The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake News: Latvians gained their Independence out of the blue, only thanks to the benevolence of Lenin and the Bolsheviks

Fake News: Latvians gained their Independence out of the blue, only thanks to the benevolence of Lenin and the Bolsheviks

Author: Viesturs Sprūde

“Lenin gave them independence, but they, ungratefully, knocked down monuments of Lenin!” Statements like this type regularly appear in the comments of social media and Russian language portal as soon as the issue of the independence of the Baltic states is in question (similar statements can be read about the events of 1990-1991 as well).

The conviction that independence of the Baltic people came out of the blue in 1918 only due to the favour of Lenin and he Bolsheviks is alive among certain circles of the Russian speaking population of Latvia, as well as the population of Russia, even including circles that believe themselves to be academics. The popularity of this opinion was especially emphasised at the end of the last year, when conferences dedicated to the centenary of the Bolshevik coup of 1917 were organised in Russia on various levels. Ideas from these conferences were quickly spread to the wider media environment.

“Independent Baltic states, like other national provinces of the former Russian Empire, developed thanks to the recognition of national self-determination by the Bolsheviks (...). Therefore, the action of Soviet Russia towards the new nations was highly beneficial,” the EurAsia Daily portal circulated the statement voiced at one such conference in October 2017, by the historian and political scientist from St. Petersburg University, Natalia Yeryomina. The participants of the conference, 100 Years of Revolution: Reconstruction of Anniversary, organised in Moscow in November 2017, complained that the people of the Baltics only paid attention to the centenary of their independence, ignoring the “100 years’ anniversary of the Great Russian revolution, although their independence anniversaries are rooted in the revolution”.

On 7 November 2017, Vesti, a Russian language website in Latvia, for instance, mentioned the speech of Ludmila Gotagova, the co-researcher of the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Gotagova undertook “to monitor” the situation with the reflection of the situation of the revolution of 1917 in the Baltic States; she had hoped that “they would at least have had historical feelings of gratitude for having such great luck, but no...” – “and that is so strange, because the Baltic States received their independence only thanks to the revolution and coincidence of circumstances – the First World War, Brest Peace Treaty, German occupation, etc. And, in contrast to others, except for Finland and Poland, they became independent for as many as 22 years,” the historian said. Even academic events were not held on the anniversary of the revolution! “They are all overtaken with the idea of self-affirmation, which has lasted for a quarter of a century. This is abnormal,” Gotagova was horrified.

Meanwhile baltnews.lv portal, while reflecting on the event European Union 2017 and Russian revolution of 1917: Unlearned Lessons organised by Tatjana Ždanoka in Brussels, the European Parliament in December, emphasised the idea of extremely leftist and pro-Russian lawyer Bill Bowring: “Estonia and Lithuania actually received their independence from the hands of Lenin.” The name of Lenin during this forum was voiced as “the name of a person who has given independence to many countries”.

This conviction is stable, because several years ago, the Russian portal Okno v Rossiju (A Window to Russia), designed for Russian compatriots, complained that Latvia opposes the use of history books published in Russia in Russian speaking schools. “Indeed, why should Latvian pupils know that, having had independence twice for a period of 20 years, Latvia received its independence from the hands of Russia – initially from Vladimir Lenin, the head of the Bolsheviks, and then from the leader of democracy, Boris Yeltsin?” Okno v Rossiju asks sarcastically.


Winning and protecting the independence of Latvia was indeed a miracle and great fortune, considering the fact that, quoting the professor of the University of Latvia, Ēriks Jēkabsons: “In 1918-1920, the territory of Latvia was the place where the interests of the originating Republic of Latvia, Soviet Russia and Latvian Bolsheviks, Baltic Germans and defeated and humiliated Germany, ambitious anti-Bolshevik Russia or representatives of various anti-Bolshevik forces, new and renewed neighbouring states – Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland –, People’s Republic of Belarus, which failed to safeguard its independence, and Western Superpowers clashed and mutually intertwined.”

It is not a surprise that the prophets of the “gift” of independence usually fail to mention the battles of independence, which were fought by all three Baltic states, among others, against “peaceful” Soviet Russia. The War of Independence claimed the lives of 3,046 soldiers of the Latvian army and left 4,085 soldiers injured. The February Revolution of 1917 and the coup of the Bolsheviks indeed created conditions under which the wish of the peoples of the Baltic states could come true – not only their wish for autonomy, but for an independent state as well, however, it is not clear, what we should be “grateful” for? The statehood was coined by our own hands, despite obstacles created by the Russian Provisional Government, as well as the Bolsheviks.

The situation got even worse after the Bolshevik coup because a dictatorial power was established, which attempted to extinguish even those sprouts of democracy that appeared after the February Revolution. For instance, in Vidzeme, democratically elected peasant councils were declared “counter-revolutionary”; the advocates of the idea of the independence of Latvia were arrested and attempts were made to physically eliminate them; newspapers “Līdums” (Clearance) and “Laika Vēstis” (Time News) that popularised the idea of statehood were prohibited. 

Neither did Lenin present anything to Latvia in 1918, since the land was occupied by Germans and, after signing the Treaty of Brest, Soviet Russia did not control even the part of Latvia that it was formally entitled to. Sometimes the impression arises that “history experts” deliberately mix up the Soviet Latvia of Pēteris Stučka with the civic Republic of Latvia of the 18th November. It is true that, on 22 December 1918, Lenin signed a decree “On the Recognition of Latvian Soviet Republic”, but it is a sign of illiteracy to announce that it has something to do with the independence of Latvia.

Historian Ainārs Bambals, in the encyclopaedia Latvian Freedom Battles 1918–1920 notes: “To formally justify the invasion of Latvia by the Red Army, the interim Latvian Soviet Government was established in Russia on 4 December 1918, based on the instruction of V. Lenin. The Chairman of the government, P. Stučka, did not attempt to hide that he considered an independent Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic fictional, which was not a part of Latvian Bolshevik plans, who were oriented towards the German Revolution and, consequently, the victory of worldwide revolution.”

“The creation of national Soviet states would become a strong propaganda and diplomatic instrument to justify the offensive of the Red Army westwards. What was also important, was the fact that the development of communist governments would permit the masking of the military campaign against the independent states proclaimed in the Baltic region, thus creating the illusion of a civil law in each of the countries affected by the aggression,” historian Jānis Šiliņš adds in the book Soviet Latvia 1918–1919. Masking the real purposes was the direct plan of Russian Bolsheviks because the highest goal of the Latvian Bolsheviks, lead by Stučka, dreamt of was an “autonomous commune” within Soviet Russia. 

The peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia was signed on 11 August 1920. However, it was not signed because of the good will of Lenin to recognise Latvia, but because of the fact that Latvian and Polish armies, during heavy winter battles, drove the Bolsheviks out from Latgale and, in August, “The miracle at Wisla” occurred – the Polish stopped the attack of the Red Army against Warsaw.

Professor at the University of Latvia, Ēriks Jēkabsons, in his works has indicated several times that the western diplomats, who were based in Riga at that time, were completely convinced – after “finishing off” Poland, the Bolsheviks would direct all their military power and propaganda against the Baltic states. The leader of the delegation for Soviet Russia in negotiations with Latvia, Ādolfs Joffe, while in informal back room conversations, did not attempt to hide his conviction that the Baltic states would later “themselves voluntarily join” Soviet Russia.

The threat of aggression from Soviet Russia remained even after the conclusion of the peace treaty. In late 1920, a new attack was expected and the representatives of foreign missions in the Baltic states started secretly sending off their families, requesting ships for evacuation from their governments.

Regarding the commemoration of the disturbances of 1917 in Latvia, Ludmila Gotagova seems to have done poor “monitoring” work – it is really difficult to understand how she could overlook the centennial conference of the Latgale Congress held in Rēzekne in May, or the event dedicated to the interim Latvian National Council organised in December, not to mention historical conferences of a smaller scale.

The preparation of this report was supported by the Latvian Ministry of Culture

  • 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.