Ethnic Minorities in Latvia

The Russians

The Russians, constituting 27.6% of the whole population, is the largest ethnic group among the minorities living in Latvia.

The first centres of Russian habitation developed in Latvia 300 years ago, when hundreds of Old Believers from neighbouring areas of Russia settled here, seeking refuge from persecution in Tsarist Russia. However, most of Latvia’s Russian population consists of immigrants who arrived after 1945 as a result of the Soviet occupation and their descendents.

Russian is the most widespread minority language in Latvia, and is also the most widely used foreign language. Four out of five people in Latvia speak Russian - which is almost as high as the proportion of Latvian-speakers.

The Russians have chosen to settle mainly in the bigger cities of Latvia: Rīga, Daugavpils and Rēzekne, where their proportion is over 40%. Only 15% of Russians reside in rural municipalities, but in some parts of Latgale they form the majority.

The once newcomers in their majority have been educated in the Latvian system of education which has undergone a transition from the Soviet bipolar Latvian-Russian educational system to an inclusive one. Russian is the language of instruction for around 26% of the country’s schoolchildren, at more than 250 state supported schools, and such schools are found in practically all districts and cities of Latvia. Several TV channels and radio stations also broadcast in Russian.

There is little if no outward manifestation of otherness in the nowadays society. The school-leavers are well integrated and have jobs in the state administration, professional careers in law, culture, business etc. Latvia takes pride in its talents of Russian origin, many of whom are Latvia born and world famous. To name just a few, the ballet-dancer Mihail Barisnikov, the sculptor Vera Muhina, the opera premiere Sergej Antonenko, mathematician, theoretician of cosmic sciences Mstislav Keldish.

Basically, the Russians in Latvia have a sense of belonging, they associate their future and that of their children with Latvia, and do not in any way consider leaving for their historical homeland, Russia.

However, there are attempts to turn the ethnic issue into a political one and to connect it with the issue of non-citizenship. Politics is partly also the reason of maintaining a divided public and media space.

This results in a situation where a large part of Russians take a different view regarding the country’s future, identify themselves with Russia and do not wish to recognise Latvian as the country’s sole official language.

Visitors from Russia quickly notice, however, that Russians in Latvia have borrowed many Latvian characteristics, thus differing from Russians living in Russia itself. Likewise, many Russians in Latvia consider that they probably wouldn’t feel at home in Russia on account of mental and behavioural differences. Russians from Latvia travelling to Russia are very often regarded as foreigners, even if they don’t speak Latvian. Calmer behaviour, downplaying of emotions and sometimes even formal politeness in situations where a different kind of behaviour is expected in Russia, all reveal that they have been strongly influenced by the Latvians.

Russians in Latvia At the Time of the Russian Empire

1. The History of the Russian Population in the Territory of Latvia

The history of Russians in Latvia is quite long - about a thousand years. Russian and Livonian chronicles state that the first Russian merchants came here as early as the 12th - 13th centuries. But up to the time of Latvia's complete incorporation into Russia in 1795, the Russians made up a very small part of the population here.

The most complete picture of the Russian population in Latvia at the time of the Empire is given by the First All-Russia Census of 1897. According to its data, at the end of the 19th century there were quite a number of Russians in Latvia - 171 thousand people spread unevenly on its territory. The biggest number of Russians, some 77 thousand, lived in Latgale, 68 thousand (5% of total population) - in Vidzeme. The smallest part of the Russian population lived in Kurzeme and Zemgale - 26 thousand (3.89% of total population). By the end of the 19th century Russians had become the second biggest nationality in Latvia after the Latvians themselves.

In urban areas of Latvia the Russian population was twice as large as in the country. The only exception was Latgale where the number of city dwellers was only half as large as that of country dwellers. Half of the Russian population of Vidzeme, Kurzeme and Zemgale came from the nearby provinces of Russia. And in the Rēzekne district of Latgale, for example, 10% of Russians had come from other provinces. The biggest number of newcomers came from the neighbouring provinces of the Empire - those of Kaunas, Vitebsk and Vilnius.

Like all the other Eastern Slavs of Latvia, Russians differed from other national groups with their high natural increment of population.

In their social structure Russians differed from most of the nationalities of Latvia. The biggest social group among them were peasants (54%), and they made up the majority of Russians in Latgale. Middle classes made up 35% and hereditary and personal noblemen made up 8%. As far as their group characteristics are concerned, Russians were much like the Latvian Poles but differed from the Latvians who were mainly peasants and from the Germans who belonged mainly to the middle class.

Formation of the quite large Russian national group in Latvia was due to several reasons. In the 19th century a large amount of Russian capital was invested in trade through the Baltic countries. The profits from this trade became the basis of a number of Russian - owned manufacturing establishments. When Russia acquired Latvia, some Russian noblemen became landowners here. From the middle of the 19th century the highly developing industry of Latvia began to attract Russian workmen. The biggest social source of Russian newcomers, however, were Russian peasants fleeing from Russia because of widespread religious and social oppression.

The most dynamic social group which began to settle in Latvia were the Russian merchants. Long ago the Polotsk principality and the merchants of ancient Novgorod established trade relations with Rīga. Real penetration by Russian merchants became possible after the conquest of Rīga by the troops of Count Sheremetjev in 1710. But the Russian expansion was restrained by local regulations which strictly limited business activities of those merchants who did not belong to the Rīga Merchant Guilds.

By the end of the 19th century, there emerged quite an appreciable group of Russian manufacturers in Latvia. As far back as the beginning of the 20th century, there was founded the Kuznetsov Porcelain Factory near Rīga. A very large number of Russians were employed in brickworks supplying the building industry. The most notable among these manufacturers were E.Nesterov (he had 500 workers in his yards), F.Nesadomov (120 workers), V.Chikov (over 100 workers), Y.Karjakin (about 200 workers). But Russians were not at the head of the local business at that time. For instance, the working share of one worker at the brick-yards made up 259 roubles per annum while the corresponding figure was 120,000 roubles in wine production which was the monopoly of the Germans. There was no Russian large capital investment in foreign trade operations.

A big source of additional population were the Russian peasants. The mass migration of these peasants began in the second half of the 16th century and up to the beginning of the 20th century it was sporadic. Its main reasons were religious oppression of Old Believers and a sharp aggravation of the economic position of peasants in Russia resulting, in part, from the conditions of serfdom.

It is difficult to give an exact judgement of the educational and cultural standard of the Russian population in Latvia in Tsarist times. The highest level of literacy - 70% - was the privilege of the Russian Orthodox males. The corresponding figures for Old Believers were: men 25%, women 8%. As for the female population in total, the level of literacy of Russian women was the lowest in Latvia at that time.

2. Russian Mentality

Under the conditions of tsarism the dominating trend of Russian mentality in Latvia became the idea of a political nation. Moreover, it were the Russians who were thought representatives of the only political nation in the Empire and bearers of the Russian political system and culture. The ideas of this kind served as ground for exercising, in Latvia, a persistent policy of russification at the time of Alexander III and Nicholas II (mainly before the revolution of 1905- 1907). At the same time Russians tried to distinguish their interests from the interests of the state. Little by little, a certain part of the Russians of Latvia began to consider themselves as one of the many nationalities of Latvia. The Russian daily newspaper "Rizhskij Vestnik" established the notion of "the needs and wants of the local Russian population". Since the 1860s there appeared local Russian social organisations. The period of bourgeois reforms of Alexander II stimulated the rise of national consciousness of the Russian population in Latvia. In the elections to town councils and to the State Duma of the Russian Empire local Russians participated on a political basis.

The Russian National Minority in the Republic of Latvia

1. The Russian Population in the Republic of Latvia

On November 18, 1918, the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed as an independent democratic state. All the nationalities who lived in the territory of Latvia in the period of foreign rule, got the opportunity to develop as national minorities of the country. All Russians lost the status of their ethnic belonging to the Empire, but in Latvia they were given all the rights normally secured by democratic states.

The years of independent Latvia were favourable to the growth of the Russian national group. Not only in the whole of Latvia but in all the historical regions of the country the number of this national minority grew constantly.

According to the first statistical data of 1920 the number of the Russian population at that time was 91 thousand. In 1935 the number of the Russian minority had increased up to 206,4 thousand. During the whole period of independence, Russians remained the biggest national minority of the country. In 1935, the part of Russians in the whole structure of the population of Latvia made up 10.5% (in 1920 - 7.8%).

The growth of the Russian population was due to several factors. The Civil war and the establishment of Soviet power in Russia caused a flow of refugees and emigrants to many countries, Latvia included. According to the Peace Treaty between the Latvian Republic and Soviet Russia, some lands of the Pskov province with a large number of Russians passed on to Latvia. But the main cause of the Russian population growth was their high natural birth rate. For example, in 1929 the natural increment of Russians was 2.8 thousand, while the natural increment of Latvians, whose total number in that same year was nine times as big as that of Russians, made up only 3.7 thousand.

Russians used to have the biggest number of large families in comparison with other national groups of Latvia. As in the tsarist times, Russians still remained one of the "youngest" ethnic groups of Latvia. The Russian children aged under fourteen made up 14% of the total number of the children of Latvia of the same age. Russian families during the period of independence were characterised by a very high stability. The average number of divorces of Russian families was two times smaller than that of Latvian families and five times smaller than that of German families.

Big changes took place in the structure of the territorial settlement of Russians in Latvia. Three quarters of the Russian population lived in Latgale, 14% in Rīga.

In comparison with the tsarist period of the history of Latvia, Russians acquired more "country and agricultural" features and lost those of "town and industry". The overwhelming majority of Russians were engaged in agriculture (80%). 7% were engaged in industry, 4.9% - in trade. The fact that Russian inhabitants of the country had their farms mainly in Latgale, the least economically developed part of the country, did not stimulate them to social movement towards prestigious kinds of labour and agriculture. In the towns of Vidzeme, Kurzeme, and Zemgale the social picture of Russians approached the all-Latvian one. But even there, Russians did not belong to economically and socially advanced national groups. Russians differed from Latvians, Germans and Jews by a smaller part of property owners and a widespread use of child labour.

The total level of literacy of the Russian population at the very beginning of the history of the Latvian Republic was lower than at the time of the Empire. Only 42% of Russian men and 28% of Russian women of Latvia could read and write in 1920. During the years of independence the number of Russian pupils at schools increased greatly (1.5 times - the highest rate in the period of 1925-1935). As a result, the difference between the number of Latvian and Russian students aged 6-20 was reduced considerably (54% and 47% correspondingly).

Russians were underrepresented in institutions of higher education. In 1920 there were only 65 Russian students at the University of Latvia, in 1939 - 220 students.

For a long time the Latvian Republic tried to integrate the Russian minority on the basis of a large national-cultural autonomy. National schools of Latvia widely used their right to teach children in their mother tongue. Russian schools were not an exception. The Russian language played a particularly important role at the stage of primary education. By the end of the 1920s, 92% of Russian children were being educated at Russian primary schools. The development of the network of secondary schools also took into account the demands of national minorities to receive education in their own language. At the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s there was an increasing tendency by parents from minority groups to send their children to Latvian language schools. In 1935 60% of Russian children were educated in their mother tongue.

The popularity of the Russian language in Latvia resulted from the fact that Russians did not seek to learn the Latvian language and other minority languages properly.

The Latvian language was not attractive to the Russian population of Latvia. In 1920-1930 only a little more than 15% of Russians could speak and write Latvian. The Latvian milieu of many towns was a good incentive for Russians to learn the Latvian language. 70% of Russian residents of Jelgava and more than 80% of those of Bauska, Valmiera and Kuldīga spoke Latvian.

2. Political life and consciousness of the Russians of the Republic of Latvia

The establishment of the Latvian State, in November 18, 1918, made local Russians work out new principles of their relations with the government. Under the new conditions, the Russians of Latvia became a national minority whose special cultural interests were regulated by the Law on the Cultural-National Autonomy of Minorities, adopted by the People's Council.

Russians of Latvia enjoyed full rights as its citizens and, therefore, took part in the political life of the country. Russians, as a national minority, participated in the elections to the Constituent Assembly of Latvia and to all the four Saeimas.

From two to six per cent of all Latvian electors voted for Russian parties. In the areas highly populated by Russians - Rīga and Latgale - more and more Russian electors voted for Russian parties during the whole period of the parliamentary state.

Special historical conditions determined a specific attitude of Russians towards the idea of national-cultural autonomy. They accepted the autonomous character of Russian culture in respect to Latvian culture. But they believed that there was no local autonomy in respect to Russian culture and Russian people in general. Local Russian society did not identify any special features characteristic of local Russians which would differentiate them from the Russians of Russia.

During the period of the Latvian Republic, the local Russian inhabitants tried to work out their own principles of social consciousness. A characteristic feature of the Russian social consciousness was a continuous controversy between adherents of different ideas.

At the beginning of the Republic, 1918-1919, the orthodox wing of the National-Democratic League (N.Bordonos) - the first Russian national union of Rīga and, then, of the whole of Latvia - spoke in favour of ethnic purity of Russian social organisations. The liberal wing of the NDL and, later, the Russian Society of Latvia (N.Berejanski, S.Mansyrev) called for a close co-operation by the Russian minority with the whole Latvian society.

From the liberal consciousness of the NDL there emerged some elements of a specific ideology among a part of the Russian population of Latvia - "democratic nationalism". Its mouthpiece was the publicist Berejanski. He thought that the fate of the Russians of Latvia was not easy. Their historical motherland was in the hands of "Bolshevik internationalism", the enemy of Russian national culture and ethics. Russians were grateful to democratic Latvia for granting the opportunity to develop their culture. But Russians themselves, N.Berejanski thought, had to strengthen to the utmost, within their consciousness, the notion of national values. The followers of this idea worked on the Russian newspaper "Slovo" ("Word"). At the same time the most famous Russian newspaper "Segodnia" did not pretend to propagate Russian national ideas, but advocated the ideas of defence of the cultural-national autonomy of all minorities.

A flamboyant exponent of Russian national principles was N.Belotsvelov who considered that the conversion of Russians to nationalism was a natural result of the fate of emigrants fearing for the future of their culture.

The ideas of "democratic nationalism" were supported by the leaders of the Russian Peasants' Union which had a right-wing orientation. The RPU became the basis of the Russian Peasant fraction of three deputies in the Fourth Saeima.

A part of Russians belonged to the ultra-left of the political spectrum. (In the Fourth Saeima, one Russian represented the social democrats and one Russian was a communist representative). But the left-wing parties of Russians did not achieve any big success though they had a certain influence among sections of the workers of Rīga.

Russians in Occupaied Territory of Latvia in 1940-1990

1. The Russians of Latvia in 1940-1941

In summer of 1940 there began the most tragic events in the history of Latvia. The country lost its independence and was incorporated into the USSR.

The attitude of the Russian milieu towards these events varied. Three kinds of positions can be discerned, in regard to the political changes:

  1. A complete disagreement with the Bolshevik regime was characteristic of the Russian inelligentsia and priests.
  2. A part of the Russian public of Latvia were under an illusion regarding Stalin's dictatorship, hoping that it would turn into a political system similar to that of the Russian monarchy.
  3. A full support for the Bolshevik regime in Latvia. During one year of Soviet power, Russians here were deprived of all their national periodicals, many of the prominent Russian public figures were subjected to repression or killed.

But the new regime also found supporters among local Russians. Russian collective farms emerged in Latvia and there were a large number of Russians in the security services and units of the workers' guard. The communist nomenclature was being rapidly developed, local Russians taking an active part in it.

2. The Russians of Latvia in 1941-1944

Latvia entered into the Second World War as a part of the USSR. Both Russians and Latvians shared the fate of Nazi policies of oppression.

A part of the local Russian population took part in hostilities against fascism in the Red Army ranks and in the partisan movement, supporting the Communist party.

But, at the same time, there were quite a number of Russians collaborating with the Nazi authorities. They worked on the newspapers propagandising the myth of "a national Russia" free of Bolsheviks and Jews, and "the liberating mission" of the Wehrmacht. Russians were won over to militarised units. The Nazis made advances to those of the Russian population who had suffered from the Bolsheviks. The newspapers of that time were full of information about Russian National culture. In Daugavpils there was opened a Russian theatre, in the Rēzekne Teachers' Institute - a Russian language class for teachers of Russian was set up, etc.

An institution was created for representing the interests of the Russian population of the Generalgebiet of Latvia as well as the Russian Committee for the Affairs of the Russian population of Latvia. These were designed to help Russians with some of their economic, cultural and legal needs.

3. Peculiarities of the post-war migration of Russians to Latvia

After Latvians, the Russians are the largest ethnic group in today's Latvia. In 1989 this national group made up 34,8% of the whole population of Latvia and its total number was 905,5 thousand. In comparison with the demographic situation of the pre-war period, the number of Russians had increased 4.5 times. Their share in the national structure of the population of Latvia had increased 3.5 times.

Such a big growth of the Russian population could not be explained solely by natural increase. The majority of the Russian national group in Latvia today are here as a result of a big migration movement, mainly from Slav republics of the USSR, first of all, from the Russian Federation.

Russians preferred to settle in towns rather than in the country. They tended to choose such big cities as Rīga and the like. Russians differed from Latvians in their social and professional characteristics. Over one third of the Russian population were engaged in industry (one quarter of Latvians), 7% of Russians (22% of Latvians) were engaged in agriculture, 1% of Russians (2.5% of Latvians) - in the sphere of culture and art. The percentage of Russians in administration was two times as large as that of Latvians (6.4% and 3%). In other social activities Russian differences were negligible.

Russians were the biggest ethnic group in the USSR both in number and in ideological influence. Under the conditions of Soviet Latvia, Russians dominated the whole non-Latvian population of the Republic. Latvia was the place where consolidation of Russian-speakers on the basis of their mother tongue was successfully put into effect. The Russian language also formed a new group of Russian speaking Byelorussians, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews and Germans of Latvia. And though in the period of 1959-1979 the number of Russians in Latvia increased by 47%, the number of the non-Russian population considering Russian their mother tongue increased by 78%. A highly developed infrastructure was developed in Latvia on the basis of the Russian language (the system of secondary and higher education, science, means of mass media, state-party control of economy and social life).

4. National consciousness of the Russians of the Latvian SSR

During the whole Soviet period, the Russian mass media of Latvia played the part of active bearers of the communist ideology, influencing the consciousness of the Russians of Latvia. That is why this consciousness had purely communist features.

For the whole Soviet period there was no suitable formula at the official level to express national-cultural features of this large group of Latvian residents. The ideology of the Communist party rejected the tradition of the Latvian Republic which identified the Russians of Latvia as one of its national minorities. In the USSR there existed a form of national-territorial autonomy of nations, but not for all nations, which made their social representation in the state bodies unequal and, as a result, their influence on social minds was unequal as well. A nation could be considered "fully-fledged" only if it possessed a state system in the form of a union republic. Therefore, there was only one nation in Latvia - Latvians. The Russians of Latvia, both those who had deep historical roots here, and those who chose it as a place of permanent residence after World War II, having no territorial autonomy, were not considered as an individual cultural and national community in the Republic.

During the almost forty years of the history of the Russian communist consciousness of Latvia there were no new ideas. Such ideas came only with the first marked democratic changes in the USSR at the end of the 1980's.

The start of democratic processes brought about national awakening of peoples. New democratic tendencies gave equal chances to the national revival of both Latvians and Russians. Some part of Russians actively supported the Latvian awakening. Both individual representatives of the Russian public and some groups of Russians believed that "Atmoda" (Awakenining) should be irreversible. Thus, in July 1988, A.Maltsev was one of the 17 prominent figures of Latvian culture who signed an open letter to the Broadened Assembly of the Latvian Writers' League with the initiative of establishing a democratic People's Front.

The idea of establishing the Popular Front of Latvia was supported by the Russian writers of the Republic - L.Azarova, R.Dobrovenski, V.Dozortsev and M.Kostenetska, the journalist A.Grigorjev, A.Kazakov, the translator and bibliographer J.Abyzov, and many others. In 1989 L.Gladkov, V.Dozortsev, V.Zhdanov, V.Kononov and M.Kostenetska were elected to the Council of the People's Front of Latvia. V.Dozortsev became a member of the Board of the Council of the Popular Front of Latvia. A.Grigorjev was one of the editors of "Atmoda" (Awakening) - the newspaper of the PFL. The circulation of the Russian edition of "Atmoda" was quite big (15 - 100 thousand). It was popular not only with the Russian residents of Latvia but with the democratic public of Russia as well.

The PFL became the basis of consolidation of the Russian Culture Society of Latvia (RCSL). The Constituent Assembly of the RCSL was held on March 4, 1989. The aim of the Society was 'to develop to the utmost the Russian national culture, to intensify traditional Russian-Latvian relations, cooperate with the representatives of all nationalities of the Republic".

But at the same time quite a number of the Russians of Latvia viewed the revival of the Latvian state system with mistrust. This is shown by the results of a public opinion poll in 1989. Only 49% of the non-Latvian population supported the idea of the independence of Latvia (the number of Latvians supporting the idea made up 93%).

"The International Front of the Working People of Latvia" or "The Interfront", established in 1989, came out openly against the idea of Latvian independence.

"The Interfront" aimed to win the sympathies of those Russians who were not deeply integrated into the Latvian society, did not speak Latvian and did not prize much the national characteristics of this country.

Russians in the Restored Republic of Latvia

1. Russian remigration

The formation of the Latvian national state was accompanied by a number of political measures which were strategically aimed at the increase of the proportion of Latvians in Latvian society. Evidently, it couldn't be achieved without stimulating a big number of non-Latvians to leave the country. No less important incentive for remigration of Russians, as well as Ukrainians and Byelorussians, was the foundation of the independent states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in 1991 which could provide for a better development of the national identity of these peoples. But, of course, it can't be stated that remigration of Russians was characteristic only of the period of the restored independent Latvia.

In 1991-1992 there was a big leap in the migratory outflow from Latvia. In 1991 the number of people who left the country exceeded by 11.2 thousand the number of arrivals, in 1992 the figure had increased to 47.2 thousand.

Russian remigration from independent Latvia show that it has resulted in the ageing of the Latvian society and the loss of people of working age. While the number of immigrants aged 30-44 and under 18 made up 32% of the total number of immigrants, the same groups made up 61% of the remigrants in 1993.

This broad Russian emigration from Latvia aggravated the problem of their own national identity. There appeared two tendencies in the Russian consciousness. One tendency is stimulating the ethnic consolidation of Russians. The other one, on the contrary, is reducing the intra-ethnic dependence. The second tendency becomes most apparent when a nation does not see any favourable prospects of its development within some national structure, when people consider their ethnicity as an obstacle to achieving social comfort. In this case, many people would prefer to assimilate in the milieu of the socially prestigious and dominating nation. If it is not so easy for themselves, at least, their children might have a chance to do so.

2. Self-consciousness of the Russians in the Republic of Latvia

The restoration of the Latvian Republic took place in the period of the crisis in the Soviet Union, leading to its complete break-up. And the Russian state system began to be restored in its place. For the first time in history there were established such conditions under which Latvia and Russia could coexist as independent and democratic states.

This process had an immediate effect on the minds of the Russians of Latvia. They found themselves in a situation which suggested different norms of behaviour. One of them is a natural desire of people to develop within their own national culture which had had a longstanding support from the state. But taking up this option now meant remigration back to Russia.

The formation of the legal state system in Latvia created conditions for advancing social organisations of the Russian residents of Latvia and of their social initiatives. The most well-known of them is the Russian Community of Latvia (President of the RCL is B.Borisov).

The RCL was founded in 1991 immediately after the recognition of Latvia's independence by the world community. At the first stage, the Russian Community included 360 members, in 1995 - over 800 members. From the very beginning the RCL determined cultural and social priorities - "creation of an integral real and effective system of different kinds of defence and mutual assistance, both spiritual, moral and material, for all members of the community during their lives". According to the RCL's ideology, the consolidating basis of Russians is the Russian language but not their ethnic origin. In the constituent documents of the Russian Community, the idea of the national minority of Russians in Latvia did not meet support. The RCL does not support the official standpoint distinguishing the Russian residents of Latvia by their political status - citizens of the Republic and non citizens, who were previously citizens of the former USSR. Neither does it differentiate ethnic Russians from other Russian-speaking residents of the country.

The Russian Community of Latvia may be considered as reviving those elements of Russian consciousness which were cultivated at the time of the Latvian Republic in 1918-1940. Like in 1920-1930 there is a tendency to develop a Russian social infrastructure. Contemporary Russians appreciate the idea of cultural-national autonomy which had been put into effect in the pre-war Latvia. The RCL is a social organisation rather than a political one, but it has undertaken to strengthen the Latvian state system.

The statutes of the Russian Community of Latvia still reflect, however, the difference between the Russian consciousness of the period of the restored Latvia and that of the pre-war State. At that time, life outside Russia was a tragedy for Russians. They couldn't go home where they could be physically destroyed. The Russians of pre-war Latvia hoped for the revival of the legal Russian state with which they connected their fully fledged development.

Apart from the RCL the most prominent Russian national societies in Latvia are:

  1. The Balto-Slavonic society of cultural development and cooperation (the oldest Russian social society in contemporary Latvia, founded in 1988). The BSS includes about 100 members. The Chairman of the BSS is B.Popov.
  2. 'Tle Latvian society of Russian culture. It was founded in 1989. The membership is about 100. The Chairman is Jury Abyzov.
  3. The centre of humanities and education "Yedi" established by the Council of the Old Believers' Community and the Orthodox Eparchy. The President is I.Ivanov.
  4. Tle Latvian Foundation of Slavonic Written Language and Culture. It was founded in 1989. 'The members of the Foundation are the Rīga Russian community, the Ukrainian society "Dnipro" and the Byelorussian society "Svitanak". 7he President of the Foundation is M.Gavrilov.

On June 16, 1995, eleven Russian national-cultural societies and other organisations of the Latvian Republic signed the agreement on the constitution of the Council for the Russian Societies of Latvia. The aim of the constituent agreement is "to promote preservation, study, and popularisation of Russian national traditions and culture, spiritual and ethical values and intellectual and creative heritage of the Russian people".

© Text: Dr. Vladislavs Volkovs, the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, 1999

The Jews and Roma

The Jews and Roma, or Gypsies, are long-established minorities in Latvia, living here since the 16th century. Both ethnic groups suffered atrociously during the Second World War. Three hundred years ago the first Jewish synagogue was built, and two hundred years ago the Jews succeeded in obtaining the status of permanent residents. The largest numbers of Jews migrated to Latvia in the late 19th century from western parts of the Russian Empire, so that by the turn of the 20th century they numbered 142 thousand, or more than 7% of Latvia’s total population. Before the Second World War, Latvia’s Jewish population fluctuated around 93–96 thousand - about 5% of the country’s total population. The first year of Soviet occupation, when a great deal of property was nationalised, particularly affected the Jews, and many were exiled to Siberia. When the German army invaded Latvia, only about 15 thousand Jews succeeded in escaping to the Soviet Union, and the Nazis ruthlessly wiped out virtually all those who had remained. Only 14 thousand Jews returned to Latvia after the war, and by 1970 the Jewish population had reached 37 thousand. A proportion of the Jews succeeded in obtaining the right to emigrate, and about half of Latvia’s Jewish population left during the 1970s and 80s. Since the restoration of Latvia’s independence, when all restrictions on emigration were lifted, Jewish emigration has continued. Nowadays the Jewish population numbers around 10 thousand, and the great majority live in Rīga and are members of various Jewish organisations.

Formerly, most of Latvia’s Jews spoke Yiddish, especially in Latgale, while in Kurzeme German was more commonly spoken in Jewish families. Nowadays, the number of Yiddish-speakers is less than a thousand, and most are elderly people. Instead, with few exceptions, Russian is spoken in Jewish families. There are two Jewish schools in Rīga - one state school and one private school - and these are oriented towards teaching in Hebrew. Latvia’s Jews are the best educated ethnic group: almost half are graduates of higher education institutions, and Jews are also surprisingly numerous among Latvia’s millionaires.

The first Roma people arrived in Latvia 500 years ago from Germany and Poland, and right up to the first half of the 20th century they largely retained their traditional way of life and pattern of seasonal movement, practicing various crafts and trading in horses. In German-occupied Latvia the Roma were subjected to terror: about two thousand Roma were slaughtered. In other places the local authorities assumed responsibility for the Roma, thus saving them from certain death. In the post-war years, with a high birth rate, the Roma population grew rapidly, and is now approaching nine thousand. The true population may actually be higher, since many Roma dislike revealing their ethnic background.

Many Roma speak Latvian and Russian just as fluently as Romany, but knowledge of the written languages is a problem for many of them. The majority of Roma still adhere to their distinctive traditions, where clan affiliation is of great importance and where authority is wielded by the head of the family. The majority of Roma lead a significantly different way of life: they are much more outgoing and are partial to bright colours and jewellery. Although linguistically and politically they represent the best-integrated minority in Latvia, in socio-economic terms the Roma experience the greatest problems. Very few Roma are well educated, and Roma graduates from higher education institutions are exceptionally rare: their proportion is 20 times smaller than in the general population. Many Roma are illiterate. Thus, only about a tenth of the Roma find permanent employment, and most belong to the very poorest stratum of the population, with little possibility of improving their situation. Positive in this regard is the fact that in none of Latvia’s towns or cities do the Roma live in ghetto-like districts: instead they tend to form a small minority living among the Latvians or Russians.

First Jews in Piltene

No documentary evidence attests to the presence of Jews in ancient Latvian tribes up to the time of the Crusades or thereafter. The first written reference to Jews occurs in 1306 (1309, according to some sources) in the decree of the ruling German Livonian master, Siegfried von Feichtwangen, forbidding any Jew to reside in the territory ruled by the Livonian Order. The Order, the Archbishop of Riga, and the Bishop of Courland held the typical medieval anti-Semitic view of the Jews as enemies of Christianity. The Crusaders also regarded the Jews as unwelcome competitors who, by trading with farmers, might decrease the income of the Crusaders and the clergy.

In 1559, when the destruction of Livonia’s German Federation began, the Bishop of Courland, Johann von Munchhausen, allowed Germany’s Jews to enter the territory of the bishopric.

Only in the region of Piltene, which was sold to Magnus, the brother of the Danish king, were Jews allowed to live and work. Since 1571 Jews were allowed to acquire real estate, to build or buy houses. They enjoyed the same rights as local homeowners. In 1585, when the Piltene region passed into the hands of the Polish king, laws favorable to the Jews continued to be in force. Such advantageous conditions attracted traders and craftsmen from Germany to Piltene and neighboring localities. Thus began the history of the Jews in Latvia. In the seventeenth century, when Vidzeme and Riga were under Swedish rule, King Gustav Adolf forbade Jews to engage in commerce or to take up permanent residence. He gave a decree that forbade Jews from taking up permanent residence. Later, Sweden recommended convincing the newly arrived Jews to convert to Christianity.

Jews in Kurzeme

Jews were officially forbidden to reside in the Duchy of Courland (Kurzeme) while it was under Polish rule (1561-1795). However, those landowners who wanted to develop trade, crafts, and manufacturing were favorably disposed to Jewish immigration. Thus, the duke's administration granted Jews the status of resident aliens, allowing them temporary residence.

The Jews not only traded industriously but also loaned the duke money for setting up manufacturing concerns and workshops. On occasion, Jews were tasked with collecting taxes and customs. In this way, the Jews in the seventeenth century facilitated Duke Jacob's economic enterprises.

However, many German merchants and craftsmen, fearing competition, were ill-disposed toward the Jews. Also, landlords who gained no benefit from the Jews requested the curtailment of Jewish activities. Frequently, Jews were forbidden to settle in cities; in Jelgava they were permitted to reside on only one street, which came to be called Jewish Street. Consequently, most Jews settled in the country, usually near an amicable landlord.

Little by little, the Jews became permanent residents in Kurzeme. In 1708 they were permitted to erect the first Jewish synagogue at Aizpute, and in 1710 they established a Jewish cemetery in Jelgava.

Ernst Johann Biron, who became the Duke of Kurzeme in 1737, was benevolent toward the Jews; he even named the Jew Levi Lipman as his chief financial adviser and business manager and shared the profits with him. The Duke himself resided primarily in St.Petersburg with his patroness, the empress Anna Ivanovna. When she died in 1740, the new empress, Elizabeth Petrovna, ordered Duke Biron to be exiled to Siberia and all Jews to be expelled from Kurzeme. In 1747 the Jews were forced to leave Jelgava, but they soon returned because they had been able to bribe the Russian officials in St. Petersburg; besides, Jelgava needed their financial expertise.

During the eighteenth century, many Jewish merchants arrived in Kurzeme from Germany - clothiers, shoemakers, glassmakers, tinsmiths, furniture makers, inlayers, stamp makers, etc. The Jews, particularly roofers, made a notable contribution to the building of Rundale Castle and Peter's Academy in Jelgava. Wealthy landowners and city dwellers began to commission works by Jewish artisans.

A local Jewish intelligentsia began to form as Jewish doctors who had been educated in Germany began to arrive in Kurzeme. They brought with them the reform movement haskala, which encouraged Jews to participate in the cultural activities of their host countries and to become integrated therein.

Marcus Hertz (1747-1803), a doctor of medicine and philosophy who lived in Jelgava, played a major role in popularizing the concept of haskala. Inspired by its ideas, the Jews in Kurzeme were in the forefront with their demands for the rights of citizens. Since the Landtag was unable to reach agreement on this issue, it was only after the Duchy of Courland was annexed to Russia (1795) that the Jews were granted the rights of permanent citizens. Prompted by support from landowners, Emperor Paul issued this law in 1799.

In 1852 there were 22,743 Jews in Kurzeme and Zemgale; of these, 4,189 lived in Jelgava and constituted 22% of the city's inhabitants.

Jews in Riga and Vidzeme

The first mention of Jewish merchants in Riga occurs in 1536. An independent Jewish settlement began to form in 1638. Every day, at the close of business, Jews had to leave the city; they were allowed to return the next morning when the markets opened. The prohibition against living in Riga remained in force even after Riga and Kurzeme were annexed to Russia. Nevertheless, the Jewish traders who supplied St. Petersburg with wood and the royal court with jewelry succeeded, in the middle of the eighteenth century, in gaining permission to live in Riga for six weeks.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were 700-800 Jews in Riga. As merchants and craftsmen, they played a vital role in the economic life of the city. Many Jews campaigned for the right to gain full status as citizens and landlords. The German city council was reluctant to make these concessions because it did not want to share its privileged status with the Jews. However, the Jews' petitions to St. Petersburg were heeded, and in 1841 the Russian Senate passed a law giving the Jews of Riga, who were permanent citizens there already, the right to be registered in the city. The law also required the Jews to give up their distinctive style of dress - long coats, distinctive hats, and cloaks; henceforth, they were to appear in the streets of Riga dressed like typical German burghers.

In 1835 the Russian government allowed Jews to settle in the Vidzeme region (they already resided there) and to engage in commerce, crafts, and the professions. By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were 4,500 Jews in the Latvian part of Vidzeme, including Riga.

Jews in Latgale

After Latgale was annexed to Poland (1562), laws and conditions were favorable for the Jews. However, the majority of Jews arrived only in the middle of the seventeenth century as they fled the pogroms organized in the Ukraine and Belarus by Bogdan Khmelnytsky. These Jews spoke Yiddish, as was common in Poland, and they were more strict in their observance of orthodox traditions than were German Jews. Most of them were small tradesmen and craftsmen, but some were farmers. Until 1844, Jewish communities in Latgale had their own local government officials - kagali - who collected taxes, enforced the observance of secular and religious laws, and maintained order.

In 1784 there were 3,698 permanently residing Jews in Latgale. As of 1804, Jews were allowed to live only in cities and villages in order to prevent the debt-encumbered lands of Polish landlords from coming into the possession of Jews. By helping their Russian and Polish competitors, officials tried to squeeze out Jews from farming and from doing business with farmers.

Jews who were forced to move to the city frequently became the poorest inhabitants because they had difficulty in finding work, lived in crowded conditions, and suffered many ailments. In 1847, approximately 11,000 Jews lived in Latgale.

Jewish Role and Life in Nineteenth-Century Latvia

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, manufacturing and a market economy started to develop in Latvia. Supply and demand increased. These conditions significantly enhanced the role of Jews. They became the chief intermediaries between the city and the farming community by supplying farmers with needed goods. Every day thousands of small tradesmen visited their customers on horseback or on foot even to the most remote rural areas. This interaction fostered wide contacts between Jews and Latvians. Commerce facilitated the development of farming. The reforms of Alexander II in 1860-1870 created a favorable environment for the Jews. For example, they were allowed to buy property in Riga, Liepaja, and other cities and to join the guilds of merchants and craftsmen. These factors contributed to the growth of a well-to-do middle class.

Wealthy Jews in Riga established banks and engaged in wide-ranging international commerce. Yakov Gindin, the owner of Riga's alcohol manufacturing company, was extremely rich; he purchased some Arab territory in Palestine for those Jews who wished to return to their homeland. Jews who engaged in the export of grain, timber, or flax became especially prosperous.

A heavy influx of Jews from Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine began in the 1860s. The number of Jewish craftsmen increased sharply. In Latgale, approximately two-thirds of all craftsmen were Jews.

During the reign of Alexander III in the 1880s, Jewish rights were curtailed again. Jews who were not permanently registered in a city were expelled, and registration requirements were made more stringent (e.g., only those belonging to specified professions could register).

Latvia's spiritual leaders did not support anti-Semitism and continued to socialize with Jews. On December 11, 1881, Krisjanis Valdemars wrote in the newspaper Baltijas Vestnesis that Latvians and Jews were two orphaned people who should support each other. He also invited readers to learn from the Jews how to prosper.

In Latvian society as a whole, two opposite attitudes developed toward the Jews: on the one hand, sympathetic and supportive; and on the other, critical and negative. The same dichotomy prevailed in many European countries.

Jews in the Revolution of 1905

At the end of the nineteenth century, 142,315 Jews lived in the territory of Latvia. They comprised 7.4% of the total population. In Rēzekne and Ludza, 54% were Jews; in Daugavpils, 46%; and in Bauska, 42%. Jews were represented in almost all social classes and groups. For example, 10% of the students at Riga Polytechnic Institute were Jews. In Riga and Daugavpils several thousand Jews were common laborers. The concepts of Socialism took root among them and various craftsmen. A Jewish Workers' Party called the Bund was established in 1897 in Vilnius; local Latvian chapters spring up in Daugavpils (1899), Riga (1900), and subsequently in Liepaja, Jelgava, and Ventspils. By 1904 there were approximately 1,000 members of the Bund in Daugavpils.

From the first days of the Revolution of 1905, many Jews united with Latvian and Russian revolutionaries to topple the tsar. Five Jewish youths were among the 70 demonstrators who were shot on January 13, 1905, at Riga's Iron Bridge.

In Riga in 1905, the most popular revolutionary mass meeting orator was Samuil Klevansky, nicknamed Maxim.

All in all, the revolutionary struggles of 1905-1907 gave birth to friendship and co-operation between Latvian and Jewish democratic powers.

Jews in World War I

Shortly before World War I, the rapid expansion of manufacturing in Latvia created the need for more workers. Thousands of Jews arrived to fill the need. At that time there were approximately 170,000 Jews in Latvia; of these, 80,000 were in Latgale, 68,000 in Kurzeme, and 21,000 in Riga.

At the beginning of the war, the resident Jewish citizenry declared their loyalty to Russia; however, in the spring of 1915, when the German army defeated the Russian army and forced it to retreat from Poland and Lithuania, anti-Semites and chauvinists spread the rumor that Jews spying for Germany were responsible for the German victory; in this way, incompetent Russian generals sought to exculpate themselves from their defeats.

On April 17, 1915, Grand Duke Nicolai Nikolaevich, the Russian commander-in-chief, ordered all Jews to be expelled in twenty-four hours from the front-line areas in the Duchy of Kurzeme. More than 40,000 Jews were evacuated from their homes. When the German army occupied Kurzeme and Zemgale, those Jews who had managed to escape deportation greeted the occupiers as liberators. The German attitude toward the Jews at that time was relatively tolerant.

In the summer and fall, the front reached the Daugava River. Because of the relocation of industries caused by the devastation of war, there was a massive exodus of Latvians and Jews from Riga and Daugavpils to the inner Russian provinces. Under duress or voluntarily, about 127,000 Jews left Latvia during the war. Only one-third of them returned after the war. Multitudes perished in exile or during the Russian Revolution, but some remained in Soviet Russia.

Jews During the Latvian Republic (1918-1940)

Role in the War for Independence

When the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed on November 18, 1918, the resident Jews became full-fledged citizens for the first time. Like other Latvian minorities, they had the right to vote, to hold public office, to form political parties and organizations, to run their own press, and to fashion their own cultural autonomy.

Eleven Jews were members of the National Council, and the lawyer Paul Mintz was State Comptroller (from June 1919 to June 1921) in the government of Karlis Ulmanis.

More than 1,000 Jewish soldiers (including a student battalion and children's company) fought in the Latvian army during the War of Liberation, notably in the battle against the White Guards' army of Bermondt-Avalov in Riga and Liepaja, as well as against the Bolshevik Red Army in Latgale. Four Jewish soldiers, including Four Latvian Jews were awarded the Order of Lāčplēsis, and eleven Jews were awarded the Order of the Three Stars for heroism in battle. Fifty Jews gave their lives for Latvia's independence. In the 1930s monuments were erected in Riga's Šmerlis Cemetery and the Jewish Cemetery in Liepaja to honor the fallen Jews.

Jewish Contribution to Latvia's Development

Jewish life changed drastically in independent Latvia. Many thousands moved from the villages of Latgale and Kurzeme to Riga, where they enjoyed a wider scope for economic enterprises. Between 1920 and 1935, the number of Jews in Riga increased from 24,000 to 44,000. While the number of Jewish small artisans and small traders decreased, the number of service employees and blue-collar workers, as well as medium- and large-scale proprietors, increased.

According to the census data of 1925, 36.27% of private proprietors and 8.4% of businessmen were Jews, although Jews constituted only 5% (95,600) of the population. There was a high proportion of Jews in commerce, the timber industry, the textile industry, flax processing, and the export trade. Before the declaration of Latvia's independence, Jews had saved up considerable capital in gold and West European currencies whose value had increased. Even returning refugees had some income. Moreover, resident Jewish capitalists had wide contacts with American and British businessmen and bankers who gave them aid or loans at advantageous rates.

Two businesspeople of Jewish descent, Jānis Mīlmanis and Elizabete Dancigere, were the biggest earners in Latvian industry. All these resources were invested in renewing and modernizing Latvia's economy. Jewish-owned factories and firms were highly competitive. Banks established by experienced Jews laid the foundation for Latvia's banking and credit system. Five of six banks established and managed by Jews were highly successful; the sole unsuccessful one completely settled accounts with all depositors. To be sure, there were also some unscrupulous operators, but they were not typical of Jewish businessmen as a whole.

After 1920 many Jews became wealthy enough to afford houses, summer homes, cars, and luxurious apartments. Still, a considerable number of indigent Jews received assistance from Jewish foundations and other religious organizations.

Jewish Political Parties and Organisations

Jewish political organizations represented a wide spectrum of views regarding Latvia as a nation and the chief mission of Jews. Many Jewish organizations declared Latvia to be their only homeland and vowed to work on its behalf. Such, for example, were the Society of Jewish Liberators of Latvia (founded in 1928) with over 700 members and the University of Latvia's student group Vetulia.

Jewish political parties participated actively in Latvia's Constitutional Assembly and four Saeima elections, in which they presented their candidates as members of Parliament.

The sympathies of poor Jews were attracted to the illegal Communist Party. In 1921 the Jewish section of the Latvian Communist Party was established. It sponsored the legal, Jewish cultural centre Arbeiterheim (Workers' House), which had approximately 3,000 members in Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, and Rezekne. Because these Jews were inimical to the Latvian state and sympathetic to Soviet Russia, the Workers' House was shut down in 1923.

A Zionist-organized trip to Palestine had a positive historical significance; more than 4,547 Latvian Jews emigrated there. Zionists were also instrumental in establishing the state of Israel. In 1933 the future Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, visited Riga and encouraged Jews to return to their ancestral homeland.

More than 2,200 Jews immigrated to the United States and joined the American Jewish community.

Jewish Education and Culture in Latvia

As a result of implementing the December 8, 1919, law on the education of minorities, the Hebrew society, with the aid of the Latvian government's financial support, established its own Jewish school system. The number of Jewish elementary schools increased from 21 in 1914 to 100 in 1933; the number of secondary schools during the same period increased from 4 to 18. Eighty-two percent of Jewish children studied in these schools. Initially, lessons were conducted in Russian and German, but by 1930 45.82% of pupils had their lessons in Yiddish, and 36.05% in Hebrew. The proportion of Hebrew continued to increase.

In general, the education level of Jews was high. In 1936, 10.6% of all secondary pupils were Jewish; in 1931, 8.77% of all students were Jewish. Among the graduates of the University of Latvia between 1920 and 1937 12.8% were Jews.

Jews distinguished themselves in various fields. There were many notable Jewish scientists, as well as the eminent historian Shimon Dubnov, who wrote a ten-volume history of the Jewish people, and philologist Judel Marx, who compiled a ten-volume Yiddish dictionary in the United States. Many Jews were prominent in medicine - for example, the surgeon Vladimir Mintz.

Jews During the Authoritarian Era of President Ulmanis

After the coup d'etat of May 15, 1934, Jewish activity diminished as political parties and many organizations were shut down. Still, patriotic and Zionist societies functioned freely. Especially active was the Zionist youth organization Betar, which provided military training for combat in Palestine. The government of President Ulmanis supported Zionists and their goal of returning to their homeland. However, the government's course toward national capitalism curtailed Jewish economic activity to a certain extent. For this and other reasons, Jewish dissatisfaction with the “Ulmanis Era” increased despite a general improvement in their standard of living.

Events of 1939 alarmed the Jews in Latvia and caused them to fear Hitler's possible aggression against the Baltic States. Thus, the Jews were hoping to receive aid from the Soviet Union. They had an illusory, erroneous concept of the Soviet Union, and they were unaware of the Stalinist campaign of terror, which exterminated tens of thousands of Jews.

Many Jews supported the October 1939 treaty between Latvia and the Soviet Union; even in June 1940, when the Soviet army occupied Latvia, quite a few Jews greeted it joyfully, expecting the Red Army to defend Latvia against the German Nazi army. This reaction proved that Latvia's authoritarian government had been unsuccessful in persuading the majority of Jews to make common cause with the Latvian nation.

Jews During the Soviet Occupation

Already in 1940 many Jews began to experience the devastating effects of the Soviet occupation. Their private property was expropriated, their civic and religious societies shut down. In the mass deportations of June 1941, about 1,770 Jews were transported to the USSR, where most of them perished. Of all the ethnic groups under Soviet rule, the Jews were the most repressed. Regrettably, among those who perpetrated these acts of political repression were also Jews; however, the majority of the Chekist Jews had emigrated from the Soviet Union and had no links, directly or indirectly, with the Jews of Latvia.

When the German army made a sudden incursion into Latvia in June 1941, only 16,000 Jews managed to evacuate to the USSR. The majority remained in Latvia and died in the Holocaust. Approximately 5,000 Latvian Jews fought in the Soviet army against Nazism; 2,736 of them died in battle.


On June 23, 1941, the action group Einsatzgruppe A of the SS and SD (German secret services) entered Latvia along with Nazi Germany’s Werhmacht. Implementing the will of Adolf Hitler, Einsatzgruppe A began a campaign of murdering Jews on the night of June 24. Men were shot first, but then, beginning in August of 1941, women and children were shot as well. Led by the Germans, mass killings were also conducted by armed units and groups formed by local anti-Semites. Latvia turned out to be one of the bloodiest sites of the Holocaust. The most horrific events were the extermination of Jews from the Riga ghetto, in Rubula on November 30 and December 8, 1941 (26,000 victims); the “liquidation” of Jews in Daugavpils from August 13-22, 1941 (9,012 victims); and the shooting of Liepaja’s Jews from December 15-17, 1941, at the Šķēdes Dunes by the Baltic Sea (3,500 victims). Overall, up until 1945, the Nazis and their helpers murdered 70,000 Latvian Jews, or 72% of their total number.

On November 27, 1941, on the order of Heinrich Himmler, Jewish citizens of Germany, Austria, and Czech began to be sent to Riga for extermination in the ghetto and concentration camps. Of the 23,550 sent here, only 1,073 were still alive by the end of 1944.  5,000 Hungarian Jewish women were sent to camps in Latvian territory in 1944; the majority of them perished.

The chief commander of the extermination of Jews in Nazi-occupied Latvia was SS Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, a German police general. After the war, he was publicly tried and hanged in Riga. Other central criminals of the Holocaust didn’t escape punishment either.

In fairness, it should be noted that many Latvians risked their lives to shelter and save about 400 Latvian Jews from extermination. Most notable of these is the family of Žanis Lipke, who saved the lives of 50 Jews. Recently (May 2000), Roberts Sedolis and his wife, Johanna, as well as Artūrs Motmillers, were among those honored by Israel as “the righteous among the nations,” and several others (B. Rozentals, J. Arcehovka, and J. Berzins) received the Order of the Three Stars (in July 2000) for sheltering Jews.

Jews in Latvia After the Second World War

After World War II, many Jews came from the USSR on work assignments and in search of a more welcoming society, because anti-Semitism was less pronounced in the Baltic states than in the rest of the Soviet Union. By 1970, there were 36,000 Jewish inhabitants in Latvia; of these, 30,574 lived in Riga.

In 1944 and 1945 approximately 15,000-16,000 Jews from the East and West returned to Latvia. It was extremely difficult for them to resume their lives since their homes were occupied by strangers and thousands of their murdered relatives lay in mass graves.

The new Jewish intelligentsia was widely respected. It included the chemist Solomon Hiller, who founded the Institute of Organic Synthesis; the eminent doctors Zelik Cherfas and Anatoly Bluger; the film director Herc Frank; and the 1960-1961 world chess champion Mikhail Tal. The local Jews suffered severely from the restrictions of the ruling Communist Party, which forbade Jews from restoring their schools and conducting cultural events in their native language. As a result, starting in the 1960s, the Jewish anti-Soviet movement gathered strength.

Jews During the National Awakening Movement

Latvia's patriotic grassroots movement for democracy and independence, the National Awakening, also attracted many Jews. For example, the professors Mavrik Wulfson and Abram Kletskin, the lawyer Ruta Mariash, the journalist Igor Movel were elected as deputies from the Latvian Popular Front Party. In October 1988 the Congress of Latvian Jews was held in the former Jewish Cultural Center Building (6 Skolas Street) for the purpose of establishing the Latvian Jewish Cultural Society and renewing their cultural autonomy in Latvia; the activist Esfira Rapina was elected president.

Under the leadership of Hone Bregman and with the support of the Latvian Jewish Cultural Society, a group was formed that established in 1989 the Jewish Secondary School in Riga. Named after the famed historian Shimon Dubnov, the school opened with 390 students; by September 1990, enrolment had increased to 507. It was the first new, post-war Jewish school in the territory of the former USSR.

On September 19, 1990, the Latvian Supreme Council adopted a declaration that was highly significant in promoting good will between Latvians and Jews, ”On the Condemnation and Inadmissibility of Genocide and Anti-Semitism in Latvia.” This declaration provided for the honoring of Holocaust victims by the erection of memorials at locations where mass executions had occurred. One such memorial, for instance, was erected to commemorate the atrocity on July 4, 1941, when a Jewish synagogue in Riga was torched, along with all the Jewish worshipers inside.

Another conciliatory move in July 1990 by the Republic of Latvia's Cabinet of Ministers under the leadership of Ivars Godmanis was the return of the former Jewish Theater Building (on Skola Street) to the Jewish community so that the various Jewish social and cultural organizations could continue their work. Here, too, the prominent historian Marģers Vestermanis based his Jewish History Documentation Center, which raised awareness of the Holocaust in Latvia and presented, both to Latvia and the world at large, accurate information about atrocities committed against the Jews. The current director of the museum is Ilya Lensky.


Only after Latvia regained its independence, in August 1991, could the Jews freely choose their future course in accordance with personal and national interests. Some immigrated to Israel, others moved to Western countries where their relatives had settled during the Diaspora, but the majority elected to remain in Latvia.

Jewish participation in social activities is extremely high; approximately 6,000 Jews are members of some organization or association. To cite just a few: the Riga Jewish Community (formerly, the Society of Jewish Culture); Latvia's War Veterans' Association; the Charity Association Vizo-Rahamin, which renders various kinds of assistance to the elderly, sick, and poor; the Jewish medical society Bikur Holim, which runs its own hospital in Riga; the sports society Makkabi (Maccabees); and Latvia's Jewish Youth Association. The Jewish community publishes its own monthly newspaper, Gesharim (Bridges).

The Jewish religious community in Riga has established numerous clubs and social organizations. Nathan Barkan, the Chief Rabbi of Latvia and Riga (1923-2004), is held in high esteem. In the 1930s he was a soldier in the Latvian army. During the Soviet occupation, he illegally continued to practice and propagate his faith. In the 1960s he immigrated to Israel, where he obtained religious training and served voluntarily in the Israeli army. Since his return to Latvia in 1990, he has been the spiritual leader of Latvia's Jewish community. A street in Riga has been named after Nathan Barkan.

The religions and academic society Shamir actively works in studying the religious life of Latvia’s Jews and Jewish history. The society is led by Nathan Barkan’s son, Menachem Barkahan. He has edited the book Destruction of the Jews in Latvia 1941-1945, which was published in Riga in Latvian, English, German, French, and Russian. Shamir is currently managing the Riga Ghetto Museum, located on the shores of the Daugava River.

Many Jews in independent Latvia are prominent businessmen. They include Ilya Gerchikov, the general director of Dzintars; Haim Kogan, the head of Lukoil in the Baltics; Kirov Lipman, president of the Latvian Hockey Federation; Mikhail Malkiel, director of the sanatorium at Jaunkemeri; and outstanding medical specialists such as Yuli Anshelevitz (heart disease), Raphael Rosenthal (kidney diseases), and the longtime head of the Bikur Holim Hospital, Arkady Gandzs.

Outstanding Jews in Culture

Adolf Metz (1888-1940) is widely known in Latvian music as a violoncellist and, after 1922, as a professor of music at the Conservatory of Latvia. His star pupil, violinist Sarah Rashin, was prominent in the 1930s. They both died in the Holocaust.

In popular music, Oscar Strok, the “King of Tango,” charmed pre-World War II audiences throughout Europe with his melodies. Starting in 1936, Leonid Zahodnik (1912-1988) won acclaim for his leading roles at the National Opera. After the war he helped to train the new generation of singers, including Laima Vaikule and Zorzs Siksna.

Numerous choirs and orchestra directors studied under Mendel Bash. He trained approximately 60 outstanding musicians, including Imants Kokars. Another influential music teacher was a pupil of Jazeps Vitols, Lija Krasinska, who from 1945 to 1993 taught music theory and music history. Likewise, the piano virtuoso Herman Braun (1918-1979) trained an entire generation of concert masters.

Today, the most remarkable musician from Latvia working in Europe is the founder and head of the ensemble Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer, who was born and raised in a Jewish family in Riga.

The world-famous cellist Misha Maisky, who graduated from the Emils Darzins Music College in Riga, is also descended from Latvian Jews.

Inese Galante is a world-class opera singer. After a brilliant debut at the National Opera, she continued to perform both at home, especially at the opera festival in Sigulda, and abroad at the Mannheim and Dusseldorf opera houses. Jūlija Gurviča is a remarkable ballet dancer with the Latvian National Opera.

A survey of Jewish musicians would be incomplete without mention of Toviy Livschitz, who founded and directed the Latvian Chamber Orchestra for 26 years.

The Jewish contribution to Latvia's theater is equally noteworthy. Director Pavel Homski has done much to establish a theater for young people, and the incomparable Adolf Shapiro brought it to its zenith of fame. In the Russian theater, outstanding personalities include veteran actress Jekaterina Bunchuk and director Arkady Katz, whose performances from 1960 to 1980 were especially popular. In our day, the director of the Valmiera theater, Felix Deitch, is beloved by actors and theatergoers alike.

One of the most popular actors in Latvia today is Jakov Rafalson (Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theater). Tina Hercberg was the chief director at the Riga Puppet Theater for many years.

In architecture, Paul Mandelstam has gained distinction with his buildings at Dome Square 8, Smilsu Street 1, and Elizabetes Street 51.

Famous artists include Alexander Dembo, who is a professor at the National Academy of Art, the famous graphic artist Josifs Elgurts, and designer Herbert Dubin.

These and other Jews have made a lasting contribution to Latvia's treasure chest of culture. In this sphere the designation “a Latvian of Jewish origin” is particularly apt for numerous scientists, doctors, teachers, and athletes.

Outstanding Jews in Science, Politics, and Sports

Mechislav Centnerschwer (1874-1944) - professor of physical chemistry at Riga Polytechnic Institute and the University of Latvia; member of the Polish Academy of Sciences; director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry; died in Warsaw during the German occupation.

Mordechai Dubin (1889-1956) - leader of Riga's Jewish congregation during Latvia's first period of independence; leader of the Agudat Israel Party; deputy in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Saeimas; personal friend of President Karlis Ulmanis; arrested and exiled in 1941 by Soviet authorities; died in a concentration camp.

Solomon Hiller (1915-1975) - chemist; founder and director of the Organic Synthesis Institute of the Latvian Academy of Sciences; professor at the University of Latvia and Riga Polytechnic Institute; academician of the German natural science research academy Leopoldina; developed of anticancer drugs.

Max Laserson (1887-1951) - eminent specialist in international law; participant in shaping legal theory in Latvia; professor at Columbia University in the United States.

Paul Mintz (1868-1941) - specialist in law; Professor of Criminology at the University of Latvia; headed the committee that prepared the Latvian Criminal Code (1919-1921); State Comptroller in the administration of Karlis Ulmanis; died at Taishet concentration camp in the Soviet Union.

Mordechai Nurok (1879-1962) - chief Rabbi of Jelgava; leader of the Mizrahi Movement; deputy in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Saeimas; organizer of the World Jewish Congress; member of the Knesset from 1949 to 1962; Minister of the Postal Service (1952) in Israel.

Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) - winner of the European chess championship in 1957, 1961, 1970, 1973, and 1977; winner of the world chess championship in 1960 and 1961.

Marc Lavry (1904-1967) - composer; chief conductor of the Latvian National Opera and Symphony Orchestra from 1932–1935; composed music for the first Latvian film with sound, Tautas dēls, in 1934.

Leon Moisseiff (1872-1944) - renowned bridge architect and engineer; studied at the Riga Polytechnic Institute; moved to the United States in 1923, where he led the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Manhattan Bridge in New York City, among others.

Philippe Halsman (1906-1979) - portrait photographer; emigrated from Latvia to the U.S. and worked for Life magazine; produced iconic photos of individuals ranging from John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill to Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein; collaborated extensively with surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

The Latvian Jewish Community Today

In 1989, on the eve of the renewing of Latvian independence, 22,897 Jews lived in Latvia. In independent Latvia they acquired the right to freely choose their place of residence. By 2010, 9,100 Jews had repatriated to their historical homeland, Israel, or immigrated to the United States and Germany.

In Latvia, almost 90% of Jews had started families with partners of a different ethnic background; the proportion of elderly people increased, which impacted the demographic situation. As a result, the number of Jews in Latvia decreased by another four thousand people by 2010. In 2010, more than 10,000 Jews permanently resided in the Republic of Latvia. About 66% of them are Latvian citizens; 80% live in Riga. There are also large Jewish communities in the cities of Daugavpils, Liepaja, Jurmala, Jelgava, Rezekne, and elsewhere.

The first Latvian Jewish Community Congress was held in Riga on March 16, 2003. At the congress, an organizationally united Latvian Jewish National Minority Society was founded, led by the Council of Latvian Jewish Congregations and Communities.  The chairman of this council is Arkady Suharenko, a financier and deputy chairman of the board at Rietumu Banka.

The Latvian Jewish community has international connections with Jewish societies in the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, and other countries. The community supports Latvia’s participation in NATO and the European Union, and promotes the strengthening of Latvia’s international ties.

© Text: Dr. Leo Dribins, UNIVERSITY OF LATVIA, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, 2011

The Lithuanians and Estonians

The Lithuanians and Estonians are the age-old neighbours of the Latvians, and share a somewhat similar history. Of all the minority groups, the Lithuanians and Estonians are most completely integrated into Latvian society. Around 30 thousand residents of Latvia identified themselves as Lithuanians, almost half of whom spoke Latvian as their native language. The rest of the Lithuanians, mostly from the older generation, indicated Lithuanian as their native language. There is a Lithuanian grammar school in Rīga for more than a decade, and the graduates are equally fluent in Latvian, Lithuanian and foreign languages. Latvia’s Estonian population grew in the late 19th century, reaching ten thousand, but at the present day there are less than three thousand people who consider themselves Estonians. The largest Estonian communities are in Rīga and along the border with Estonia - mainly in the Alūksne area, and Valka. An Estonian secondary school in Rīga has become established and has developed in spite of the small number of Estonian pupils, since it attracts many Latvian pupils with an interest in the language and culture of their neighbours.

The Germans and Poles

Almost a thousand years ago, German merchants and raiders began making regular trips to the area of present-day Latvia, and in the 13th century the country was conquered by German crusaders. The Germans represented the ruling stratum, in large measure retaining control of property and power right up to the early 20th century. The Germans constituted about 5–7% of the total population, but the German language was dominant in practically all spheres of life (except in Latgale) right up to the late 19th century, when, in the frame of the Tsarist Russification policy, it was gradually replaced by Russian. Around the turn of 1940, most Germans left and were re-settled, mainly in the areas taken away from Poland. After Latvia’s forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, the remaining 10 thousand Germans also left, so that only between one and two thousand were left, mainly members of mixed families. In the years of Soviet rule, several thousand Germans arrived from eastern parts of the Soviet Union. The role of the German language fell dramatically during the 20th century. Thus, in the past, a knowledge of German was essential for any educated Rigan, but today German language knowledge is restricted to few, mostly among the older generation.

The roots of the Polish minority in Latvia stretch right back to the late 16th century, when the lands populated by the Latvians came under the control of the King of Poland. The Poles played a particularly significant role in Latgale, where the majority of estate owners and priests were Polish. It is thought that the majority of Poles in Latgale are actually Polonised local Latvians and Belarusians, since there has never been any mass immigration of Poles. In the 1930s, a couple of tens of thousands of Polish guest workers arrived in Latvia, many of whom stayed to live. During the past century, Latvia’s Polish population was around 60 thousand, representing 2–3% of the population. Today, the largest Polish communities are in Daugavpils and Rīga. The Polish language was once very widely used in eastern Latvia, but its role is now much reduced. Only a fifth of Latvia’s Poles have retained the knowledge of their native language, and most of these are pensioners. Five towns and cities in Latvia have state schools with teaching in Polish, attended by under a thousand pupils. In many Catholic churches, services are held also in Polish.

From the beginning of the 13th century to 1939, a considerable number of Germans lived in the territory of Latvia. At the beginning of the 14th century, approximately 15,000 Germans lived in the Latvian part of Livonia - that is, about 5% of the local inhabitants. At the turn of the 18th-19th century, there were approximately 60,000 Germans, or 7% of the population; 35,000 of them lived in Kurzeme (Courland) and Zemgale and constituted 8.4% of the population. According to the census of 1897, there were 120,191 Germans, or 6.2% of the population. After that, the number of Germans decreased. In 1925 approximately 70,000 Germans (almost 4% of the inhabitants) lived in Latvia, but by 1939, before their exodus from Latvia, there were only about 62,000 Germans (3.2%).

Although Germans were a minority in Latvia, they were the ruling class until the end of the 19th century. The German gentry, clergy, and urban high society constituted this ruling class, which subjugated the native inhabitants - Latvians, Livs, and others - for more than 600 years. German economic influence lasted even longer, until 1919, when the large manors were liquidated.

The German-formed states of the Livonian confederation and the Duchy of Kurzeme have left an indelible mark in Latvia's history. For a short period in the 15th and 16th century, Livonia was associated with the German part of the Holy Roman Empire.

For these and other reasons, the German group developed as the legal ruling class. Until the second half of the 19th century, Germans were in the majority in the large cities of Vidzeme, Zemgale, and Kurzeme, but Latvians were a distinct minority both in a demographic and legal sense.

Periods of German Inhabitants in Latvia

First Period (12th-16th century)

The first period began in the second half of the 12th century, when the first commercial ships from Bremen, Lubeck, and half-German Visby arrived at the mouth of the Daugava River. At first the traders stayed only during the summer months, but later they wintered here and established permanent dwellings. Christian missionaries arrived in 1180 and established contact with the native Latvians and Livs. The monk Meinhard from Bremen, together with his assistants and bodyguards, founded the first German colony and built the castle and church at Ikskile. His successor, Bishop Bertold, called on the Crusaders to aid in his mission and protect him, but he was killed by the spear of Imants in 1198. The third bishop from Bremen was Albert Buxhovden, who recruited approximately 500 Crusaders and merchants, chiefly from Westphalia and north-western Germany, and transported them in 23 ships to the mouth of the Daugava in the summer of 1200. The following year the foundations of Riga were laid. Sea traders, sailors, craftsmen, soldiers and their aides flooded into Riga. The Crusaders' campaign resulted in the forcible conversion of ancient Latvian and Liv tribes by the end of the 13th century. Castles for the conquerors were built near the villages and homes of native inhabitants. In the Middle Ages Germans built seven cities and walled towns, as well as many castles, in the Latvian section of the Baltic region: Riga, Cesis, Valmiera, Limbazi, Koknese, Straupi, and Ventspils.

The attitude of the conquerors and immigrants toward the local population was not violent and domineering. Until the 16th century, German barons and their officials invited native farmers to their celebrations, often frequented Latvian and Liv homesteads as wedding guests, and exchanged gifts. About half of the army of Wolter von Plettenberg, the eminent statesman and master of the Livonian Order, were of Latvian or Estonian origin. Together with German mercenaries, they bravely repulsed an attack by the troops of Ivan III and saved Livonia.

Second Period (16th-17th century)

The second period lasted from the 16th century to the end of the 17th century. It is chiefly characterised by the manorial system composed of the knights of the Order, wealthy German city dwellers, and officials. Country squires gained possession of the land, as well as the farmers, and dictated their residence and responsibilities on the estate. A sharp division between German landlords and Latvian farmers developed during this period; the word "German" became synonymous with "oppressor." However, not all Germans supported or participated in the exploitation of Latvians.

The dissemination of the teachings of Martin Luther throughout the Baltic region brought great changes to the Germans. Most of them became Lutherans. The new Lutheran ministers began to preach also in Latvian and to publish religious literature in Latvian. This initiative culminated at the end of the 17th century in the translation of the Bible into Latvian by Ernst Gluck, a minister from Aluksne. Thus, thanks to the German clergy, a certain degree of co-operation began between the German and Latvian clergy. Previously, the farmers had been only nominally Christian because their families adhered to the pagan traditions of their ancestors.

At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, many Germans died in wars. That caused a new wave of German immigration, this time from the Protestant regions of northern and central Germany; Catholics were not interested in coming to the Baltics. The majority of the newcomers settled in the Duchy of Kurzeme; they included merchants, shipmen, various professional craftsmen, manufacturers, apothecaries, doctors, teachers, and clergy. The number of German immigrants to Vidzeme was smaller. Great changes occurred in the language of Baltic Germans - Low German was replaced by High German, which prevailed in the Lutheran regions.

Third Period (18th century)

The beginning of the third period was determined by the outcome of the Northern War - Sweden's defeat by Russia and the annexation of Vidzeme to the empire of Peter the Great. By the terms of Riga's capitulation in 1710 and the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, Russia again confirmed the privileges of the German elite in town and country. As a result, the 18th-century German elite gained more power over the native Latvian inhabitants than it had ever had.

Still, even among Germans there were those who opposed this slaverylike regime and sought to help their Latvian compatriots. For example, the Herrnhuters from Saxony were models of humanitarianism as they strove to educate farmers and encouraged them to be socially active and to defend their self-respect. Among the leading supporters of Latvians were German philosophers in Vidzeme, such as Johann Georg Eisen (1717-1779), Heinrich Johann Jannau (1753-1821), Karl Philip Snell (1753-1806), and especially Garlieb Merkel (1769-1850), the first notable awakener of Latvian self-consciousness. In the second half of the 18th century, many local German literati published books and calendars in Latvian. Gothard Friedrich Stender (1714-1796), a minister in Kurzeme, was particularly loved and respected among educated Latvians.

On the whole, however, the inhuman aspects of serfdom determined the relations between Latvians and Germans. That relationship was not materially affected by changes in demographics. After losses in the Northern War and the plague epidemic, a new wave of immigrants came into Vidzeme and Kurzeme, many of them from the lower stratum of society who had to work for a living. They constituted a rural class of poor Germans - the so-called Kleindeutsche who lived near a manor and worked at various trades. In Kurzeme alone there were approximately 15,000. In the cities, the number of apprentices and unskilled workers increased; a low-income class of intelligentsia also developed.

An unusual event in the annals of 18th-century German history was the formation in Vidzeme of a colony of German farmers from Pfalz; they came at the invitation of Empress Catherine II. The Hirschenhof colony was founded in 1766 by 85 German families, but by 1914 there were approximately 8,000 residents. These German colonists established friendly relations with neighbouring farmers. The colonists also learned and sometimes adopted Latvian life style and traditions. This camaraderie was possible because the Germans and Latvians were of the same social class.

Even when many of Baltic Germans moved to St.Petersburg and became high-level government officials, generals, and ministers, they did not forget their estates in Latvia and Estonia and sought to preserve the privileges of German landlords.

Since the days of Peter I, German landlords and city homeowners (Burgerschaft) enjoyed autonomy in using their native language and establishing their own legislative and judicial system. This autonomy prevailed also in KUrland and Zemgale, and it strengthened German power in Russia's Baltic provinces.

Fourth Period (19th century – 1914)

The fourth period in Germany's social history in Latvia began at the turn of the 18th and 19th century and ended in 1914 with the start of World War I. It commenced with the unification of all Baltic Germans within the Russian empire. A strong sense of community was forged among them. They regarded this region as their homeland and felt responsible for it. A regional Baltic German association expressed this nationalistic stance while, at the same time, remaining loyal to the Russian tsar.

A major factor in forging this sense of Baltic German unity was the fact that in 1802 Tartu University gained the status of an autonomous German institution of higher learning. The cream of Baltic German intelligentsia studied there. Some of the graduates went to Russia, but others remained to serve in their homeland. Thus, Baltic Germans gained a powerful intellectual corps.

In the first half of the 19th century, a significant change occurred in relations between Baltic Germans on one hand and Latvians and Estonians on the other. The conservative landlords wanted to maintain their power over farmers even after the abolition of serfdom in 1817 and 1819, and they achieved their aim by establishing the corvee system; consequently, social friction grew and became increasingly confrontational. Meanwhile, the Baltic German intelligentsia tried to establish contact with Latvians in the spheres of culture and education in order to help them become knowledgeable and free. German ministers and teachers were especially active in this regard. In 1822 they established "Latweeschu Awizes" ("Latvian Newspapers") in Jelgava (editors were K.Watson, J.Koeler, J.Richter); in 1849 they formed the Latvian Literary Society, also called "The Latvian Society of Friends". The German minister August Bielenstein (1826-1907), together with like-minded colleagues, contributed greatly to the study of the Latvian language, as well as its folklore, ethnography, and history.

The Latvians' chief demand was radical agrarian reform. In the 1840s farmers began to organise protests against laws that curtailed their right to own private property and against the policies of German landlords in general. This crisis precipitated a split of the landlords into conservatives and reformers. The leader of the reformers was the land marshal of Vidzeme, Hamilkar von Folkersahm (1811-1856), an outstanding personality who has also been called "the Mirabeau of Vidzeme". In 1847 he succeeded in getting the provincial assembly to pass a new land law which separated the property of landlords and farmers, which allowed farmers to pay rent instead of being subject to corvee, and which gave farmers the right to acquire their own property from the landlord. With the construction of factories and industry in the mid-19th century, there was an influx of new German immigrants - factory owners, businessmen, engineers, technicians, experts, and foremen.

Educated Latvians who had become germanised swelled the number of German inhabitants. Such a trend first became evident in the 18th century and increased markedly in the first half of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, these assimilated Latvians constituted approximately 10% of the total number of Baltic Germans. This percentage would have continued to increase if it had not been countered by a strongly nationalistic movement among Latvian youth in the 1860s. This movement awakened and strengthened Latvian self-consciousness and began to shape the country as an independent national entity. Step by step, from 1870 to 1890, the autonomy of Baltic Germans was curtailed by the edicts of the Russian tsar. City and regional administrative and legal affairs passed into the hands of Russian officials.

The Revolution of 1905 in Russia triggered tragic social and political changes for Baltic Germans in Latvia. Armed conflict broke out between Latvian revolutionaries and Baltic German landlords; also, about 500 manors were burned. In retaliation, the tsar sent a punitive expedition, which the landlords used to carry out their own vengeful acts. Harmonious coexistence was shattered; as a result, many landlords and their families fled to cities or relocated to Germany.

At the same time, two German landlords in Kurzeme - Karl Manteuffel and Silvio Broederich- organised a party of German farmers to immigrate to the vacated estates. Between 1906 and 1914, approximately 15,000 German farmers, chiefly from the Ukraine and Wolin, settled in Kurzeme. This action aggravated the social and national conflicts.

In the pre-Revolution years, Baltic Germans achieved notable commercial success in cities. As German enterprises grew, profits increased. In Riga, German apartment owners constructed magnificent new dwellings in the fashionable Art Nouveau style. German cultural life also flourished.

This golden era ended when World War I began. When the front approached Latvia, many Baltic Germans were forced to leave. In the cities they were removed from their administrative positions. When the German army entered the country, most of the remaining Baltic Germans sided with the occupants, especially after the February revolution and October coup d'etat in Russia.

Contribution of Baltic Germans to Science

Among the Baltic Germans were many highly educated persons; they included outstanding scientists who contributed significantly to the history of science in Europe. In Latvia they earned a place of honour because their achievements in research and the dissemination of their findings played a major role in the development of education in Latvia.

The first scientific treatise on natural phenomena was published in Riga in 1632 by the professors of the Dome School; it was in Latin. In the 18th century, the centre of science was in Jelgava because in 1775 Duke Ernst Biron founded the Academy Petrina, which became the regional centre for the sciences. In 1815 the professors of this Academy also established the Courland Society of Literature and Art. Their members included notable natural scientists, such as M.G.Pauker, K.Baer, W.Struve, D.H.Grindelis, G.Parrot, A.J.von Krusenstern, J.C.Brotze, G.Merkel, and O.Huhn. The most distinguished member was the physicist and chemist Theodor Grothuss (1785-1822). He laid the foundation of photochemistry, worked out the predicted reactions between iron and rhodium and between cobalt and rhodium, and made many discoveries.

At the turn of the 18th and 19th century, Riga was known as the hub of scientific activity. The leading figure was physicist Georg Friedrich Parrot (1767-1852), the founder and first president of Tartu University. One of his students was Davids Hieronims Grindelis (1776-1836), the first natural scientist of Latvian origin; he was a chemist, pharmacist, botanist, and doctor.

Thanks to Baltic German manufacturers and merchants, the Riga Polytechnicum - later called the Riga Polytechnic Institute - was founded in 1862. It supported research in various fields of engineering and technology, as well as chemistry, biology, and agriculture. Wilhlelm Ostwald (1853-1932), the son of a Riga barrel maker, laid the scientific foundations of chemistry and achieved distinction as a philosopher. As a professor of the Riga Polytechnicum from 1881 to 1887, he invented numerous pieces of laboratory equipment, such as the Ostwald viscosity meter, the Ostwald thermoregulator, and the Ostwald gas stove. He also discovered the basic laws of the homogeneous catalysis of acids and bases. In 1909 Ostwald was awarded the Nobel Prize; he was the only Latvia's scientist to receive this honour.

Another distinguished German from Riga was Friedrich Zander (1887-1933), who graduated from the Mechanics Department of Riga Polytechnic Institute in 1914 and remained there to pursue research which culminated in the construction of the first rocket.

Hundreds of Baltic Germans achieved distinction as scientists and educators in the academies and universities of central Europe and Russia.

In Latvia itself, there was an impressive array of Baltic German professors at the University of Latvia (UL), which was established in 1919: Leonid Arbuzov, Jr. (historian, at UL 1922-1936); Karl Blacher (heat engineer and chemistry technologist, at UL 1920-1939); Alwil Buchholtz (geodesist, at UL 1920-1944); Paul Denffer (mechanical engineer, at UL 1919-1929); Ernst Fehrman (microbiologist, at UL 1919-1939); August Loeber, legal specialist and member of Latvia's Senate.

The Baltic German Minority in the Republic of Latvia: a Difficult Transition

In October and November of 1918, Baltic German landlords, with the support of the occupying German army, made preparations to establish their own country in the territory of Latvia and Estonia. The Allies did not recognise the legitimacy of the Baltic German scheme; instead, they supported the desire of Latvia's and Estonia's Social Democratic Party to establish independent republics. The Latvian People's Council and the Cabinet invited all minorities to participate on a proportional basis in the newly created government. The Baltic Germans rejected the offer and demanded greater representation in government and equal status for the German language.

The majority of Baltic Germans were shocked by the fact that they would no longer be rulers in Latvia but as a minority would have to bow to the will of the majority--the Latvian nation. Loss of their privileged status seemed tantamount to annihilation. Many Baltic Germans feared that the national Latvian government would be intolerant and would demand reparations for past injustices and offences by the German barons. Many others doubted the ability of the Latvian intelligentsia to govern the country without the dominant role of Germans.

At the same time, the Baltic German elite was actively involved in organising armed resistance to the Bolshevik army. The National Guard - the Landeswehr - was formed from Baltic German volunteers.

In the Bolshevik-occupied sections of Latvia, where the Communist regime of Peters Stucka had control, the Baltic German gentry, clergy, and citizenry suffered grievously for their anti-Soviet stance. In Riga almost half of the death sentences of the revolutionary tribunal were pronounced against Baltic Germans, and many were shot as hostages.

For that reason, the German Landeswehr and the auxiliary troops sent from Germany fought against the Bolshevik army in Latvia with exceptional fierceness. They liberated Kurzeme and Riga, but in these campaigns innocent people were also killed, especially in Riga. This "collateral damage" exacerbated Baltic German-Latvian relations. It also had an adverse effect on the coup d'etat against President Ulmanis planned by the Baltic German elite and carried out by the Landeswehr attack force in Liepaja on April 16, 1919. The puppet regime of Andrievs Niedra was actually ruled by the Baltic German elite. Thus began sharp conflicts between the national forces of Baltic Germans and those of Latvians and Estonians. They culminated in the historic battles of Cesis on June 22-24, 1919. The victory of the Estonian army and the Latvian brigade of north Vidzeme secured the national integrity of Latvia and Estonia. Because the Allies supported the independence of the Baltic States, the Baltic German elite were forced to renounce their plans for taking over Latvia and Estonia, and they had to content themselves with finding their place within the Republic of Latvia.

In the summer of 1919, the political leadership of the Baltic Germans changed. The liberal politician Paul Schiemann became the head of their National Committee; he was in favour of compromising with Latvian national forces on the basis of the principles of democracy and tolerance.

Baltic Germans suffered a heavy blow from the agrarian reforms of September 1920, which expropriated without compensation the lands of Baltic German landowners and gave them to Latvian farmers. Such was the climax of the centuries-long confrontation between Baltic German barons and Latvians; such was the will of the native majority. It should be noted that in 1925 the United Nations found the complaint of the Baltic Germans unjustified.

The massive expropriation of German lands, however, did not cause the collapse of the Baltic German community. It remained intact and assumed an important role in the social life of independent Latvia.

Participation in Building Latvia

On February 12, 1920, Baltic German political groups formed a new centre for the Baltic German Committee, whose leaders were P.Schiemann and conservative wing representative W.von Friks. This centre stimulated Baltic Germans to participate actively in Latvia's Constitutional Convention elections in 1920 and the four Saeima elections between 1922 and 1931. At that time, Latvia's Parliament included a united Baltic German faction with five or six deputies (out of 100). They presented many constructive proposals. The Baltic Germans Edwin Magnus and Robert Erhard served as Ministers of Justice and Finance, respectively, or the most part, however, the Baltic German fraction was in the opposition. Many Baltic Germans immigrated to Germany.

According to Edgars Andersons' book on Latvia's foreign policy, "The German minority had continuously decreased. In 1925, Germans in Latvia numbered 70,964, but in 1935 only 62,144; in subsequent years their numbers continued to decrease. 82.2% of Germans lived in cities; in the capital, Riga, they constituted 10% of the total population. Of German workers, 34% were engaged in manufacturing, 21% in commerce, and 19% in agriculture. Although Germans constituted only 3.2% of the total population, 18.6% were engaged in the self-supporting professions and education, and 16.5% were engaged in health care. Germans in Latvia were highly educated. In Latvia there were 72 elementary schools with 6,502 pupils; 30 of them were subsidised by the state, and 42 were supported by private organisations or individuals. In 1937 there were also 8 secondary schools (mostly state supported) with 1,216 students, as well as one private German college - the Herder Institute. Germans also had the highest percentage of those who pursued higher education. Five German deputies in the Saeima delivered their speeches in German although they all knew Latvian. In general, 80% of Germans were fluent in Latvian. Germans had approximately 150 different organisations."

Forced Emigration

Beginning in 1933, events in Germany-namely, Hitler's establishing of the National Socialist Party's dictatorship - affected the integration of Baltic Germans in Latvia. The aim of Nazism was to subjugate to the interests of Germany the German minorities living abroad - specifically, to use them to exert pressure on neighbouring countries or even to subvert these countries from within.

In the spring of 1933, a Nazist group led by Erhard Kroeger and officially dubbed "The Movement" (Bewegung) emerged among the Baltic Germans in Riga. The Nazis succeeded in progressively excluding liberal and democratic persons from Baltic German society, such as P.Schiemann, and even conservatives. It tried to persuade those loyal to Latvia, such as W.von Riediger, L.Scheler, and W.Wachtsmuth, that Hitler was also the leader of Baltic Germans and that they had to obey all his edicts.

Many Baltic Germans, such as the famous lawyer Loeber, rejected this viewpoint and affirmed their allegiance to the Latvian state. However, their voices were increasingly drowned out by floods of Nazi propaganda. The propaganda intensified in proportion to Hitler's success in partitioning Europe: the annexation of Austria and the partitioning and annexation of Czechoslovakia to Greater Germany, and the Klaipeda annexation.

The authoritarian government of K.Ulmanis indirectly facilitated the success of Nazi propaganda because his administration accented the Latvianisation of the country's economy and culture; accordingly, the autonomy of German schools was revoked, the Baltic German Great Guild and Small Guild were confiscated, 14 German business organizations were closed, acquisition of real estate was curtailed, and censorship was imposed on the Baltic German press. At the same time, the Ulmanis administration did nothing to offend German pride directly, and it treated representatives of Baltic Germans with respect. Thus, Baltic Germans continued their educational and cultural activities.

President Ulmanis' attempts to achieve harmony with the Baltic German minority came to an abrupt end on August 23, 1939, when Germany and the USSR signed a secret nonaggression pact, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which designated spheres of influence in Eastern Europe - Latvia was assigned to Stalin's Red Empire. On September 28, 1939, the Foreign Minister of Germany, J.von Ribbentrop, and his counterpart V.Molotov, the Foreign Minister of the USSR, signed a secret protocol regarding German emigration from territories within the Soviet sphere of influence. On October 30, 1939, a special treaty was signed between Germany and Latvia concerning the emigration of Baltic Germans and the liquidation of their educational, cultural, and religious institutions. The Nazis succeeded in getting the Baltic Germans to abandon their homes and homeland in haste, disposing of their belongings at cut-rate prices. Between the end of 1939 and the beginning of 1940, more than 51,000 Germans left Latvia on German ships. However, approximately 10,000 Baltic Germans chose to remain. P.Schiemann sent the Latvian government a personal letter affirming his intent remain in his only homeland because he felt rooted in it. He ended his letter with the words of the national anthem: "God, bless Latvia!"

After Latvia's forcible incorporation into the USSR, 10,500 more persons left; all together, more than 60,000 Germans and their families left Latvia between 1939 and 1941. Only about 1,500 Baltic Germans remained. Such was the tragic end of the Germans' 700-year-long presence in our land. Such was the result of the secret pact between two totalitarian powers.

The subsequent fate of Baltic Germans was grievous. During World War II, approximately 8,000 Baltic Germans died - many as soldiers, others as refugees. Among Baltic Germans were those who supported the Nazi regime and those who actively opposed Hitler.

In 1963, there were approximately 42,000 Germans from Latvia and Estonia in West Germany, and approximately 10,000 in East Germany. At the beginning of the Awakening Movement, many of them visited their homeland; after the regaining of independence, they did so even more frequently. They have been a valuable resource in matters of education and culture. Although he lived in Hamburg, Andrew Dietrich Loeber was so active in Latvia that he was elected as a foreign member of the Latvian Academy of Science.

Currently, the Baltic German community consists of approximately 400 persons. Close to 500 persons from mixed Latvian-German marriages have expressed their allegiance to the German cultural sphere and are active in various Latvian-German cultural associations. In addition, more than 3,000 Russian Germans have made Latvia their home. Their leaders have formed an association called "Wiedergeburt in Lettland" ("Rebirth in Latvia"). However, these people, who were banished from their homeland on the Volga, need to find a way to become integrated into the society of independent Latvia.

The Most Notable German Statesmen and Politicians in Latvia's History

Wolter von Plettenberg (c.1450-1535) - military commander and statesman. Born into a noble family in Westphalia. Since 1482 the responsible official of the Livonian Order - advocate for the Rezekne region, land marshal of the Order. Since 1494 grand master of the Order. Caused heavy casualties to Russians in 1501-1502 war with Moscow, especially in battle at Molina Lake on September 13, 1502. Signed a truce with Moscow which ensured Livonia 56 years of peace and prosperity.

Jacob Kettler (1610-1682) - Duke of Kurzeme and Zemgale (1642-1682). Son of Duke Wilhelm. Studied at University of Rostock and University of Leipzig. Became governor, promoted the development of manufacturing and commerce. With the help of experts from Holland built the harbour and shipyard at Ventspils, created a powerful fleet, acquired St. Andrew's Island in Gambia and Tobago Island as colonies. Became vassal of Poland in 1658, captured by Swedish army, deported to Ivangorod after the war, returned to Jelgava in 1660 but was unable to rebuild the shattered economy.

Ernst Biron (1690-1772) - Duke of Kurzeme and Zemgale (1737-1769). Born in Kalnciems into a military family. Studied at Koenigsberg. Began his brilliant career as the secretary and favourite of Duchess Anna and became the manager of her affairs. In large measure conducted the empire's policies when Anna ruled as Empress of Russia (1730-1740). Arrested in 1740 and exiled. Released in 1761 and with the support of Catherine II regained rulership of the Duchy of Courland in 1763. Promoted the development of the duchy's capital and general economy. Initiated the building of Jelgava Castle and Rundale Castle according to the design of Italian architect B.Rastrelli. In 1769 turned power over to his son Peter.

Hamilkar von Folkersahm (1811-1856) - leader of the liberal wing of Vidzeme landowners. Studied philosophy in Berlin (one of his professors was Hegel). From 1847-1856 was country councillor of Vidzeme. From 1848-1851 was land marshal. As the official representative of landowners, succeeded in securing the passage of legislation favourable to farmers in the Baltic. In 1850 became the first president of the farmers' tenancy bank (financing for buying back land).

Paul Schiemann (1876-1944) - the most famous Baltic German liberal democrat politician of the 20th century. Studied law in Berlin, Marburg, Koenigsberg, and Bonn. Received doctorate (J.D.) in 1902. Since 1903 active in journalism in Tallinn and Riga. Combated chauvinism and violence. In 1919, member of Latvian People's Council; in 1920 elected to the Constitutional Assembly; elected as deputy in all Saeima sessions between 1922 and 1933; also member of Riga's City Council for a time. Managing editor of the newspaper "Rigasche Rundschau" ("Riga Review") from 1919 to 1933. From 1925 vice president of Europe's Minority Congress. Lived in Vienna from 1933 to 1938, advocated unification of Europe on the principles of democracy and tolerance. Opponent of Fascism, Nazism, and Bolshevism. During the German occupation, sheltered in his apartment the Jew Valentine Freiman, who subsequently became a well-known film critic.

© Text: Dr. Leo Dribins, The Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, 1999

Poles and Polish Nobility in Latvia

Poles have been directly involved with Latvian-inhabited lands since 1562, when the weakened Livonian states, under threat of an invasion by the troops of Russia's tsar Ivan the Terrible, sought protection from the Polish king. Thus began the so-called “Polish Era,” which lasted in Riga and Vidzeme until 1621, in Latgale until 1772, and in the Duchy of Kurzeme, which was under the vassalage of the Polish king, until 1795. In Latgale the Polish cultural influence continued, and the Polish landed gentry remained even after the region became part of the Russian Empire. In this predominantly Catholic region, the destinies of the Latvian and Polish nations were most closely intertwined. The first book in Latvian was published by Polish Jesuits in 1585.

The Polish nobility in Latgale consisted mainly of polonised descendants of former German Knights of the Livonian Order (e.g., the famous Plater family), as well as landed gentry from Poland and Lithuania. The Polish intelligentsia and gentry were active in both nineteenth-century nationalistic rebellions against Russian rule, especially in 1863, when an armed Polish unit engaged Russian army troops in southern Latgale. After 1863, the Russian authorities subjected the Poles in Latgale to various restrictions and repressions which, nevertheless, were ineffectual in diminishing the influence of the Polish nobility. In southern Latgale the polonisation of Catholic Latvian farmers was especially pronounced; moreover, repression of the Catholic religion evoked resistance and a defiantly pro-Polish attitude.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, as a result of the development of industry, Riga, the governmental seat of Vidzeme, became the centre of social activity for Poles. In 1878 the first Polish Society was established, and in subsequent years two Polish fraternities were established at Riga Polytechnic Institute, along with numerous other social organisations. Future leaders of independent Poland were trained at schools in Riga, Liepaja, and Jelgava. In 1897 there were 65,056 Poles in all of Latvia, but in 1913 there were 45,562 Poles in Riga alone. The Revolution of 1905 stimulated Polish activities: they became involved in local self-government, established Polish organisations in Liepaja, and founded two private Polish secondary schools, as well as a number of elementary schools, in Riga.

World War I

World War I brought dramatic changes for the Polish population. Conscription of the male population and deportation of workers to remote Russian provinces almost completely paralysed Polish social life in Riga while a continuous, massive flood of refugees from war-torn regions of Poland and Lithuania streamed through Riga and Latgale. The revolutionary events of 1917 enabled Latvia's Poles to resume their political activity - for example, in Riga's City Council elections - but this activity was interrupted by the Bolshevik coup and the German occupation. Even so, the Council for Poles of Latgale was established, but at the end of 1918 the Council had to relocate to Poland. During the short period of Soviet rule, the Poles in Latgale suffered severe repression because of their social stratification. Poles constituted the fourth largest minority - about 3% - in independent Latvia (in 1920 there were 52,244 Poles; in 1935, 48,949 Poles). For the first time in Latvia's history, Poland played a significant role in the lives of Latvia's Polish inhabitants. The Polish Embassy in Latvia provided considerable support to local Poles. Apart from isolated disagreements, relations between Latvia and Poland were generally good.

Poles in the First Republic of Latvia

Already in 1919 there were three Polish members of the Latvian People's Council, and in all four Saeimas (Parliaments) between 1922 and 1934 deputies were elected from the Polish Union, later renamed the Polish People's League. The Pole J.Wierzbicki was the Vice-Minister of Interior Affairs from 1928 to 1931. Poles were also active in the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party; there were Polish deputies in Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, and other cities, as well as in the local governments of Latgale. From 1922 to 1940 many Polish-language newspapers and magazines were published, and the Polish education system, established in 1919, was expanded. Polish secondary schools were established in Latgale, Riga, Daugavpils, and Rezekne; scores of elementary schools were established in Latgale, Riga, Liepaja, and Jelgava; and until 1934 there was a Polish vocational school in Daugavpils. Up to 1934, the work of these schools was supervised by the Polish Education Department within the Ministry of Education, and subsequently by the Polish Education Specialist within this Ministry. Schools and Polish organisations encouraged the formation of boy scout and girl scout troops (harcerze), which became part of the Latvian Scouts' Central Organisation. The number of Polish organisations was impressive. In the early 1930s there were 15 societies for various interest groups - culture, education, charity, youth, sports, students, teachers, farmers, and temperance; there was also a Polish theatre and numerous choirs in Riga, Liepaja, and Latgale. In the late 1930s six puppet theatre troupes were established. The Polish poet O.Daukszta became well known, and the painter A.Romer was acclaimed throughout Europe. The centre of Polish activities moved to Daugavpils when the Polish House was purchased in 1931. Polish sports festivals were an annual event since 1934. From the merging of numerous organisations emerged the highly influential Society of Latvian Poles in 1939 (approximately 3,400 members), which became the hub of Polish social activities. With the outbreak of World War II in the fall of 1939, the Society looked after the interned Polish servicemen by collecting donations, organising holiday celebrations, and the like.

Many Poles achieved fame throughout Latvia - the sculptor K.Ronczewski, the chemist W.Fiszer, the artists S.Civi-Ciwinski and B.Kondrat, the ballet-dancer B.Milewicz, the choreographer J.Leszczewski, the historian J.Juszkiewicz, and others. Poles distinguished themselves in all spheres of endeavour, including military officers, police officers, and members of the paramilitary organisation. Between 1918 and 1920, Polish soldiers who fought in Latvia's War of Liberation were decorated with the Order of Lacplesis (the highest military award in Latvia).

Poles in Latvia During World War II

The Russian occupation of Latvia brought to the Poles repression, murder, arrests, and deportation to Siberia, where multitudes perished. The Polish press and Polish organisations were shut down. The German occupation of 1941-1944 likewise meant restrictions and repressions for the Poles. Many joined the reconnaissance and sabotage units of the Polish National Army (Armia Krajowa). At the end of the war, many Poles, afraid of a second Soviet occupation, left Latvia.

Poles in Soviet-Occupied Latvia

After the war, the Poles in Latvia were subjected to the same measures as the Latvians - russification, assimilation, repression, and collectivisation. Collectivisation caused large numbers of Poles to forsake their farms, and the closing of the last Polish school in 1949 contributed to assimilation. The Poles were the only minority in Latvia that formed an armed anti-Soviet guerrilla group, and many Poles rose to high rank in the Latvian underground army. In the 1960s, one of the most notable dissidents in Latvia was the Pole J.Jahimowicz.

The number of Polish inhabitants remained fairly constant 52,800 in 1959; 60,400 in 1989; and 63,400 in 1996. By 1996 61.4% of Poles had obtained Latvian citizenship. Because of the lack of Polish schools and because of massive russification, only 21% declared Polish as their native language in 1979; in 1989 only 27% knew Polish.

Poles Today in Independent Latvia

During the Latvian Awakening Movement of the 1980s, it became possible for Poles to experience spiritual and renewal and resume their social and political activities. Because of their age-old consciousness of solidarity, they were one of the first minorities to recover their sense of national identify; at the same time, they supported Latvia's liberation movement. One of the most influential figures of the Awakening was the leader of the Union of Latvian Poles - I.Kozakiewicz. In 1988 the Society for Polish Culture and Language, Promien, was established in Daugavpils, and the Society for Polish Culture was founded in Riga. In 1990 the two societies merged to form the Union of Latvian Poles (with approximately 3,000 members), which declared its unequivocal support for Latvia's independence. The Union of Latvian Poles popularised the motto “For our freedom and yours,” which was also the slogan of the Polish rebellion of 1831. In 1989 activity resumed in Polish primary schools, in scouting, and in library services. In 1991 the Polish press in Latvia was reactivated. The most significant result was reawakened national consciousness, which enabled the Poles to develop and extend their social activities while maintaining close ties with Latvia's governmental institutions, as well as the Polish Embassy in Latvia and various support organisations in Poland.

After the renewal of Latvia's independence, social and educational activity flourished. At present, there is the Polish secondary school in Riga named after I.Kozakiewicz; the Polish experimental school; the elementary school in Daugavpils; and the preparatory schools in Kraslava, Jekabpils, and Rezekne. Every year hundreds of pupils participate in festivals of Polish culture; there are also cultural events in Latvia, such as concerts, organised by patriotic societies, as well as cultural events in Poland.

The most socially active Poles work under the sponsorship of the Union of Latvian Poles, which has chapters in Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, Rezekne, Ludza, Kraslava, Jekabpils, Ilukste, Jelgava, Cesis, Ventspils, Dobele, and Jurmala. The Daugavpils branch has reclaimed its pre-war property, the Polish House; in 1995 a memorial plaque was placed in front of this house to commemorate the Latvian Poles who died during the war.

After a fifty-year violent rupture of their social fabric, the Poles in Latvia are functioning seamlessly once again. Because of its diverse contacts with Poland and because of its sense of belonging to the Latvian state and Latvian people (a sense cultivated over many generations), there is every reason to hope that the Polish people will continue to be a distinct and independent national minority which is at the same time truly a part of Latvia and that the Poles in Latvia will serve as a bridge to one of the most significant countries in Eastern Europe - Poland.

© Text: Dr. Ēriks Jēkabsons, The State Historical Archive of Latvia, 1999

The Belarusians and Ukrainians

The Belarusians and Ukrainians, closely related ethnic groups, constitute Latvia’s second and third largest ethnic minorities, respectively. Belarusians have lived in south-eastern Latvia for several centuries at least. In this region, Belarusians still form a considerable proportion of the population. Before the Second World War, the Belarusian population fluctuated in the range of 27-37 thousand, with a tendency to fall. A large section of local Belarusians are descended from ethnic Latvians of a few centuries ago: they were gradually assimilated. In the Soviet years, Latvia’s Belarusian population grew several times over, due to massive immigration from Belarus, reaching 120 thousand by 1989. Today, there are about 80 thousand Belarusians, but for many of them ethnic affiliation is more a matter of ethnic roots than of identity. Only a fifth of Belarusians have retained knowledge of their native tongue, and only very rarely is this the language spoken in the family, since most Belarusians live in mixed families where Russian tends to dominate. At the present day, there is a small Belarusian language school in Rīga, and several cultural societies.

Latvia’s present Ukrainian population numbers 60 thousand, but most were born in Ukraine and arrived in Latvia in recent decades as a result of the general Soviet migration policy. Today, half of Latvia’s Ukrainians live in Rīga, the rest being dispersed across the country, mainly in the cities. In Latvia, about 25 thousand people speak Ukrainian, mainly those Ukrainians who arrived in Latvia several decades ago. In Rīga there is a Ukrainian secondary school: the graduates are equally fluent in Ukrainian, Latvian and Russian. The majority of Ukrainians live in mixed Ukrainian-Russian families, and even in ethnically homogeneous Ukrainian families Russian tends to be spoken at home.

The Livs (Livonians)

The Livs, or Livonians are thought to be descended from the ancient Finno-Ugric inhabitants, and are Latvia’s only indigenous minority: their ancestors have lived in Latvia at least as long as the Balts. Before the Second World War, the Livs numbered around a thousand, living in 12 fishing villages along the coast of northern Kurzeme. Today only about 170 people count themselves as Livs, while the language is actually understood by only very few of them. Only a few individuals, now aged over 80, can boast of having retained their knowledge of Liv. A small number of enthusiasts have mastered Liv as a second language. Although Liv is related to the other Finnic languages, neither the Estonians, nor the Finns can understand more than a few words of Liv. Several books have been published in Liv; the Livs are described in internet resources and their language may be heard on compact discs. It should be noted that a considerable proportion of Latvians are actually descended from Livs. Nowadays, Liv is the rarest language in the European Union, and it is a matter of honour and a duty for Latvia to maintain and promote the language.

Additional information about Liv traditonal culture by the Latvian Cultural Canon here.

Eastern Minorities

In Latvia, Muslim presence was for a long time only intermittent. Initially, Muslims arrived in the territory of Latvia against their will, for example in 1877 a large number of Turkish soldiers were taken prisoner during the Russo-Turkish War.

The terms "easterners" and "southerners" here refer to ethnic groups and members of such groups whose ethnic homeland (the Caucasus, Central Asia or the Volga Region) lies to the east or south of Latvia. There are great differences between all of these groups in terms of language and culture, but they have in common their small numbers and similar histories in Latvia, which differ from those of the Latvians and the more numerous minorities.

As foreign diasporas of their peoples, several ethnic groups living far away and for the Latvians even somewhat exotic, have made their home in this country. In spite of their small numbers, they have played a role in historical processes and made their own contribution.

In Tsarist Russia

The history of eastern and southern peoples in Latvia can be regarded as beginning in the 19th century, when we have the earliest evidence of the presence of these ethnic groups in the territory of Latvia.

One of the largest groups of southern and eastern peoples in the territory of Latvia already from the 19th century were Muslims - mainly Tartars and Turks. In Russia it was often difficult even to establish to which ethnic group the Muslims belonged. In the Russian Empire, the condition of the Muslims was special. In accordance with the 1773 imperial command on religious tolerance by Tsarina Catherine II, Islam was not subject to open discrimination, but official and unofficial restrictions were in force right up to the February Revolution in 1917.

In Latvia, Muslim presence was for a long time only intermittent. Initially, Muslims arrived in the territory of Latvia against their will, for example in 1877 a large number of Turkish soldiers were taken prisoner during the Russo-Turkish War. Around 100 were brought to the town of Cēsis and the environs. Not being able to cope with the harsh northern climate, 26 of them died.

A small community of Muslims (mainly Tartars) lived in Riga in the late 19th century. In 1890 next to the Catholic cemetery on Pletenberga iela, a Muslim cemetery was established following a request from the local mullah Muhamet Shakir Abdul Aparov and community representatives Abdul Myazhitov and Kurm Hamet Ishnyezov. In 1902 a Muslim congregation was officially established in Riga. Ibragim Davidov was elected imam, and soon a prayer hall was opened.

In accordance with census data, in 1897 there were 1135 Muslims in the Provinces of Livland and Courland. Of these, 920 were serving in the Russian army. It should be noted that there were other Muslims, Bashkirs and Kirghizians, among the soldiers too. About three quarters of the Muslims were illiterate and almost all belonged to the peasantry. After discharge from military service, these people left the Baltic provinces.

The Muslims in Riga included not only soldiers and entrepreneurs, but also various itinerants. In 1889 an anonymous informer complained in the name of several Rigans about "citizens of Persia" - Muslims - who were engaged in begging and thieving in the city, particularly in the Moscow Suburb. According to the informer, the Rigans were enraged by their conspicuously "preposterous appearance and dress" and their unseemly behaviour.

In the Latgale part of the Province of Vitebsk too, according to census data, there were 574 Muslims, 564 of whom lived in Daugavpils, where Russian forces were stationed. Out of 560 Tartars, almost all belonged to the peasantry, and a large proportion were illiterate.

It is not known when the first Christians from the Caucasus appeared in the territory of Latvia. In 1897 there were 49 Armenians living in the Province of Vidzeme (36 of them in Riga), and 15 in the Province of Kurzeme. The Georgian population was considerably smaller. Most of these, unlike the Muslims, were not connected with the army. The few Caucasian Christians in the territory of Latvia were well-to-do, educated people, and among the Georgians seven were landowners. Most of the Armenians had arrived in Latvia from Transcaucasia - the Provinces of Yelizavetopol and Kara, while the Georgians came mainly from provinces in the territory of Georgia.

At this time there were a few artists and cultural figures of Caucasian origin active in Riga. Between 1904 and 1906 the director of the Riga Russian Theatre was the prominent Georgian K. Marjanov (Marjanishvili). The long-serving administrator of the Solomonsky Circus was the Georgian Georgy Shvangeradze. In 1905 he opened one of the first cinematographs in Riga - the "Royal Bio" and was the first to introduce sound films. G. Shvangeradze continued his administrative work at the circus in the 1920s as well.

A number of Caucasians, particularly Armenians, studied at the Riga Polytechnical Institute.

World War I brought major changes in the composition of the population. Already at the outset of the war, according to the Latvian press, the Caucasian students at the Riga Polytechnical Institute expressed a wish to return to their homeland to join the army.

After Turkey joined the war on the side of Russia's enemies, an order was issued for Turkish citizens living in the Provinces of Vidzeme and Estonia who were Muslims (excluding Armenians, Greeks and Slavs) to be arrested and exiled to inland Russia, to the Province of Tambov, as prisoners of war. The press reported that by 31 October a total of 28 Turks had already been incarcerated in the Central Prison.

Up to 1917, the population of southerners and easterners in the territory of Latvia was growing, albeit slowly. Nevertheless, apart from a small number of individuals who belonged to the permanent population, most lived here only for a short time.

In Independent Latvia

The historical conditions changed radically after World War I. On November 18, 1918 Latvia declared independence. Many non-Latvians left the Baltic States during the war, but after the Bolshevik dictatorship had become established in Russia, a large number of refugees arrived in the countries that had just become independent of the former empire, fleeing from the Red Terror.

Already during the War of Liberation in 1919 a large number of the local population were mobilised into the army of the Republic of Latvia. A total of 25 Tartar soldiers were fighting in the ranks of the Latvian Army in 1920. On the request of Shakir Husnetdinov, imam of Riga and the environs, in 1920 the commander-in-chief of the Latvian Army even issued an order regarding the small number of Muslim conscripts, who were to be granted three days leave during the Kurban Bairam religious festival.

The few Muslims in Latvia who had survived the war came together in Riga after the end of the War of Liberation. In July 1920 a meeting of Riga Muslims elected a local Turkish café-bakery owner Shakir Husnetdinov as acting imam. In 1928 the Muslim congregation asked the Department of Religious Affairs to appoint Husnetdinov, who had during the whole of this time conscientiously and without remuneration undertaken the duties of mullah, as the permanent imam of Riga and the environs. This request was granted and Husnetdinov continued to hold this office right up to 1940.

In 1994, Minhajdin Kirimov, one of the members of this community, remembered how the Muslims had marked their festivities and observed traditions and customs, thus maintaining Islamic culture in Latvia. Children were educated in Islam in the family (in Arabic). In Latvia the imam was not permitted to register births, deaths or marriages, although the Muslims of Riga tried to obtain such permission.

Through the years of independence, the number of Muslims did not change significantly. Most of them were Turks or Tartars. In 1920 there were only 115 Tartars and 19 Turks remaining in Latvia. The total number of Muslims was 130 men (including two Latvians) and 32 women.

The Muslims of Latvia were characterised by strong religious feeling, regardless of the confusion and ambiguity with regard to the names of ethnic groups. The passports of members of a single family might be inscribed "Turk" or "Tartar" - evidently the state officials often did not make a distinction. In Latvia too, the traditional large families with six, seven or more family members were characteristic. The ethnic social activity of Muslims was often limited to participation in the annual ball for Caucasians, organised at the Opera House by the Caucasus Society.

The Georgian and Armenian populations in the 1920s and 30s were just as small as those of the traditionally Islamic peoples. However, their cultural life was incomparably more active. In January 1929 a Caucasian "Iveria" Society was founded. The initiators of the society were the Georgians Georgy Shvangeradze and Shalva Maglakelidze. Although Georgians constituted the overwhelming majority right from the start (13 out of 20 members were Georgians), soon more and more Caucasians from different ethnic groups joined the society, and in July it was renamed the Caucasus Society. One of the main activities of the society was providing aid for destitute countrymen.

In 1933, because of internal strife, all the Georgians left the Caucasus Society, and in November established the Georgian Society of Latvia. Neither was this society mononational: some Armenians and Russians also joined.

Although the Armenian diaspora in Riga was small, these people also took an interest in the political and social life of their nation. The most active figures among both the Armenians and Georgians had good contacts with the centres of emigration in Paris. Shalva Maglakelidze and his wife were members of the Riga Branch of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party.

Evidently one of the most prominent easterners in 1920s society was the Komi (or Zirjan, as they were known at that time) Kallistrat Zhakov. He had graduated from five faculties at three universities and prior to emigrating had held the post of professor at the St Petersburg Psycho-Neurological Institute. As a scientist he put forward a synthesis of religion, science and philosophy, and developed his own theory of the fusion of these spheres, called "Limitism". Three works authored by him were published in Russian in Latvia in the 1920s.

The numbers of people belonging to the traditional Muslim groups, like the numbers of Armenians and Georgians in Latvia, were very small, and fluctuated, depending on the political developments in the multinational neighbouring state of Russia. Most of them arrived in Latvia as refugees from Communist terror in their homeland. Some were returning refugees, having lived here already before the war. Many of these people, particularly those who lived permanently in Latvia, had completely integrated into the Russian community. Characteristically, it was mainly the Armenians who became russified. This was a consequence of the traditional russophilia of this people, which had developed under conditions of permanent ethnic conflict with the neighbouring Muslim peoples. On the other hand, Tartars evidently tended to be latvianised - Riga in the 1930s had become quite a Latvian city. A certain number immigrated as the spouses of citizens of Latvia. Those who so wished, became completely integrated into the life of the country, though without losing their ethnic identity. However, the small size of the communities was a serious obstacle to maintaining the national culture. Another factor was material hardship, which forced people to emigrate to countries with larger numbers of their compatriots and greater opportunities for attaining material welfare.

The Karaites

In addition to the minorities of Latvia already mentioned, Karaites have also lived in the territory of the country for a considerable length of time. Although this people is little known in the world, certain individuals were once influential and well-known figures in Latvian society.

The ethnic roots of the Karaites are to be sought in the Turkic tribes of the Khazar Kaganate, but in religious terms the Karaites are a Jewish sect that had separated in the course of centuries. Initially the sect had a considerable following, but later lost most of its importance. Their dogmatic teaching and strict adherence to the Old Testament prevented mixing with other religious groups, and over the centuries they came to form a separate ethnic group.

It is estimated that in 1895 there was a world population of about 12 000 Karaites, about 10 000 of whom lived in Russia (in Crimea and the Province of Kaunas). Later the Karaites were often confused with Jews, and many officials applied the restrictions against Jews to the Karaites as well.

The earliest evidence of Karaites in the territory of Latvia is from the 19th century. On the request of M. Kazas, representative of the Riga Karaite Community, in 1892 Riga City Council permitted the establishment of a Karaite cemetery. According to census data, in 1897 there were 58 Karaites living in the Province of Livland (mainly in Riga), and two in the Province of Courland. Twenty-seven of them recognised Russian as their native language, 21 speaking Karaite (Kipchak), five Latvian and one Hebrew. Around the turn of the century the Karaite population increased further.

It should be mentioned that the prominent owner of the Bluhm School of Drawing in Riga was a Karaite from Odessa, Veniamin Bluhm, who had converted to the Russian Orthodox faith. Many later prominent Latvian painters attended his school. A large proportion of the permanent Karaite population of Riga had immigrated from the provinces of Moscow, Crimea (Simferopol), Kharkov and Kherson. Those born in the late 19th and early 20th century were native Rigans. It should be noted that migration in search of better social and economic conditions was a widespread characteristic of the Karaites.

In 1887 the Maikapar Tobacco Factory, belonging to the prominent Karaite family of the same name, went into operation in Riga. At the death of its founder, Abraham Maikapar, the factory became a joint-stock company. With time, the factory became one of the leading enterprises in this branch, until in 1940 it was nationalised and became the Riga Tobacco Factory. One of the sons of A. Maikapar, Theodor, had once been a medical officer with the Imperial Russian navy. In 1906, following the death of his father, he became the director of the company. In the 1920s and 30s T. Maikapar continued to practice as a doctor and was a recognised specialist in social hygiene. A socially active figure and philanthropist well known in Russian society in Riga was Sarah Maikapar. She was a great fan of the Russian Drama Theatre and an advocate of female equality. The newspaper "Segodna", marking her birthday, described an occasion where the Russian Tsarina visited Riga, and S. Maikapar was the only one in the delegation of ladies who dared not to kiss the hand of the tsarina.

It is thought that a number of countrymen of the company owner were employed at the unofficial Karaite "centre", the Maikapar company. For example, in the early years of the twentieth century the Chairman of the Karaite Cemetery Board, Moisei Uvanak worked at the Maikapar factory, and the company board included not only members of the great Maikapar family, but also the Karaite Samuil Penerdzhi. Interestingly, another Karaite family, the merchant Berah and his son Yon Pandulo, owned a tobacco shop on Kaļķu iela in Old Riga.

During World War II, in 1943, there were still 19 Karaites living in the territory of Latvia. The prominent T. Maikapar was also still living in Riga. The head of the Conserve Branch of the L. W. Goegginger Conserve Factory was Semyon Sultan, one of the founders of the only local Karaite society.

The German occupation regime had a special policy towards the Karaites. According to a directive from Berlin addressed to the Reichskommissar of Ostland "The Karaites are to be distinguished from the Jews in terms of faith and ethnic affiliation. They are not of Jewish origin, but rather are to be regarded as a group within the Turkic-Tartar peoples and are quite closely related to the Crimean Tartars. They are essentially members of the Near Eastern and Oriental Race with a Mongol admixture and are to be regarded as racially alien to the German people. The Karaites should not be treated like the Jews, but rather should be treated the same as other Turkic-Tartar peoples. Undue harshness against them should be avoided."

Even before this, part of the great Maikapar family had been arrested and deported to the USSR during the first Soviet occupation. The rest fled as refugees to the West together with hundreds of thousands of Latvians at the end of World War II. Up to 1949, Mikhail (Miķelis) Maikapar and his family lived in the Latvian refugee camp at Lübeck, while Ludmila and Margarita Maikapar, together with four children, lived in Würzburg refugee camp until 1947. They and other Karaites from Latvia later lived dispersed in France, Germany, Canada and the USA.

The German and Soviet Occupations

After Latvia was occupied, the repressive apparatus of the Soviet Union began merciless persecution of the country's population. Although it was the Latvians who were most affected, there were also people among the small population of southerners and easterners who suffered repression.

For a short time, the Soviet invasion was interrupted by German occupation. From the very first days, repression by the Nazi regime was also directed against many residents of Latvia. For example, in 1941 the Kuldīga doctor, the Georgian Alexandr Shvangeradze, was killed by German soldiers for having treated Red Army soldiers. Later, a memorial was set up in Kuldīga. However, in spite of the power changes, many of the families of easterners and southerners stayed in Latvia.

According to the Board of Statistics, in 1943 there were several tens of Caucasians, 40 Tartars, 35 Turks, nine Assyrians, five Uzbeks and individual members of other ethnic groups distributed quite evenly throughout Latvia. Some of these southerners and easterners registered in Latvia at this time were former Red Army soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans. There were also Muslims among the civil prisoners sent into the country. Their religious needs were served by the Riga mullah S. Husnetdinov, who brought together local Muslims and new arrivals at joint services: the religious activity of the community continued even under German occupation. The Tartar Zaituna Ganayeva, brought from Russia as labour, remembers that the Riga mullah and the other local Muslims were strongly integrated into local Latvian society. Many were married to Latvians, but religious rites were nevertheless observed.

Most of the easterners and southerners who had lived in Latvia in the years of independence left the country along with the end of the German occupation and now their descendants live in various Western countries. For example, after the war, the merchant Alimzhan Husnetdin and his wife Milda lived in the Latvian refugee camp at Eutin awaiting further re-emigration to the West. Mullah S. Husnetdin died in Germany. Most of the people belonging to the small minorities were quite prosperous and anti-communist in their outlook, and as such would have been under threat of repression when the Communist regime became established.

After World War II the Soviet occupation regime became firmly established in the Baltic. After the end of the war, among the many hundreds of thousands of Slavs from various republics of the USSR, citizens of the occupying country belonging to other ethnic groups also immigrated to Latvia. The first wave of immigrants arrived in Latvia in the early post-war years, when officers returning from the front settled in the country with their families, as did Soviet officials.

There was a second wave of immigration later on, in the 1950s. Already by the 1950s there were around 20 Crimean Tartars living in Latvia. The settlement restrictions imposed on them as a repressive measure under the Soviets were lifted and the relatives of officers who had settled in Latvia flowed into the country.

In the 1970s and 80s, Crimean Tartars in search of a better life joined those already living in Latvia, as did people who had established mixed families. This applies in large measure to other easterners and southerners who were arriving in Latvia in ever increasing numbers. As a result, by 1959 several thousands of easterners and southerners were living in Latvia, and by 1979 the number of Tartars in Latvia, for example (3764), exceeded even the number of neighbouring Estonians. In the 1970s there was large-scale immigration of non-Latvians into Latvia, reaching a maximum in the 1980s. The populations of members of particular eastern and southern peoples increased severalfold.

Most of the immigrants lived in the capital Riga and other cities.

Immigration into Latvia was both by means of state assistance, and by private means. The gigantic enterprises built for the needs of the Communist empire were in need of labour, so individual easterners arrived as factory workers. Immigrants also settled in Latvia privately after serving in the army of occupation, after university studies or if they married local people. An important factor promoting immigration to the Baltic was the comparatively high standard of living and the possibility of improving one's material welfare. A proportion of the immigrants were military personnel of the occupying forces, who settled here after discharge from service. As a result, quite a large population of eastern and southern peoples developed in Latvia. The immigrants cannot be regarded simply as a homogeneous mass of Russian-speakers. The names of many of these people were well known in society at large in Latvia.

Many of them were doctors. The founder and first director of the Traumatology and Orthopaedics Scientific Research Institute was the Georgian doctor Archil Machabeli. Other well-known doctors included the Armenians Georgy Stepanian and Natalia Bagramian, the Georgians Timuri Machgaladze (chief surgeon of Ludza Hospital) and Murman Ratiani (a surgeon in Daugavpils), and the Tartar Ravil Kalinkin (a surgeon at Jūrmala).

There was a string of prominent names also among the intellectuals and technical specialists of the time. In 1968 the well-known piano duet, Nora Novika and Rafi Haradzanian was formed, whose repertoire included works by Armenian composers. The archivist the Crimean Tartar Refat Chubarov was for long years the Director of the State Archives of Latvia. Also quite well known were the journalists Faig Safarov (Azeri) and Karen Markarian (Armenian). The Georgian architect Endri Sharashidze took part in restoration projects in Old Riga.

Although at this time no ethnic events could be organised, a circle of immigrants, mainly from the Caucasus, nevertheless did maintain contacts among themselves. Throughout the Soviet occupation, from 1945 onwards, Muslims in Latvia were informally united in a small community, the leadership of which was assumed by a spiritual leader who fulfilled the functions of a mullah. Prayers and other religious rituals were held in private apartments. The tending of Muslim graves was also ensured on a voluntary basis.

The Soviet regime tried to extinguish national pride among non-Russians. Non-Russian immigrants could send their children only to Russian or Latvian schools. However, many Georgians, Armenians and Azeris were very resistant to russification and for a long time retained their culture, language and elements of their way of life in Latvia, so far from their homeland.

After the Restoration of Independence

At the time when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a comparatively large population of immigrants from the east and south in Latvia, but continued immigration was interrupted by measures to limit such movement and establish borders.

The late 1980s and early 90s saw a reduction in the numbers of easterners and southerners. There were various reasons why people returned to their own country, and the new states tried to promote the repatriation of their citizens. It should be noted that emigration has meant not only repatriation, but also further emigration to Western countries.

At the time of the National Awakening, about 5000 Tartars were living in Latvia. In 1993 about 1500 fewer were registered, but each following year the number of Tartars continued to grow again by about a hundred. The pattern is similar for the other ethnic groups.

It should be noted that in the early 90s a contingent of Armenians arrived in Latvia, refugees from the earthquake and the war, some of whom remain in the country.

The easterners and southerners of the present day in Latvia include people from all the different social strata. In the post-Soviet era, conditions have changed enormously. The requirement of Latvian language knowledge prevents a section of the non-Latvians from entering state service, and with the reduction of industry the industrial workforce has also been significantly reduced. Former officers of the army of occupation have also had to find a new profession. However, the people from the minor ethnic groups represent a diverse spectrum, and their fates are also quite diverse. There is still an important circle of Caucasian intellectuals. Journalists working for the Russian-language press include Armenians Anzhela Gasparian, Alexandr Geronian and Karen Markarian.

Mention should be made of the large number of Armenian artists. The best-known are painters Babken Stepanian and Susanna Mirza-Avakian, ceramist Levon Agadzanian, his brother metalsmith Lendrik and now deceased sculptor Karush Akopian. Creation of a group of sculptures for Aglona Catholic Church was entrusted to Grairam Avetian. The Georgians also have several painters: Sandro Chaidze, Nugzar Paksadze, Gocha Huskivadze and Avtandil Ashvetiya. Musician and musicologist Rafi Harajanian has been active in popularising classical music among his compatriots.

When Latvia regained its independence and the Soviet regime collapsed, minority groups obtained the possibility of maintaining their culture and traditions in accordance with their own wishes and needs. Right from the beginning, cultural societies brought together the most nationally conscious representatives of the different peoples.

In 1988 a string of cultural societies formed: on November 20 the Latvian and Armenian Society was formed, on November 25 the Crimean Tartar Cultural Education Society (21 members), on November 26 the Azeri Cultural Society "Friendship" (later "Kobustan", "Azeri", 27 members), and on November 27 the Tartar Society "Idel" ("Volga" in the Tartar language, 182 members). Slightly later a Georgian society was established, named after the Soviet dissident Merab Kostava, later renamed "Samshoblo" ("Homeland"). From 1993 there exists a Yakut Cultural Society "Choron" (the name in Yakut meaning a cup for drinking kumis).

From the very beginning all of these societies declared the main directions of their activity: to maintain the national culture, teach their language and popularise their people and country in Latvia. The attitude of the societies towards Latvian independence was decidedly positive. The National Awakening was a time of great euphoria, with interest in society concerning ethnic issues and a surge of national pride. The societies were even joined by people who had, during the Soviet era, not only lost their links with their people, but had also lost their native language. For example, the first leader of the Armenian society Suren Gasparian not only did not know Latvian, he had also forgotten his native Armenian.

Active in the societies was not only the older generation, but also the young people - students studying at Latvian universities. Never officially registered, there were at various times Chechen-Ingush "Vainah" ("Countryman" in Chechen), Afghan and Yakut "Choron" societies. Together with other ethnic cultural societies, they united to form an association now led by Rafi Harajanian.

In remembrance of genocide against the Armenian people in 1915, a stone cross, or hachkar stands on Basteja Boulevard in the centre of Riga, unveiled on 24 April 1990. The monument, by sculptor Samuel Muradian, is at the same time a token of thanks to the Latvian people for the help given to victims of the 1988 earthquake, and a shrine for the local Armenian population.

Latvian Radio has regular half-hour broadcasts in Azeri, Armenian, Georgian and Tartar.

In the late 1980s, the societies, as representatives of the diasporas, began to establish contacts with the communities of compatriots in other countries.

Latvia's Chechens maintain close contacts with their homeland. The Georgian "Samshoblo" Society also maintains contacts with the Latvian Society in Georgia. The Yakut society maintains connections with its umbrella organisation "Jakutskij dom" ("Yakut House") in Moscow and with the Saha Republic.

The establishment of religious institutions has also played a role in maintaining national identity. In the early 90s the formation of a Muslim community began. Initially it was formed by the most numerous and active group, the Tartars. Later, members of the other traditionally Muslim minorities who had not lost their ethnic and religious identity also joined. At the present day, there are two Sunni Muslim congregations in Latvia - in Riga and Daugavpils.

Initially, the first Muslim congregation in Riga (registered October 26, 1993) was led by Rufi Sheviryov. It was comparatively small, with 64 members (1997 figure). In Daugavpils the original Muslim congregation has obtained its own permanent premises and has changed its name to the Daugavpils Islamic Centre. Muslims also live in Ventspils, Jelgava and Jēkabpils, with a smaller number in Valmiera.

The Riga community provides Muslim wedding and funeral rites and marks traditional festivities in accordance with the Koran. The head imam (imam-muhtasib) at present is Midhat Satdanov, and for three years there have been Muslim Sunday courses in Islam, the Koran and the Arabic language.

On June 16, 1993 the Riga Congregation of the Armenian Apostolic Church was established. The Armenian community is considering the idea of obtaining funds to build a church. In 1994, the patriarch and Catholicos of all the Armenians Vazgen I also promised to help build a Church of Gregory the Enlightener. The spiritual needs of Riga Armenians are provided for by a priest residing in Tallinn, appointed by the Echmiadzin, the spiritual centre of the church, but services are at present held in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Birth of Christ.

Concomitantly with the strivings to retain national distinctiveness and the establishment of communities, another very important question is that of integration of ethnic minorities into Latvia as a nation state. Seemingly, the main barrier to this would seem to be the minute proportion of Latvian citizens among the eastern and southern peoples. For example only 155 Tartars and about 165 Azeris are Latvian citizens. This is because almost all of these people have arrived during the time of the occupation. Apart from such legal barriers, many are not ready to become part of a society of Latvian citizens on account of their lack of Latvian language knowledge. It should be noted that in general the level of Latvian language knowledge in this group is quite low, but there is a good reason for this: during the occupation Latvia has been russified to such a degree that Latvian language knowledge is not needed in many walks of life. A certain section were sceptical and unsympathetic towards restoration of independence right from the beginning. However, as repeatedly emphasised by people from different ethnic groups, it is the non-Russians who best appreciate the Latvian concern for retaining the language and the country's national identity.

Leo Dribins, a well-known historian in Latvia, claims that most of the post-war immigrants have taken the road towards integration. This is very clear in the eastern and southern ethnic groups too. Integration, at various rates, is taking place throughout the whole of society at a national level, and within ethnic groups, so that ethnic communities with more or less clearly expressed national characteristics are slowly consolidating.

© Text: Dr. Valters Ščerbinskis, The State Historical Archive of Latvia, 1999

Ethnic, linguistic and national identification of Latvia’s residents (0.1 MB)PDF

© Text: Ph.D. Ilmārs Mežs, 2010

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