Monthly Archives: July 2012

Latvia in Summer Olympic Games

Latvian Olympic Team at London’s 2012 Olympics

In Ancient Greece Olympic games was a competition  between various Greek cities, the modern Olympics is the competition between countries, people’s and ideologies across the world. Every country has a chance to win a Gold, Silver and Bronze medal if they send their best sportsmen and sports team. While in big picture fight for medals was always fought mainly by USA, China and Russia, the small countries such as Latvia took pride and celebration from every achievement of their sports team. Latvian representatives have taken part in Olympic games since 1912, under the banner of Russia, Soviet Union and Latvia. This is the story of Latvian participation in this grand sports venue.

In 1912, Summer Olympic games took part in Stockholm, Sweden. The Russian Empire team included Latvian nationals to take part in Greek fight, swimming,  cycling, shooting and track and field disciplines. First Latvian to win a medal was Haralds Blauss who won a bronze medal in clay pigeon shooting. Clay pigeon shooting was shooting at clay disks thrown in the air by a special device at various directions. The marathoner Elmars Reimanis won a strange award – a cup for most slowest performance, presenting his courage and persistence.  In the temperature of +45 Celsius he kept his strength, run slowly but contrary to others he made to finish so late that all the spectators and referees were no longer there.

World war I canceled any games until 192o. in Antwerp, but since the war in Latvia has just ended it did not took part in the games. So the Latvia’s debut in Olympic games was four years later in Paris. Latvia sent a 41 sportsmen. Best achievement was made by weightlifter Kārlis Leilands. Latvian football team also took part and lost to France 0:7. Overall Latvia took part in six sports events out of 19 in Paris.

On 1928, at Amsterdam Latvia send 14 sportsman, including the first female participants. One of them Elfrīda Karlsone was considered the as one of the best disk throwers as her result 35. 27 meters was third best at world level. However no medals were won, the weightlifter Kārlis Leilands was only 2,5 kilograms away from the bronze medal and that was the best Latvian achievement in the games.

Jānis Daliņš the first medalist from Latvian team

The Olympic games in Los Angeles at 1932, was too costly and far away for crisis driven Latvia so only 2 best sportsman arrived there. One of them Jānis Daliņš won first ever medal in Latvian independent history at Racewalking. He finished second crossing 50 km at 4.57:20. Americans were confused by the names of the Latvian delegation as all three representatives of delegation had name Jānis and surname begun with “D”. Journalists asked is all men in Latvia named Jānis or the Jānis is some kind of title. Overall Jānis Daliņš returned as the national hero at home bringing the first medal for his country.

On 1936, the Olympics were held in Berlin. Latvia sent 24 representatives. Edvīns Beitags won silver medal in Greek-Roman fight discipline. Bronze medal was won by Adalberts Bubenko in Racewalk on 50 km. Nobody knew back then that Latvian sportsmen will have to wait 56 years to again participate under the Latvian flag.

After the end of World War II Latvia was occupied and annexed by Soviet Union. However the Latvian sportsman were included in the Soviet team in every Olympics since Helsinki 1952. 3 Latvians were at Helsinki, Maigonis Valdmanis took part in Soviet Basketball team that achieved second place, but he did not received the medal. Oto Grigalka finished fourth in shot-put.

Latvian first Olympic champion Inese Jaunzeme

The Melbourne 1956, was time of victory as all 5 Latvians came back with a medal. Inese Jaunzeme became the Olympic champion at javelin-throwing starting the Latvian prominence in this discipline. Basketball player Jānis Krūmiņš won silver, along with team member Valdis Muižnieks and Maigonis Valdmanis.

At Rome 1960, 6 Latvians came with the Soviet team. Again the Soviet basketball team achieved second place giving 4 silver medals to same players that won them in Melbourne. But the gold medal was one by javelin thrower Elvīra Ozoliņa (Lūse). Bruno Habārovs won bronze in   fencing.

The legendary Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winner Jānis Lūsis

At Olympic games at Tokyo 1964, 10 out of 15 Latvians won medals. Javelin thrower Jānis Lūsis begun his glorious path by winning bronze medal. Two members of Soviet volleyball team won gold medals.

On 1968, Mexico 3 golden medals were brought home to Latvia. Most famous of it was won by Jānis Lūsis how threw the javelin over 90 meters. Other two medals were gained by male and female volleyball players.

At Munich 1972, Jānis Lūsis came second becoming the only Latvian who has the full Olympic medal set – Gold, Silver and Bronze. Juris Silovs won silver medal in running.

1976. games to Montreal. Soviet female basketball team won the gold medals with their leaders Uļjana Semjonova and Tamāra Dauniene. Aivars Lazdenieks won silver in rowing, Juris Silovs bronze in running.

The Olympic games in Moscow for Latvians were technically the home games. Latvian factories made equipment for games and 13 Latvians came to Moscow.  Only two of them did not win any medal, making Moscow the most successful games for Latvians ever. However since the US and many other Western block countries were boycotting the games such result was no wonder. 4 gold medals, 7 silver and 2 bronze medals were brought home to Riga.

The Olympic games in Los Angeles were boycotted by the Soviet Union. Latvians missed the chance to take part in Olympics. The last games under the red banner was in Seoul 1988. 4 gold medals were won by rower Ivans Klementjevs, shooter Afanasijs Kuzmins and in gymnastics by 15-year-old Natālija Laščonova. Igors Miglenieks became the Olympic champion in basketball.

Latvia returned as sovereign country at Barcelona 1992. 34 sportsman in 14 sports fields came to Spain. Ivans Klementjevs won silver medal in rowing, Afanasijs Kuzmins silver in shooting and Dainis Ozols the bronze in cycling.

The Olympic Games at Atlanta was the least successful games for Latvia so far. Out of 47 representatives only Ivans Klemetjevs won silver medal.

The games in Sidney 2000, was more successful as the gymnast Igors Vihrovs won the Gold medal – the first Gold medal in the history of the independent Latvia. Aigars Fadejevs finished second Racewalk. And Vsevolods Zeļonijs won bronze in judo.

The best Olympic games for Latvia was in Athens 2004. 4 sportsmen out of 34 won silver medals. The flag barer Vadims Vasiļevskis won silver in javelin throwing, Jeļena Rubļevska in pentathlon, Jevgeņijs Saproņenko in gymnastics and Viktors Ščerbatihs in weightlifting.

Latvian Olympic BMX Champion Māris Štrombergs

Just like in Sydney Latvia won all three medal set in Beijing 2008. Javelin Thrower Ainārs Kovals won silver, Viktors Ščerbatihs came third. But the gold medal was achieved in the newly introduced BMX race. The winner Māris Štrombergs is a top BMX racer and world champion and has a good chances in London.

On 9th August Latvian Beach volleyball team won the Bronze medal defeating the Netherlands duo. Previously they defeated the US leading beach volleyball duo  in semi final. Mārtņš Pļaviņš and Jānis Smēdiņš are first Latvian medalists in London games and first to win medal in team sports.

On 10th August at BMX Cycling Māris Štrombergs defends his Olympic champion title and wins Gold medal.

Latvia brought home 2 medals Gold and Bronze and t00k 49 place at the countries medal table.

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Baltic German Nazis in Latvia 1933-1939

There have been too much speculation about rise of national socialism  in Latvia and Latvian Nazi’s in the past. These speculations have been mostly carried out by Russian propaganda and Soviet mythology. In reality before the World War II Nazism was very unpopular among Latvians. There was only one marginal Latvian National Socialist party that suffered from low recognition and was short-lived project.  The Thunder cross movement despite their antisemitism was more Latvian Radical Nationalist than Nazi and can be at least compared to Mussolini Fascism.  The reason why Nazism was pretty hated by Latvians at those times was the local Baltic German Nazis who were outspoken and aggressive defenders of German expansionism. Latvians who witnessed 700 years of German prominence feared Nazi Germany more than the Soviet Union.

After the end of the First World war a new age begun for Baltic Germans in Latvia. The independence of Latvia changed their political, economical and social status. For 700 years they considered them as a political elite. The Agrarian Reform in 1920 completely destroyed their prominence in rural areas and made a large blow to their political power.

Despite being the third national minority (3,9% of the population) they still kept strong position in politics and economical field. While other minorities were divided between various rival political factions, Baltic Germans made a united party list and always scored 5-6 parliamentary seats in Latvian parliament.

Their attitude against the state of Latvia was uneasy. During the first years of independence they’re taking a passive or even hostile position against Latvia and Latvians. The main reason for this was unwillingness to obey a small nation namely Latvians. They felt discriminated and oppressed for they thought that state abuses their imagined rights. However, the Baltic Germans have begun to adapt to the new situation and took part in state matters. Their main demands were “the gaining the minority rights and their empowerment.” In practice that sometimes meant giving demands to Latvian state that often were chauvinistic.

The situation changed in 1933 after Adolf Hitler rise to power in Germany. The Nazi ideology and promise to unite all Germans abroad in one German state deeply affected the Baltic Germans. In result they have begun to alienate from Latvian state and head towards Nazi Germany. The alienation went deeper after a coup by Karlis Ulmanis in 1934 that prohibited Germans and other minorities take part in the elections. For years Germany was considered defeated and weak the rise of Nazi power made it look stronger and that made Germans living outside Germany support the Nazi party.

Nazi movement first emerged in Latvia in 1932 and was exported from Germany. Baltic German Nazis were divided in many groups under common cause. The official German National Socialist Workers party had its own local group in Latvia (Ostgruppe or Stützpunkt Riga), the Baltic Brotherhood (Baltische Brüderschaft), German cultural society (Deutscher Kulturveirein), Baltic Land Party (Baltischer Landespartei) group lead by lawyer Erhard Kroeger also called as the “Movement” (Bewegung). Not all of these organizations were primary Nazi, but had certain Nazi elements in them.

  Consequently the Movement lead by E. Kroeger became the main Nazi force in Latvia. It emerged in spring 1933, when Kroeger attempted to find new Baltic German National party (Nationalpartei der deutschen Balten). However the Latvian Ministry of Interior rejected the registration of the party for it feared that the new movement posses danger to the Latvian state.

The Movement continued to operate in secret. For many years its legal cover was “German education society in Latvia (Deutscher Bildungsveiren in Lettland) and “Baltic German travel and sports society” (Deutshbaltischer Wander-un Sportveiren). The German youth union in Latvia (Verband deutscher Jugend in Lettland) and German scouts union (Deutscherbaltischer Pfandfinderbund) was under E. Kroeger control bringing Nazi propaganda to young Baltic Germans. However the Nazis failed to assume control over German employes union (Verband deutscher Arbeitnehmer in Lettland) as in 1935, the Nazi members were excluded from the union.

After the coup by Karlis Ulmanis the security services begun to suppress the Movement and attempted to limit the activities of their legal cover organizations. However the Movement continued to operate. Their structure and rankings were taken straight from Nazi party in Germany, the members of the movement could be recognized by their brown shirts. They marched across the streets sparking anger of local Latvians. Before the coup the German Nazis were openly combated by Latvian Social Democrats and their youth organization The Workers Sports Union (SSS). Often Latvian leftists and German Nazis engaged in open street fights. Also Jewish organizations took an active stance against German shops, exports and cinema making the Latvian foreign relations with Germany problematic. Sometimes Latvians united with Jews to beat up the German Nazis in the parks of Riga.

The Movement leadership had its “headquarters” and the “center”. The headquarters were lead  by E. Kroeger, A. Von Koskull, H. Barth, H. Schlau, H. Ohsoling- Fehre ad V. Von Baehr. The members of the center was O. Von Krauss, V. Von Radetzky, H. Schneider, O, von Firks, B von Bieberstein and N. Stender. According to Latvian intelligence the Movement was divided into smaller cells. The Mans Union (Mannschaft), Females Union (Frauenschaft), Youth Union (Jugendschaft) and Girls Union (Mädchenschaft) The main role was for Mans Union that operated in various cities in Latvia or even in rural areas. Also they had a special defense group (Schutzgruppen) whose role was to spy on non Nazi Germans and sort out the  Latvian secret police informants among their ranks. The Latvian intelligence service did constant monitoring of the Movement, from their documents we know detailed facts about their structure and ranks.

  The popularity of the Movement rose steadily. In 1934 they were supported by less than quarter of the Baltic Germans. However in 1936 their support rose up sharply because of the new laws that closed the German trade guilds including the Great and Small Guild in Old Riga. Also some German unions were closed sparking dissent among Baltic Germans.

  The Movement used any possible tool to spark Nazi propaganda among Baltic Germans. The Nazi propaganda entered German schools and German academic institutions. The Herder Institute became the main place for Nazi lectures, courses and meetings. Nazis organized informal meetings labeled as the “family evenings, beer meetings”, a Nazi propaganda books were illegally imported to Latvia. Even in legal German meetings Nazis showed up. One of the main goals of the Nazis was to infiltrate in legal German unions and take control over them. The Baltic German Peoples Union (Deutschbaltiche Volksgeinschaft in Lettland) was the main Baltic German representative in culture, politics and social issues. Because the leadership of the Peoples Union was conservative or even liberal, the Nazis made large efforts to discredit the leadership by using lies and black PR. The Nazi German youth came in handy.

  At the end of 1938  the Movement took almost complete control over the Peoples Union, by electing their deputy A. Intelmann as the president of the union and E. Kroeger entered the presidium excluding the members of the old guard.

The Movement received extended support from Nazi Germany. The members of the Movement were sent to Germany to receive a special Nazi education so they can do their propaganda work at home. German Agency The “Peoples German” central office (Peoples Germans were a special term for the Germans living outside Germany) took special care of the Movement bypassing the Peoples Union.

The main thing that Baltic Germans striven for was occupation of the Baltic states by Germany. Nazis spread out slogans for “German entering and ruling in Latvia”. After the annexation of Austria 1938 the calls for a German invasion became louder. Large crowds greeted the arrival of the German war cruiser “Köln” and sung the song of “when German sailors will return to Latvia and the banner of Nazi Germany will flow here”. After the annexation of Klaipeda from Lithuania in spring 1939 the Nazi movement reached its peak. The hopes were high that Germans will be here anytime soon.

 However, the reality of the German foreign policy put a dead end on the Baltic German Nazi movement. After the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact a confusion and resentment were among Baltic Germans. In Autumn 1939, the German resettlement  to Germany begun and all local German Nazis moved away to their Nazi dreamland. Some of them became members of the German Nazi party, took part in SS and Army ranks. Erhard Kroeger became a top SS officer, joined the Einzatzgruppen in Soviet Union and was known for his involvement in the infamous Vlasov army.

Today we can see some analogy with Baltic Germans and Russians. Russians same as Baltic Germans felt resentment after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They lost their prominence in politics also the language lost the official status. The Citizenship law had the same effect as the Agrarian reform. And the impression of Vladimir Putin Russia as more stronger and greater than before made many Russians lost their loyalty to Latvian state and turn to dissent and radicalism. Russian nationalist parties and groups sometimes operate like the German Nazi Movement. Also the involvement of the state of Russia is clearly visible. This shows that Latvia will never be free from the ambitions of the imperialist nations. However in the past the tides of history have always turned against the imperialist nations. Nazi Germany is the prime example.

Selected Sources:

Feldmanis, Inesis (1985) Vācu fašisma loma buržuāziskās Latvijas vācu nacionālā mazākuma galveno organizāciju nacifikācijā (1933 -1939) : mācību līdzeklis. Rīga : P. Stučkas Latvijas Valsts universitāte.

Kaņepe, Vija (Ed.) (2001) Latvijas izlūkdienesti, 1919-1940 : 664 likteņi. Riga : LU žurn. “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

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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