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Historical Introduction

Beginning of the occupation: Soviet tanks in Rîga around noon on 17 June 1940.

Latvia, a small Baltic Sea country, proclaimed independence in 1918 and reassured it in a 1920 peace treaty with Russia. In 1939, Latvia fell victim to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, leading to occupation and its incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940. Establishment of a brutal Communist regime resulted in mass terror, the extinction of civil society and civil liberties, termination of the existing way of life and economic model and a strong pressure upon Latvian culture. In all, 214.905 persons suffered from Communist repressions in Latvia and 59.742 were deported. Imminent Communist terror forced at least 265.000 to flee from the country. Although explicit terror subsided after Stalin’s death, the Communist regime persisted and brought Latvia to the verge of disaster. Systematic russification policy reduced the share of ethnic Latvians in the population from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989. Restoration of independence in 1991 saved the Latvian people from annihilation, but more time is needed to overcome the underdevelopment resulting from decades of Communism.