The History of the Occupation of Latvia

Fake news: The Museum of Occupation of Latvia reflects the holocaust not as a genocide, but as “just revenge and fighting for freedom”

Fake news: The Museum of Occupation of Latvia reflects the holocaust not as a genocide, but as “just revenge and fighting for freedom”

Author: Viesturs Sprūde

The moving of the reconstruction project of the Museum of Occupation building, Nākotnes nams (Future House) project by architect Gunārs Birkerts and the memorial for the repressed Vēstures taktīla (Touch of History) project out of the imaginary deadlock in early summer has sparked echoes in the Moscow propaganda media, for instance Sputnik, and others. It must be admitted that the Museum of Occupation has never been favoured by the Russian language mass media, but a new surge of activity has been observed recently. Already in October last year Sputnik voiced their satisfaction with the fact that the works had not been commenced and were unlikely to be completed by the centenary of Latvia, as was initially planned. Similarly, referring to the former opposition of the architect Zana Gaile and Riga Construction Board to the construction of the Future House, it has been called “Tastelessness in the heart of Riga”. Meanwhile at the very end of May, the political scientist of Russia Yuriy Svetov, who frequently appears in the media outlets that are completely loyal to the Kremlin - Sputnik, RIA Novosti and RT, said in the programme of the Sputnik radio station: “The creation of museums and monuments of the Soviet occupation of this entire period - it is a cynical game.” Namely, Latvia completely ignores everything “positive” that it received from the USSR at the time. Instead, only losses are calculated and billions of euros worth of claims are raised against Russia, the heir of the Soviet Union. “It is the road to deadlock, but, unfortunately, these are the realities of the contemporary world, where myths occupy the place of the real situation,” the political scientist from Russia says. His words were quickly picked up by the Russian language website of Latvia Vesti, entitling their article Latvia Faces Deadlock. It is curious that Vesti automatically repeated the Moscow source in saying that the construction of the memorial had already started, although no works have really occurred on site. 

However, the most colourful article dedicated to the Museum of Occupation proved to be an article by a journalist of the Rubaltic.ru portal published on 18 April, who, judging from what has been written in her article, has not been to the museum herself; she seems to have instead collected the information for her article, including ten-year old photographs, from the vast ocean of Russian language internet sources. The article claims: “The Museum Night is a project aimed at the popularisation of art (as per the text - Author’s remark). However, there are museums, where night and darkness never ends. Such type of “cultural object” started to spring up in the former republics and countries of the socialist block after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. The main objective of these objects - to tell their version of “historical truth” in accordance with which, the USSR was an “occupying power”.” Respectively, “people, who are not too familiar with history, at least the history of this region, frequently accept this in good faith.” The visit to the Museum of Occupation “is mandatory” for all pupils of the schools of Riga, as well as delegations of foreign countries. Mandatory! But entrance to the museum is free of charge! The museums, the existence of which are paid for by “different funds, associations or directly by the government” are usually characterised by “concentrated agitation or even explicit propaganda". The Museum of Occupation is exactly such a type of museum. Even the holocaust is reflected here not as a genocide, but as “just revenge and fighting for freedom” The Soviet Union is also blamed for the deaths of 40 Latvian men in the Afghanistan War in the 1980s and for the arrest of Latvian dissidents! The resentment of the author grew until a question was raised - why has nothing been mentioned about the thousands of Latvian Red Riflemen, who were “elite guards of the Bolshevik power”? “Were they brought up and fed by some other sort of Latvia? If “Soviet terror” was much more heinous than “the brown plague”, why did Latvian riflemen protect the Soviet power with such loyalty when it was being established”



The article Night at the Museum of Occupation by Rubaltic.ru is an accumulation of imprecision, an illogical combination of information fragments “under the gravy” of powerless grudge and even surrealism. This happens, when something “like that” becomes the objective of writing. However, the article lacks facts, arguments and awareness of the historical sequence of events. 

Firstly, why should the Museum of Occupation tell the story of Latvian Red Riflemen, if this task is perfectly achieved by the Latvian War Museum? Furthermore, riflemen refer to a different time period. What could the Latvian Riflemen know about the “brown plague” of 1941 or repressions implemented by both Soviet occupations? If we talk about the riflemen, it must be mentioned that it is the “ classical” topic of all Russian mass media - to characterise the Latvian riflemen under the service of the Bolsheviks as if they were part of the army of Latvia and not Tsarist Russia, as if their road to Russia was not really pre-determined by historical conditions (German invasion and occupation of the Baltic region in autumn 1917, trust in the regiment and commanders, the breakdown of the Russian army), but rather by the ideological belief of the riflemen. It is also typical to see the words “Soviet occupation” in quotation marks in this type of publication or it is referred to as the “so-called occupation”.

Līga Strazda, Deputy Director of the Museum of Occupation for Development, indicates that the basis for articles of this sort can be found in the incapacity of the author to accept the fact of the regaining of independence by Latvia and, consequently, the entire message of the museum collection. Furthermore, most probably, the journalist of Rubaltic.ru has not visited the museum either during “Museum Night” or during the day. Strazda reminds us that the museum informs its visitors on the independent and democratic Latvia that was founded in 1918, suffered a political crisis in 1934 and lost its democratic government system, but continued existing as an independent state until it was occupied by the USSR in 1940; its statehood was eliminated, preserving the legal components of the state in functional embassies abroad. In the summer of 1941, when the army of Nazi Germany entered Latvia, the occupation power changed in the territory of Latvia. The military victory of the USSR in the autumn of 1944 enabled the return and stay of the Soviet occupation power in the territory of Latvia up until 4 May 1990, when the renewal of the independence of the State of Latvia was declared and 21 August 1991, when Latvia regained complete sovereignty. “This is the framework of political history that is implemented by means of a museum collection that contains objects, documents, photographs and people’s life stories. The message of the museum arises from the concept of the continuity of Latvian statehood. Therefore, we do not use concepts - “leave the USSR” or “Fascist occupation” in the message of our museum, since it is a part of the Soviet history narrative, which is still in active use in the Russian-speaking post-Soviet environment. However, if visitors come to the museum with open minds and evaluate the materials presented at the museum, their understanding of past events and current political events may change as a result of the thinking process”, the representative of the museum says.


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.