From the foundation to the fall of the Livonian order state
When, after the founding of the Hanseatic League, trade on the Dünaweg increased sharply (from around 1180), German merchants met the Finno-Ugric Lives tribe on the Latvian coast and, further inland, the Baltic tribes of the Selenium, Semgaller, Kuren and Latgaller. At the end of the 12th century, the attempt at a peaceful live mission under Bishop Meinhard († 1196; 1184 erection of the first church in Uexküll) failed. The military conquest was carried out by the Brothers of the Sword, founded in 1202, whose survivors, after the devastating defeat against the Lithuanians at Schaulen (1236), took over the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order formed. By the end of the 13th century, all Latvian tribes were subjugated and the foundations of the Livonian Confederation were laid. This consisted of five territories (Archdiocese of Riga, the Dioceses of Dorpat [today Tartu] and Ösel-Wiek, the Diocese of Courland and the extensive lands of the Teutonic Order) and formed the political order of Old Livonia until 1561. The new city foundations (1201 Riga) joined the Hanseatic League, the economic and political power lay exclusively in the hands of the German clergy, citizens and knights. The legal and social position of the Latvian farmers deteriorated over the centuries to the point of serfdom. The victory of the Reformation in Riga (1521) heralded the downfall of the religious state in the Livonian War (1558–82). The last master of the order, G. Kettler, took over the Duchy of Courland as a fiefdom of the Polish-Lithuanian king, who emerged victorious from the war. In a privilege (1561), Sigismund II August assured the continued existence of the German legal status and cultural sovereignty. From 1629–1710 the “over-dune” country was under Swedish administration. Latgale remained as “Polish Livonia” with Poland-Lithuania (until 1772), Courland retained the status of an independent duchy (until 1795). Visit rctoysadvice for Latvia Overview.
Russian rule and the rise of the national movement
In the Great Northern War (1700–1721) Livonia and the city of Riga became part of the Russian Empire under Peter I, the Great, incorporated (Peace of Nystad 1721), whereby the German ruling classes were again guaranteed their special status. After the partitions of Poland, the entire area of what is now Latvia belonged to Russia. The 19th century brought about revolutionary changes through the liberation of the peasants (1817–19), national awakening (around 1860–80), urbanization and industrialization (from 1860), which made the area the most industrialized region of the tsarist empire by the turn of the century. The proportion of Latvians in the urban population increased sharply, and national awareness developed (first Latvian Song Festival in 1873). The social democracy gained a strong following in the Latvian industrial proletariat (1904 establishment of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party). The urban revolution of 1905 led to serious unrest in the countryside. At the beginning of the First World War, the population of Courland and most of Riga’s industry were evacuated into the interior of Russia.
Latvia as an independent state (1918-40)
The collapse of the German Empire and the Tsarist Empire was followed by a two-year civil war between bourgeois Latvians who wanted to establish an independent nation state (proclamation of the Republic of Latvia on November 18, 1918), the Baltic German upper class (“Landeswehr”), and Imperial German troops (Freikorps) as well as the Bolsheviks, who proclaimed the Soviet Republic of Latvia in December 1918 and occupied the country with the “Latvian Red Rifles”. The winners remained nationally-minded Latvian circles around the first Prime Minister K. Ulmanis. On August 11, 1920, Soviet Russia renounced Latvia “forever”. With the inclusion of Latgale, the entire Latvian settlement area was unified. In 1920 the German manors were expropriated, but the establishment of school autonomy (1919) granted the national minorities cultural rights. The parliamentary democracy of the young republic failed because of the large number of parties and the consequences of the global economic crisis. After his bloodless coup d’état of May 15, 1934, K. Ulmanis established an authoritarian regime that existed until 1940 without any modifications.
Soviet annexation, German occupation and the Latvian SSR (until 1990)
After signing the Secret Additional Protocol to the Hitler-Stalin Pact (August 23, 1939) the Soviet occupation (June 17, 1940) and the annexation (August 5, 1940) of Latvia as the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR took place in the same way as in the neighboring Baltic states. 64,000 Baltic Germans left the country during the resettlements in 1939–41. Sovietization began with the nationalization of the economy and the harmonization of public life. On June 14, 1941, 15,000 people were deported to Siberia. During the National Socialist occupation (1941–44), the majority of the Jewish population was murdered (Latvian police units also participated, including the “Arājs Command”). After the reconquest of Latvia by the Red Army (the German “Army Group Courland” surrendered in May 1945) around 115,000 Latvians fled to the West. Stalin with an early collectivization of agriculture, with 43,000 Latvian farmers being deported (March 1949). The most momentous change during the Soviet era, however, was the forced expansion of industry despite the lack of raw materials and the associated massive influx of Russian workers.
The demonstration at the Riga Freedom Monument on June 14, 1987, called for by the group “Helsinki ’86” from Liepāja, was the prelude to the struggle for freedom in the entire Baltic region. In October 1988 the Popular Front of Latvia (LTF) came into being, which campaigned for greater independence for the republic in the Union of the Soviet Union. On July 28, 1989, Latvia declared its sovereignty. In the March 1990 elections to the Supreme Council, the LTF won an absolute majority. On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Council voted, primarily with the votes of the LTF, in favor of declaring independence from the Soviet Union.