Eastern and Central Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

(Ben Green) #1


Livonian Wars. The clash between the
Protestant Swedes and Catholic Poles
resulted in Swedish rule in northern
Latvia for much of the 17th cen tury. In
1710, during the Great Northern War,
the Swedes sur rendered Rīga to Peter
the Great of Russia, ushering in 200
years of stability.
When World War I broke out in
1914, Latvia became the main battle-
ground between Germany and Russia.
The Allied victory in 1918 forced the

German troops to withdraw
and Latvia was declared an
inde pendent nation. Despite
the constantly changing gov-
ern ments that ruled until 1934,
much was achieved dur ing this
period of independence.
How ever, progress came to a
halt with the Soviet invasion on
17 June 1940, which saw
Latvians of influence either exe-
cuted or deported to Siberia.
The Germans inva ded a year
later, with brutal consequences
for the Jewish com munity.
The Soviets returned to eastern
Latvia and Rīga as “liberators” in the
autumn of 1944. Further deportations
were carried out, and Russian num-
bers swelled, posing a serious threat
to Latvian culture.
In 1988, new political groups began
to emerge. The most forceful of these,
the Popular Front of Latvia (PLF),
demanded full independence and
won the elections in 1990, provoking
clashes with Soviet forces. Moscow’s
conservative Communists staged a
coup against President Mikhail
Gorbachev in August 1991, but it
collapsed and Latvia finally found
itself free. Since then governments
have come and gone, but the
beginning of the 21st cen tury saw the
effective integration of Latvia into
Western Europe, particularly with its
entry into the European Union in 2004.

Latvian is the official language of the
people, although a sizeable Russian-
speaking minority also exists.
Echoes of Latvia’s pagan past
remain to this day, most obviously in
the celebration of Midsummer. The
Latvian calendar is punctuated by
festivities which mark the pass ing of
seasons; many folk rituals are incor-
porated into Christian cele brations.

Independence Day celebrations, Rīga, 1933


AD 1201 Rīga founded by Albrecht of
1282 Rīga joins a trading confederation of
German port cities and merchants’ associations
1372 German replaces Latin as official language
1561 Latvia occupied by Poland
1629 Sweden colonizes Latvia
1710 Rīga conquered by Peter the Great of Russia
1822 First Latvian newspaper printed
1850s National Awakening Movement formed
1905 Socialist revolution demands independence
1914 German occupation of Latvia begins
1918 Formal declaration of Latvian independence
1920 The Soviet Union recognizes Latvia’s
1940 First Soviet occupation of Latvia
1941 Occupation by Nazi Germany
1944–91 Second Soviet occupation of Latvia
1988 Pro-independence Popular Front is formed
1991 Latvian independence re-established
2004 Latvia joins NATO and the EU
2007 Valdis Zatlers sworn in as president
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