Hints, Links, Background Latvia, History of Latvia



The Coat of Arms

The coat of arms combines symbols of Latvian national statehood (three stars, the sea and the sun) as well as symbols representing ancient historical districts: Kurzeme and Zemgale are depicted by a lion, Vidzeme and Latgale are depicted by the legendary winged silver creature with an eagle’s head, a griffin.


Latvia is the central country of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). On the world map Latvia is to be found in North-eastern Europe, on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. The landscape of the country is marked by lowland plains and rolling hills. Most of the countryside is less than 100 metres above sea level. There are thousands of rivers and lakes in Latvia.

* Area: 64,589 sq.km or 24,937


* Length of Latvia’s Baltic coastline:

494 km.

* Longest river within Latvian territory: the Gauja, 452 km.

* Largest river to flow through Latvian territory: the Daugava, total length 1,005 km, of which 352 km within Latvian territory.

* Highest point: Gaizi?kalns,

311.6 metres.


Latvia’s weather is governed by a moderate oceanic climate, with changing high and low pressure and a considerable amount of precipitation. Summer: June – August, average temperature: 15.8?, (winter: -4.5?)


Latvia is situated in a nature zone between the vegetation of Northern and Central Europe presenting splendid and diverse natural landscapes. Latvia, more backgroundForests cover 44 percent of the territory. Variety of flora and fauna: aprox. 27.7 thousand species – the largest otter population in Europe, and a greater chance of seeing the rare black stork


Latvian national currency is the lats (LVL), 1 lats consists of 100 santims.

Exchange rate 1 ? = ca. 0,6 Ls

Most Important Traditional Festival

The annual celebration of the summer solstice, known as J??i (St. John) is generally viewed as the most important Latvian holiday. J??i is celebrated on June 23 and 24. These days of celebration mark the summer solstice with a colourful array of ancient traditions whose origins date back thousands of years.

Latvian Foods

Latvia’s most popular national foods are usually considered to be caraway cheese, grey peas with bacon, bacon-filled pastries made from yeast dough and a special rye bread prepared according to ancient recipes. Rye bread is eaten every day by most of the population and it can be bought in every shop. Caraway cheese is the most typical food of the J??i (summer solstice) celebrations.

Important / Wichtigste Tel. Nr.

Feuerwehr / Fire guard /

Ugunsdzeseji: 01, 112

Policija: 02

Erste Medizinische Hilfe / First Medical Aid / Atra mediciniska palidziba: 03,

Information: 118, 117

www.117.lv. www.118.lv



The number is + 371 67001188 and it is open around the clock, manned by English-speaking operators.



Baltisches Informationsb?o/

Baltikum Tourismus Zentrale (BTZ)

Fremdenverkehrsamt Estland –

Lettland – Litauen


10711 Berlin – Wilmersdorf

Tel. 030 – 89009091

Fax 030 – 89009092










Urlaub auf dem Lande /

Conutry holidays / Atputa Laukos: www.celotajs.lv , www.traveller.lv ,

Kartenladen des Verlags / map shop ?ana Seta“ Elizabetes iela 83/85, korp 2, Riga, I-V: 10-19:VI:10-17:VII:




Based on a text of Raimonds Cerūzis, The Latvian Institute

Legendary History

The territory known today as Latvia has been inhabited since 9000 BC. In the first half of 2000 BC, the proto-Balts or early Baltic peoples arrived. This era became famous as a trading crossroads. The ‘route from the Vikings to the Greeks’ mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory along the river Daugava to the Ancient Russia and Byzantine Empire. Latvia’s coast was known as the amber coast. Baltic amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

In the 900s AD, the Balts began to establish specific tribal realms. Four individual tribal cultures developed on nowadays Latvian territories: Couronians, Latgallians, Selonians, Semigallians (in Latvian: kur, latgaļi, sēļi and zemgaļi). In the 1100s and 1200s, the Couronians maintained a lifestyle of intensive invasions that included looting and pillaging. Located on the east coast of the Baltic Sea, they became known as the ‘Baltic Vikings’. Their contemporaries, the inland Selonians and Semigallians, were known as peace-loving and prosperous farmers.

Under German Rule

Because of its strategic geographic location, Latvian territory was frequently invaded by neighbouring nations, largely defining the fate of Latvia and its people. By the late 1100s, Latvia was increasingly visited by traders from Western Europe who used Latvia’s longest river, the Daugava, as a trade route to Russia. At the close of the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Baltic and Finno-Ugrian tribes to the Christian faith. Out of loyalty to their ancient pantheistic beliefs, the Balts resisted. The Pope in Rome ordered a military Crusade against the Baltic peoples. Armed Germanic Crusaders were hired to assist the Christian missionaries and knights in a brutal campaign to forcibly convert the people of the region. At the strategically most important place close to the delta of the river Daugava to the Baltic Sea the Germans founded the city of Rīga in 1201. In the 1200s, a confederation of feudal territories was developed under German rule named Livonia. The territory included today’s Latvia and Estonia. In 1282, Rīga and later Cēsis, Limba, Koknese and Valmiera, were members in the Northern German Trading Organisation known as the Hanseatic League (Hansa).

Under Polish and Swedish Rule

The 1500s were a time of great changes for the inhabitants of Latvia, notable for the reformation and the collapse of Livonia. After the Livonian War (1558 �1583) today’s Latvian territory came under Polish-Lithuanian rule. The Lutheran faith was accepted in Kurzeme (Courland), Zemgale (Semigallia) and Vidzeme (Livland), Roman Catholic faith maintained its dominance in the South Eastern Region of Latgale (Latgallia). In the 1600s, the Dukedom of Kurzeme (Courland) experienced a notable economic boom. It established even two colonies �an island in the estuary of the Gambia River in Africa and Tobago Island in the Caribbean Sea. On Tobago there is still a “Courland bay”. During the Polish-Swedish war (1600 �1629), Rīga came under Swedish rule, overshadowing Stockholm as the largest and most developed city in the Swedish Kingdom. The North Eastern region of Vidzeme was known as the ‘Swedish Bread Basket’ – it supplied the larger part of the Swedish kingdom with wheat. Consolidation of the Latvian nation occurred in the 1600s. With the merging of the Couronians, Latgallians, Selonians, Semigallians and Livs (Finno-Ugrians along the Northwesten Baltic Sea Coast) a culturally unified nation that spoke a common language developed �the Latvians (in Latvian: latvie).

Under Russian Rule

At the beginning of the 1700s the Great Northern War broke out – a result of the Russian Empire’s desire to expand to the Baltic Sea. In 1710, the Russian Tsar, Peter I, conquered Vidzeme, together with Rīga a clear passage to Europe. By the end of the 18th century, all of Latvia’s territory was under Russian rule. At the end of the 1700s, industry developed quickly, bringing with it a major growth in population. Latvia became the most developed province of the Russian Empire. At the beginning of the 1800s, with the rise of national consciousness throughout Europe, ethnic Latvians experienced a powerful ‘awakening’ of national identity. The first newspapers in Latvian language were printed, and active cultural development took place. The latter half of the 1800s marked a period of national rebirth �the most active members of the Latvian social and cultural life, the so called ‘New-Latvians’, jaunlatvie, demanded the same rights long enjoyed by other nations.

The Fight for Independence

The idea of an independent Latvia became a reality at the beginning of the 1900s. As the First World War spread to Latvian territory and directly engaged the entire population, a powerful pro-independence movement developed. Courageous Latvian riflemen called ‘latviestrēlnieki’ fought on the Tsarist Russian side during this war, and earned recognition for their bravery across Europe. Post-war confusion enabled pro-independence forces to consolidate their efforts. Latvia’s independence was proclaimed shortly after the end of the First World War �on November 18, 1918. The first to recognise Latvia’s independence was Soviet Russia. The international community recognised Latvia’s independence on January 26, 1921. In the same year Latvia became a member of the League of Nations and took an active role in the European community of democratic nations. In the midst of the world economic crises of the 1930s, Latvia also experienced dissatisfaction among its population. In an attempt to bring stability to the country, the Prime Minister organised a peaceful coup d’etat on May 15, 1934, suspending the activities of the Saeima (the Parliament) and all political parties. This was followed by rapid economic growth, during which Latvia achieved one of the highest standards of living in Europe. Because of a general improvement in the quality of life, there was little opposition to the authoritarian rule of the Prime Minister.

Loss of Independence

Latvia’s longstanding strategic importance to the USSR was underlined with the signing of the so-called ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’ on August 23, 1939. In concordance with this unlawful secret agreement, the Soviet army occupied Latvia on June 17, 1940. A few months later, Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union. During the ‘Night of Terror’ (June 13-14, 1941) thousands of Latvia’s inhabitants were taken from their homes, placed in boxcars and deported to Siberia. Thirty-five thousand people suffered Soviet repression in the first year of Soviet occupation. In the summer of 1941, the Soviets were forced to retreat as Latvia was invaded by German occupation forces. Under subsequent Nazi German rule, 90 percent of Latvia’s Jewish population was systematically annihilated. In 1944, the USSR reinvaded Latvia. Following heavy fighting between German and Soviet troops, the Red Army finally gained the upper hand. Famous became Western Latvia where the “Fortress Curonia” was declared. It’s capitulation took place only after the defeat of Nazi Germany. During the course of the war, both occupying forces conscripted Latvians into their armies, in this way increased the loss of the nation’s ‘human resource’. By 1945, Latvia was once again under total Soviet occupation and pre-war Soviet rule was reinstated. The first post war years marked a particularly dismal and sombre period in Latvia’s history. Soviet rule was characterised by systematic repression and genocide against the Latvian people. One hundred and twenty thousand Latvian inhabitants were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration (GULAG) camps. More than hundred and forty thousand took refuge from the Soviet army by fleeing to the West. On March 25, 1949, more than forty thousand rural residents were deported to Siberia in a sweeping repressive action. An extensive Russification campaign began in Latvia and many administrative obstacles were created to hinder the use of the Latvian language. Latvia was forced to adopt Soviet farming practices (“collectivisation”) and the economic infrastructure developed in the 1920s and 1930s was destroyed. Moscow decided to base some of the Soviet Union’s most advanced manufacturing factories in Latvia. To supply the large labour force needed, workers from other Soviet republics mainly Russia were seddled to the country. Whereas prior to the Second World War Latvians comprised 75 percent of the population, by the end of the 1980s, this number was reduced to 50 percent. (Present population: 2.3 mln).

Reinstating Independence

A liberalisation within the communist regime in the USSR, known as ‘glasnost’, began in the mid 1980s. This opportunity was seized by pro-independence forces in the population, who formed mass, nationally oriented socio-political organisations �Tautas Fronte (The Popular Front of Latvia), Latvijas Nacionālās Neatkarības Kustība (Latvia’s National Independence Movement), Pilsoņu Kongress (The Congress of Citizens of Latvia). All supported the restoration of Latvia’s national independence. August 23, 1989, marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of notorious ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’, which had led to the Soviet occupations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In order to draw the world’s attention to the fate of the Baltic nations, around 2 million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians joined hands in a human chain called “the Baltic Way” that stretched 600 kilometres from Tallinn, to Rīga, to Vilnius. A major step toward restoration of independence was taken on May 4, 1990, when the Latvian SSR parliamentary body known as the Supreme Council adopted a declaration calling for the restoring independence following a transition period.

On August 21, 1991 the parliament voted to end to this transition period, thus restoring Latvia’s pre-war independence. In September 1991, Latvian independence was recognised by the USSR. Soon after reinstating independence, Latvia became a member of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, of the European Council etc. In 2004 Latvia’s most important foreign policy goals �membership in the European Union and NATO �were fulfilled.


Lettlands [DE]

Hier ist einmal die englische Fassung l�ger


9000 vor Christus: Funde erster Besiedlung

2000-1500 vor Christus: Ankunft/Besiedlung durch die Vorfahren der Balten sogenannte “Proto-baltische St�me”.

Erste Berichte �er Handel mit Bernstein bis nach Byzanz (Griechenland), sp�er Rom. Die Ostseek�te wird als “Bernsteink�te” ber�mt

Im 10. Jahrhundert nach Christus bilden sich die folgende Gruppen von Bewohner auf dem Territorium des heutigen Lettland: Kuren (heute: Westlettland), Latgalen (heute: S�ostlettland), Selen, Semgalen (S�lettland) auf Lettisch: kur, latgali, seli and zemgali). Dar�er hinaus siedelten im Norden Lettlands (vor allem an dien K�ten) die Liven, ein Stamm, der eher mit den Esten und Finnen, als mit den heutigen Letten verwandt ist.

Deutsche Zeiten

Im 12. Jahrhundert nahm der Handel von Westeuropa nach Russland �er den Fluss Daugava (deutsch: D�a) zu. Verst�kt kamen deutsche H�d­ler und auch Missionare, welche die “Baltischen Heiden” zum christlichen Glauben zu bekehren suchten. Der Papst in Rom rief sogar zu einem Kreuzzug auf. In der Folge unterwarfen Deutsche Kreuzritter blutig die lettischen St�me. 1201 begr�dete Bischof Albert aus Bremen kommend die Stadt Riga nahe der strategische wichtigen Daugava-M�dung in die Ostsee.

Im 13. Jahrhundert bildete sich ein deutsch beherrschtes Gebiet unter dem Namen “Livonia”/Livl�dische Konf�deration (das Gebiet erstreckte sich �er das heutige-Lett­land und den Gro�eil Estlands).

1282 wurde Riga, sp�er auch die St�te Cesis (Wenden), Limba, Koknese und Valmiera (Wolmir), Mitg­lied der mittelalterlichen Handels­organisation Hanse.

Polen und Schweden

Im 16 Jahrhundert kam es zu gro�n Ver�derungen, vor allem der Reformation und dem Zerfall des Staates Livland.

1558-1583: ivl�discher Krieg“, in dessen Folge Lettland unter Pol­nisch-Litauischen Einfluss kam. Die “Deutschen” bitten die Polen um Schutz vor Iwan genannt “der Schreckliche”. Obwohl sich der Lutherische Glaube in Kurzeme (Kurland), Zemgale (Semgallen) und Vidzeme (Livland) durchsetzte, ist der S�osten (Latgalen) mehrheitlich katholisch und es gibt katholische nseln“, so das St�tchen Alsunga in Kurland.

Im 17. Jahrhundert war es das Herzogtum Kurland, dass ein ansehnliche Gre erlangte. Es umfasste ungef�r ganz West- und S�lettland. Kurland hatte sogar zwei Kolonien �eine Insel im Gambia-Fluss in Afrika sowie die Insel Tobago in der Karabik. Bis heute gibt es eine “Courland bay” auf Tobago und die Flagge Tobagos besteht aus den gleichen Farben (Schwarz und Rot) wie die Kurlands. Eindrucksvoll ist der Palast mit der Gruft der Herz�e von Kurland in Jelgava (Mitau) in S�lettland.

1600-1629: Polnisch-Schwedischer Krieg, in dem Riga zur Grten Stadt Schwedens wurde. Es entsteht auch eine die verschiedenen St�me einende Sprache und �erkultur.

Russische Herrschaft

Das 18. Jahrhundert sieht den Auftstieg Russlands unter Zar Peter dem Ersten, genannt er Gro�“. Es kommt zum Gro�n Nordischen Krieg. 1710 erobert Russland Vidzeme (Nordostlettland), bis zum Ende des 18 Jh. ganz Lettland. Es w�hst die Industrie und mit ihr die Bev�kerung. Lettland wird zur fortschrittlichsten Provinz im Russischen Zarenreich.

Im 19. Jahrhundert entsteht dann wie ein lettisches Nationalbewusstsein, eigene Zeitungen, kulturelle Veranstaltungen und Entwicklungen. Es ist kein Wunder, dass daraus die nationale Bewegung der ungletten“ (jaunlatvie) hervorgeht.

Auf dem Weg zur


Mit dem Ende des Ersten Weltkrieges kommt die gro� Gelegenheit f� einen eigenen lettischen Staat. Die sog. Lettischen Sch�zen“ (latviestrelnieki) hatten auf beiden Seiten gek�pft und bilden die Grundlage einer Landesverteidigung. Die Letten m�sen dabei sowohl gegen �erreste der deutsche Truppen k�pfen – am ber�mtesten: die Schlacht bei Cesis – als auch gegen die Bestrebungen aus Lettland eine Sowjetrepublik zu machen

18.11.1918 – Erkl�ung der

Unabh�gigkeit als

demokratische Republik.

Als erster Staat erkannte Sowjetruss­land die Lettische Republik an. “Lettische Sch�zen” hatten auch die sichere Fahrt Lenins aus dem Schweizer Exil nach Petersburg abgesichert, damit er die russische Revolution ausl�en konnte. Ein Denkmal f� die “Lettischen Sch�zen” sie steht bis heute vor dem Geschichtsmuseum am Rathausplatz in Riga.

26.1.1921 �Internationale Anerkennung der lettischen Unabh�gigkeit. Lettland wird Mitglied im V�kerbund.

1930er: Die Weltwirtschaftkrise beutelt auch Lettland. Dies nutzt der Premierminister Karlis Ulmanis f� einen Staatsstreich am 15.5.1934, vielleicht um noch schlimmeren vorzubeugen. Bis zur Einverleibung durch die Sowjetunion 1940 wird das Land autorit� regiert, Parteien und Parlament aufgel�t

Kriegswirren & Repressionen

23.8.1939 “Molotov-RibbentropPakt” (auch “Hitler-Stalin-Pakt” genannt). In dessen Folge werden die Baltischen Staaten der Sowjetischen Interessensph�e zugesprochen.

Als Konsequenz besetzten Sowjetische Truppen am 17.6.1940 Lett­land, das bald darauf als ettische Sowjetrepublik“ der Sowjetunion beitritt. In der sogenannten acht des Terror“ werden vom 13. zum 14. Juni 1941 Tausende von Einwohnern Lett­lands in Viehwagons gesteckt und nach Sibirien deportiert. Rund 45.000 Menschen sindvon solchen Aktionen im ersten Jahr “Sowjetlettlands” betroffen.

Im Sommer 1941 marschieren deutsche Truppen ein. Unter der Nazi-Herrschaft werden 90 Prozent der j�ischen Bev�kerung systematisch vernichtet.

1944 kehren die Truppen der UdSSR zur�k. Bis zuletzt wehrt sich die sogenannte Festung Kurland“ in Westlettland (Museum in Zante s�lich von Kuldiga), die erst nach dem Fall Berlins kapituliert. Wie schon im Ersten Weltkrieg, so werden auch im Zweiten Letten mehr oder minder williges Kanonenfutter auf beiden Seiten.

Die ersten Jahre nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg haben den Beinamen “die dunkelen Jahre” bekommen. 120.000 Einwohner werden eingekerkert oder in die Sowjetischen Straf-Lager (GULAG) nach Sibirien deportiert. �er 140.000 Einwohner fliehen nach Westen. Allein am 25.3.1949 werden 40.000 Einwohner nach Sibirien deportiert.

Parallel zum Bev�kerungsverlust wird die Wirtschaft unstrukturiert: Die Landwirtschaft wird kollektiviert und gro� Industrieanlagen gebaut. Die Arbeitskr�te daf� kommen haupts�hlich aus den slawischen Republiken, allen voran Russland. Der Anteil der Lettischen Bev�kerung sinkt von 75 Prozent vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg auf 52 Prozent Ende der 1980er Jahre (bei rund 2,3 Mio. Einwohnern).

Modernes Lettland

In den 1980er Jahren kommt es zu liberalen Haltungen in der UdSSR. Auch das lettische Volk nutzt die Chance nach mehr Freiheit mit nationalen Massen-Organisationen, von den die bekanntesten die Volksfront – 껿autas Fronte“, Die lettische Nationale Unabh�gigkeitsbewegung –atvijas Nacionalas Neatkaribas Kustiba“ und der B�gerkongress –ilsonu Kongress“ waren.

Am 23. August 1989 kommt es zu einer besonderen Gedenkveranstaltung zum 50. Jahrestages des ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Pakts’. In Gedenken an die Besetzung Lettland, Litauens und Estlands reichen sich rund 2 Millionen Menschen die H�de f� eine Menschenkette von 600 Kilometern L�ge zwischen den Hauptst�ten Tallinn, Riga und Vilnius. Name der Aktion: Der baltische Weg“.

Der Oberste Rat der Lettischen Sowjetrepublik erkl�t am 4. Mai 1990 den Beginn einer �ergangsperiode zur Wiederherstellung der Unabh�gigkeit. Am 21. August 1991 beschlie� das Parlament das Ende der �ergangsperiode. Im September 1991 wird die Unabh�gigkeit von der UdSSR anerkannt.

Lettland wird Mitglied der Verein­ten Nationen, des Internationalen W�rungsfonds und der Welthandelsorganition.

2004 wird Lettland Vollmitglied von NATO und Europ�scher Union…

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