Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Jews in Latvia

Main Jewish Synagogue in Riga 1870-1941.

Every nation has its own historical territory that has been inhabited by them for centuries. Unfortunately because of wars and other calamities some nations have lost their homeland and are forced to scatter around the world. Most notable of them are Jews. Jews originated from the Middle East and settled in Palestine. There they established the Kingdom of Israel that was ruled by such notable leaders such as David and Solomon. However, the kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and Persians. The first Jewish Diaspora was deported Jews from Palestine to Babylonia. They later returned and had autonomy. But when the Palestine was conquered by Romans Jews had a hard time. Jews were known for their specific religion- Judaism. They worshiped only one god while others had many gods. Jews disobeyed all attempts of converting to pagan religions. Therefore they caused bitter hate by the Romans who could assimilate other cultures with ease. Roman attempts to ban Judaism caused Jewish revolt from 66 to 73 CE. The war ended in the tragic destruction of Jerusalem and caused Jewish exodus to Roman Empire.

Since them Jews have settled in all continents around the world. The State of Israel founded in 1948 is too small to hold all Jews living on the planet if they ever want to come back all at once. Jews have left a notable heritage in Western culture. Christianity has long roots in Judaism. Jews have great influence in academic fields, culture and finances.

When Latvian land became part of German controlled Livonia, Jews were banned to enter its territory. Crusades made the rise of antisemitism in medieval Germany, first antisemitic violence occurred there. The situation changed after the end of Livonian war when Livonia was added to Poland-Lithuania. Poland was generally friendly to the Jews so they settled there in large masses. In 1559 Bishop of Courland Johan von Munchausen allowed Jews to settle in the district of Piltene. In 17 century 3 thousand Jews from Germany entered the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. They were craftsmen, traders, money lenders and also official employees.  Jewish presence was disliked by German nobles who asked to expel Jews from Courland. However no expulsion was ever realized.

In 18 century more Jews came to Courland because of favor of future Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna who ruled the duchy in 1710-1730. She appointed German Jew Levy Lipman as her financial advisor who brought foreign credits and specialized Jewish workforce.  Furniture designers, glass makers and Jewellers helped duke Johann Biron to build a marvelous castle of Rudale and the Academy of Peter in Mitau (Jelgava). Biron invited over 200 educated Jews to his duchy. Courland Jews spoke in Yiddish with German accent but could speak well in German. In 18 century 9000 Jews lived in Courland and Semigallia most of them in rural areas. Such towns as Jacobstadt (Jekabpils) and Friedrichstatd (Jaunjelgava) had a large Jewish population.

After Courland was added to the Russian Empire, Jewish rights were downsized. The Russian government after annexation of Poland suddenly got problems with a large Jewish population. Jews had to pay more taxes and live there only if they were registered. About 2500 Jews from Courland went to inner Russia in Volga and Uralian region. However many Jews came to Courland from Poland and Lithuania. In middle of 19th century the province of Courland was inhabited by 23000 Jews. They established schools and build many synagogues in the large centers. They organized their societies to help each other. According to the census of 1897 51000 Jews lived in Courland and Semigallia a 7,6% of the whole population. In Friedrichstadt they were a majority of citizens. Jews had a large part in economic and owned many fabrics. Most of Courland Jews spoke in German that’s why they were mistrusted by the Russian government in 1915 when 40000 Jews were deported to Ukraine and Inner Russia.

Notable Jewish presence was in Latgalia. In 17 century mass migration of Jews in Latvia took place because of bloody uprising led by Ukranian cossack Bogdan Chmelmnitsky. Cossacks massacred hundreds of Jews in Ukraine, South Poland and Lithuania. Those who migrated were refugees from Ukraine. In 18 century 5000 Jews lived in Latgalia where they established their self-governments qahals. They could settle minor offences and cast taxes.

After Latgalia was added to Russia all Jews were made to move to cities. Russian laws harmed Jews by forcing them to move to Southern Russia and make Jewish man to enter army from 12 years. They could leave army only when they reach 25 years. It was done to convert Jews to Orthodox Christianity. Jews tried to escape army by hiding and bribing army officials. To prevent this government banned qahals in 1844. Despite this Jews kept their religion. A popular among Latgalian Jews was a Hasidic movement that offered a more positive way of practicing Judaism. Jews had large families and in 1897 there were 64239 Jews in Latgalia. The main Latgalian city Dvinsk (Daugavpils) had 50% Jewish population while Latvians were minority. Many other Latgalian cities had a Jewish majority.

Because of tough policies met by Czar Alexander III revolutionary movements were popular among Jews. In 1898 a Jewish Marxist party Bund was founded and operated in Daugavpils. During the revolution of 1905 Jews were active in the revolutionary movement. After the defeat of the revolution they were forced to emigrate to US and Canada. Because of first Zionist sentiments some left Latgalia for Palestine.

In Riga and Vidzeme even after the collapse of Livonia Jews was forbidden to enter. Riga town council however allowed Jewish traders to enter Riga for a small period of time. They were allowed to live in a special building outside city walls. After Riga was captured by the Russians the wartime Governor Alexander Menshikov allowed the family of Hirch Israel to live in Riga. Others were allowed to live outside the city walls in a Moscow suburb. In 1727 Empress Katrina II issued to expel Jews from Riga but because of resistance from Germany and Netherlands such step was never taken. There were 60 Jews living Riga at that time.

However in 1742 Empress Elizabeth Petrovna ordered to expel Jews from Riga and despite the resistance of town council the order was met. Things changed when empress Katrina II allowed Jews to come back. 36 Jews from Germany entered Riga but were forced to live outside the city wall. In 1780 the first synagogue was built in Riga. In 1784-1785 many Jews came from Courland city Sloka to Riga. Sloka was added to Vidzeme province. Sloka Jews could live in Riga for 6 weeks. In 1811 736 Jews lived in Riga a 429 of them came from Sloka.  When Napoleons army invaded Latvian territory they were deported as “unchecked foreigners” but after Napoleons retreat were allowed to come back.

In 1840 the first Jewish state school was opened in Riga. Because of rapid industrial growth more Jews came to Riga from Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.  In 1871 the Large Horal Synagogue was built-in Riga. Also many other synagogues were built in Riga most notably in Old city district in 1905. In 1897 21963 Jews lived in Riga.

Because of the rise of antisemitism in Russia and the pogroms that happened there Jewish nationalism sparked in Riga. In 1890 Zionist group was founded in Riga. Also Marxist Bund operated in Riga that had close ties with the Latvian Social Democratic party. Jews took place in armed attack on Riga Central Prison and other revolutionary activities. In 1906 a right-wing Jew founded Jewish constitutional democratic party led by Paul Minz. In 1907 Jews opened newspaper “National Zeitung” written in Yiddish. Because of First World War about 11 000 left Riga for Russia.

In Vidzeme Jews came only in the end of 19 century because of strict laws that allowed to arrest Jew if he comes near Cesis. Before the war Vidzeme was inhabited by 6000 Jews.

New era for Latvian Jews came in 1918 when the Latvian Republic was proclaimed. New state granted equal rights for all minorities. On December 8 1919 Jews were allowed to have school autonomy. However at first, Jews did not believe that the Latvian state could properly function. Only Jewish National Democratic party sent Izak Rabinovich  to represent the Latvian Peoples Council. About 100 Jews joined the German Landesver army. Leftist Jews supported the Latvian Soviet Government led by Peteris Stucka. But the soviets harmed many wealthy Jews and pursued Zionists.

After Latvian victory of Cesis in 1919 democratic Jews supported Latvian government. Paul Minz became State Controller. 14 Jews took part in Peoples Council. More than 1000 Jews took part in the war for independence on the ranks of Latvian army. 4 Jews were decorated with Order of Lachplesis, 11 received the Order of Three Stars.  50 Jews died in action.

Democratic laws allowed Jews to have Latvian citizenship. In 1935 92,46% Jews were citizens of Latvia. After the war 95000 Jews lived in Latvia. For the first time Jews had unrestricted civil rights to participate in politics and the economy. 60% of Latvian bank capital belonged to six Jewish banks. I. Friedman and Doctor B. Zivs were finance advisors that helped to establish national value- Lats. 20, 2% of industrial companies belonged to Jews. Jews also owned 28, 5% of shops and 36% of stock companies. Despite the fact that almost 40% taxpayers were Jews a large of part of poor people was Jews, especially in Latgalia.

Leader of Latvian Jewry Mordehai Dubin

Jews were active in politics.  The most prominent Jewish politician was Mordehai Dubin who led the religious Orthodox party Agudat Israel party. He took part in all Latvian Parliaments and had a large influence among Latvian Jewry. Dubin fanatically defended the rights of every Latvian Jew. His greatest effort was rescue of famous Hasidic “Lubavicher” Rebbe Yosef Shneersonh from Soviet imprisonment and Nazis in Poland. He also helped thousands of German and Austrian Jews to escape Nazi repressions. He had close friendship with Karlis Ulmanis and achieved high prominence during the Ulmanis dictatorship. Also Mordehai Nurok a religious Zionist was presented in all parliaments. Zionists were active in Latvia. Maxis Lazerson led leftist Zionist party Ciere-Cion. Right wing Jewish Revisionists led by famous Zeev Zhabotinsky were active in Latvia. Militant Zionist organizations Betar and Brit Trumpeldoor were core for future army of Israel.  About 4500 Jews left Latvia for Palestine.

Visible Jewish presence in the Latvian economy sparked minor rise of antisemitism among Latvians. In 1920 Jews were attacked by hooligans in Riga parks. In 1922 Jewish students in the Latvian University were attacked by antisemitic study mates. In 1922-1925 a national-radical organization Latvian National Club sparked antisemitic propaganda. After members of the club unintentionally killed young Jewish social democrat, the club was banned. In the thirties a national-radical party “Thunder-cross” made some attacks on Jews. It was banned by Ulmanis regime. Antisemitic remarks were common among Latvian press however antisemitism never reached a critical point. After Ulmanis took power by coup antisemitism was officially banned, but the Ulmanis government suppressed many Jewish organizations and made limitations on school autonomy. Ulmanis was friendly to Orthodox Jews and Zionists but repressed Jewish leftists. Because that some of them started to support communist party that was illegal in Latvia. Ulmanis also tried to suppress the Jewish presence in the economy but Jewish businessmen mostly kept their place in company director seats.

Soviet occupation in 1940 was celebrated by leftist Jews. Many Jews took place in  June 17 Riots when Soviet tanks entered Riga. The people that came to greet the tanks eventually started a biggest riot in Latvian history. However, the majority of rioters were actually local Russians. Jews took place in occupation regime and took responsible seats. Among them Alfon Novik and Simon Shustin were part of the local NKVD that organized deportation of  June 14 1941. However, the Jewish presence in Soviet government has been exaggerated, only a small number of Jews took most important offices. Many of them were not locals, but from Russia that came along with the Soviets. Jews hoped that Stalin’s regime will be friendlier to Jews than Hitler’s but on June 14 1941 1200-1300 Jews were deported to Siberia.

Memorial Site for killed Jews in Bikernieki forest Riga 1941

On 22 June 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Invaders planed to exterminate all Jews in Soviet Union. In Latvia the extermination was led by SS brigadierfurer Walter Staleker. The director of German SD Reinhard Heydrich ordered to use antisemitic Latvians in killings to make look like it was done only by them. The Germans gathered 200 Latvian emigrants with antisemitic notions to make contact with locals. The Germans already had a list of 700 Latvians that needed to take part in the operation.

About 16000 Jews escaped Nazi occupation.  Many Jews did not know about Nazi intentions and stayed. First Jews were killed on  June 24 in city of Grobina in Courland. After all Latvia was occupied by Nazis, the killings were done in all Jewish inhabited places. They were done by SS einzac-groups and local self defense units. Latvian shooters were strictly controlled by German authorities. Most notorious Latvian unit was Arajs commando led by Viktors Arajs. Large killings took place in Riga and Liepaja. Synagogues were burned in all Latvia sometimes with people inside. In July 1941  Germans ordered to build Ghetto in Riga to enslave those Jews that were still alive. In September Heinrich Himler ordered to bring Jews from Germany to Latvia to destroy them. On November 30 2600 Jews were killed in a forest of Rumbula in Riga.

73000 Latvian Jews were destroyed in Latvia. After the return of Soviet occupation 14000 Jews returned to Latvia. Soviet regime suppressed the Jewish national movement. Jewish schools and organizations were banned the use of Yiddish was disliked. Many Jews came along Soviet immigrants that entered Latvia during Soviet occupation.  They spoke only Russian and had little connection with Latvian Jewry. However many among them were well-educated and took part in the Soviet elite.

Soviet government was also antisemitic. In the 1949 campaign against cosmopolitanism hit Latvian Jewish intelligence, many writers, artists and scientists were arrested.  In 1953 “Doctors Plot” triggered massive antisemitic campaign. Leaflets saying “Beat the Jew!” was found in Jurmala. Many historians say that Stalin ordered massive deportation of Jews to Siberia. There are documents that reveal that also Latvian Jews were intended for deportation.  However his death in 1953 cancelled these plans and campaign against Jews were halted. However throughout the Soviet Era Soviet government was generally hostile to Jews. In seventies campaign against Zionism sparked waves of antisemitism.  Publications describing the Zionist conspiracy were published in masses. Holocaust studies were excluded from academic fields and remembering the Holocaust was illegal.

Jews resisted by organizing underground Zionist organizations helping Jews to leave the Soviet Union. 400 Latvian Jews illegally left the Soviet Union in 1945-1946 Religious activity was also underground and repressed by the KGB. Israel victory in Six Day War 1967 sparked rise the of Jewish national awakening. A 40% of demands to leave the Soviet Union for Israel came from Latvia. Because of foreign attention Soviets were forced to allow Jews to leave. 16000 Jews left Latvia to Israel and other Western countries. In 1989 22900 Jews remained in Latvia.

Jewish community divided on the question of restoring Latvian independence. Jewish journalist Mavrik Vulfson was first to publicly call the events of 1940 as Soviet occupation in 1988. Jewish 1st congress supported Latvian Peoples Front and called for democracy. Latvian Jewish Culture Society supported the fight for Latvian independence. However those Jews who came from Soviet Union supported the communist party and Interfront movement.

In 1989 Jewish High School was founded. In the stormy events in 1991 when independence movement was in danger Jewish organizations supported Latvian independence. After restoration of independence Jews once again had a free hand. 12000 Jews left Latvia for Israel. The Latvian Jewish community was founded in 1992. Also important Jewish organization is Shamir that is publishing books on Jewish history. Religious movement was restored in Riga and Daugavpils. In the times of independence Holocaust studies has taken an important role in Latvian historiography.

Jews have taken a role in Latvian politics. Most of them are taking part in left pro-Russian parties. Notable Jewish politicians are Boriss Cilevics from Harmony Center and Jakovs Pliners from PCTVL. Jews still have the role in Latvian economy; Valerie  Belokon is owner of English football club Blackpool. Kirov Lipman is president of the Latvian Hockey Federation and owner of pharmaceutical company Grindex. For a long time largest national Latvian bank Parex was owned by Valery Kargin and Victor Krasovitsky. The current leader of the Latvian Jewish Community is Arkādijs Suharenko. The center of Jewish community is located at Riga Skolas Street 6.

Antisemitism in modern Latvia has been mostly marginal. Antisemitic remarks have been visible in the radical nationalist press and internet. The synagogue in Riga has been bombed by unknown forces. There are unproven theory that the synagogue was bombed not by radicals but by members of organized crime, who were trying to disgrace the minister of interior to stop his crackdown on them. Relative rise of antisemitism has been caused by bankruptcy of Parex bank that triggered financial crisis in 2008. Bank was owned by Jewish bankers. Since 2006 discussions about the return or compensation of the lost property of the Jewish organizations, has been unsolved problem, sparking even governmental instability.

By the census 0f 2000 there were 10336 Jews living in Latvia. The last census in 2011 counted 6437 Latvian Jews.  . Most of them are in senior years, speaking in Russian and are atheistic. Original Latvian Jewry has been mostly extinct. However, because of the active support from Israel a new generation of Latvian Jews are emerging who are rediscovering their religious and national identity.   Jews have left notable signs in Latvian history and will not be forgotten.

Only working synagogue in Pietava Street in Old Riga

Selected Sources:

Mendels Bobe, S. Levenberg , I. Maor  (Eds.) (1975). The Jews in Latvia.  Tel Aviv: Assoc. of Latv. a.

Dribins, Leo. (2002) Ebreji Latvijā 2., papild. izd. Riga : Elpa.

Bobe, Mendels. (2006) Ebreji Latvijā. Riga: Shamir.

Stranga, Aivars. (2008) Ebreji Baltijā : no ienākšanas pirmsākumiem līdz holokaustam : 14. gadsimts – 1945. gads. Riga: LU žurnāla “Latvijas vēsture” fonds

Dribins, Leo. (2007) Antisemītisms un tā izpausmes Latvijā : vēstures atskats. Riga: Rīga : Latvijas Vēstures institūta apgāds.

Ezergailis, Andrievs, (1996) The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941-1944 : the missing center. Washington, DC : US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Barkahan, Menachem (Ed.) (2008) Extermination of the Jews in Latvia, 1941-1945. Riga : Society “Shamir”.

 

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Baltic Germans

The Jaunpils  Castle

Typical Baltic German Castle at Jaunpils

In late Medieval ages Holy German Empire became overpopulated. People had trouble finding land and jobs in the cities. In families with more than two children the third son was unable to inherit land from his family. So many Germans had to find a new place to live. The Germans looked to the east. Eastern Europe offered free lands to maintain and local people were poor and in much lower numbers. Also the Eastern European kings needed immigrants from the west to protect their lands from Mongolian invasions. This allowed the Germans to migrate to such places as Transylvania (in present day Romania), Bohemia (Sudetenland, Czech Republic) and other eastern parts. Later on the behalf of empress Katrina II Germans entered Russian lands.

But nobody invited Germans to Baltic lands. In 12-13 century Germans started a military expansion to the east under Crusader banner. Crusades in Latvia have been discussed in many posts before in this blog. Find them using tags or search.

First Germans in Latvia were Crusaders and Church missionaries.  Along with them came German merchants that settled in Riga. When all Latvian land became part of Livonia, more Germans came here. Crusaders became nobles and established castles around Latvia. Others mainly merchants lived in larger cities. In the 13th century there were 15 thousand Germans opposite to 160 thousand ancient Latvians. Also 20 thousand Livonians lived in Latvia. Despite the low numbers Germans were political majority. They held all political rights and titles; they got rights to land and ownership of local peasants. Ancient Latvians were mostly peasants that worked for German landlords for all their life with no rights for their own land. Latvians got little chance for education that would raise their social status. In cities Latvians could only have low rank jobs that were called “shameful jobs”. But Latvia escaped high scale colonization of German peasants. Livonia was hard to reach from Germany because of independent Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. If the Germans would enter Latvia in larger masses than Latvians would put at high risk of assimilation. There are however records of Latvian and Livonian entry into German noble families. One of the most famous Baltic German noble family Fon Lieven is said to originate from Livonians.

During the time of Reformation most Germans supported Martin Luther reforms and became Lutherans. Lutheranism and other protestant movements were highly common among German immigrants in Eastern Europe. Swift to Lutheranism also helped Latvians for the first religious texts were translated into Latvian.

The crush to German nobility was Livonian war that started in 1558. Livonia was at risk of being conquered by Russia. That did not happen thanks to Poland-Lithuania and Sweden, but the Germans had to give up their Crusader order. In 1561 the Livonia order ceased to exist. However Germans managed to keep all their rights because of the favor by Polish king Sigismund Augustus. A document containing promised privileges by Polish king gave wide rights to Germans in Latvia. But this document has not preserved until this day and nobody hasn’t seen it for a long time. Because of this historians speculate that document is falsification. Despite that Germans used this phantom document to protect their rights for many years.

However Poles did not keep all promises. Riga faced trade controls from Polish administration. Poles tried to restore Catholicism by removing few churches and imposing new calendar. This caused Calendar revolt in Riga that lasted from 1584 to 1589 and was defeated with the help of traitors within Germans. But in Duchy of Courland and Semigallia that was autonomous from Poland Germans had time of their lives. Germans ruled the Duchy and had a free hand in politics and religious matters. Their best days ended in 1795 when Duchy was added to Russia.

Germans in Swedish Vidzeme faced hard times when the Swedish administration decided to revise German ownerships and give large portions of land to Swedes. But in Riga Germans were supported because Sweden needed to keep the favor of Riga that got larger population than Stockholm. The Germans build many beautiful trade residences in Latvia like Reitern house and House of Danenstern in Martalu Street.

After Vidzeme capitulated to Russia things changed. One side of Germans led by count Johann Patkul conspired against Sweden to support Russia. However many German nobles were part of Swedish army and captured Patkul and sentenced him to death. But Russia at first did not want to conflict with the Germans. General Sheremtjev signed deal with Germans to allow them autonomy and official use of the German language. Latvians were completely subjected to Germans. Taxes and corve’s were increased. This was the highest point of Latvian enslavement that continued many decades until serfdom was abolished.

Russian emperor Peter I favored German aristocrats. He invited them to his court at Petersburg. The new city itself was built with the help of German engineers. Peter I needed well-educated Germans modernize his new empire.

In the 18th century there were 40 thousand Germans in Latvia. Because of Enlightenment in Western Europe many intellectuals entered Latvia most notably Johan Herder who worked in the Riga Dome School. German scholars started to show interest for Latvian folklore and language. Ernest Glik did tremendous work of translating the Bible in Latvian. Pastor Gothart Stender wrote many educational books in Latvian promoting Latvian education. Favored among Latvian are German scholar Garibl Merkel and his work “Latvians”. In this book he criticizes the Latvian enslavement and praises Latvian culture. This was one of the first times when information about Latvians was shown to the outside world. The work of German educators helped Latvians to get a national identity in future.

In 1766 first and last attempt of German colonization happened in Latvia. By the favour of empress Katrina II 85 Germans from Pfalz settled in Hirchen (Irši) parish near Aizkraukle. All of them were peasants who lived closely in Hirchen village. In 1914 there were a 8000 people who were born in Hirchen.  However only 1570 lived there because others left home to find luck in Riga, Russia or in Western Europe.

Germans living in Latvia often did not call themselves Germans. They identified themselves as Baltic Germans (deutchbalten). In 1817 and 1819 serfdom was abolished in Courland and Vidzeme (but still in Latgalia). German educators put even higher pressure to educate Latvians. They however wanted only elementary education for them. Latvians peasants still were objected to German landlords despite the abolishment of serfdom. That caused rapid Latvian conversion to the Orthodox Church to move away from the Germans. About 40397 Latvians became Orthodox Christians. To stop this leader of liberal German reformists Hamilkar von Felkerzam managed to allow Latvians rent land from the Germans and re-buy it in longer time. This finally allowed Latvians to become farmers.

The Germans got high influence in Russian politics. The Russian army was filled by German high rank officers. The Germans took posts in the Russian government. German academics and scientists pushed Russian progress. Only Noble prize winner from Latvia is German chemist Wilhelm Ostvald. In middle of 19 century 140 thousand Germans lived in Latvia.  They took part in the industrialization and controlled all industrial sectors in Latvia. They were wealthiest social group. But the growing sentiment of Russian nationalism or Slavophilism started to push pressure on the Germans. Russian Czar Alexander II started the process of Russifaction  and Unifaction of Russian Empire. In 1885 Nikolay Manasein revision cancelled the Baltic German autonomy, abolished German courts and made Russian language the official language in state matters. Baltic Germans did not receive any support from German Empire that wanted to keep good relations with Russia. 2000 Baltic Germans emigrated to Germany because of anti-German reforms. However Germans kept their status in industrial and commercial sector. They still worked in state offices because Russians were not eager to work in the Baltic provinces. All Majors of Riga were Germans (except Englishman John Armisted) no Russian ever wanted to lead Riga.

The Germans felt remorse to Latvians who gained more freedom because of Russian reforms. However the wave of Russifaction hit Latvians by prohibiting the Latvian language in schools and public places.  But Latvians were free to form their organizations and speak privately in Latvian. When a wave of revolution hits Latvia in 1905 the Latvian-German conflict sparkled in blood and fire. For the few months Russian administration lost control over Latvian rural areas that were taken by revolutionary committees. Revolutionaries burned 200 German mansions in all Latvia. The Germans formed self defense squads to fight armed social democrats and peasants. When things begun to heat up; Germans asked for Russian help. General Aleksey Orlov led “punishment expeditions” to stop revolution. Punishment battalions killed 1615 revolutionaries.

A new hit for Germans were the start of First World War. The Germans suddenly become haunted minority blamed for all calamities of the war. Russian administration destroyed the prosperous German controlled industry by evacuating all factory equipment to inner Russia. Even tram lines were taken to Russia. Despite this a large part of Germans fought with the Russian army against their brothers in Baltic front.

A new hope for the Germans was Brestlitovsk peace agreement that gave all Baltic lands to Germany. On November 8 1918 Baltic Germans gathered in Riga to proclaim the “Baltic State”. This state should compromise Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and restore all rights for Germans. However in November 11 Germany signed capitulation act and in November  18 Latvia proclaimed its independence. The idea of Baltic State now was obsolete. Germans however did not lose hope for it until 1920. In 1918 Germans supported Latvian government because of growing danger from Soviet Russia. Germans made Landesver an army from Baltic Germans and ex members of the German army to help the Latvian army. With their help the Bolsheviks were pushed away from Riga however Germans quickly turned against Latvians by organizing coup 1919  April 16 in Liepaja. A plan to capture Karlis Ulmanis government failed and Germans formed a puppet government lead by Kārlis Niedra a pro-German pastor. Their plans failed completely when their armed forces were defeated by joint Latvian and Estonian forces near Cesis on June 22. By pressure of the US, England and France a ceasefire was signed and the Germans were forced to recognize the Latvian government. Germans Edvin Magnuss become minister of justice and Robert Erhard became minister of finance. Landesver was taken under Latvian control.

However radical German forces lead by General Ridiger von der Goltz and Russian whiteguard Pavel Bermont- Avalov attacked Riga in November of 1919 but failed once again. By this time more Germans supported Latvia. Paul Schiemann new German leader officially supported Latvian independence. Landesver forces took part in the liberation of Latgalia in 1920 from the Soviets. 54 German soldiers were awarded with the highest Latvian military award the Order of Lachpesis (Bear Slayer).

After the war Germans came to conclusion that they need to integrate in the Latvian politics.  A new party called “Baltic German democratic party” was formed. It was the most successful minority party in Latvia that won 6 seats in every election. Jewish and Russian parties had far lesser results because of their political divisions. A massive blow for German landlords was the Agricultural reform. Latvian government wanted to get rid of German landlords once and for all. 1300 properties of German mansions were confiscated. Noble families lost their mansions and palaces. Another boiling point was a German commemoration of Landesver. In 1929 a Landesver soldiers’ cemetery was established in Riga. A large monument was built. After few weeks monument was destroyed with explosives by unknown people. Resented Germans took all pieces of destroyed monument and connected to one piece.

Despite of deep divide Germans kept the status in industry and commerce. An autonomy in education was kept, a German self funded schools worked in all Latvia. Even the national reforms of Karlis Ulmanis regime could not hinder German place in Latvian economy.

But nothing was so crucial to Germans as the rise of National Socialism. Nazi Germany exported Nazi ideology to Baltic Germans. In 1933 a Nazi organization “Bewegung” (Movement) was established in Riga. Nazi supporters gained success by removing democrat Paul Schiemann from the leadership and excluding other democrats. Nazi leader Erich Krueger had ties with German SS and SD. The Nazi government wanted to make “fifth column” to fulfil their expansionist plans. Nazi movement made bitter danger for Latvia.

After signing non-aggression pact with Soviet Union it became clear to Hitler that once Latvia would be taken by the Soviets, the Baltic Germans will be oppressed by them. So he issued call to Baltic Germans to return to their ethnic homeland. Not all Germans in Latvia wanted to move. The majority however feared the coming Soviet occupation and used this chance to escape. In 1939.-1940 51 thousand Baltic Germans left Latvia. Only 11 thousand Germans stayed. After Soviet Occupation 10500 still remained. Those who moved to Germany however could not live in Germany itself but were moved to Nazi occupied Poland. There they met tragic fates in 1944-1945.

In 1989 by Soviet Census there were 3789 people calling them Germans. A large part of them came from mainland Russia. Only 944 were born in Latvia. 49% of Latvian Germans spoke only in Russian. After regaining of independence Germans organized new organizations, but there is a divide between German-speaking Germans and Russian speaking Germans. By the dates of 2007 there are 4226 Germans in Latvia. Some Germans from Germany move to Latvia to find jobs or move here because they married with Latvians. The last census in 2011 gathered 3042 Germans now living in Latvia.

German culture in Latvia has been destroyed by two-world wars. But the German presence can be seen in many places in Latvia. The buildings in Riga, mansions in rural areas. Latvian language and music have been influenced by the Germans. Latvians despite the conflicts own a lot of Germans and German factor will always have a place in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

Krupņikovs, Pēteris. (1980). Melu un patiesības palete. Riga: Zvaigzne 1980.

Duhanovs, Maksims. (1986). Baltijas muižniecība laikmetu maiņā : Baltijas muižniecības politika 19.gs. 50.-70.gados un tās apoloģētiskās historiogrāfijas kritika. Riga: Zinātne.

Dribins, Leo, Spārītis Ojārs. (2000) Vācieši Latvijā. Riga: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts. Etnisko pētījumu centrs.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.

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Cerūzis, Raimonds (2004). Vācu faktors Latvijā (1918-1939) : politiskie un starpnacionālie aspekti = German factor in Latvia (1918-1939) : political and inter-ethnic aspects. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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Election Turnout 2010

The elections that happened yesterday 2. October have ended. While there is still some counting going on in Riga the results are almost certainly clear. This elections will go down in history in many ways. First only 13 parties run for election that is pretty low for Latvia since in 20. century twenties more than 60 parties had participated in elections. Second the elections will make parliament less fragmented for the first time since most parties formed unions. Only 62% people of Latvian population voted in elections. That is second lowest score since 2006. However a surprisingly large numbers of Latvian citizens voted abroad. The emigrants in Europe, USA and Australia also casted their votes for Latvian parties.

Many saw that victors of this election will be leftist pro-Russian party Harmony Center. However this has not happened – the liberal right party union Unity have come first with 30% of votes. Harmony Center won 25% of votes thanks to the high popularity in Latgallia and Riga. Green Farmers Union have made success by gaining 19% mainly thanks for the high support in rural agricultural areas. Also thanks to their PM candidate Aivars Lembergs who is overwhelmingly popular in Courland and rest of Latvia. Lembergs himself did participated in elections but posed himself as best candidate for PM nomination. PM is nominated by President of Latvia. Union of two past victor parties For Good Latvia (PLL) have failed their expectations. Only 7,5% is stunning defeat for their leaders Ainars Slesers and Andris Skele. A positive result was for national conservative union  All for Latvia!/For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK. Both parties won 7,5% of the votes. It’s mainly a success for All for Latvia! because its their first entry in parliament. However it’s not still clear how many seats will they share with their senior colleges but its a room for surprises since All for Latvia! voters are eager to push their favorites above Fatherland and Freedom candidates.

One party has left the prime political scene. Russian national party For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL) collected only 1% of votes. Harmony Center have finally beaten their inner rivals by taking PCTVL voters to their side. This has happened since Russian electorate had high hopes for victory so they concentrated their votes on strongest Russian force. PCTVL still has seats in prestige EU parliament and few municipalities but their future now seems uncertain.

No other new force has not entered parliament. It’s because the so-called “small parties” had nothing new to offer and have small funds to finance the campaign. Latvian leftist union “Responsibility” failed to achieve past glory of Latvian left that dominated from 1920 to 1934. A rather interesting project was “Last Party” that offered original almost anarchistic ideas but because of  their humorous campaign they achieved low popularity.

Clearly the voters of the Harmony Center will not be satisfied. Since the stunning victory in Riga municipal elections party prepared for whole state victory. The polls showed their victory for many months. When “Unity” was formed their ratings deceased but they still showed victory. However after exit polls that showed success for “Unity” first signs of surprise and resentment was seen on the faces of their leaders. It has turned out that in mainly Latvian populated regions Harmony Center had low popularity. That showed that widespread Latvian support for Harmony Center was a mere exaggeration. However the situation was saved by large support from voters in Latgallia and Riga. These two parts are densely populated by Russian speaking voters. In result they won more percent and seats than in 2006. so the result can be viewed as success for them. However a second place is never enough for victory hungry Russian voters. Russians always have trouble accepting second whether its hockey or politics. Harmony Center still has hope for coalition if “Unity” or ZZS would want to work with them. By doing however they will betray their voters who voted to prevent Harmony Center victory.

So it’s highly possible that current PM Valdis Dombrovskis will be named by the President as new PM candidate. “Unity” will form the coalition with ZZS and VL!/TB/LNNK and keep Harmony Center and PLL in opposition. They will have enough seats to do so and that what their voters want. However if ZZS leader Ainars Lembergs will have some dirty tricks on his sleeve things could change. It is also a question how many seats would both national parties VL and TB/LNNK will share. Some liberal experts fear that VL! will gain more seats than senior TB/LNNK and will put a new tone in parliamentary politics. However their main demand is not allow Harmony Center in to coalition and not to make anti-national laws. These demands can be met by both sides. If “Unity” and ZZS will not go to intimate with Harmony Center the conflicts can easily avoided.

If “Harmony Center” will stay in opposition they will be allot more comfortable when the new state budget will be arranged. They have spent time warning people from drastic austerity measures by “Unity” that will make even deeper cuts than before. If they lead the government they are almost certainly to make budget cuts for themselves. That way they will deceive their most naive supporters. Harmony Center still has a large base of supporters from Russian speaking mass but its a question how long will they wait for their promised takeover? And what will be a response of the Kremlin that pushed  large funds to promote Russian victory?

For the PLL future looks grim. Both old-time winners Peoples Party and Latvian First Party joined themselves together to avoid failure to reach 5% barrier. The attempt of union was successful in terms of keeping both parties alive but expectations were more than real gains. Union used large amount of money to push large voting campaign to get voters attention. Every possible way was used from illegal to legal. Supposedly neutral debates with “experts” were held in independent television network that visibly propagandized PLL agenda. Even when official candidate debates were held in this same channel everything was done to give PLL orators better questions. The director of the television was member of PLL so it high pressure to show PLL to people. Ainars Slesers used the service of his long time friend Eriks Stendzinieks a talented commercial manager to promote his campaign. So far Stendzinieks had tremendous success in election campaigns in 2006 and in 2009. He created so-called “Positivism Campaign” a third party commercials for Peoples Party candidates. He made Slesers a “rocket” and “bulldozer” a tough family man. However when a compromising book was published on Slesers family past, Stendzinieks advised Slesers to cry in public. Stendzinieks gave a large amount of a work in this campaign but its seems that Latvian public has had enough of him and Slesers. It is also a stunning defeat for Slesers who decided to quit his vice-major office to gain PM or at least Finance Minister seat in next government. Now its likely that he will remain as simple opposition deputy a bitter failure for man who lusts for power and action. Likely its a failure for ex-president of Latvia Guntis Ulmanis who rejoined politics and gave high hopes for election. He has disgraced his good name to many who despise PLL. It’s a mystery why well-funded ex-president in senior years yearns for deputy seat for he had the highest seat of the state for 8 years. So PLL is a failed political concept and could decay if they are saved by return of nations support.

The election has proven that majority of Latvian voters want stability. They know that “Unity” had its bad moments and will have in the future, but they have made stabilization measures that saved from deep fall that started in the reign of PLL. Voters also don’t want a rapid change to the east and rise of leftist government. It’s clear that people want to continue stabilization process and don’t want to put at risk by giving to leftists and oligarchs.  Also the election had shown that national factor remains strong as before because of ethnic votes for “Unity” and “Harmony Center”. Nationalism ideology is still strong in one part of the voters who elected the national conservatives.

The election turnouts have possibility to continue the way of Latvia on the right track.

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