The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Demonisation of Latvian Independence Day celebrations

Demonisation of Latvian Independence Day celebrations

Author: Edgars Engīzers

Demonisation of celebration of the proclamation of Latvian Independence

On 16 October the daily newspaper of Russia “Izvestija” published an article “Latvia marches in the past”. Neo-Nazi group of Latvia is preparing for the largest torch parade ever in Latvia.” The article states that the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) actively object to such a torch parade, comparing it with the practice of Hitler’s Germany and indicating that such campaigns once again stir up Nazi sentiments in Europe. At the same time Sputnik informs people of how “the torch parades are perceived as a government-supported expression of Nazism by a range of European politicians.” The torch parade was, for example, criticised by the Pro-Kremlin European Deputy Jiří Maštálka[1], whose managed group of MEPs had previously unsuccessfully tried to get sanctions imposed against the Baltic states for the alleged distribution of Neo-Nazi sentiments. The Russian TV channel REN TV also talks about a torch parade by including more radical accents - it states that the Neo-Nazis of Latvia are preparing a parade, linking its meaning to the Independence Day celebration. The REN TV story emphasises that the representatives of the European Parliament are strictly against such campaigns, thus creating a misleading impression that the torch parade has been condemned by all MEPs rather than by a marginal group of individual deputies.

The Latvian Russian-language portal Vesti.lv has published an article “In November Latvians are walking with torches because it is cold and damp”, thus not only speaking ironically regarding the justification of the torch parade, but also emphasising the alleged ethnic character of this campaign. In another publication of Vesti.lv, the aforementioned information is supplemented by the statement of Aleksandr Gaponenko [2] that “all of these “grand parades” seem to be very scary - tens of thousands of people with torches in their hands are screaming: “Latvia for Latvians!””. In reality the slogan “Latvia for Latvians!” was popular in the 30ties among the members of the prohibited right-wing radical (fascist) organisation “Pērkoņkrusts” (“Thunder Cross”). This slogan is not used nowadays. The Russian Communist Party was also involved in a campaign against the torch tradition of the Latvian Independence Day celebration which described all participants of the torch parade as Nazis and Neo-Nazis [3] on its website. Such replacement of the idea for the parade of 18 November with a radical and incorrect message shows an attempt to note the celebration of the Latvia Independence Day as an expression of Neo-Nazism. In order to strengthen such emotional ties, the aforementioned articles are supplemented with information which has no relation to the historical significance of 18 November 1918 or 11 November 1919 - regarding the Latvian Legion, anti-Soviet partisans or Nazi ideology.

Linking the torch parade with the restoration of Nazi Germany traditions is a highly speculative assumption based on very narrow impressions, since the tradition of the torch parades is not only older but also much broader. Torch parades are organised for the celebration of Christmas in Italy and the Scandinavian New Year. This tradition was also very popular in pre-war Latvia, where it became a symbol for the anniversary celebration of national holidays, city liberation or foundation of military units. The Latvian press extensively and colourfully described the torch parades which were organised in Europe in the honour of Rabindranath Tagore, which facilitated the spread of this tradition in the pre-war Latvia (1920s–1930s). The first large-scale torch parade for the celebration of the anniversary of the declaration of Latvian independence was organised in 1923 when a torch parade to the Latvian National Theatre, where the proclamation of the country had taken place, was organised by the Firefighter organisations and the National Club.

Torch parades were also extensively organised in the Soviet Union both before [4], and after [5] World War II. During the Soviet occupation in Latvia, the torch parades made a significant part of the youth, pupils’ and students’ manifestations.  Already in November of 1940, by celebrating the anniversary of October Revolution, among other public manifestations the Komsomol also organised torch parades.[6] The torch parades were organised in honour of elections, [7] Stalin’s 70th birthday, or[8] in commemorative events at Soviet heroes’ grave sites. [9] Torch parades were organised both in the Soviet students’ Song Festival in Tartu,[10] and in the students’ favourite Aristotle celebration [11] and in general it could be stated that they were a significant part of the pioneers’ [12] and young Communists’ [13] public events. On 15 November 1988, the torch parade, organised in honour of International Students’ Day on 17 November, already marked a significant turn - the torch parade with the Latvian red-white-red flags to the Monument of Freedom presented not only the belonging of the students to the international students’ family, but also to the ideas of national awakening.[14]

The torch parade has existed as part of the celebration of the anniversary of the proclamation of independence, since 2003, while as an element of national holiday celebration after the regaining of independence, the torch parade is a much older tradition - on 11 November 1990 the streets of Riga were already filled with the torch parade dedicated to Lacplesis Day. [15] This was the first large torch parade after the regaining of independence, carrying the symbolism of an eternal flame, and at the same time restoring the pre-war traditions of the celebration of Lacplesis Day and State Proclamation.


Falsification of the history of proclamation and loss of Latvian Independence

Along with turning against the torch parade, in October the Russian-language media also spread false narratives regarding the declaration of Latvia’s independence. In the article of 29 October, the newspaper Segodnja published the opinions of several Russian officials regarding the circumstances of gaining national independence. For example, Alexander Ganin, the First Deputy Director of RSCC of St. Petersburg stated that “Latvia, Estonia and Finland appeared due to the will of Russia; more precisely, due to the will of those forces holding power within it”. Natalia Eremina, Associate Professor at Saint-Petersburg State University also stated that “The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) recognised the independent countries based on their self-determination rights”.

In reality, neither the plans of Soviet Russia, nor the Russian White Guard included the formation of independent national countries, including Latvia on the ruins of the Russian empire.  Soviet (Bolshevik) Russia was only forced to recognise the right of these countries to exist after their victory over the Soviet army in the bloody independence wars. To a large extent it was also determined by the course of the so-called Soviet-Polish war. Waiver of rights to the territory of the Baltic states allowed Soviet Russia to gather energy for battles in other simultaneous conflicts. And Soviet Russia did not recognise the self-determination rights of the nations; in its opinion people were divided into classes and not nations. Recognition of the Latvian state by Soviet Russia was a result of a war of independence of many years, where the temporary government of Latvia beat both Soviet Russia, and the Pavel Bermont’s White Guard army.

The publication Segodnja also offers an opinion of Vladimir Simindej, the Director of the pro-Kremlin Historical Memory Fund that “the legal start was only gained by the new republics in 1920-1921, and the documents forming their basis were adopted in a great hurry and were copies of European templates”. In fact, the documents forming the legal basis of the Latvian State, declaration of independence, platforms of political party roof organisations, temporary legislators and governments were adopted in 1917 and 1918. A constitution completing and not starting the process of formation of the State’s legal basis was developed later as a result of many years of long work by the Constituent Assembly. Semindejs also notes that “under the flags of the newly born Republic of Latvia the German Landeswehr fought against the Red Latvian Riflemen in the hope of acquiring land. Mercenaries were betrayed”. Landeswehr was the self-protection forces of militia type created on the territory of Latvia, containing the military formations of the largest nationalities living in Latvia - the Baltic Germans, Latvians and Russians. Landeswehr was the military forces of the temporary government of Latvia during the period between November 1918 when the invasion of the Red Army in Latvia started and April 1919 when division among the members of the Landeswehr took place by a part of the Baltic German units carrying out overturning of the temporary government of Latvia. The rights of the citizen of Latvia and not the land was promised for the service on behalf of the government of Latvia.

Glorification of the “liberation of Riga”

In October, several Russian-speaking media outlets attracted attention to the anniversary of the liberation of Riga taking place on 13 October. The newspaper Segodnja[16] and the portal Vesti.lv published an article where it was stated in an exaggerated way that the liberation of Riga was celebrated on a grand scale this year even though a small number of people participated in it - from tens to a hundred. These articles also stated that “the victory of Riga was carried on its shoulders by the 130th Corps of the Latvian Riflemen” and that “the operation was unprecedented in its bravery and heroism. Fascists simply missed the Soviet Army pushing over the lake of Kisezers” and that the operation “was definitely one of the [Red Army’s] most successful operations and most effective episodes in the battles of 1944”.

Historians nowadays consider the attack of the Red Army on Riga as militarily unsuccessful, while the conquering of Riga was ensured by the strategic retreat of the German troops from Riga during the period between 5 and 13 October. When the Soviet troops reached Riga, the enemy had already left it, except for a few covering units in Pardaugava. In order to interfere with actions, German sappers systematically bombed the most important communication devices, port, power plant, embankments - sites that could be used for military purposes .[17] Thus, as recognised by the historian Valdis Kuzmins[18], battles between the Red Army and the German forces did not actually take place during the Riga operation. Speaking regarding the role of the 130th Corps of the Latvian Riflemen in the “liberation of Riga”, Igors Briezkalns (Igors Briežkalns), officer of the 308th Latvian Riflemen Division, could be quoted: “Riflemen were ready to enthusiastically attack in the direction of Riga. However, on 12 October, the 130th Corps of the Latvian Riflemen, while being just a few kilometres from Kekava, were unexpectedly turned in the direction of Olaine [rather than to Riga].”



[1]    A member of the Communist Party of the Czech Republic, Deputy Head of the European Parliament and Russia Interparliamentary Cooperation Group.

[2] Aleksandr Gaponenko is regularly under surveillance of the Security Police. On 23 October 2017 the court started the adjudication of a case against him for the incitement of national hatred.

[3] The statement made earlier by Aleksandr Gaponenko regarding chanting of the slogan “Latvia for Latvians” here has become a quotation by Kazbek Taisajev, the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Communist Party and Deputy of the State Council Responsible for the Compatriot Policy.

[4]    For example, Табунщикова Л. В., “Комсомольское рождество” 1923. года в Донской области.// Исторические, философские, политические и юридические науки, культурология и искусствоведение. Вопросы теории и практики Тамбов: Грамота, 2016. № 3(65): в 2-х ч. Ч. 2. C. 176-179. www.gramota.net/materials/3/2016/3-2/49.html ; Юбилеи Октября. По материалам выпусков газеты «Власть Труда». http://vtruda.ru/obshchestvo/istoriya/yubilei-oktyabrya-07-11-2017

[5]    For example, Тяжелкова М., Рождение и традиции комсомола Усть-Илимска.

http://www.priilimie.ru/historys/komsomol/1 ; Горбунова Т. Г. Страница третья. Факельное шествие.  Комсомол – 100. http://st-vestnik.ru/litnedelya/komsomolu-95.html ; Недялкова Е. Тольяттинцы заложили в капсулу времени новый айфон https://www.kuban.kp.ru/daily/26752/3783416/

[6]    Organizācijas dzīve. Komjaunatne Oktobŗa revolūcijas svētkos. // Jaunais Komunārs, 11.11.1940, No. 73

[7]    Mauriņš, Ž., Tā balsoja Kuldīgas apriņķī.// Padomju Jaunatne, 19.01.1948 No. 14

[8]    Valks, T., Apriņķa darba ļaudis sveic biedru J. V. Staļinu 70. dzimšanas dienā.// Padomju Kuldīga, 23.12.1949, No. 152

[9]    Prokošenko, S., Mēs atceramies varoņu vārdus.// Cīņa, 25.12.1987, No. 296; Svilāne, M., Greckins, A., Komandējums “Mums komjaunieši paraugs”.// Pionieris, 13,02,1987, No. 13-14

[10]  Блум, В., Vivat, crescat, floreat!// Plēsums, 04,06,1981, No. 9

[11]  Наш адрес – Таурупе.// Padomju Sttudents, 26,09,1968, No. 625-3

[12]  Folkmanis, V., Dažos teikumos.// Cīņa, 28.10.1967, No. 254

[13]  Komjaunatnes dzīves hronika.// Padomju Jaunatne, 07.08.1956, No. 154

[14]  Ivars, G., Notikumu karuselis.// Dzimtenes balss, 24.11.1988, No. 47

[15]  Birkmanis, G., Lāčplēšu diena Rīgā.// Latvija šodien, 01.01.1991, No. 19; Birkmanis, G. Pie mūžīgās uguns... mūžīgā Latvija?.// Pilsonis, 18.11.1991 No. 46

[16]  Харланова И Октябрь «рижской» победы. Газета Сегодня, 2017, 17. октября, ст.6 - 7

[17]  Bleiere, d., Butulis, I., Feldmanis, I., Stranga, A., Zunda, A. Latvija otrajā pasaules karā (1939-1945), 2008, pages 405 -406

[18]  Sprūde V. Staļina noteikta “atbrīvošanas diena”. Latvijas avīze, 2009, 9 October, page 8

Supported by The Ministry of Culture of Latvia

  • 1939 - 1940 Okupācijas priekšvēsture
    1939 - 1940
    Occupation prehistory
    • 23 August 1939
      The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany sign a non-aggression treaty.
    • 1 September 1939
      Germany attacks Poland – World War II begins; Latvia declares neutrality.
    • 17 September 1939
      USSR attacks Poland.
    • 5 October 1939
      As a result of military and political pressure, Latvia signs a “bilateral assistance” agreement with the USSR, allowing military army bases to be placed on Latvian territory.
    • 30 October 1939
      Nazi Germany signs an agreement with the Latvian government to transfer ethnic Germans living in Latvia to Germany.
    • 15 June 1940
      USSR attacks several border guard posts on the eastern border of Latvia.
    • 16 June 1940
      USSR presents Latvia with an ultimatum demanding Latvia allow unlimited Soviet troops to enter Latvian territory.
  • 1940-1941 Padomju okupācija
    Soviet occupation
    • 17 June 1940
      USSR occupies Latvia.
    • 20 June 1940
      A new government, created by Moscow and led by Augusts Kirhenšteins, is installed in Latvia.
    • 14-15 July 1940
      Rigged, non-democratic elections, which contravene Latvian election laws and the Latvian Constitution, take place; only one party participates – Latvijas Darba Tautas bloks [Latvian Workers’ Bloc].
    • 21 July 1940
      The illegally elected Parliament declares Latvia a Soviet Socialist Republic and requests that the USSR admit it to its Union. Kārlis Ulmanis steps down as president; he is arrested and deported to Russia the following day.
    • 5 August 1940
      Latvia is admitted to the USSR.
    • 13 August 1940
      The All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik) (AUCP(b)) Central Committee ratifies the constitution of the Latvian SSR.
    • November 1940
      The Soviet Russian Criminal Code officially becomes law in Latvia.
    • 14 May 1941
      The Soviet government and the AUCP(b) begins planning mass deportations and repressions of Latvian citizens by adopting the secret decision "On the deportation of foreign elements from the Baltic republics, Western Ukraine, and Moldavia ".
    • 13-14 June 1941
      The Soviet Union deports 15 443 inhabitants of Latvia.
  • 1941-1944/45 Nacionālsociālistiskās Vācijas okupācija
    Nazi German occupation
    • 22 June 1941
      Nazi Germany attacks the Soviet Union. Hostilities begin on Latvian territory along with Nazi occupation.
    • 16 July 1941
      Berlin creates the administrative region Ostland – Latvia is one of the four regions that make up Ostland.
    • July 1941
      The first mass annihilation of Jews begins – the largest actions take place in Riga, Daugavpils, and Liepāja, as well as in other smaller towns.
    • 30 November 1941
      Killing of Jews in the Riga Ghetto begins. In total, 70 000 Latvian Jews were killed. Thanks to the efforts of local citizens, 400 Latvian Jews were saved.
    • 5 December 1941
      The German army is defeated at Moscow.
    • 7 March 1942
      Nazi occupiers create the Landesselbstverwaltung – local administrative rule.
    • 29 января 1943 года
      Nazi occupiers adopt regulations for the arrest of Latvia’s Roma population and their incarceration in concentration camps.
    • 11 February 1943
      Orders are passed for the creation of a “voluntary” Latvian legion under the auspices of the SS; mobilization is often involuntary.
    • 13 August 1943
      Representatives of the four largest parties from the last Latvian Parliament found the Latvian Central Council (Latvijas Centrālā Padome – LCP) in Riga, which calls for the renewal of Latvian independence. Konstantīns Čakste is named head of the LCP.
    • 28 November 1943
      USA president Franklin Roosevelt, Great Britain’s prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin meet at the Teheran Conference. Stalin succeeds in gaining permission to have a free hand in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe after the war.
    • 22 March 1944
      189 Latvian politicians submit a resolution to the Nazi occupiers for the renewal of Latvian independence, which is denied.
    • 18 July 1944
      The Soviet army defeats German troops and crosses the Latvian border at Šķaune in Ludza county. The second Soviet occupation begins.
    • End of July – beginning of August 1944
      German occupiers allow General Jānis Kurelis and the chief of his headquarters, Captain Kristaps Upelnieks, to create a separate military unit. It cooperates with the LCP in the hopes of becoming the nucleus of the army of independent Latvia.
    • 8 September 1944
      The last LCP meeting to occur on Latvian soil takes place at which a declaration for the renewal of Latvian independence is adopted.
    • 20 November 1944
      Unable to control troops under the command of Kurelis, German SD units arrest all military personal at his headquarters. Eight officers are convicted and shot. The remaining military personnel are imprisoned in concentration camps.
    • 5 February 1945
      Leaders of the USA, GB, and the USSR meet at Yalta. During discussions, Soviet demands are met, and the Soviets occupy Latvia once again.
  • 1944/45-1953 Staļinisma terors. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    Stalinist terror
    • 8 May 1945
      WWII ends on Latvian territory; German forces in Kurzeme surrender, including the 19th Latvian Legionnaire division.
    • 3 October 1945
      The first meeting of members of the LCP who have escaped to Germany takes place in Lustenau, Austria. Latvian citizens in exile continue the struggle for Latvian statehood.
    • 6 October 1945
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council members accept Moscow’s decision to annex the city of Abrene and six neighbouring townships to the Russian SSR.
    • 10 February 1946
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council elections take place.
    • 17 February 1947
      In order to weaken communist rule in Eastern Europe, the USA begins transmission of the Voice of America, which is listened to in Latvian territory illegally.
    • 29 January 1949
      USSR Council of Ministers decide to deport members of the National Partisans and their supporters, as well as wealthy farmers (kulaks) from Latvia to Siberia.
    • 25 March 1949
      Soviet occupiers carry out the second mass deportation of Latvian inhabitants to Siberia – in total 42 322 people.
    • July 1949
      As a result of repressive Soviet occupation politics, the number of collective farms (kolkhozes) triples, creating 3857 kolkhozes.
    • 17 January 1953
      Latvian SSR Supreme Council adopts the decree creating a new Latvian SSR flag.
    • 5 March 1953
      Stalin dies.
  • 1953-1959 “Atkusnis”. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    • 12 September 1953
      Nikita Khrushchev becomes First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee (CPSU CC).
    • 14 May 1955
      Creation of the Warsaw Pact.
    • 25 February 1956
      At the CPSU 20th Congress, Khrushchev openly speaks of crimes committed by Stalin and condemns the Stalin “personality cult”.
    • 23 August 1956
      The uprising by the people in Hungary is put down by Soviet forces.
  • 1959-1985 “Stagnācija”. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    • 7–8 July 1959
      Latvian CP plenum condemns the national communists.
    • 13 August 1961
      The GDR closes the border to West Berlin; building of the Berlin Wall begins.
    • 10 October 1964
      Khrushchev is forced to resign as First Secretary of the CPSU CK; Leonid Brezhnev takes his place.
    • December 1965
      The Hydroelectric Station at Pļaviņas begins operation.
    • 27 May 1968
      Calls for ending censorship and freeing political prisoners in Czechoslovakia initiates the “Prague Spring” demonstrations.
    • 20 August 1968
      Soviet troops put down the “Prague Spring”.
    • 25 December 1979
      Soviet forces invade Afghanistan.
    • 10 November 1982
      Leonid Brezhnev dies; Yuri Andropov becomes First Secretary of the CPSU CK.
    • 9 February 1984
      Yuri Andropov dies. Konstantin Chernenko becomes First Secretary of the CPSU CK.
    • 10 March 1985
      Konstantin Chernenko dies.
    • 11 March 1985
      Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the leader of the CPSU CK and the Soviet Union.
  • 1985-1990/91 “Perestroika”. Padomju okupācija.
    Soviet occupation
    • 10 July 1986
      The first Latvian human rights organization Helsinki-86 is founded in Liepāja.
    • October 1986
      Widespread public support for the environmental protection of the Daugava River begins.
    • 28 February 1987
      The Environment Protection Club (Vides aizsardzības klubs – VAK) is founded.
    • 14 June 1987
      Helsinki-86 invites people to lay flowers at the Freedom Monument to commemorate the deportations in 1941.
    • 23 August 1987
      A protest takes place by the Freedom Monument to commemorate the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact.
    • 27 April 1988
      VAK organizes protests against the proposed construction of a metro in Riga.
    • 1–2 June 1988
      The Latvian Creative Society organizes a plenum. Journalist, Art Academy professor, and member of the Supreme Council Mavriks Vulfsons publicly declares that Latvia was occupied in 1940.
    • 10 July 1988
      The Latvian National Independence Movement (Latvijas Nacionālās Neatkarības kustība – LNNK) is founded.
    • 16 July 1988
      VAK organizes a protest in Mežaparks at which the Latvian national flag is flown.
    • 8-9 October 1988
      Latvian National Front (Latvijas tautas fronte – LTF) founding congress. Dainis Īvāns is elected leader.
    • February 1989
      The pro-communist supporters of Moscow Interfront organize protests – they oppose proposed policies to stop migration to Latvia from other Soviet republics and to give the Latvian language official national status.
    • 5 May 1989
      Latvian SSR SC adopts a law granting Latvian national language status.
    • 23 August 1989
      The Baltic Way – a human chain over 660 km long is formed through all three Baltic countries to commemorate the 1939 Hitler- Stalin Pact.
    • 9 November 1989
      The Berlin Wall falls.
    • 18 November 1989
      Mass demonstrations for an independent Latvia on the banks of the Daugava with over 500,000 participants.
    • 18 March 1990
      Latvian SSR parliamentary elections.
  • Neatkarīga Latvija
    Independent Latvia
    • 4 May 1990
      Latvian SSR SC adopts the resolution for the restoration of Latvian independence.
    • 2 January 1991
      Soviet special forces OMON occupy the press building in Riga; there are armed attacks by OMON against other strategic government sites.
    • 13–27 January 1991
      Residents of Latvia create barricades in Riga to protect key locations from forces loyal to Moscow.
    • 3 March 1991
      Inhabitants of Latvia participate in a referendum on declaring an independent democratic state – two-thirds vote for restoring independence.
    • 12 June 1991
      Boris Yeltsin is elected president of Russia.
    • 19 August 1991
      Radical communist attempt a coup in Moscow – the August Putsch.
    • 21 August 1991
      Republic of Latvia Supreme Council declares the Republic of Latvia as an independent democratic state.
    • 22 August 1991
      Iceland is the first nation to recognize Latvian independence.
    • 24 August 1991
      The Russian Federation officially recognizes Latvian independence.
    • 17 September 1991
      Latvia joins the United Nations.
    • 30 December 1991
      The Soviet Union officially ceases to exist.
    • 14 February 1994
      Latvia joins the NATO program “Partnership for Peace”.
    • 12 March 1999
      The first post-Soviet nations join NATO – Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
    • November 2002
      Prague summit. NATO leaders decide to invite Latvia to begin negotiations for admittance.
    • 20 September 2003
      Referendum on joining the European Union.
    • 29 March 2004
      Latvia becomes a member of NATO.
    • 1 May 2004
      Latvia becomes a member of the European Union along with 10 other nations.