Latvia’s Two Independence Days

The first one is on November 18th. 

Although Latvians have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea for millennia they have enjoyed independence for only a few decades. For centuries the country was ruled by Poland, Sweden, Germany, and the Russian Empire.

Latvia is a small country of about 25, 00 square miles, with a population of fewer than two million. It shares borders with Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, and Russia. Across the Baltic Sea, to the west, lies Sweden. Despite foreign occupation, Latvians have been fierce in maintaining their cultural identity, language, and traditions. 

November 18th is Latvia’s original Independence Day. Taking advantage of post World War I chaos and the Russian Revolution of 1917, the People’s Council of Latvia proclaimed the country’s independence. Two years of war for freedom followed. The Russians weren’t about to let go of this small part of their vast empire.

Freedom didn’t last long. In 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Latvia and occupied it until the German army drove them out in 1941. After three years the Red Army invaded again. Latvia was forcibly annexed to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and didn’t regain its freedom until forty-five years later.

Second Independence Day is on August 22.

The Baltic States, which include Estonia, Latvian, and Lithuania shared the same fate: invasion, occupation, loss of independence, battles for freedom. All three countries declared their renewed independence in 1989. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (a political movement to reform the Communist party) led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Latvia declared its independence once again. Fifty-three years of freedom out of a total of more than two thousand years of history. Other countries in the area still suffer from Russian aggression and occupations.

Latvia’s history is much more complicated than I’m able to describe in this short essay. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out this Wikipedia article.

The Freedom Monument in Riga has been in place since 1935. Brazen as they were, the Soviets never removed this monument. If they had, revolution might have broken out sooner.

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