 1940, the Soviet Union granted Latvia's petition to join the Soviet Union as its 15th member. Aside from Nazi Germany, no western nation recognized the incorporation as a legitimate act.

Tightening Control

During the first months of the occupation, all social and cultural activities were subordinated to the control of the Communist Party. The occupation power also advocated the suppression of religion and churches, since they were perceived as potential centres of resistance. After gaining control over Latvia, the Soviet authorities soon started to build up their terror apparatus. According to the Article 58 of the 1926 Criminal Code of Soviet Russia, anyone could be accused of anti-Soviet activities, counter-revolutionary crimes or of being disloyal to the Soviet regime. Based on this article, thousands of Latvians were arrested in 1940-1941, including the former leaders of Latvia. The cellars of the NKVD headquarters in Riga soon were put in use as torture and execution chambers. For the crimes against Article 58, people were often sentenced to death or to a long imprisonment in labour camps.

The June Deportation

The June deportation took place on 13-14 June 1941, when more than 15,000 people (0.8% of the population) were forcibly taken to Siberia. This procedure eliminating the "anti-Soviet elements" was approved by Ivan Serov, deputy head of NKVD, who became responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands from the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. The June deportation was aimed against the political, cultural, and economic elite of Latvia. On the night of the deportation, people were woken up from their sleep and were told to take only a limited number of clothes and personal items with them. Altogether, about 8,250 men were separated from their families and most of them died in labour camps, mostly because of illnesses and malnutrition. Women and children, who were declared "enemies of the people", were resettled in under-populated remote areas of Siberia. About half of them eventually survived.

1941: German Occupation in Latvia

The sudden outbreak of Soviet-German war on 21 June 1941 caught Soviets by surprise. During retreating, NKVD sent 3,600 Latvian political prisoners to prisons and labour camps all over the Soviet Union. Prisoners who could not be evacuated, were shot and buried in mass graves. After the Red Army left Latvia, hastily covered graves were found at the Riga Central Prison, as well as in Baltezers, Rezekne, Ulbroka and other locations. Hundreds were also killed by the withdrawing Red Army units and members of communist paramilitary who-following Stalin's orders-practiced the scorched earth tactics. They were often confronted by Latvian partisans, who were launching attacks against Soviet authorities and smaller army units in hope of restoring Latvia's independence. By 10 July 1941, the Red Army was pushed out of Latvia by the German army and local partisans.

In the summer of 1941, the German army was mostly greeted as liberators by the Latvian people: for some time, many were hoping that Latvia's independence would be restored. However, the Germans had no intentions to do so. Instead, Latvia became a province of the Greater German Reich. The beginning of German occupation also marked the onset of new purges. About 18,000 Latvians who were distrusted by the new occupation regime, as well as those who had co-operated with the Soviet regime, were either killed or sent to concentration camps. In addition to attacking the Soviet Union, the Germans also planned to annihilate Jews in the conquered territories. Latvians, however, did not turn against their fellow citizens. Still, just like in other occupied countries, the Nazis did find some collaborators among Latvians, for instance the Arajs Kommando, led by Viktors Arajs, a former police officer. These groupings were involved in the systematic murder of Latvia's Jews and most of them, about 65,000-70,000, had perished in Holocaust by the end of 1941.

1944-1945: Return of the Soviet Rule

After the initial operational success on the Eastern Front, the German army soon eroded in force and was pressed back by the Red Army from 1943 onwards. In January and February 1944, Soviet forces broke the blockade around Leningrad (today's St Petersburg), which created the opportunity for the Red Army mechanized forces to attack the Baltic States. Some months later, in April 1944, the Soviet Army crossed Latvian pre-war Eastern border. Soon, Latvia turned into a battlefield. Both fighting sides involved Latvian conscripts, because Nazi Germany as well the Soviet Union recruited Latvians into their armed forces, contrary to the international law

By 13 October, Riga was retaken by the Soviets and not long after, most of Latvia was again occupied by the Soviet Army. Still, large formations of German army remained isolated on Courland peninsula until the end of the war. Areas under German control were flooded with refugees from other parts of Latvia. In the fear that Soviet terror would recur like it happened 1940-1941, thousands decided to flee to Sweden. Most, however, were evacuated to Germany by the Germans. As a result, approximately 130,000 Latvians found their exile in the Western World. Few thought that they were leaving for longer than a couple months, hoping a post-war settlement in the spirit of the Atlantic Charter would restore the independence of the Baltic States.

1945-1980: Aftermath of the Second World War

In the course of World War II, Latvia suffered high  population losses. According to modern estimations, the war decreased Latvian population by more than half a million people-a third of its pre-war population. The war and occupations also inflicted serious material damage to the Latvian economy, industry and infrastructure; the majority of Latvian cities turned into ruins.

For Latvia, the victory of the Red Army over Germany did not mark the end of the war. Instead, an anti-Soviet guerrilla war, led by the so-called Forest Brothers, erupted in 1945. They were most active at the borders of the country, collaborating with their Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts. Until the March Deportation in 1949, the fighting was quite intense and some armed groups kept the movement alive until 1956. Altogether, about 20,000 Latvians participated in the resistance with up to 80,000 active supporters among the population. Soviet authorities had to deploy large military force and also the NKVD to suppress the armed resistance.

The March Deportation of 1949

In order to break the armed resistance, a second Soviet mass deportation was engineered by NKVD and approved in Moscow on 29 January 1949. The operation was also carried out to eliminate the opposition of the local farmers who opposed collectivization. Latvia had to adopt Soviet farming methods and the infrastructure as it was developed in the 1920s and 1930s. The hurried collectivization took place coercively-farmers were forced to combine plots of land, livestock and farming equipment whereas this type of farming was completely alien to Latvia. In Soviet Russia, on the other hand, it had been the manner of farming for years.

On 25 March 1949, about 43,000 people (2.4% of the total population), mainly rural residents, were deported in an operation codenamed Beachcomber, which took place in all three Baltic States. As a result, the anti-Soviet resistance was left without supporters and Latvia's agriculture was destructed.

Sovietisation and Russification of Latvia

The communist ideology foresaw the creation of a new classless, homogenized Russian-speaking society. Until the very end of the second Soviet occupation period, voluntary immigration and organised settlement of workers from other areas of the Soviet Union was a broadly executed policy. Latvia's Russian minority, which before the war had been about 10% of the population, grew into a majority in the urban areas and reached 34% of total population, while the ethnic Latvians decreased from 75% to 52% by 1989. The Latvian language became a minority language, since only some Russian immigrants chose to learn it.

The Soviet migration policy became an issue already in the 1950s. Some Latvian Communists tried to oppose the immigration to their country. These tendencies, however, seemed alarming from the Kremlin's point of view, the Communist Party of Latvia was quickly purged and their efforts denounced. The newly appointed leaders of the Communist Party of Latvia accelerated the speed of Soviet citizens coming to live in Latvia.

The bureaucratic, managerial and Communist Party apparatus was mainly Russian-speaking and therefore  most of the official business was conducted in the language. Latvia was destined to be a province without its own sovereignty. The Communist Party of Latvia stayed accountable to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: a big proportion of its financing came from Moscow and ethnic Latvians constituted a minority of its members.

Due to the Iron Curtain, Latvia was completely isolated from the outside world and its sphere of influence. When the occupation began, all cultural, social, political and economic contacts to the outside world were cut, forcibly directing the country toward the East. Latvia's economy was restructured in order to serve the needs of the Soviet Union. Extensive heavy industry was built up with raw materials imported and its production exported. Also the workers were recruited from outside Latvia. In addition, much of Latvia's research and production served the needs of the Soviet military complex. At the same time, Latvia's environment suffered great damage. For instance, most of the sewage in Riga was released directly into the Bay of Riga. Also, the city of Ventspils, which housed a large oil terminal and artificial fertilizer and petrochemical factories, became heavily polluted.

1980-1991: Singing Revolution and Latvia's Re-Independence

During the second half of the 1980s, the new Soviet party leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnostThe policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union. Wikipedia and perestroikaRestructuring of the Soviet political and economic system. Wikipedia campaigns in order to democratize the Soviet society. The regime loosened its grip over the society and media. To enjoy the liberty, the human rights group Helsinki-86 organized people to place flowers at the Freedom Monument (Latvia's symbol of independence) to commemorate the anniversary of the June deportations on 14 June 1987. This was an unprecedented event that marked the rebirth of national self-confidence in Latvia and sparked the non-violent resistance to the Soviet regime. About a year later, on 1 and 2 June 1988, the Latvian Writers' Union held a congress where the democratization of society, Latvia's economic sovereignty, the immigration problems and the protection of Latvian language rights were discussed. Over the course of this conference, the existence of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had determined Latvia's fate after 1939, was publicly acknowledged for the first time in post-war Latvia. The congress of the Writers' Union stirred up public opinion and provided an additional stimulus for the general process of national revival. Later that year, on the 70th anniversary of Latvian Independence Day, large demonstrations around the Freedom Monument in Riga took place. Similar developments occurred also in the neighbouring countries. In 1989, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, about 2,000,000 people joined hands in a chain across the Baltic from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius. Later that year, about 500,000 people demonstrated in Riga on Latvia's Independence Day.

In the elections of the Supreme Soviet of Latvian SSR on 18 March 1990, the supporters of Latvian independence gained a decisive victory. A few months later on 4 May 1990, the new, and first time democratically elected Supreme Soviet declared the restoration of the independent Latvian state and the 1922 Constitution. The document stated the annexation was against Latvian constitution and against the will of Latvian citizens. This event also stated the beginning of a transition period to the de facto independence which ended by the first session of the Saeima.

In January 1991, however, pro-communist political forces attempted to restore the Soviet power and overthrow the Supreme Soviet. Attempts were also made to overthrow the new parliament but the Latvian demonstrators managed to stop the Soviet internal troops from re-occupying strategic positions. Later that year, on 19 August, an unsuccessful attempt at a coup took place in Moscow when a group of prominent Soviet functionaries failed to take the power due to large pro-democracy demonstrations in Russia. This event resulted in Latvia to restore its independence on 21 August 1991 ending the transition period declared in may 1990. This meant that Latvia was once again a fully independent nation whose judicial foundation followed the statehood that existed before the Soviet occupation on 17 June 1940.

1991: Reindepentent Latvia

On 6 September 1991 Soviet Union recognized the independence of Latvia, and on 17 September Latvian Republic was admitted to the United Nations. In the early 1990's, Latvia introduced political and economic reforms, in order to integrate itself with the Western world. In 2004, Latvia fulfilled its most important goals of foreign political agenda by becoming a full member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).



This term was introduced by British historian Eric Hobsbawm, referring to the period 1789-1914. According to Hobsbawm, this period begins with the French Revolution and ends with the beginning of World War I, which in conclusion eliminated the long-enduring European power balance of the 19th century.

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Stranga, Komunistu diktatūra Latvijā: 1918. gada decembris-1920, 69

S. Volkov, Красный террор глазами очевидцев [Red Terror through the eyes of the witneses] (Moscow: Iris Press, 2009), 370-371

Op. cit., 375-376

A. Stranga, Latvijai topot', Latvijas Vēsture, 4 (2008), 13


G. Popoff, Sowjetherrschaft in Europa: Die Rigaer Kommunistenzeit und ihre Lehren [Soviet domination in Europe: Communist era in Riga] (Bern: Gotthelf, 1935), 25

V. Sprude, 'Stuckas "zveru darzi"' [Stuckas' Zoo], Latvijas Avize, 19 April 2008.

R. Treijs, 'Baltais terors' [Baltic Terror], Latvijas Avize, 21 May 2008.

Plakans, A Concise History of the Baltic States, 331

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 124-126

Bleiere, History of Latvia: The 20th Century, 224

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 132-133

Op. cit., 135

V. Berzins,  Latviesu strelnieki-drama un tragedija [Latvian Riflemen-Drama and tragedy] (Riga: Latvian Institute of History Press, 1995), 240

J. Riekstins (ed.), Represijas pret latviesiem PSRS. 1937-1938. Dokumenti [Repressions in the Latvian SSR. 1937-1938. Documents] (Riga: Latvian State Archive, 2009), 62

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 117

Gonchaov, Kokrin (Eds), Гвардейцы Октября. Роль коренных народов стран Балтии в установлении и укреплении большевистского строя, 401; 437; 441

Plakans, A Concise History of the Baltic States, 329

R. G. Nation, Black Earth, Red Star: A History Of Soviet Security Policy, 1917-1991 (New York: Cornell University Press, 1992), 103

Bilmanis (ed.), Latvian-Russian Relations: Documents, 198-200

A. Plakans, Experiencing Totalitarianism: The Invasion and Occupation of Latvia by the USSR and Nazi Germany 1939-1991 (Bloomington: Author House, 2007), 25-31

Plakans, Experiencing Totalitarianism,  24-25

Bilmanis (ed.), Latvian-Russian Relations: Documents, 202

Plakans, Experiencing Totalitarianism,  35-39

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 144-145

The Three Occupations of Latvia 1940-1991. Soviet and Nazi Take-Overs and Their Consequences (Riga: Occupation Museum Foundation, 2005), 14

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 15

Plakans, Experiencing Totalitarianism, 31, 42-51

Op. cit, 32

R. Misiunas, R. Taagepera , The Baltic States: Years of Dependence 1940-1990 (California: University of California Press, 1993), 29

Latvian Constitution of 1922 states that Latvia is an independent, republic (Article 1) and this clause could have been changed only by a nationwide plebiscite (Article 77).

Bleiere, History of Latvia: The 20th Century, 384

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 17

Op. cit., 19

H. J. Berman, Soviet Criminal Law and Procedure: The RSFSR Codes (New York: Harvard University Press, 1972), 23

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 21-22

Bleiere, History of Latvia: The 20th Century, 258-260

A. Bilmanis (ed.), Latvian-Russian Relations: Documents, 227

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 23-24

Lumanis, Latvia in World War II, 157

Bleiere, History of Latvia: The 20th Century, 264

D. Glantz, Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War 1941-1943: (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005), 70

Lumanis, Latvia in World War II, 157

A. Ezergailis, Holokausts vacu okupetaja Latvija 1941-1944: (Riga: Latvijas Vestures Instituta Apgads, 1999), 119-130

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 28

Lumanis, Latvia in World War II, 333

Op. cit., 388; The 1907 Hague IV Convention on Laws and Customs of War on Land, forbade the mobilization of the inhabitants of the occupied territory by the occupying army, or the use of the occupied population for military purposes. See: Article 45

Lumanis, Latvia in World War II, 339

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 31

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 152-153

Lumanis, Latvia in World War II, 396

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 34

H. Strods, M. Kott, "The File on Operation 'Priboi': A Re-Assessment of the Mass Deportations of 1949". Journal of Baltic Studies 33 (1) 2002: 1-36.

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 34

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 163

R. Misiunas, R. Taagepera, G. von Rauch, The Baltic States, Years of Dependence, 1940-1980: (California, University of California Press, 1983), 127-130

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 161

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 43

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 170

Op. cit., 170

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 39

D. James, The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (London: Routledge, 2002), 121

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 39

Plakans, The Latvians: A Short History, 185

Bleiere, History of Latvia: The 20th Century, 454-455

The Three Occupations of Latvia, 40

J. Eyal and others, Regional Surveys of the World. Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of the Independent States (London: Routledge, 1998), 467

See: United Nations Yearbook 1991, Chapter 4: