The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake news: Jāņi (Midsummer’s Eve Celebration) in Latvia is a Neo-Nazi celebration

Fake news: Jāņi (Midsummer’s Eve Celebration) in Latvia is a Neo-Nazi celebration

Author: Māris Antonevičs

At a time when Latvia is getting ready for Midsummer’s Eve celebrations, the Russian propaganda medium Sputnik decided to contribute to the celebration by giving the floor to their regular author Armen Gasparyan. Here are his comments that can be heard on Sputnik Radio, while excerpts from it can be read on their website.

Gasparyan: “Midsummer’s Eve is currently being celebrated in Riga. However, it is not the herb market or people’s celebration on the (11th November) Embankment that it is noted for. For some time, this celebration in the Baltics, as well as in Ukraine, has been associated with Neo-Nazis.

“It was not made up in Riga. It comes from Post-German traditions, which received huge attention from Hitler’s party. They spoke about history, speculated about Vikings, and, accordingly, paid great attention to pagan traditions. Afterwards it became a sort of international subculture, especially in the late 70s and early 80s. After the collapse of the USSR, it came to the Baltic States, where it became extremely popular. The pathos of celebrating Midsummer’s Eve in the Baltic states is in no way comparable with the celebrations that are organised in Denmark, Sweden or Norway.”

The author of Sputnik continues with the following question: who is standing behind this “project”? He speculates that Nazi movements in the Baltic States are controlled by the governments and they will not do anything that is not favoured to the ruling elite.

“However, more and more people in the Baltic states come into the orbit of this neo-paganism and pseudo-nationalism. It is based on a wide body of mythology that suits any taste. And all of it is based on the theory that once there was a beautiful country, which later came under the occupation of Russia. This means that the Midsummer’s Eve tradition is being linked with politics. This will not result in anything good,” Gasparyan says, and recommends the residents of the Baltic States study the position of the rulers of the Third Reich before cultivating pagan traditions.

It must be added that Sputnik decided not to publish these fantastic revelations in the Latvian version of their internet website, which only contains neutral information and a dozen photos of the celebration of Midsummer’s Eve in Riga.


“We thought that the lowest point had already been reached, but then someone knocked from below,” say journalists that criticise Putin’s policy when joking about Kremlin propaganda. Armen Gasparyan, through his latest revelations, has managed to reach the next “bottom”. How he came up with his theory of linking Jāņi tradition to Hitler and Nazism is a mystery, because even the Russian media have been silent on this issue to date.

History has several pieces of evidence to show that the celebration, which is called Jāņi nowadays, has been celebrated in the territory of Latvia for a very long time.

"At Jāņi fires they dance, sing and jump throughout the entire large land,” Balthasar Rüssow wrote in his Livonian Chronicle in 1584. “On Jāņi day all Latvian people celebrate their ancient Līgā celebration, swaying, dancing and rejoicing,” Garlieb Merkel (1769-180) records when characterising the Latvian tradition. And, of course, there are countless Latvian folk songs that sing about the traditions of Jāņi, as well as men called Jānis and their relatives.

What kind of delirious nonsense is the statement that Midsummer’s Eve celebrations in Latvia only started after the collapse of the USSR? The residents of Latvia themselves know perfectly well that this was the main celebration before the war, as well as during Soviet times, even despite brief attempts by the LSSR government to prohibit the celebration.

“If I knew that the heart of Mr. Gasparyan had retained a tiny drop of Armenian culture, I would say that linking Latvian Jāņi with Nazism would be equal to attributing Turkish roots to Armenian Surb Sarkis holiday of lovers. Insulting the celebrations of another people is equal to insulting someone’s parents or grandparents.

“Even in the 21st century, when many traditional values have been shattered, we celebrate our Jāņi and we know that this celebration is very old. No particular year can be attributed to the beginning of this celebration, which is definitely more ancient than the entry of Christianity into the Baltic States.

“Midsummer’s Eve is a day, when light fills the maximum possible time period of the day. The seasonal deity Jānis impersonates light, brings warmth, which not only provides favourable growing conditions to everything, but also promotes human fertility and life power. This is our celebration of love and no Gasparyan, however dirty their mouth is, will be able to spoil it,” Janīna Kursīte, the folklore researcher and the deputy of the Parliament of Latvia, says.

Although Germany, emphasised by the Sputnik writer, has several similar rituals, the celebration of Midsummer’s Eve is much more popular in Northern Europe. For instance, in Estonia, Midsummer’s Eve is called "Jaanipäev", which means – the Day of St. John. Like Latvians, Estonians celebrated it before the arrival of Christianity. Estonians also have the tradition of making fires and jumping over them, singing, dancing and drinking beer.

The Finns use the name of their ancient god Ukko to call the celebration Ukon Juhla and, like Latvians, go to the countryside to celebrate it. Instead of the oak, they celebrate birch. In Sweden, the festivity is celebrated between 19 and 25 June and is pronouncedly ethnic. For instance, dancing around a pole decorated with wreaths of flowers, playing of folk music and singing of special festive songs, occurs. Every year during Jāņi, television news shows broadcast stories from England, where thousands of people celebrating Midsummer’s Eve gather around the ancient stone structures at Stonehenge.

Meanwhile in Russia and other East Slavic countries, a tradition similar to Jāņi is the Day of Ivan Kupala, which, according to experts unites pagan and Christian rituals. Many Russians burn fires, collect flowers in the meadows, swim in the lakes and are not even aware that this, according to the “expert” of Sputnik, makes them Neo-Nazis.

Kursīte assesses that: "unfortunately, for some time, the official and semi-official representatives of Russia have been acting in accordance with the principle - the more outrageous the lie, the more people are ready to take the bait. The expression of Gasparjan regarding Nazi influenced Latvian Jāņi is an excellent example of absurdity.

“In order to sharpen the hook, Ukrainians have been linked to Latvians. And here the speaker stops, because otherwise they would have to say that Midsummer’s eve celebrations can be referred not only to Latvians and Ukrainians, but also Russians, Belarusians, Scandinavians and other European people.”

She reminds us that Gasparyan is very fond of different provocations and personal insults. For instance, he called Ksenia Larina, a journalist of Eho Moskvi, scum ("oткровенная Сволочь"). As a journalist who has criticised Kremlin propaganda, eventually she had to leave Russia.

How to react to the impudent lie? J. Kursīte offers an interesting method: “Excellent research must be mentioned here - a book published a couple of years ago by the American psychiatrist Mark Goulston, ‘Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible’, which includes deliberate manipulators in the list of crazy people.

“One of the recommendations of the psychiatrist is not to take offence, but to put yourself in the skin of the crazy person and continue the discussion in the same manner. “Goulston uses the example of an angry dog that has bitten your hand. Your first idea is to attempt to pull your hand away, but in this case the dog will tighten its bite. He gives the advice to push your hand deeper into the mouth of the dog, who will try to swallow it. In order to do that, it will have to release its clenched teeth. This will allow you to release your hand.”

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.