Monthly Archives: August 2011

Stalin and Hitler

It was August 23 1939 when Nazi Germany and Soviet Union signed an agreement pact that set the path to World war II. The reasons behind this pact are described here, and Stalin’s real intentions in the war are discussed here. This article raises question is both regimes Hitler National Socialism and Stalin’s Communism is comparable or are they two opposite things that don’t come together. Latvian historians have promoted that Stalinism and Nazism are equal and must be equally condemned. This view has been battled against by Russian patriots, leftists and Western historians who support the theory of the victorious side.

The theory of the victorious side in short is such: World War II was caused by Nazi Germany, who was led by an aggressive dictator who desired for large territories in the east. His plans for living space in the east are clearly set in his book Mein Kamph. It was his desire to start war alone, he annexed Austria, Czechoslovakia and wanted to take Poland. Soviet Union on the other side was toughened by the Stalin’s purges and was not ready for the war. Thus Stalin’s foreign policy was peaceful and was not meant to attack Europe since he used slogan “Socialism in sole state”. A Molotov – Ribbentrop pact was signed so the Soviet Union could gain time to prepare for war and acquire “neutral border zone”  between Germany and Soviet Union so it would not have been captured by Germany. Also Stalin did not expect German attack and Soviet Union was only ready for war in 1942. After the German attack in 1941 Soviet Union together with UK and US defeated the “primary evil” – Nazism.

Nowadays more and more people disbelieve this simple Hollywood style theory where three “heroes” destroys one “villain”.  It its clear that Stalin had aggressive plans of his own. The occupation of Baltic state and Eastern Poland only made the Soviet Union unsafe of Germany since it made a large border with it. Nor Hitler was originally intending to start world war by attacking Poland and operation “Barbarossa” was not just part of one page statement in “Mein Kamph” but part of the strategical situation in 1941, and Soviet aggressive foreign policy. And Red Army was ready enough to attack Germany on 1941. German invasion made Soviet Union the supreme ally against Germany. The Soviet victory for 50 years silenced the talk about Soviet crimes against humanity, Soviet aggressive plans and movements and Soviet war crimes. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union when historians opened the lid of the Soviet crimes that showed that the Soviet was no better than Nazi Germany in fact it was more bloody and repressive than “Supreme Evil” – Nazism.

Nazism and Communism share same insights in ideological basis. Even if it’s commonly described that Hitler was far right and Stalin was far left, National socialism was a mixture of both left and right. Nazism also supported the workers rights, it was also generally against  classical capitalist order. Nazi ideologues took many insights from Karl Marx teachings. During the peacetime Nazi regime in Germany Hitler introduced social policies for lower classes and supported welfare. The main departure from Socialist thought was the idea of a clash between races not between classes. Nazis believed that racial unity can unite all social classes. Soviets on the other hand believed that social unity can unite the races.

One of the main common aspect of both ideologies are belief of making the  new human – Homo Novus. It was the idea of making new society and thinking that would completely differ from the old type of humanity and society. For Nazis the new human was racially sterile and strong patriotic men and women. For Soviets it was strong worker and peasant free from  bourgeois desires for private property, nationalism and religion.   To make such society both regimes needed to get rid of the elements who could not submit to new laws of mankind. To Nazis they were the Jews, homosexuals, mentally ill persons and communists. For Soviets it was the bourgeois, religious, nationalists and private owners. The idea of parasites that are needed to exterminate was common for both ideologies.

Soviet Union was declared as free land for all nations with  equal opportunities. In reality there were one dominant nation – Russians. Stalin often spoke that the Russian people won the war, not thousands of Baltic, Ukrainian,   Caucasians and Asians who also fought the war. The Russian language was official language, other languages were allowed but constantly dismissed and repressed. No wonder that many small nations in Siberia have lost their culture and language because of the Russifacation. Stalin did everything to remove Jews, Latvians and other small nations from top governmental posts and replaced them with Russians. Even if he was born Georgian he identified himself with Russian people rather than Georgian. Stalin’s Soviet Union in this matter was also Nationalsocialist and kept being so until the very end. After the end of the war many exile Russian Nazis came to conclusion that Stalinist Russia was actually very nationalist and moved back to it.

Soviet Union also was antisemitic. In the very roots the revolution was organized by many Jewish Bolsheviks – Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoyev  and others. Stalin was a moderate anti-Semite and consequently removed Jews from top party posts. He did not allow his son Yakov to marry a Jewish woman and was angry when his daughter Svetlana married a Jew. His last purge in 1952 to 1953 was mainly against Jews. It is a speculation that Stalin intended to make a mass deportation of Jews to Siberia before his death. Even after Stalin’s death the antisemitism persisted, as the Soviet Union made a strong opposition against Zionism and Israel and supported Jewish enemies. Its also no secret that the Soviet Union was homophobic by nature and homosexual behavior was impossible to practice without severe exclusion from the society.

However the main common things between Nazism and Communism is practical in state matters. Both regimes were based on political cult of one supreme leader. Both regimes where single party totalitarian states. Both had overwhelming security apparatus- the Gestapo for Germany and KGB for Soviet Union. Both had youth organizations like Hitlerjugend  and Pioneer Movement. Both regimes gave large importance to army matters. Both regimes build concentration camps in fact it was the Soviet Union who first set a large network of concentration camps. It was not the famous Nazi death camps that were largest camps during the war it was a Soviet camp in Vorkut that the largest camp in WW2 history. Another fact that after the liberation of Nazi Death Camps in Poland, the camps were not closed but put back in order for the Soviet use.

In therms of Genocide Nazis are the main evil. The Holocaust is the major ethnic genocide in the history of the 20th century. However the question of Stalin’s genocide is important. The convention on genocide also included the mass extermination of social and political classes, however was was declined by the Soviet Union in UN. If the original draft would pass it would potentially make Stalin’s crimes as Genocide. Soviet Union had good reason not to support the original draft. Since the October coup, Bolsheviks eliminated large masses of political and social groups.  And the body count of the Stalin’s Genocide exceeds the Holocaust victim count. They may be a question of more than 10 million people.  We must note that recognition of Stalinist genocide or comparison with the Nazi crimes does not in any way minimize the importance of the Holocaust. The objective research of the Stalinist crimes and its commemoration is not Holocaust revisionism and cannot change what the Nazis did. The victims of the Stalinist crimes deserve the same attention and support just as the Holocaust victims. No nation holds the rights for the monopoly of suffering for the suffering is deeply individual and subjective experience. Both sides fighting against or for so called double genocide theory needs to remember this.

In order to compare Stalin and Hitler regime we do not need to go deeply into speculations about ideology and patterns of killings. The main resemblance is the common nature of the both totalitarian states. The crimes they committed were close to each other and went beyond in terms of ideological writings and speeches. On May 9 1945 Nazi Germany was defeated but the Soviet Union along with its crimes was able to pretend as the “lesser evil” for 50 years. And they are still pretending now. Communist propaganda freely exists, communist symbols are not banned and ex communist nation Russia still defends Stalin’s actions in official level. There is a need for a time when Communism will suffer the same condemnation as Nazism. Until then the World War II is far from being over.

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The restoration of Latvian independence 1986-1992

Soviet armored transport in Riga, August 21 1991

There are three independence days for Latvia. The first one is  November 18 – the date of the actual proclamation of Latvian republic, the May 4 – the declaration of restoration of independence and 21, August today – the restoration of Latvian independence in practical matter when Latvia used the breakdown of coup in Moscow to finally break away from the Soviet Union. There is a discussion what is most important- the declaration of restoration of independence or actual restoration itself. One is clear that in  May 4 Latvian national government made the decision to make an interim period until actual restoration of independence and it may take longer if there would not be any coup in Moscow. This article tells the story of how the Latvian independence was restored from the beginning until the end.

The independence of Latvia was halted in 1940, by the Soviet Union when it was occupied and annexed. The independence was not restored after the end of World war II since Latvia was kept as Soviet possession without any protest by Western powers. However Western powers such as US was smart enough not to officially recognize Latvia as juridical part of the Soviet Union. No relations with the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic was made since Western powers still regarded Latvian republic as juridical entity and Latvian diplomatic service still worked in Western countries. This action made possible to restore Latvia as a justified state if such time would ever come. The only Western state that recognized Latvia as Soviet possession was Sweden. Also Australia did that for a short time by the time of labor government but changed its stance after the collapse of leftist government.

In Latvia itself during most years of Soviet rule it was impossible to openly fight for independence. Armed resistance by partisans took place between 1945 to 1953 but was defeated by superior Soviet security forces. A passive, unarmed resistance persisted during the Soviet time, but Soviet KGB did everything to halt any open movement. The dissidents like Gunars Astra was intellectuals and was under constant surveillance  by the KGB . It was clear that open resistance was not possible until the Soviet government itself would lift the iron curtain of single party rule and KGB presence. Under the reign of Khrushchev and Brezhnev it seemed impossible.

The situation changed once Micheal Gorbachev became the General secretary of the Communist party. Contrary to his predecessors who were in old age and lack of will to change everything Gorbachev seemed young enough to make a major change. Soviet Union needed one since its stagnating planed economy, disadvantage to Western economy and technology and lose the fight in arms race with US made USSR weaker and weaker. So he made new program called – perestroika.

Gorbachev desired to change the planned economy to make it free from bureaucracy that made low gains for the state. He gave more possibilities for the farming and local business.  But he was still far from changing communist economy completed.  But Gorbachev added another change that was critical for his success – he allowed more freedoms on the political field. People now had rights to openly say their mind, took part in demonstrations and even form non-Party movements. That was a fatal error of Gorbachev – he attempted to liberalize both economy and politics but was not ready to give up the full power of the communist party. Another communist country – China did otherwise – they liberated economy, but kept the full totalitarian power of the communist party. China still persists as communist country and are top two superpower in the world. Soviet government made a rather schizophrenic approach – they tried to change everything but on the other hand they did not want to change nothing. That was the main cause of collapse of Gorbachev policy.

The perestroika did not go unnoticed in Latvia. As the press and television became more liberal it made seed for the nationalist movement. The first sign was in August 25 1986, when an international conference in Jurmala, Latvia took place between American and Soviet diplomats. At the so called Chatowka conference US ambassador in Moscow made a public speech where he reminded of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact and noted that US has never accepted the occupation of Latvia. This first time when this question was raised and openly discussed. Improvements between relations of US and USSR made possible for the west to openly talk about this issue.

Nationalist march in 14, June 1991

Things moved on in 1987 when local Latvian nationalists were strong enough to appear from underground. A political movement Helsinki – 86 named after a civil right conference in Finland made a public appearance.  The June 14 was the day of great deportation to Siberia in 1941. Helsinki – 86 made a step to commemorate this event by attending the Monument of Freedom and laying flowers in front of it. Soviet government did everything to stop them but they succeeded by making an appearance at the monument. It was a symbolic act that moved the masses. The next step was to remind of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact in August 23. This time Soviet security forces were more prepared however a large masses attended the demonstration and it turned into semi-violent outburst when Soviet militia arrested the demonstrators. The reaction by the Soviets was so strong, that nationalists did not make the same step in November 18.

It was not only the nationalists, there were also the environmentalists. The Environment protection club made large demonstrations against plans to build hydroelectric plant near Daugavpils and Riga metro. It was also important in terms of nationalism since such plans would require a large number of workforce from the Soviet Union. Latvia already had a large influx of Soviet migrants and they were against more of them. In the end both projects were canceled.

1988 was a milestone of political movement in Latvia. Nationalists openly demanded the restoration of independence. Latvian people became more active. Gorbachev was speaking more and more about democratization and Soviet security suddenly felt weak to halt anti-Soviet activities. New nationalist movement Latvian national independence movement was founded and Helsinki – 86 continued their fight. A large nationalist demonstrations took place and it was no longer a taboo to call the events of 1940 as the Soviet occupation.

It was October 8 1988 when things begun to move a step further. A new mass movement Latvian Peoples Front was organized. The main leaders were journalist Dainis Īvāns, Sandra Kalniete and others. It was made as the alternative against Communist party and was allowed to function.  However Peoples Front had a more careful planing then Helsinki 86 and LNIM. They wanted to achieve their goal by working with the Soviet authorities and gain independence in parliamentary way. It was possible by taking place in the now free election of Supreme Soviet – the parliament of the Latvian USSR to gain majority in it. Radical nationalists resisted any cooperation between the Soviet Authority. That made a sharp divide between moderate and radical nationalists that still persists today.

The strategy by Peoples front was a successful first was a good result in Soviet People’s congress that worked in Moscow and second was the absolute majority in the Supreme Soviet of Latvian SSR. First achievement was the restoration of Latvian national symbol – red and white flag as the official symbol of the Latvian SSR. This all was possible due to the Gorbachev decision to lift the sole status of the communist party. The next step was recognition as Latvian language as the official language in Latvia.

As the Latvian society was more ready for the restoration the legislative project of the declaration was finished on July 28 1989. The peoples Front had 65% support of the population and Moscow was now afraid of losing Latvia. The Latvian communist party had leader change and Anatolijs Gorbunovs  became the chairman of the Supreme Soviet.  Gorbunovs was not a hardline communist instead he supported national movement. However the other side of the party lead by orthodox communist Alfrēds Rubiks was strongly against independence. Along with them a large Russian population was strongly against change that would remove their first hand political status. However a large part of them was still unaware of what the changes will bring, a minority of them supported the independence. It was now clear that Latvian political forces had split in two rival parts, one that supported breakaway by the Soviet Union, others that were strongly against it. Crucially the second side was supported by Moscow and Gorbachev however his power was declining.

Enemies of the independence organized a movement called Interfront a counter force against the People’s Front. It was a rabid organization made from hardliners, army and security officers and anti-Latvian minded Russians. On the other side Latvian hardliners started to organize Citizen congress an alternative to the Supreme Soviet. Their goal was to register all rightful citizens of Latvian Republic who or their children had been citizens before 1940. Peoples Front however was against the Citizen congress and did not take any part in it. However in 1990 elections took place and the congress has begun work but it had a marginal effect on the events since the power was in Supreme Soviet and Peoples Front. In same time a split in the Latvian communist party was apparent and in summer 1989, it parted in two forces. It was a clear sign of weakness. The landmark event of 1989 was marking of the anniversary of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact. Two million people in the three Baltic states joined in living line from Tallinn to  Vilnius to show unity against Soviet tyranny. It was the most highlighted event of all that even encouraged Warsaw Block countries to stand up to Moscow.

The year 1990 was the time when a move to restore independence was to be done. Everything was set for this – a massive support by the people, strong position in Soviet authority and weak communist opposition. However it was to remind if such action will take place the response from Moscow would not be positive and situation in the republic would change. So far Gorbachev watched events in the Baltic states in with suspicion but refrained to make harsh counter steps. Communist party and KGB still tried to hinder the nationalist movement but they lacked direct order from Moscow to make repressions. If restoration of independence would be declared Moscow would find a reason to allow harsh measures.

Outside Parliament building May, 4 1990

Latvian neighbors Lithuania and Estonia already did this step, Latvia was ready to do it on May 4 1990. With support of 138 deputies and one abstained and 57 Interfront deputies leaving the parliament before voting- the declaration of independence was signed. A large crowd greeted the deputies with joy and flowers a mood was in an upswing. However now the Latvian government had to make a troubled road to make independence working in full-time. Soviet army and KGB was still in Latvia and Moscow denounced the declaration. One goal was to form own form of government free from Moscow which meant making own ministry of interior and foreign ministry and own security forces. It was the time of two governments in Latvian the one Latvian the other Moscow.

The situation in Moscow started to stir up. As the national movement outburst not only in Baltic states but in Ukraine and Caucasus, Gorbachev now was in a tough situation. So far he has shown himself to Western leaders as democratic statesman. US president George Bush Senior made Gorbachev made to promise him not to make aggressive movements in the  Baltic states. Soviet power already lifted in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Berlin wall. Hardliners begun to pressure Gorbachev to make aggressive moves, he himself was undeceive but he was against the full collapse

A plan to halt Baltic independence was based on making various provocations made by security forces to give Moscow official reason to enforce direct presidential rule over the Baltic republics. In Latvia it was done by special forces the OMON who attacked Latvian border posts, seized the house of press and made various coverup explosions.

A violent outburst’s already happened before in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Now one happened in Vilnius, Lithuania 1991 on January 13. An attempt by Soviet tank division to capture Lithuanian TV tower was faced with resistance of  the large unarmed crowd. In uneven battle with tanks 14 Lithuanian citizens lost their lives. A sharp response took place in Riga. The government decided to surround the Riga city center with barricades. Thousands of Latvians from all sides of Latvia came to protect the Latvian government. Old Riga was surrounded with Barricades and people was ready to face armor and OMON if necessary. On  January 20 the OMON attacked the Latvian ministry of interior. A bloody shootout took place in Old Riga. But the Soviet government was unable to send more forces because of the large outcry of the international community. Even if the US were busy with Gulf war the CNN and BBC made reports from Riga that stopped Gorbachev from making more aggressive moves.

After the events of January 1991 things begun to move towards Latvian way and downwards Soviet way. Gorbachev had lost sympathy from both Western powers and both hardliner communists. A last attempt by Gorbachev was to sign Union Agreement that would keep the Soviet Union as federation with autonomous republics. Baltic states denounced such agreement. But a conspiracy against Gorbachev begun to realize as the hardliners made a last desperate attempt to save the Soviet Union.

The hardliners were supported by elements of the KGB. Their plot was to oust Gorbachev from power and declare the status of emergency in all Soviet Union. The coup begun on  August 19 1991, when Gorbachev was on vacation in Foross. He was ready to take a plane back to Moscow, when the coup leaders locked him on house arrest and cut him from the outside world. Gorbachev however hesitated to cooperate with the coup leaders. They went back to Moscow were attempted to seize power. However they failed to arrest the main enemy Boris Yeltsin – the President of Russian SSFR who begun to organize resistance against the coup. A large crowd gathered in Moscow to support him and the army was unable to open fire against its own people.

In Latvia the OMON captured the phone central, radio and television. A Latvian government led by Ivars Godmanis declared the X hour. It was the event when if necessary the Government had to go underground and start resisting. The enemies of the independence saw chance to act. Alfrēds Rubiks announced support for the coup and threatened to get tough with all nationalists.

It was  August 21. The night before there were bloody clashes between the army and Yeltsin supporters. The army comradeship begun to object the coup. Yeltsin was in control of the White House of Moscow and the army resisted to attack it.  It was now in Latvia where no other choice was left but issue official status of Latvian republic. The government had voted for Constitutional law of state status of Latvia.  The interim period had to be canceled and the independence had to be  now in full effect.

The vote took place 13:00 as the OMON armored vehicles approached the parliament building. However the OMON did not storm the building and the vote was successful.   A failure of the coup in Moscow prevented the OMON from attacking the parliament. In the evening OMON abandoned all captured buildings.

When Gorbachev arrived in Moscow on August 23 he was now a president of collapsed state. As other Soviet republics declared independence the Soviet Union only on the paper. New Russian government supported Latvian independence.

The first country who officially recognized Latvia as  an independent state was Iceland. Nearly all countries in the world including North Korea rushed to recognize Latvian independence. US however was slower and recognized Latvia only on September. The last one was Rwanda in 1993.

This is only a instruction on complicated aspects of the events between 1986 and 1992. This was the time of hopes and dreams, fears and troubles. The independence was not a cheap price to pay, Latvia is still on the long road to build solid state. But the very cause of this long fight was just and was for the interests of Latvian people.

Selected Sources:

Latvijas valsts atjaunošana : 1986.-1993. (1998) Riga : [Latvijas Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

Latvijas Tautas fronte : 1988-1991 : veltījums Trešajai Atmodai un Latvijas Tautas frontes dibināšanas desmitgadei. (1998)Rīga : Jāņa sēta.

Tālavs,Jundzis (2000) 4. maijs : rakstu, atmiņu un dokumentu krāj. par Neatkarības deklarāciju. Rīga : Fonds Latvijas vēsture.

Starptautiska zinātniska konference “1990. gada 4. maija Latvijas Neatkarības deklarācija: starptautiskie un iekšpolitiskie aspekti”(2011) Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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Latvian war for freedom 1918-1920

Latvian soldiers during the battle for Riga

The August 11, is Latvian Freedom Fighters Remembrance Day. On this date in 1920 Latvia signed peace agreement with Soviet Russia. It was the end of 3 year war that was fought in all parts in Latvia against various enemies- the German Iron Division, The Red Army and the Bermont- Avalov army. Sadly there were battles that were fought by Latvians against the Latvians. Latvia was the crossing point of German, Soviet, White guard and Allied interests therefore a newborn state of Latvia had many friends and foes. Without the help of Estonian army, Polish army and Allied Warships Latvia would not win independence alone, but it was the strength and the will of Latvian freedom fighters that helped to win the enemy majority.

On 1915 the German army entered the territory of Latvia. Germans conquered all parts of Courland, Semigallia and Selonia. However Riga was not captured and the war front became stuck near the coast of River Daugava. The invasion sparked a large exodus of refugees from German occupied territories. Masses of Latvians fled to inner parts of Russia. Seeing this as a national tragedy patriotic minded Latvians applied to form national riflemen units in the Russian army. This was the beginning of Latvian armed forces. The units got their own Latvian officers. Without the help of these units Russian army would have a harder time defending Riga.

Germans made breakthrough on September 1917 when they crushed Russian armies and forced the river Daugava. Despite heroic defense of Latvian rifleman Riga was captured and Russian army retreated to Vidzeme. The looming Russian defeat and collapsing Tsarist regime radicalized Latvian riflemen and many of them shift to Bolshevism. Bolshevik agitators gained success within Riflemen inner government and made them support the international socialist revolution rather than national independence.

After the Bolshevik coup in November 9 (October), a majority of Riflemen supported Lenin and Trotsky. Not only they took over parts of Latvia, one large part of them part were sent to Petrograd to support the Bolshevik government. During the Russian Civil war Latvian red Rifleman was one of the most effective and most loyal units of the Red Army. Before the Great Purge of 1937 Latvians took important posts in the Soviet government. All of them perished by Stalin’s orders.

The political road to the proclamation of Latvian independence is described here.  On November 18 1918, the independence of Latvia was proclaimed. In situation where largest part of Latvian Rifleman was fighting for the Soviet cause new Latvian state had to make Latvian national armed forces from scratch.

On  November 11 Latvian National Council defense department begun forming first armed forces. It was supported by the Latvian Rifleman National Union who contributed 400 soldiers for the new army. While Latvians desperately searched for new soldiers, local Baltic Germans by the support of German occupation structures begun to form Baltic Landguard (Landeswerh in German) Even if the Germans had recently capitulated to Allies on  November 11, local German forces were not going to leave Latvia for anytime soon. About 2600 volunteers joined the Landeswerh. They were sons of German noble families who wanted to defend their position against the Bolsheviks who were against the aristocrats.

The prospects of looming Soviet attack made Latvians and Germans unite their forces. Both sides mistrusted each other; Baltic Germans wanted their own state and viewed Latvian state with suspicion. Soviet attack begun in December. The German army was defeated and Red Army quickly entered Latgalia. On December 6 Jānis Zālītis was admitted as the minister of defense. The Red offensive was sweeping. The attack forces included Latvian Red rifleman, Russian divisions and International guards made from Chinese volunteers. This was one of the first time Latvians had contact with this nation and the Chinese soldiers were remembered as atrocious fighters.

Latvian national provisional government lead by Kārlis Ulmanis did not gain enough national support. He did not promise free land for all farmers as the Bolsheviks did. Latvian farmers and workers wanted land and bread now, the talk about national sovereignty was futile to them. Plus the temporary alliance with the Germans was even more disliked by them.

On December 17 Latvian Soviet socialist republic was proclaimed. It was led by Pēteris Stučka a well-known leftist leader now turn to communist. His promise of free land to all was supported by a majority of Latvians. Against him Latvian army only had Cesis Regiment, Student Regiment and other small volunteer units. It was too late to issue a draft.

At the beginning of 1919 German and Latvian governments evacuated from Riga. Latvian provisional government head to Liepaja. As the Soviets entered Courland; first battles between Latvians and Soviets were fought. Latvian forces were commanded by colonel-lieutenant Oskars Kalpaks. On the battle of Lielauce Kalpak’s men met face to face their red Latvian counterparts. On January 29 major battle happened at Skrunda at Soviet offensive was stopped.  The front stabilized across river Venta. While the Soviets gained success in Latvia, they faced defeat in Estonia where Estonian armed forces chased them away back to Narva and head to Valka. Soviets sent forces back to Valka, but could not defend it and Northern Vidzeme was entered by Estonian forces.

During the Bolshevik rule in most parts of Latvia, the land was nationalized; there were first attempts at making collective farms. Also ruthless terror on “enemies of the Soviet” took place. This led to popularity loss to the Pēteris Stucka government.

In the February Estonian army advanced in Vidzeme. Germans enlisted their strength by forming Iron Division led by German general Ridiger von der Goltz. He was strongly against Latvian independence and saw it as temporary obstacle. German forces made a quick push back in Courland. Ventspils, Kuldīga and other parts were recaptured. Latvian forces followed the advance; however after an accidental fire exchange with Germans Oskars Kalpaks was killed. He was replaced by Jānis Balodis. German- Latvian advance was successful as Jelgava was liberated and Riga was close.

In Estonian front with the Estonian support a North Latvia brigade led by colonel Jānis Zemitāns was formed. It was a first strongest Latvian unit with 2168 men. As Soviets faced more defeats their morale weakened and more and more Red Latvians deserted and joined national forces.

On the other side of the front Germans were weary about Latvian politics and advances. German leader general Rüdiger von der Goltz was aware of Latvian-Allied talks and Allied warship presence in the Baltic sea. This led to conspiracy in  April 16 when the Germans attempted to arrest Latvian government in Liepaja. Supported by Allied warships Latvian government escaped on board the ship Saratov. Goltz formed his own government led by Andreivs Niedra a pastor loyal to Germans. The Germans started to attack Riga, on May 22 Germans captured Riga. The Latvian army followed them but was unable to reach it first. Bloody battle took place in Kaugurciems were on the beach sands Latvians fought Latvians with bayonets. The Germans made a bloodshed in Riga by executing Bolsheviks and anti-German elements.

In mean time Estonian army captured Valmiera and Cesis. Soviets retreated to Latgalia. While the Latvian government still in exile on board the ship, Goltz now ordered to attack Estonian army as he wanted to defeat all Baltic national armies. In June, a battle at Cesis was fought between Germans and Latvian-Estonian armed forces. The battle was won by Latvians and Estonians. The German plan of making a German state in Baltic region failed.

Allied forces made Germans to sign the Strazdumuiža truce on July 3. They were forced to leave Riga, however as the war in Russia went on and Latgalia was still controlled by the Bolsheviks, allies allowed Germans to stay and re-deploy to fight against the Reds. Latvian government returned to Riga and North Latvia brigade made triumphed march on the streets of Riga.

Now when the majority of Latvians supported Latvian independence, Latvian army was empowered by volunteers. Many new divisions were formed and Allies added tanks and airplanes for Latvian army. Uniforms and new rifles were added to army as it was ready for further battles.

However in the mean time Germans had not given up the fight. In the district of Bauska where Goltz army was located more and more volunteers from Germany arrived. A Russian rotminster a self-declared duke Pavel Bermont managed to gain German trust and made his own army from Russian POW’S in German camps and formed the Army of Bermont. Bermont and Goltz allied together to form Western Russia volunteer army to fight the Bolsheviks. Their forces consisted 52 000 men, with 3 armored trains, 10 armed automobiles and 120 warplanes. Latvian army only had 11, 5 000 men with 1, armored train, 3 armed automobiles and few warplanes.

Riga defense positions November 1919

On October 8, Bermont made swift attack to Riga and quickly pushed away Latvian forces to  the other side of the river Daugava. On 10 October Bermont’s army reached the bridges of Riga; however Latvians prevented the crossing and entrenched in Old Riga and around Riga palace. 3 Estonian armed trains came to help as the Allied ships came close to support Latvians. Bermont stopped the attack and the front line was now located between both sides of the city of Riga.

Latvian government turned down Bermont’s proposal for talks and on the October 11 started counter attack. The Latvian army crossed river Daugava near Bolderaja and Daugavgriva. The attack was assisted by Allied ship cannon fire. The battle for Riga lasted from November 3 to  November 11 when Bermont army was chased away from the city. The 11 November is celebrated as Lachplesis day the day military victory over enemy majority.

The Bermont’s army was pushed back from all sides and in December the remains of his army crossed the Lithuanian border. He lost 5 thousand men, while Latvians lost 2 thousand. Bermont’s army soldiers were ruthless and atrocious. They engaged in killings of the civilians and burned houses and even the palace of Jelgava.

After the complete defeat of German foe, the only thing left was the Soviets who still controlled Latgalia. Since Estonia already had signed a peace agreement with Soviet Russia, Latvia made an alliance with Poland. Together with Polish superior forces Latvians liberated Latgalia. A peace agreement was signed on 11 August. Soviet Russia promised to forever respect Latvian independence and newer engender it. “Forever” was until 1940, when Joseph Stalin decided to end Latvian independence.

The Latvian war for freedom was tough and complicated time. Facing many superior enemies Latvians overcome their differences and united in common cause. It would not be possible without Allied help, but 3046 Latvian men that were lost in the war showed that the Latvian army did enough of its strength to fight.

The war freedom has become legendary time in Latvian history. Movies such “Lachplesis” (1930), and “The Guards of Riga” (2008) is part of making this legend. The fallen heroes of the war of Freedom are laid to rest in BrothersCemetery in Riga and other parts of Latvia. Surviving soldiers were awarded with the Order of Lachplesis. The war for freedom is to be remembered for every Latvian in the future.

Latvian War memorial

Selected Sources:

Pētersone, Inga. (1999)  Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, 1918-1920 : enciklopēdija. Riga: Preses Nams.

Bērziņš, Valdis. (2000) 20. gadsimta Latvijas vēsture. I, Latvija no gadsimta sākuma līdz neatkarības pasludināšanai, 1900-1918. Riga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda.

Bleiere, Daina, Butulis, Ilgvars, Stranga, Aivars, Feldmanis, Inesis and Zunda, Antonijs. (2006) History of Latvia : the 20th century. Riga: Jumava.

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