|Republic of Latvia|
|Anthem: Dievs, svētī Latviju!
God Bless Latvia!
and largest city
|Ethnic groups||59.4% Latvian
4.69% other minority groups
|-||Prime Minister||Valdis Dombrovskis|
|Independence from Russia|
|-||Declared1||November 18, 1918|
|-||Recognized||January 26, 1921|
|-||Soviet occupation||August 5, 1940|
|-||National Socialist German liberation||July 10, 1941|
|-||Announced||May 4, 1990|
|-||Restored||August 21, 1991|
|-||Total||64,589 km2 (124th)
24,938 sq mi
|-||Water (%)||1.57% (1,014 km2)|
|-||July 2010 estimate||2,217,969 (143rd)|
|-||2000 ppl census||2,377,383|
|GDP (PPP)||2010 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2010 estimate|
|HDI (2010)|| 0.769
Error: Invalid HDI value · 48th
|Currency||Lats (Ls) (
|Time zone||EET (UTC+2)|
|-||Summer (DST)||EEST (UTC+3)|
|Drives on the||right|
- 1 Geography
- 2 Ethnoracial Situation
- 3 Historical Background
- 4 Independence
- 5 Politics today
- 6 Video
- 7 References
- 8 See also
- 9 Links
Historically there were three important Baltic provinces to the north of Lithuania: Kurland, Livonia, and Estonia. Often in historiography Livonia includes Kurland. Today the northern half of Livonia has become part of Estonia.
Modern Latvia has a land mass of 20,056 square miles, and shares land borders with Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south — and both Russia and the modern entity of Belarus to the east. It has a coastline and ports on the Baltic Sea. The capital of Latvia is Riga (Latvian: Rīga).
The Letts (Latvians) form part of the Balts group of the Indo-European family. They are not Slavs.
- Letts, as a group, are as blond as Swedes and Norwegians. The skin color...is uniformly fair. ...The hair color is ash-blond in half the entire series, while the other half is more brown than golden blond. There seems to be very little black hair, and red totals less than one per cent.
- The eye color of the Letts as a whole is predominantly light, with pure blues and grays totalling one-third, and predominantly light shades reaching between 57 per cent and 59 per cent; pure brown eyes arc very rare, but. dark-mixed eyes are not uncommon. On the whole, the hair color tends to be proportionately lighter than eye color.
- Although Nordic types may frequently be picked out of the Lettish population, the general impression is that alongside the Nordic is found a much more numerous element, equally blond, which is essentially East Baltic, and which is much the same as that found among the Finnic-speaking peoples farther north. The one region of Latvia in which unusual or atypical racial conditions are found is the southwestern coastal section of Kurland, the home of the linguistically unidentified Kurs, who seem to have been especially characterized by extremely tall stature and brown hair.
Latvians, or Letts, were sometimes grouped together with Kuronians & Semigallians, all of whom spoke Baltic languages. The Reformation marked the first appearance of books in what might be called a Latvian language. A Mass in Latvian was printed in Lubeck as early as 1525 but was destroyed by the authorities. The Commandments and some hymns are known to have been translated into Latvian, and there was probably a Latvian handbook for divine service, though no copy survives. The first Latvian book was the Cathechismus Catholicorum printed in Vilna in 1585, followed a year later by the Lutheran Little Catechism, printed in Konigsberg. Full translations of the Bible into Latvian had to wait until the next century.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century there appeared in Livonia and Kurland a cultural movement campaigning for native language rights in schools and universities, literary publications and official life. It was directed less against the Russians than the Germans, who had dominated these provinces for centuries before their conquest by the Russians in the eighteenth century. The native languages had survived only in the remote rural areas. (Even the native élites had been assimilated into the dominant linguistic culture.) They were really no more than peasant dialects, closely related but locally varied. During the nineteenth century linguists and ethnographers collected together and standardised these dialects in the form of a written language with a settled grammar and orthography. This creation of a literary native language, and the publication of a national literature and history written in its prose, helped to start the process of nation-building and national culture. From 1878 there was a Latvian native-language newspaper, Balss (The Voice), which, like the Latvian Association, was committed to the idea of uniting the peoples of the two provinces of Livonia and Kurland to form a single Latvian nation.
Latvians today are largely Lutheran.
The Russians of Polotsk had established a principality at Kukenois, and were obeyed by a Lettish under-king at Jersika, halfway from Polotsk to the sea. Princes of Novgorod and Pskov took tribute from the northern Letts and the southern Estonians at the forts of Odenpath, founded in 1116, and Dorpat, founded in 1133, and the Lithuanians had a hold on the Selonian Letts south of the river Dvina. However the 20 years to 1200 saw the German advance into the eastern Baltic, firstly with commercial merchants who built trading posts on the Dvina, and then the Church, notably with Meinhard, an Augustinian canon from Segeberg in Holstein, who erected a church in the village of Uexkull (Ikskile) in 1184, and of which place he was consecrated Bishop by Archbishop Hartwig II. During the 1190s Pope Celestine III authorised him to recruit additional missionaries. Meinhard was succeeded by Bishop (1197) Berthold. In 1198 he brought a Saxon well-equipped army to Kurland with veteran knights and infantry. Berthold was ruthlessly murdered during an effort to baptised the locals, and the army retaliated with a campaign of terror until the pagan leaders capitulated. A third bishop of Uexkull was consecrated in March 1199. He was Albert von Buxhovden, a canon of Bremen Cathedral. He set out to create an ecclesiastical empire. He arrived in Kurland with an army of Saxon, Westphalian and Frisian crusaders..
In 1202 Bishop Albert created a new military religious Order of the Brothers of the Sword, whose purpose was to provide a standing army for the German colony that Albert and his co-workers were building in the eastern Baltic. Numerous successful campaigns followed and conquest was further consolidated by the establishment of religious communities of Cistercian monks and Augustinian canons. Members of these communities combined the functions of missionaries and civil administrators in the occupied territories. Following each successful campaign, the bishop appointed magistrates to take charge of the villages that his troops had won and parish priests to baptise the surviving natives. In 1200 Bishop Albert founded the city of Riga on the site of an earlier Livonian village. Here he built a cathedral with new bells, and carried out a huge amount of building, including warehouses for the German merchants he was successfully trying to attract to the east. The widening and tightening of the German grip on these new territories was evident and by 1208 Bishop Albert had the machinery of his new theocratic Principality working smoothly. The invaders had considerable success in taking advantage of the local ethnic divisions and rivalries among the indigenous peoples. Most of the Livonians and Letts had by this time been compelled by force to accept Christianity.. In 1236, however, during a catastrophic crusade against the Lithuanians with the Prince of Pskov, The Grand Master of the Brothers of the Sword and his brethren were killed in battle, and in May 1237 the Teutonic Knights under their Grand Master, Hermann Balk, took over the defence of Kurland and Livonia. Balk and the Papal Legate, William of Modena, engaged in brilliant diplomatic and military tactics. Estonia was confirmed to the King of Denmark, and reinforcements were brought in everywhere else. The earlier rather titular Russian overlordships were conquered, and by 1250 most Russian princes had acquiesced in their exclusion from these lands. In addition the Order won back the territory south of the Dvina that had been lost in 1236 and came to terms with King Mindaugas of Lithuania.. Kurland and Livonia then became part of the Germanic-Western cultural sphere. The Germans ultimately became a dominant minority, particularly in the urban centres and commercial life of the Baltic states, especially Latvia and even in Estonia, well into the twentieth century..
By 1525 the supporters of the reformed faith had managed to secure the upper hand in Riga, and were making headway in Dorpat too. At the Diet of Wolmar in 1522 an informal alliance was forged between the towns and diocesan vassals to protect their privileges against the Bishop of Reval & Dorpat who then became Archbishop of Riga. In August 1524 Riga threw off its allegiance to the Archbishop and successfully appealed to the Master of the Teutonic Order (which had embraced a certain degree of secularism) to assume sole Lordship over the town. News of peasant unrest in Germany had alarmed the Kurland nobility and pressures also came from the Hansa Diet. In 1526 Wolter von Plettenberg, Master of the Livonian branch of the Order, was made an Imperial Prince and Livonia & Kurland thus formally became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The agents of Prussia nevertheless built up a formidable array of clients in the towns and amongst the nobility of Kurland and Osel and the conflicts between the old and reformed religions continued.
In 1552-3 the King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Zygmunt August, decided he would like to incorporate Kurland & Livonia into his territories. The Livonian estates opposed this, and called upon Christoffer, Duke of Mecklenburg, the coadjutor of the Archbishopric, for help. This was immediately denounced by the Polish King who then brought pressure to bear upon the Master of the Order. However, the Russians now also expressed their interests. The Master of the Order sought arbitration from the Emperor Ferdinand 1st and the Danish King Christian III organised a compromise agreement with the Livonian estates in February 1557. The Polish King refused to accept this and mustered troops on the frontiers. Unable to resist the forces he was threatened with, the new Master bowed to this pressure, and was forced to ratify the treaty of Poswol in September 1557 which established a Polish-Lithuanian Protectorate over Kurland and Livonia, notwithstanding that the Polish sejm was opposed to it. In addition the Lithuanian nobles sought to exclude their Polish counterparts from Livonian affairs, and strove to prevent the signing of the alliance between the Order and Poland in 1558-9, a treaty which brought forth a disastrous Russian invasion. Kurland-Livonia was too small and weak and at the mercy of its neighbours. The Holy Roman Empire had failed them, and the Order too was bullied by the Polish-Lithuanian Union. The last (secular) Master of the Order, Gotthard Kettler (d.1597), who was openly tolerant of the reformed faith, was confirmed as Duke of Kurland by Zygmunt August at the end of 1561, although one wonders by what authority. Kettler conceded the adoption of the twenty seven points of the Privilegium Sigismundi Augusti granted to the nobility of Kurland in 1570, held by later generations to be a basis of the Duchy's constitution and, as such they formed the basis for negotiations with Peter the Great in 1710. However, in 1566 Kettler was deposed (his two sons would later claim his hereditary rights) and replaced by Jan Chodkiewicz, a governor nominated by the Polish Crown, and the duchy was incorporated into Lithuania. The arrival of Russian troops in Livonia in 1576 caused widespread panic, and many towns such as Wenden ejected Polish garrisons.
The growth of trade links with western Europe and the secularisation of Kurland now saw further immigration; the Polish Kings then attempted to strengthen Roman Catholicism in Lithuania, where the reformed religion was gaining much ground, and also in Kurland, as titular overlords of both. In May 1582 the Polish King Stefan Batory made it clear that he intended to restore Roman Catholicism in Riga and the rest of Livonia, which he felt was his right by virtue of conquest. The opening in Riga of a Jesuit College two years later caused a major riot. Within 5 years the Jesuits were driven out of the city, returning quietly later. The Poles attempted to fully incorporate Kurland into their 'Commonwealth' and to 'Polonise' the governmental structures. The Crown also made grants of land to Poles and Lithuanians with attempts to establish colonies of peasants from Poland and Lithuania. However Poland was unable to secure this latest of their conquests. It is worth noting at this point, the statements made by the Polish Committee's representative to the victorious western Allies in 1919 when they were claiming Lithuania, Galicia and Ruthenia should be handed to them, when they arrogantly said that Lithuanians were "primitive people" and only even existed because of Polish "assistance and practical help", and that Poland had "never imposed upon any nation our language or religion"!
In 1562 Sweden invaded and took Estonia. Almost continual warfare ensued with the Russians who were defeated on 21st October 1578 by a force of Swedes and Poles at the Battle of Wenden. By 1587 these two victorious allies had fallen out. The Russians resumed the offensive in 1590. Endless warfare in the region continued and in the first two decades of the 17th century the Swedes and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were in battles in Livonia from 1617; in 1621 the Swedes took Riga and advanced into Kurland. The unwanted Roman Catholic Polish-Lithuanian forces were now being driven out. In 1623 the King of Poland authorised a Scot, Robert Stewart, to raise a force of 7,000 men as in the same year the Swedish King declared that he would drive the Poles out of the parts of East Prussia that they had occupied. The Poles now turned to the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor for support (although Poland was not in that empire, so this was purely religious). A truce advantageous to the Swedes was signed on September 16, 1629 at Altmark. By May 1635 Poland, now at war with Russia, said it was prepared to acknowledge Swedish possession of all Kurland and Livonia. However, the Swedes were oppressive occupiers who imposed heavy taxes.
By December 1654 the Swedes were again planning to attack both Poland and Russia, and troop reinforcements were sent to Kurland and Livonia. The following year Poland was invaded from two directions and capitulated. Sweden, however, now proposed to take for itself Pomerelia and 'Royal Prussia' rather than restore it to Prussia. This brought the Swedes into potential conflict with the Elector Frederick William. But the latter could not compete militarily and signed an agreement in January 1656 whereby the feudal overlordship of Prussia, which the Polish Crown had seized after the defeat of the Teutonic Knights, would now be assumed by the Swedish Crown. However the tide turned. The Poles fought back, mostly by guerrilla warfare. Frederick William was now obliged to support the Swedes, and the Brandenburg-Prussian-Swedish troops defeated a new Polish army outside Warsaw. At this point Tsar Alexei invaded Kurland-Livonia, laying siege to Riga in August 1656, and took Dorpat in October. Imperial (HRE) and Polish forces now invaded Kurland. Sweden's victorious tide was turning, and Frederick Wilhelm now changed horses again and achieved the promise of full sovereignty over all Prussia at the Treaty of Wehlau if he allied with Jan Kazimierz of Poland. At the Peace Treaty of Oliva (outside Danzig) in May 1660 the Polish King abandoned his claims to Kurland and Livonia, and acknowledged the sovereignty of the Elector of Brandenburg over Prussia. The war between Poland and Russia was finally brought to an end in 1667 with further territorial cessions which brought about the abdication of the Polish King.
Russia takes control
The Danish-Swedish-Polish-Russian wars never-the-less later resumed with just about all dishonouring their previous treaty promises. Kurland became an endless battleground again. In 1709 the Swedes were finally defeated at Poltava by the Russians. After this victory, Peter the Great occupied the duchy of Kurland and prepared to launch an attack on Riga. The legitimate hereditary Duke of Kurland (descendant of the Grand Master made Duke), Friedrich Wilhelm, was only 11 and had spent the war years in exile in Germany. Peter arranged for the marriage of his niece Anna Ivanovna to the young Duke in 1710, and promised the Livonian and Kurland estates that all their old privileges would be regained and maintained if they capitulated to the Tsar. By the end of this year Kurland, Livonia and Estonia were under Peter's control.
Looking back, it is clear that in the struggle between the European States over the Baltic Sea, the position of Germany and Russia overshadowed that of all other powers in the end. The absence of serious Russo-German conflict over the Baltic region owed much to the favoured position formerly secured by the Baltic German aristocracy in Estonia, Livonia and Kurland. The local power enjoyed by the great mediaeval German colonizers of the Baltic remained largely intact after the provinces became part of the Russian Empire in the 18th century. Great privileges were granted, for instance, by Peter the Great to the German hierarchy in these provinces. The four great Ritterschaften of Estonia, Livonia, Kurland and the Islands of Oesel continued to rule loyally for successive Tsars. The Baltic barons had developed as a dominant caste on the land and in the towns, and the land reforms they introduced in the early 19th century benefited the Latvian peasantry in the long run. As with other countries in that century, the demographic and social trends in general shifted influence and power towards the towns, particularly as the Baltic provinces became important centres of Russian industry later in the century. This shift accelerated the growth of a native Latvian bourgeoisie and proletariat, providing the basis for a range of political parties and ideologies to assume embryonic form, and contributed to a political dimension to the earlier awakening of Latvian cultural and linguistic nationalism. 
Revolution in Russia
The revolution of 1905 ended centuries of stability. Latvia had more than its fair share of left-wingers and Bolsheviks, and during the 1905 revolution they made ferocious attacks on the great baronial estates. These doomed to failure the efforts of men like Baron Edward von Dellinghausen to find a basis for timely reforms involving the native population in the administration of the region. From 1905 the relatively new feeling of a defensive solidarity between the Baltic German aristocracy and the German urban bourgeoisie intensified. Their combined efforts after the revolution to protect the future of German schools and culture saw the setting up of special associations. Between 1905 and 1914 a shared resistance to fundamental change now became dominant. The outbreak of war between the Russian Empire and the German Empire, in 1914, ultimately fostered a growing feeling of solidarity between the Reich Germans and the Baltic Germans, although the landed gentry dutifully provided its men for the Tsarist Officers' Corps.
In 1915 the German armies over-ran Lithuania and Kurland but then reached a stalemate. After the February Revolution in March 1917, and the collapse of the Tsarist army, Riga was recaptured by the Germans on September 3, 1917. As in 1905, very large numbers of Letts were revolutionaries and Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution (1917). "Lenin was especially impressed by the revolutionary zeal of the Latvians: they made up his personal bodyguard and, during the early days of Soviet rule, the bulk of the leading Chekists and Red Army elite (Latsis, Eiduch, Peters, and Ivan Smilga, Chairman of the Bolshevik Northern Regional Congress). The Bolsheviks in Riga had effectively controlled their Soviet from as early as August, and Lenin now looked towards them to import the principle of Soviet Power into Russia proper."
Under the subsequent Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in March 1918, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were detached from Russia, and the German and Bolshevik Governments finally concluded protocols which were signed in Berlin on August 27th. After two centuries the Russian yoke had been overturned. The war and revolution finally cut the Baltic Barons traditional loyalty to Russia, and provided the opportunity from 1917 for a coalition of powerful interests to be formed in the Reich with connexions to the Baltic provinces. Baltic-Germans and other Conservatives in Latvia even began to believe that "we only have one choice; to be annexed by Germany or massacred by Russia." In 1918-1919 German troops, having occupied Latvia, carried on a necessarily vicious war there against the Bolsheviks, both local and imported.
The plutocratic liberal western Allies, having defeated Germany in France, in a long war of attrition, declared the Treaty of Brest Litovsk null and void. The British Government then afforded provisional recognition of the Latvian de facto independent government in November 1918.
Dispossessing the Baltic Germans
The new and developing governments in Latvia were both nationalist and left-wing, indigenous and anti-German. Resentments against the ruling classes, the Baltic Barons, who were of Teutonic origin, now surfaced. In Latvia Baltic-Germans made up only 4% of the population, yet approximately 57% of agricultural land was under their ownership. (Though this may immediately seem excessive, the aristocracy in the United Kingdom, of similar numbers, owned even more land.) Drastic and draconian 'agrarian reform' was introduced in legislation in Latvia on 16th September 1920, aiming at a stroke to break the apparent disproportionate political and economic power of the Baltic Germans. In the best traditions of Bolshevism all the great landed estate owners were dispossessed at a stroke, with the issue of compensation left open (i.e: nothing would occur here). This legislation was described as making a mockery of "Western European legal practice". The dispossessed were left with nominal landholdings of about 50 hectares and in a few cases of 100 hectares, as well as an 'appropriate' amount of their own stock and equipment. Baltic Germans, whose families and ancestors had lived there for centuries, and played their part, felt bitter, stating that what was left to them offered little more than the lifestyle of a peasant. The State then proceeded to the expropriation of agrarian banks, again usually owned by Baltic Germans. The historian Paul Schiemann later wrote that 90% of Baltic German wealth had gone into the coffers of the Latvian state.
Latvia's poor democratic beginnings soon developed into an authoritarian regime under Dr. Karlis Ulmanis, first as Premier, then as President. Ulmanis was an agriculturalist who had been politically active as a left-wing revolutionary during the 1905 Revolution and was briefly imprisoned in Pskov. He subsequently fled Latvia to avoid further incarceration by the Russian authorities, and went to the USA where he engaged in further agricultural studies and became a dairy farmer outside Houston, Texas. He returned to Latvia from exile in 1913 under the General Amnesty declared by the Tsar Nicholas II.
Latvia was a member of the League of Nations. In 1934 the parliament, the Saeima, was dissolved and disbanded. In June 1937 Latvia's Foreign Minister, M.Munters, created a precedent in cordial relations with the Soviet Union by visiting Moscow.
In 1935 the population was 1,950,502 of which 56% were Protestant, 24.5% Roman Catholic, and 14.5% Orthodox. 77% were Latvians and 12% Russians. 4.8% (93,406) of the population were Jews. There were 22,022 students in secondary education and the Latvian University at Riga had 7,225 students. Latvia's economy was predominately agricultural, although industrialisation was advancing, and exports in 1935 brought in £5,520,000 sterling, with three-fifths going to Great Britain. Latvia had, at this time, an army of 23,000 with 2,200 officers.
World War Two
Latvia's independence was terminated in June 1940 when it was occupied by the Soviet Union until July 1941, when they were expelled by German forces. In January 1943 the Latvian Legion, a division of the German SS, was formed by volunteers to fight the Soviets, and by July 1, 1944 the Latvian Legion had 87,550 men. Another 23,000 Latvians served as Wehrmacht auxiliaries. During World War Two the German armies were finally driven back by the numerically superior Soviets, but the Latvian Legion held out to the end in the famous Kurland Pocket. In December 1944, the opposing Soviet units included two Latvian divisions, the 43rd and the 308th, formed from Latvians who had been drafted in the now Soviet-occupied eastern Latvia. However when the Latvian units on both sides of the front faced one another, they were quite unwilling to fight and occasionally disengaged without firing a shot. The Soviet command would then transfer their Latvian divisions elsewhere.
Effectively from October 1944, to August 1991, Latvia was again occupied by the Soviet Union. From 1945 the Soviet Union government encouraged immigration to Latvia from the Soviet Empire to break local morale and "sovietize" the country. As a result, Latvia's five largest cities all had Russian-speaking majorities by 1991. Riga, the national capital, was 65% Russian-speaking. Upon independence in 1991, Latvians formed only 52% of the nation's population. As of 2010, this had recovered to 59.4% Latvian, following twenty years of Russian emigration.
The bare-majority status in their own country (and ongoing minority status in their own largest cities) has led to a strong nationalist political movement in Latvia since the mid-1980s.
Its politics are defined by mutual hostility between Russian-speakers and ethnic-Latvians. The Russian-speakers vote for neo-communist political parties, whereas ethnic Latvians overwhelmingly vote for right-wing conservative parties, with a strong nationalist element.
- 2008 Resident population by ethnicity at the beginning of the year. Centrālās statistikas pārvaldes datu bāzes. Retrieved on 2008-01-25.
- Latvia. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved on 2010-04-21.
- Bury, Professor J.B., The Cambridge Medieval History, edited by H.M.Gwatkin, M.A., and J.P.Whitney, B.D., vol.ii, Cambridge University Press UK, 1913, chapter xiv "The Expansion of the Slavs", p.418,
- The Races of Europe, chapter 9
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- Kirby, 1990, p.155.
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- Kirby, 1990, p.305-7.
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- Hiden, 1987, p.2-4
- Woodward, Professor E.L., & Butler, Rohan, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First Series, vol.iii, 1919, London, 1949, p.675.
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- Encyclopaedia Britannica Year Book 1938, London, 1938, p.369.
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