Brief history of Latvia

Written by Karlis R. Zikmanis on . Posted in About Latvia


C.2000 BC
— Baltic tribes settle on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.

800 AD — Vikings find sea route to Byzantium via the Daugava (Upper Dvina) and Dnieper rivers. Vikings trade with Latvians for amber and furs.

1045 — First Christian church built in Kurzeme by a Danish trader with help from Danish King Swien as chronicled by Bishop Adam of Bremen. Many Latvians are baptized and several tribal chiefs accept Christianity. Funeral practices of the Kurs changes from a "grave of fire" (cremation by funeral pyre) to Christian practice of burial in the ground with the head facing east.

1187 — Priest Meinards (later bishop and first apostle to the Baltics) comes to Livonia to bring the Christian Gospel to the Livonian people. He does this in Christian charity and very soon the Livonian cheiftans are baptized. Meinards teaches them stone masonry and other helpful skill unknown the them. Later, when Bishop Albert came with soldiers the Livonians asked, why do you come with swords, when Meinards came with love? Meinards builds the first stone building in Ikšķile and dedicates Livonia to the Virgin Mary, dubbing the land "Terra Mariana". Meinards is the Patron Saint of Latvia and the first missionary to the Baltics.  

1201 — Riga founded by Bishop Albert of Germany on territory already used by Latvians for trading with Vikings. Many storehouses or "rijas" are here. It is believed the name Rīga is derived from these storehouses or "rijas". The city is at the junction of the Daugava and Rīdzene rivers. Rīga's name may have been derived from the river Rīdzene. By the end of the century, Latvians are subjugated to serfdom while Germans become land barons. The territory is named "Livonia" for the Liv people whom the Germans first encounter.

1500's — The Reformation sweeps into Livonia. Rīga is the first city outside of Germany to accept the Reformation. Luther himself writes two letters to the new Evangelical congregations in Rīga. Many convert to Lutheranism because Roman catholicism is associated with the German land barons. Late in the century Poland takes majority of Livonia from Germans. Anti-reformation campaigns in Latgale turn much of the region back to Roman catholicism.

Old Rīga
Old Rīga
1600's — Sweden takes northern Livonia from Poland. Public schools opened. The Bible is translated into Latvian by Ernests Gliks. The serfs are freed and feudal system abolished. Kurzeme (Courland) becomes duchy of Poland. Duke Jacob of Kurzeme expands trade worldwide, exporting lumber for British warships, and acquiring the island of Tobago as a colony.

1700's — Sweden and Russia fight for Livonia. Russia wins all of Livonia by 1795. Latvians again are relegated to serfdom.

1873 — Latvians hold the first national Song Festival, celebrating Latvian music and culture. "Dievs Svētī Latviju" (God Bless Latvia) by Kārlis Baumanis has it's first public performance and is instantly loved and adopted as not-yet-independent Latvia's "national anthem".

1905 — 50,000 workers in Rīga strike, and many serfs overthrow and burn the manors of the land barons. The Czar executes 2000 Latvians and many more flee into exile.

1918 — At the close of WWI Latvia's independence is declared in the National Theatre on November 18th and two years of war expelling Russian and German forces follow.

1921 — The Republic of Latvia is recognized by the international community on January 26th and later admitted to the League of Nations.

1934 — Kārlis Ulmanis, the 4th president of Latvia, declares a national emergency after a highly fragmented Saeima cannot elect a coalition government. He will remain in power until 1940.

1936 — "Brīvības Piemineklis", the Latvian Freedom Monument, designed by sculptor Kārlis Zāle, is unveiled in Riga.

1939 — Secret pact signed on August 23rd between USSR and Germany divides up eastern Europe giving part of Poland to Hitler and Finland and the Baltic's to Stalin.

1940 — USSR invades Latvia on June 17th. This begins a "year of terror" with mass deportations, the largest being the following year (June 14, 1941) where tens of thousands of people were herded into cattle cars bound for Siberia.

1941 — Germany breaks mutual pact and invades USSR, occupying Latvia in July. German soldiers are welcomed as "liberators" but independence does not come. Germany sets up Salaspils concentration camp and a new terror begins. 90% of the Latvian Jewish population is murdered. Hospitals of invalids and mentally ill are also "liquidated". Homes and property seized for the German war effort. Those opposed to Nazism "disappear". Latvian youths are conscripted into the German army.

1944 — Soviet troops re-invade Latvia and reestablish Soviet control. Thousands of Latvians flee to the west. Collectivization of private farms, massive deportations and reign of terror follow.

1945 — In an event later to be called "Kurzemes Cietoksnis" or the Stronghold of Kurzeme, what is left of the Latvian Legion's 19th division "dig's in" around the city of Saldus and refuses to surrender to the Soviet troops. Russians report at the Trials at Nuremberg that a total of 13 Soviet tank divisions were destroyed by the Latvians. The division never capitulates.

1949 — On March 25th 42,000 Latvians are deported to Siberia.

In remembrance of the victims of 14 June
In remembrance of the victims of 14 June
1987 — Massive protest organized by the group "Helsinki 86" is held at the Freedom Monument to commemorate 1941 deportations.

1988 — Outlawed Latvian flag rehabilitated and flown from Riga castle. The Latvian political party, "Popular Front" is formed.

1989 — Over 2 million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians join hands across the three Baltic countries in an unbroken human chain called the Baltic Way linking the capitals of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius to protest the secret pact of 1939 between Hitler and Stalin.

1990 — The Popular Front wins 124 seats out of 201 in the Latvian Parliament (Latvian Supreme Soviet). Latvian Parliament later adopts a declaration restoring independence to Latvia with a transitional period.

1991

Saeima
Saeima
1993 — "Saiema" (pre-war unicameral parliament of 100 seats) reinstated by first free elections since before WWII. "Satversme" (pre-war Latvian constitution) reinstated. Saeima elects Guntis Ulmanis of the Farmers Union Party, the nephew of Kārlis Ulmanis, as president of Latvia. National currency, the "Lats" replaces the Latvian Ruble.

1994 — US president Bill Clinton visits Rīga. Final Russian troops withdraw from the Baltic's on August 31.

1995 — Latvia becomes member of the Council of Europe.

1996 — Second free elections elect the 6th Saeima. Ulmanis reelected president.

1998 — Guntis Ulmanis expresses regret and apologizes to Israel for the Latvians who collaborated with the Nazi's during the Holocaust. Third free elections elect 7th Saiema. The Constitution is amended to declare Latvian to be the National Language of Latvia.

1999 — Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga elected President of State by 7th Saeima. Frieberga is the first woman of the former Soviet republics to be elected president of State, she is independent of any party and is fluent in five languages (Latvian, English, French, German, Spanish).

2001 — Rīga celebrates 800 years since its founding in 1201 by bishop Albert.

2002 — Fourth free elections elect the 8th Saeima. Latvia invited to be member state of NATO. Latvia invited to be member state of European Union. Freiberga re-elected president.

2003 — In a national referendum held on Sept 23rd, the Latvian electorate decided to join the European Union.

2004 — On May 1st Latvia became an official member state of the European Union.

2005 US president George Bush Jr. visits Rīga.

2006 US president George Bush Jr. vistis Rīga a second time. Queen Elizabeth visits rīga. 9th Saeima elected. Valdis Zatlers elected president.

2007 Boarder treaty signed with Russia, officially ceading region of Ābrene to Russa (which was "presented" to Russia during the occupation as recompense for war loses), raising much debate in Latvia.

2008 Latvia celebrates 75th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence on 18th of November, 1918. Latvia and USA sign accord on visa-free travel between countries. World economic crisis hits Latvia hard. The economy, which was one of the highst in th EU and was once called the Baltic Tiger, falls to become the lowest. 

2009 Thousands of people protest in Rīga durring inclement weather against the government as the fanancial crisis worsens in what will be known as the "Umbrella" revolution. Latvian Central Bank spends nearly a billion Euros to support the Lats and avoid devaluation. Latvia recieves rescue loans of 7,5 billion Euro after Government agrees to 2010 buget cuts.

2010 Unemployment soars to 20%, the highest unemployment rate in the EU. 10th Saema elected.

2011 Latvia celbrates 20th anniversary of the Days of the Barricades.

 

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