90. Years of University of Latvia

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The emblem of University of Latvia

Today 90. years ago when prospects of independent Latvia was still at fade the University of Latvia was founded. Before that all young Latvian students needed to go to Tartu, Estonia or Petersburg Russia to get higher education for their future life.  There was no University in Latvian land before. The proclamation of Republic of Latvia in 18. November 1918. made possible the dream of Latvian own High Education.

It happened in 28. September 1919. The site for future university was Polittechnical Institute  of Riga. It was beautiful old building located near Riga canal in heart of Riga. Building was decorated with red and white flags and symbols of Curland, Vidzeme and Latgalia. The opening ceremony was attended by members of Peoples Council, Cabinet, army commanders, diplomats, senators and professors, students and many more. By singing the Latvian national anthem “God Bless Latvia!“, and Jāzeps Vītols song “Castle of Light” the ceremony was opened. Two opening speeches were conducted by Minister of Education Kārlis Kasparsons.  Second was by pro rector  professor Eižens Laube. At first University was not called so, it was founded simply as High School of Latvia. First year of High School was troubled because of War for Independence, students were conscripted into army and the outcome of war was important for the future for Latvian High Education. In 1920. the war was won and serious work was to be done.

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Main building of University

In 1923. with help of President of Latvia Janis Čakste the Satversme (Constitution) of Latvian University was founded and the High School of Latvia officially became University of Latvia. Many professors who were in exile during World war returned to work in new university. Aleksandrs Dauge, Jānis Endzelīns, Ernests Felsbergs, Kārlis Dišlers Francis Balodis was one of those who were needed for further progress. At twenties there were 185 workers in LU, but in thirties there were 360 workers with 73 professors. First rector of university was Ernests Felsbergs from 1922 to 1923. Felsbergs were famous Art Historian. 1923.-1925. rector was Jānis Ruberts an ophthalmologist. He was replaced by Augusts Tentelis, historian. From 1927. to 1929. rector was Mārtiņš Zīle who was a doctor who first organized international scientific conferences in Latvia. In 1929. A. Tentelis again was chosen as rector. First ten years were intense work of rebuilding the war ruble and making new generation.

During the thirties Latvian University got its best times. 141 new dissertations mostly in field of medicine were made. Grands for students were growing making more new lecturers and professors. University got it own botanical gardens. The humanitarian field were also progressing.  University was available for students of all nationalities. Jews were active students in many exact studies. Germans got many professors, and they constantly collided with Latvian nationalist views on basis of teaching. Leonīds Arbuzovs was Russian- German talented and prominent historian who were battled by Latvian professors, and was forced to leave the university. When in 1934. the Authoritarian regime of Karlis Ulmanis took power, University was forced to adjust the regime’s nationalist ideological ideas. However Ulmanis cared much for universities finance and give fine credit to it. In 1939. the Faculty of Agriculture departed from University and became an Academy of Agriculture of Jelgava. Today its name is University of Agriculture of Latvia.

1940. brought major change to Latvia and its University. In June 17. the Soviet tanks rolled in and the Sovietization was under way. The personal of university was changed with people from Soviet Union with Soviet education. The Theological faculty was closed and the university was renamed as Latvia State University. Statutes were taken from Moscow State University. Soviets removed the obligation of writing diploma work so more than 600 students finished university. Soviets propagandized that they have given high education to the masses.

After World war II the Stalinist regime took crucial policies to reform the university. Many great prewar professors like Jānis Endzelīns the grand Latvian linguistic was removed and so many others. The main personal was Latvians from Soviet Union with hard bone Soviet Education and immigrants from Soviet Republics. Many professors like historians Teodors Zeids and Jānis Zutis were forced to publicly denounce their prewar views and change them to Marxist ones to keep their jobs. Such public humiliations were common in Stalinist times. In 1958. the USSR Cabinet of Ministers gave university the name of Pēteris Stučka. Stučka was leader of first Latvian Soviet government in 1918.-1920. and issued order of making Soviet Latvian High School.  After Stalin’s death and beginning of Khrushchev Thaw, the hand of repression lifted making more hopes for the future.

During sixties the university enjoyed modernization and extension. Soviet government hoped  science and education could bring closet the  victory of communism. So large funds making university buildings more modern. However the Soviets forced the teaching of philosophical and Marxist concepts. The history of Communist party of USSR was more important than history of Latvia. University was awarded with Order of the Red Banner of Labor and the name of order was extended for universities name it was now- Order of the Red Banner of Labor awarded Pēteris Stučka Latvia State University.

In seventies the progress of university continued. This was the time when many present day professors including such historians as Aivars Stranga, Gvido Straube got their education and begun their scientific carrier. In this time university was slowly taken by locals making old Soviet exiles and immigrants to step aside. In seventies as the youth grow more rebellious and western influenced, problems with academic failure and academic disobedience begun to take its pace.

At first eighties was just as peaceful as seventies, but when in 1986. the new Perestroika policy was issued things begun to change. As the Soviet Conglomerate begun to shake, new national movement in Latvia begun to rise. It started in 1988. beginning in students than taking the university workforce. Popular Front of Latvia gathered many university graduates and students. During the changes many symbols of university were changed so as the  guidelines of teaching were changed. Historians removed the Marxist conception and made way for new history of Latvian nation.

In March 1990. university was renamed again as University of Latvia. During the nighties university did fine transition from soviet style education facility to modern western educational center. However university could no more afford to finance every student, so large part of students were forced to finance themselves. This divided students in financed and un-financed groups.  Grands were much lower than Soviet Era ones, that was price to pay for independence. However the number of students grow each year, the student corporations were re-founded making them popular. University got international, making contacts with Germany, Great Britain, France. Modern languages, like English, French, Japanese, Chinese were making its way into university. University got even more modern state of the art technologies.

Historians finally enjoyed more freedom. All Marxist burdens were removed. Latvian History, Western History, Medieval History got its good years. Philosophy also enjoyed freedoms and new moves.

Today University of Latvia faces many difficulties- the financial crisis of the state puts many barriers for future advancements.  Grands are more lesser, state paid places are smaller and many projects at risk. Some faculties are at risk of closing and uniting with others. Many graduates are at risk of not getting their designed jobs. However the goal of university is high- the university must be the top university in Baltic Region. Will this vision will be fulfilled? It counts on financial situation of the state and fulfillment of youth getting education in their homeland. More and more  talented students move to Western Europe to get their education.  The future of education in Latvia counts on our government who must do everything to protect rights of people getting their education.

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