Latvia History and Culture

Latvia History and Culture


The first to settle in the region that corresponds to today’s Latvia were, between 3000 and 2000 BC. C., the Finno-Ugric hunters, while the presence of the Balti is documented in the 9th century. to. C. The ancient tribes of the area had relations with the Germans and with the Roman Empire and, subsequently, also with the Vikings and the Russians. In the thirteenth century. the Teutonic (or Sword) knights initiated the forced conversion of the Baltic peoples to Christianity, which ended in 1290. From 1237 Latvia belonged to Christian Livonia, which in 1561 was annexed to Poland, while the Courland became an independent duchy under Polish sovereignty. In 1621, at the end of the war between Catholic Lithuania and Poland and Protestant Sweden, much of eastern Latvia (including Riga) was conquered by the latter. The Swedes abolished serfdom and introduced education, fueling Latvian nationalism, which was however held back by Russian expansion in the early 18th century. In 1795 the whole country came under the control of Russia.


During the First World War Latvia was occupied by Germany, but on November 18, 1918, just a week after the German surrender, the Latvians proclaimed independence. According to globalsciencellc, the provisional government, chaired by K. Ulmanis; he succeeded in repelling both the Bolsheviks and the German Germans who claimed property rights over the land. In 1922 Latvia gave itself a democratic constitution, but internal struggles and political instability allowed K. Ulmanis to return to the leadership of the country with a coup d’état (1934); Ulmanis abolished constitutional freedoms and managed to hold power thanks to the support of the Aizsargi. Despite the pacifist tendency of its politics, Latvia was overwhelmed by the World War II. Invaded by the Germans (1941-45), it then definitively entered the Soviet orbit as one of the 15 Republics of the USSR, undergoing a modest territorial reduction. The annexation, already foreseen by the non-aggression pact concluded between the USSR and Germany on 23 August 1939 (so-called Molotov Pact – Ribbentrop pact), led many to choose exile, mainly in the United States, Canada and Sweden; it also gave rise to an underground resistance movement known as the Forest Brothers (also common to the other Baltic countries).

Born to counter the abuses of the Soviet occupation troops and collectivization, this movement was active until 1953, reducing itself in the 1960s to carrying out increasingly sporadic actions and therefore to dissolve. The Soviet authorities reacted to the widespread opposition in local society by promoting its “Russification”: the deportation to the Asian regions of over 150,000 people (by 1953) was in fact added to the activation of immigration currents, also aimed at bringing about a abundant and unskilled workforce to industries that were beginning to settle precisely in function of the technical skills inherited from the Latvian socio-economic system. The standard of living thus grew faster than in other parts of the USSR, supported by the ability to export. These social changes, even if they involved the relative decline of the indigenous population to less than 50% of the residents (compared to 77% in 1925, with parallel growth of the Russians from 10% to over a third), did not affect the deep-rooted national sentiment that, with the affirmation of the glàsnost in the second half of the Eighties, was able to express itself and consolidate itself, until it became the main factor in political life, returning to Latvian the status of official language (1988).



Latvian cultural life, harnessed by decades of Soviet occupation, after the regained independence experienced a period of valorization and creativity, in which, however, in the face of an undisputed vitality, individualities of particular excellence did not emerge. The best proofs therefore remain the classic ones, such as the national epic Lacplesis (1888, The Bear Ripper) by Latvian Andrejs Pumpurs, inspired by traditional folk tales. And the latter are the great protagonists of local folklore, which have survived over the centuries thanks to a particularly rich oral tradition, which is affected by the influences of the dominations suffered over the course of history, while retaining peculiar characteristics. Almost half of the country’s population is not native speakers, but Russian, Polish or Lithuanian, and the official language is spoken in Riga and in the central part of the state, while in the eastern and western regions the dialect linguistic variants dominate. The main university of Latvia is the University of Riga (Latvijas Universitate), founded in 1919 on the basis of the pre-existing Polytechnic (1862), while the Latvian Historical Museum and the Museum of the History of Literature and Art (dedicated to the poet and playwright Janis Rainis) are the most representative institutions of national culture.

Latvia History and Culture

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