Awarding people for high merits of the state has been a noble tradition for many centuries. Even the most revolutionary countries like United States of America and the Soviet Union have and had the most complex system of state awards.
Latvia is no stranger for Orders and Medals and since its foundation it has introduced many notable state awards. The first award was the Order of Lāčplēsis (Bear Slayer) named after the Latvian epic war hero. The order was founded on November 11 1919 the day when the Latvian army fought the battle of Riga. Only after complete liberation of Latvia at 18 September 1920 the requirements for the order were made. The order was to be awarded only for war merits and only for those who served the duty to act of valor for the honor and glory of Latvia. The other recipients were members of the Latvian Army, the members of the former Latvian rifleman corps and foreigners who took part in the War of Freedom. The Order statutes included 62 points and the questions of awarding were decided by the Council of the Order of Lāčplēsis.
The order is a stylized swastika with white enamel coating and red and aureate enclosing. In avers in the center of the cross on the medallion is the depiction of Lāčplēsis. At the corner of the cross two crossed swords. On the reverse its written in medallion ” 11 November For Latvia”. The order has three classes. The order was designed by J. A. Libert. The first class also had its own star.
The first class was awarded to high rank officers like General J. Balodis, K, Berķis. O. Kalpaks the first commander of the Latvian army and F. Briedis the famous leader of the Latvian rifleman was awarded posthumously. The first class was also awarded to foreign leaders. The king of Belgium Albert I in 1923 the Estonian general J. Laidoner who fought on Latvian soil, Polish marshal J. Pilsudsky, two French generals, one British general and the king of Italy Emanuele III. Also the dictator of Italy Benitto Mussolini was later awarded. The second class was awarded to 18 Latvians and 43 foreigners, with 3th class 1600 members of the Latvian army. And 271 foreigners (the Estonians, Poles, French, Finns, Czechs, Lithuanians and the fortress of Verdun.). Three women were awarded with the third class.
The Order of Lāčplēsis was a strictly a military order. It took some years before the highest civilian award was introduced. The Order of the Three Stars was founded in 1924. The order has five classes and three decorations of honor. The council of the Order was led by the president of Latvia and parliament members along with two high awarded members. The Order was given to all Latvian soldiers who voluntarily joined Latvian forces and took part in battles (excluding those who received the Order of Lāčplēsis).
The first class was given to 285 people, second to 391, third 1323, fourth 2194 and fifth 4417. The last order was given in May 11 1940. The honor decorations were given in three classes. First class 2834, Second class 3624, Third class 1515.
In 1938 a new military decoration was founded the Order of Viesturs named after the ancient Latvian war leader. The order has five classes and three class decorations of honor. It’s a rare award because it was only awarded few times from 1938 to 1940. The first class was given to six Latvian army generals. Including J. Balodis, K, Berķis and J. Kurelis. The second class was given to 28 people, third in 126, fourth in 390 and fifth to 701 persons.
In the same year the Cross of Recognition was founded as the award for highest Latvian elite members. The Order was first was founded by the Duke of Courland and Semigallia Friedrich Wilhelm (1692-1711) in 1710. The eighteen year old king took over the throne and issued the new order. However, the Order existed only for a year as the young king died on his return from the wedding in Petersburg. The restored order was meant for people with great love for the fatherland and for the merits in state, social and cultural work. First who received the first class was historian the director of the Latvian State institute professor A. Tentelis. The next ones were the foreign minister V. Munters, professor V. Purvītis, J, Vītols. The last awarded to the third class the chief of Civil Guard K. Prauls. The second class was given to 21 persons including opera singer E. Laube, poet Aspazija, and many other high merit cultural workers. The fourth and fifth class was given to many notable members of various professions.
There were also many medals. The Latvian Liberation War Commemorative badge was given to all who served duty during the war of liberation. In 1928 during the celebration of 10th anniversary the Commemorative medal was given to persons who took part in the battles.
The Civil guard (Aizsargi) was a paramilitary organization that took the role of imposing order and security in towns and countryside after the war. The organization became a popular army like formation that everyone could join in. The Aizsargi became even more prominent after the coup of Karlis Ulmanis where they played an active role. They had their own Cross of merit and medal. The National youth organization “The Hawks of Latvia” had their medals, also the Red Cross of Latvia four classes of awards. The firemen had their decoration, rare decoration was the medal for life saving.
The Soviet occupation removed all these awards. During the years of occupation Latvians were awarded with Soviet awards. After the restoration of independence the main decorations the Order of Three Stars, The Order of Viesturs and the Cross of Recognition was restored. For now the most popular award is the Order of the Three Stars. The notable members of the Barricade movements have their own award. Many new medals have been made for police, military and firefighters. The awards are given by the president of Latvia. The Latvian Orders and Medals are beautiful and are made in the best Western European traditions.
Ducmane, Kristīne, (1993) Apbalvojumi Latvijas Republikā 1918-1940. Rīga : Latvijas Vēstures muzejs : Latvijas enciklopēdija.
Gerts,Oskars (Ed.) (1997) Triju zvaigžņu gaismā. Rīga : Latvijas Vēstnesis.
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