Latvia History

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History[edit | edit source]

Since the 13th century Latvia has been successively dominated by Germany, Sweden, Poland, and Russia. The German Teutonic Knights, crusading to establish Christianity, conquered the area comprising modern Latvia and founded Livonia, which lasted for over three centuries, 1237-1561. Poland then gained control and partitioned the area, absorbing Latgale and Vidzeme in the north and east while granting Kurzeme and Zemgale to the south and west status as the independent Duchy of Kurland under Polish suzerainty. Sweden conquered Vidzeme and the city of Riga in 1629. It lost these to Russia in 1721 when Peter the Great was victorious over the Swedes. Russia annexed the territory of Latgale in 1772 and the Duchy of Kurland in 1795. In all the provinces except for Latgale, the descendants of the Teutonic Order, the Baltic Germans, were granted considerable economic and cultural autonomy. Latgale was absorbed by the province of Vitebsk where Russian and Polish nobility ruled the peasantry.

During the latter half of the 19th century, the privileges of the Baltic nobility gradually waned, and Latvians were permitted to own land. Industrialization encouraged the peasantry to move into urban areas and an indigenous middle class emerged. As a result of these economic and social changes, a Latvian nationalist movement developed in the 1860's which promoted Latvian language and culture. By the early 1900's national-cultural groups developed into a political movement and advocated either territorial autonomy or independence for Latvia. In October 1917 the representatives of many Latvian political groups united into the Riga Democratic Bloc. With the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Latvia proclaimed independence on November 18, 1918. Bolshevik troops captured Riga but were expelled by Allied troops in 1920 and restored Latvia’s independence.

Latvia remained independent until 1939. At the beginning of World War II it was absorbed temporarily by the Soviet Union but overrun by the German army. Retaken in 1945 by the Soviet army it was incorporated into the Soviet Union and remained a Soviet republic for forty-five years. It declared independence and received international recognition in August-September 1991.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

1558 - 1583 After the Livonian War, Latvia fell under Polish and Lithuanian rule
1600 - 1611 After the Polish–Swedish War, northern Livonia, including Vidzeme, came under Swedish rule
1629 - Under Swedish and largely German rule, western Latvia adopted Lutheranism as its main religion
1629 - Southern Latgallians adopted Catholicism under Polish/Jesuit influence
1795 - Latvia was brought into the Russian Empire
1700 - 1721 During the Great Northern War, up to 40 percent of Latvians died from famine and plague
1914 - 1918 World War I devastated the territory of what became the state of Latvia, and other western parts of the Russian Empire
1939 - 50,000 Baltic Germans left, with 1,600 remaining to conclude business and 13,000 choosing to remain in Latvia
1941 - Prior to Operation Barbarossa, in less than a year, at least 34,250 Latvians were deported or killed and most were deported to Siberia where deaths were estimated at 40 percent
1941 - 1945 More than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during World War II
1944 - Most sources count 200,000 to 250,000 refugees leaving Latvia, with perhaps as many as 80,000 to 100,000 of them recaptured by the Soviets
1945 - 1952 Between 136,000 and 190,000 Latvians, were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration camps
1959 - About 400,000 people arrived from other Soviet republics and the ethnic Latvian population had fallen to 62%
1990 - The Supreme Council adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, and the Latvian SSR was renamed Republic of Latvia
Kārlis Ulmanis

References[edit | edit source]