Tag Archives: Baltic States

Ukrainians in Latvia

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Latvia despite somewhat far from Ukraine has always shared common connections with Ukrainian people. In the Middle Ages the Vikings or Varyags came down from river Daugava to river Dnieper to the Kievan Rus. The territory of Latvia and Ukraine were united within the Poland -Lithuania and the Empire of Russia. Some Latvians moved to rich Ukrainian lands to gain their own farming land. Many Latvian nationals were sent on military duty to Ukrainian lands. In the same matter the first Ukrainian people appeared in Latvian lands on 19th century.

Ukrainians served in Russian garrisons, students went to Riga Polytechnic Institute  and various specialists and teachers. According to national census of 1897 1000 people called them as Ukrainians, most of them were from Russian  army. On 1910 Ukrainian students  in Riga Orthodox cathedral held a church service on the day of death of the Ukrainian writer Taras Sevchenko. This became a tradition until 1940. On 1911 first Ukrainian national organization “Gromada” (Alliance) was formed. Despite being short of members it had its own choir, dramatic ensemble and support cash desk. On 1914 Tsarist authorities forbid Ukrainians to  celebrate openly the 100 birthday of Taras Sevchenko and the celebration was held privately at the Gromada office. Latvian organizations were invited also.

On 1915 the German army invaded the Latvian territory.  The work of the national organizations were stopped. Factories were evacuated and the Riga Polytechnic institute was closed. Many Ukrainians were  sent to Latvian rifleman battalions. After the February revolution of 1917 within 12th army stationed within Riga of whom many Ukrainians served, created their national organizations. The newspaper “Ukrainian voice”, the Ukrainian socialists-revolutionaries  (esers), and the Ukrainian Rada of the 12th  army with Aleksandr Blonsky as the leader. On May 6 the congress of the Ukrainian soldiers were held in Riga. A nationalistic goal was set to “Ukrainianaze” the 21 Corpus of the 12th army and send it to Ukraine. The congress ended with march trough the streets of Riga with Ukrainian songs.  The Rada worked until January 1918 when most of the Ukrainian soldiers came back to homeland.

On November 20 1917 in Kiev the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Ukrainians tried to make contacts with Latvian counterparts. From 1919 to 1921 a diplomatic and consular connections between UPR and the Republic of Latvia were established.  On September 1 1919 the UPR  Consulate in Riga begun its work. Consulate supported the Ukrainian refugees. Also the Ukrainian as well as Belorussian Peoples Republic citizenship served as a loophole for some who wanted to avoid serving in the Latvian army during the War for Freedom. Both national countries did not survive the Russian Civil War. In result on August 3 1921 a treaty with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic recognizing its sovereignty was established.  The treaty regulated the exchange of refugees and disregard any other form of government within Ukrainian SSR. Therefore all relations with UPR were canceled and their citizens within Latvia had to find a new citizenship. Ukraine was divided between Soviet Union, Poland and Romania.

Ukrainians in Poland had uneasy relations with the nationalist minded Polish government, in Romania the existence of the Ukrainian minority was officially denied. In Soviet Union at first the politics were quite friendly towards Ukrainian language, but after start of the Stalin’s collectivization it turned into national genocide or Holodomor killing at least 5 million people.

Latvia meanwhile has its one of the most liberal national minority policies. Jews, Germans, Russians and others enjoyed an autonomy in their schools and took part in politics. On 1925 there were 512 Ukrainians, on 1930 – 1629 and on 1935 1844. Most lived in Daugavpils district – 166, at Rezekne district and Liepaja 90. The rise of the Ukrainian numbers can be explained by the fact that first national census of 1920 counted Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians together as Russians, and also many who before were unaware of their nationality counted themselves as Ukrainians.

In contrary to vast masses of Russian and Belorussian peasants, the Latvian Ukrainians were city dwellers and middle class citizens. Most of them not born in Latvia, with good education worked as businessman and state employees. Some took important posts within Latvian Army like Captain Vladimir Romachenko in Topographical department. Andrei Cibulsky from 1919-1935 was deputy of the chief of the Riga Police District. Before 1934 some Ukrainians took part in Latvian politics, Latvian Tuberculosis hospital nurse Olga Markovich was active within Latvian Social Democratic Workers party, while Lubova Lejiņa within Latvian Farmers Party. Retired Riga District Court chief executive joined the Democratic Center on 1932. Some Ukrainian intellectuals like Jakub Kastiluk worked with the Belorussian culture society “Batyakaushina” and took lessons in the Belorussian schools.

From 1921 to 1922 the Ukrainian political refugee – emigrant committee was  established but closed after the pressure from the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs. On 1932 a “Latvian-Ukrainian society”was established by Ukrainian nationals mostly business owners.  On 1938 it had 111 members. On 1934 it established library and organized culture events. At the end of the 3oies the Latvian authorities wanted to limit the number of the national organizations and requested to join it with “Cultural contacts establishment with the nations in USSR”. It was never done as after the Soviet invasion the society was closed.

Soviet power restricted Ukrainian national life as much as other national minorities were repressed. On August 6 1940 the former leader of the Ukrainian political refugees Maxim Didikovsky and other past UPR representatives were arrested. Most people who had some connection with UPR were sent to Siberia or executed.

On 1943 Nazi German occupation made local cenus and counted 11339 Ukrainians within  Latvia part of Ostland. The sharp increase was made because of deported Soviet prisoners of war and people sent on compulsory  work. Nazi occupation had no special policy towards Ukrainians due to their small numbers. Captain V Romachenko on 1941 joined the anti-soviet partisans within Ventspils to fight against Red Army. Pyotr Abramchenko was one of the first to join self-defense unit to assist German invaders. It was because of the common belief that Germans will give back independence both to Ukraine and Latvia. Many Ukrainians were mobilized in Latvian Waffen SS Legion. At least 549 Soviet Ukrainian POW’s joined or were forced to join the German Army support service. Some Ukrainians took part in Soviet underground resistance.

During the Soviet occupation the amount of Ukrainians sharply increased. On 1959 294, 4 thousand, on 1989 92, 1 thousand making them 3,5% of the Latvian SSR population. This was because of the unrestricted immigration boosted by forced industrialization.  Ukraine was devastated by Stalin’s genocide and WW2. Those who came from Eastern Ukraine deeply affected by Russification could not speak Ukrainian and only added to massive amounts of “Russian speakers” in Latvia.   The Russification of the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews disguised as creation of “unified Soviet nation” with one common Latvian language left deep scars within Latvian society.

However, already on  1988 as the independence movement started the Latvian Ukrainian national cultural society “Dņipro” was founded. With the leadership of Viktor Prudiss and Volodomir Stroy the society had 300 members. The politically active Ukrainians joined in society “Slavutich” and the Ukraine patriotic organization “RUH” Riga branch for the first time in Soviet Union went to streets with the Ukrainian blue and yellow banner. The flag of Ukraine first flew in Riga before it appeared in Kiev.

Despite that large parts of the Latvian Ukrainians did not support the Latvian independence, 8 elected Ukrainian nationals within Latvian Supreme Soviet ranked with communists in who voted against the Declaration of the restoration of the independence. After 1991 24 thousand Ukrainians left Latvia for Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian integration in Latvian democratic society was obstructed by the fact that large part of them became non-citizens. At first Ukrainian organizations made mistakes by cooperating with pro-Kremlin political parties. Gradually the connection with Latvia was established however it caused rift within Ukrainians as many still supported pro-Kremlin opposition. On 2006 the many Ukrainian national    organizations joined within Union of Ukrainian Societies. On 2012 the Latvian Ukrainian Congress was formed as part of the World and European Ukrainian congress.

According to 2011 national census 45 798 Ukrainians are living in Latvia. However, only 1 774 people are using the Ukrainian language at  their homes. That means that most of them use Russian language as the size of the Russian speakers greatly exceeds the size of the ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians have very loose national identity and are still part of former “Soviet nation” with different national outlook. However, in last 20 years the connections with independent Ukraine has greatly increased. During the events in Ukraine the Latvian Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian Congress organized many support actions and showed support towards Ukrainian revolution. On March 2 2014 after Russian invasion in Ukraine the Ukrainian society organized anti-war protest gathered about thousand people most of them Latvians. This is a sign of a Ukrainian national revival and great support from Latvian society. As mainland Ukraine is under foreign invasion the more support and unity between Latvians and Ukrainians is essential to  the survival of the both nations.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (2007) Ukraiņi Latvijā 19. gadsimta beigās – 1988. gadā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

Dribins Leo (2007) Ukraiņi atjaunotajā Latvijas republikā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.

http://ukrlatvian.lv/%D0%BE%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BB/

http://www.ukrkongress.lv/lv/

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Latvia and the New Cold War

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

Caricature by Gatis Šlūka

On 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev started his perestroika policy few could imagine that after few years we will live again in independent state of Latvia. And after some 20 years again few could imagine that we are heading towards new kind of Soviet Union. The president of Russia has fully exposed his covertly long run anti-western agenda by annexing Crimea and unleashing a rhetoric of confrontation. We are entering an era of instability and security chaos possibly resulting in war. To answer who is to blame for this? We all by our own.

When Soviet Union collapsed on 1991 the new government by Boris Yeltsin was unable or unwilling to make cardinal revolutionary changes not just in Russian economy, but within every aspect of Russian society. The old soviet elite kept their position the so-called nomenklatura adapted to  new “wild capitalism” environment. In result an oligarchy controlling Kremlin politics  appeared that made the things the old soviet ways and were above anyone else. Truly a shock reform policy was needed to switch to free market economy, but in society with less experience of free market policy the reforms served only small part of the society. A shock reforms were needed in Russian political ranks- complete de-sovietization – where all forms of communist parties are forbidden, the communist rule is condemned and unmasked at full-scale. Instead for many the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster not a beginning of the liberation for the Russian people.

An important thing that was not achieved was the shake up or even liquidation of the KGB – the Soviet Secret Service. Also old soviet army leaders kept its positions. The KGB a guardian of the Soviet power did everything to save USSR from collapse even 1991 August coup. After it was shamefully divided as Federal Security Service (FSB) and the External Intelligence Service (SVR) its employees were scared of being persecuted or fired. But Boris Yeltsin administration did nothing – on 1993 Yeltsin brutally crushed his political opponents with tanks and year later started war in Chechnya against  national separatists. True the 1993 White House defenders waved Red Banners and Chechnya separatists used terrorist tactics, but this again made the Russian security services on the top. Yeltsin was dependent on so-called siloviks – the security elite and the oligarhs and to gain his reelection a lot of he had to sacrifice. On 2000 to keep his family safe from corruption charges he had to succumb to security elite and choose Vladimir Putin a ex KGB agent his new successor.

We may say that Putin has no personality and he seemed plain and shallow. So they spoke the same about Stalin and Hitler. What he and his close KGB veterans wanted is to regain the lost legacy of the KGB and the Soviet army. They did not believe that the collapse of the Soviet union was a result of the peoples will for freedom and democracy – no it was done by the western secret agencies and shallowly forces of the western capital elite. Putin on 1996 in TV interview had warned about the dangers of over powered security apparatus as a threat to civil liberties. Now he was working to prove this.

Meanwhile the Western world looked at Russia with either amusement or positive interest. Some political annalists like Francis Fukuyama rote major books about the end of the history, where the whole world will turn to liberal democracies and reach greatest progress. The US president George Bush issued a time of the New World Order where US will take the leading part. Instead the 1990ies were marked strong US will for isolationism. US Democrat President Bill Clinton wanted to avoid the direct force of the US military. In result the failed military actions  in Somalia and Afghanistan showed the Islamic radicals that US is vulnerable to  attack. US still had abnormal fears about Russia, based on the lack of insight and understanding. Both US and EU wanted from the former soviet countries to do things they were unable off. The point made by Samuel Huntington that eastern countries can successfully modernize, but not necessarily westernize became the ultimate reality. Macdonalds in Moscow, Russians riding German BMW’s and using Microsoft Windows did not change the fact that Russian politics are still ruled by ex-soviet elite. Who also modernized – mansions in UK and Italy, children in western schools, but the same old anti-western view.

When on 2000 Putin came to power his hands were still too short on establishing a dictatorship. Russia still had economic problems from the economic default. But, after 2001 9/11 the oil and gas price started to rise up. When the Republican administration in contrast to light democrats unleashed two full-scale wars in Middle East the oil prices skyrocketed. An invasion in Iraq proved to be unnecessary and poorly planned in the spirit of the Neo-Conservative Tom Clancy novel thinking where US forces easily crushes the enemy and makes democracy failed. But, it was a gift to crisis driven Russia, dependent on  oil and gas exports. It worked for Leonid Brezhnev once and it worked for Putin also- oil price boosted economic growth gained within Russian people. Also the restarted war with Chechnya allowed the FSB to start attacking free press and civil liberties. In the same manner as Stalin purged the members of the Leningrad elite and replaced them with his friends from Tsaritsina front, the Putin purged the Yeltsin supported oligarchs like Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.   Using the legal nihilism – the abuse of laws, Kremlin elite took over nearly all TV, Printed press and radio. However, the old soviet elite underestimated the power of the Russian internet. By capitalizing on oil and gas companies the Putin regime made an authoritarian regime with formal elections and opposition.

At first such situation was ideal for restoration of the Soviet Union. However, Russia was unable to prevent NATO military intervention former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia, Kirghistan and Ukraine.  We can speculate that the western countries did funded the opposition and made foreign funded NGO’s. But, when Russia indiscreetly funds pro-Kremlin movements in post soviet countries and install many pro-Russia NGO’s its described as “brotherly support”. On 1920-1939 the Communist Internationale  made a network of communist parties and legal cover movements within Europe and US looking to overthrow the capitalist governments. And after 1991 the same was done in the name of the Russian speakers outside Russia. This scheme worked in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus. But, it failed in Ukraine on 2004 where large part of people with education and modern outlook managed to prevent ex gangster from Donetsk Viktor Yanukovych to take power. But, according to Kremlin it was not the general will of the people it was the US dollars that caused this. According to soviet leader the people are not supposed to stand against the ruler and are to week to decide themselves.  But, such thinking is generally wrong. If the large numbers of people are ready to stand against tyranny and injustice, support from abroad only boost their will. But, the will to fight against injustice is made by the one who creates injustice.

On 2008 Putin and Medvedev devised a plan to punish Georgia for wanting to join EU and NATO. By making provocations Georgia was pushed into war and lost large part of their territories. But, the goal to cause the downfall of the Georgian government failed. And even the new Georgian leadership has not changed its goal to join EU one bit.

2008 war should had opened the western eyes. Instead last year president of US George Bush who knew the Putin’ s soul only managed to stop Russians from advancing Tbilisi by sending US fleet and the French president Nicola Sarkozy sacrificed Abhazia and South Ossetia to Putin.  The new democrat US president Barack Obama who again tried to make a soft appeasing effort only showed to Russia his weakness and ignorance. First by failing to understand that Medvedev is only de facto ruler of Russia and avoiding Putin, then issuing a “reset” policy. Barack Obama policy was more inclined towards Middle East and the Arab Spring failing to understand the heavy Russian involvement there. Russia was interested in both keeping the Arab dictators and both in disorder as it continually boosted the oil prices. The extensive support for Iran and Syria is needed to keep US in the Middle East as long as possible and have a free hand on the Eastern Europe.

And now we came to Latvia. What Latvian elite and society has done to understand the Kremlin threat. As a country with largest Russian speaker population and Soviet armed forces until 1994, Latvia juggled between harsh nationalistic policies and liberal multiculturalism. In such way the great divide was done within Latvians and Russian speakers and within Latvians themselves who were divided in national conservatives and liberals. Such political divide has kept until this day. While Latvian political elite has successfully managed to prevent from pro-Kremlin forces to take power, the inner struggle has weakened the Latvian political elite. In result a constantly unstable right-wing coalition in contrast to unified pro-Kremlin opposition. Many Latvian parties no longer serve their names they hold. Reform party made no real reforms, Unity failed to unify Latvian politics and the National Alliance serves against the national interests. Green Farmers serves the interests of oligarchs and various radical sectarian movements on both sides only adds to struggle. Latvia is a “small Ukraine” with divided society, corrupt ineffective administrative bureaucratic apparatus  and weakened army.

 In such situation when Kremlin uses force against its neighbors what will happen to Latvia? It’s a rather interesting that despite such divide we have managed to avoid violent outbursts like in 2006 Estonia. But, then again Estonia is a step forward in national policy than Latvia. Latvian army devoid of basic APC’s, airfield still in construction and most of the focus on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan can protect its own citizens. It  always strikes me when on national parade Latvian infantry marches on desert camouflage uniforms – if according to some officials Latvian Army only is needed for missions in the Middle East and Africa then they are at least incompetent. In case of invasion can we only relay on Estonia, Lithuania and Poland and far away NATO forces? But, can our neighbors relay on us? And can our soldiers and people relay on politicians some of them who have very doubtful political views that will make appropriate decisions in case of emergency? These questions are very serious.

US, EU and Latvia must place end to wishful thinking  and deception. Russian investments have overfilled the capital of the UK Londongrad (London) and reached the Westminster palace. Brussels and Strasbourg is full of Russian agents. The sacrifices must be made to prevent further KGB regime advance to Western Europe. Today it is Russian bribes in Paris, tomorrow it will be tanks marching trough the Arc of Triumphe.  The Crimea, Kharkiv and Riga are not that far. A mobilization of society like in Cold War against the common threat against the western values are vital to our survival.

Now about the “common Russian threat”. No the whole Russian nation are not our enemies. Large masses marched in Moscow to protest against the invasion in Crimea. Russia has growing large educated society who wants to enjoy the same way of life as in EU and the US. No doubt that even without the EU and US sanctions Russia will face great economic difficulties. And these people will not want to give away their personal freedoms and money to regime willing to reset to Cold War. The civil resistance against the shallow and old-fashioned neo soviet regime is needed to be supported by Latvia, US and EU. And countries like Ukraine and Belarus that are on the frontline of the new iron curtain requires or support to gain freedom from pro-Kremlin thug regimes. The Putin’s policy of mixing Third Rome idea with Soviet imperialism leads Russia and its neighbors in to collapse. So for next years to come Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states should and will became the field of struggle between new forces of democracy and personal choice and old forces of totalitarian regimes and collectivism.

We are living in times of great changes. It is our personal responsibility in  every way big or small to take part in these changes, and work for the benefit of the free world. The first Cold War was a fundamental fight between two political systems. This New Cold War is a fundamental fight  to defend what had conquered many years ago and prevent from the return from the empire of evil.

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First Drama movie made in Latvia in 1913 “Where is the Justice? The Tragedy of the Jewish Student”

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Those who have some elementary  knowledge in the history of the Latvian cinema may tell that first drama movie made in independent Latvia was Es Karā Aiziedams (I am leaving for war) on 1920. The movie that has sadly not survived. But, few may know that before WWI when Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire, first three drama movies on 1913 where made by Jewish filmographers. “Where is the truth?  The Tragedy of the Jewish Student”, “Listen Israel!” and “The Shoemaker Leiba”. Of all three only the first one “Where is the truth?” is conserved and can be viewable on youtube.  There is some doubts that “The Shoomaker Lieba” was actually filmed outside Latvia. But, from the first scenes of the “Where is the truth?” it is clear that this movie was shot in Riga and Ventspils. A movie remarkable for its political context and still obscure information about the its  producer and director S. Mintus.

Cinema was the new trend of the XX century. After it first appeared in 1895 Paris, it soon arrived in Riga. On 1901 the first cinema was built-in Riga. A decade later 1910 first documentary of the Tzar Nicholas II visiting Riga were taken. The 2 min footage by Alexander Drankov study were made and still can be viewable today. As Russian Empire allowed private movie screening business and movie making the doors were open to Latvia to make first dramatic movies. And that is where the Jewish photographer and photo equipment seller S Mintus came in. He owned his own company “S Mintus shopping house”. With enough money and connections he went on venture to film his own movies. He also owned his own cinema “The Coliseum” in Riga.  Since films were valuable and were mostly rented, not copied because of the technical issues, Mintus became wealthy by renting films all across the Baltic province. The cinemas rented film to display it on their screens. Copying was possible, but it could damage the original over time.

The large Jewish community in Ukraine and Belarus were the first to make Jewish themed movies. The script was taken from theater plays and were usually based along the ethnic lines of the Jewish life. Because the Russian Tsarist censorship was more touchy about political baselines than ethnic folk stories.  Odessa soon became the center of the Russian Jewish cinema. Despite the political oppression by the Tsarist government and  uneasy relations with other nationals, especially during the pogroms of 1905 Jews managed to stood out before others. And the trendy film making was one of the kind.

It’s not clear was S Mintus from Latvia, or he came from Ukraine, but he was certainly inspired by the movies made by Ukrainian Jews. The 1910 “L’Haim” that was said to based on Jewish traditional song, despite there was not such was a success.  It was the very first Jewish film in Russia. On 1913 the Odessa based company “Mirograf” made the movie “The Tragedy of the Jewish student” (Трагедия еврейской курсистки), also in Germany a seemingly similar movie was made. It seems that both movies from Ukraine and Germany and the one in Latvia was based on the same theater play whose author is yet to be found. Of all three the film made by S Mintus was the most known and conserved until today.

The outside scenes of Riga the Polytechnical institute nowadays the University of Latvia

The outside scenes of Riga the Polytechnical institute nowadays the University of Latvia

The main role of the Adele Vaitzekind was played by Falkher (name not known), Ādams Ozols as her lover Rafail, Lūcija Lilaste in unconfirmed role and Ivan Hudpoleev as the Doctor. The movie was shot in Riga and Venstpils. The opening scenes features the center of Riga during the winter. The Riga Orthodox Cathedral, the University of Latvia main building is within the scenes. At the middle of the movie despite the main character still in Riga, the actual scene is shot in Ventspils. Also many of the interior scenes were actually filmed outside as decorations. Since the scenes were taken during the cold February winds, some of the room scenes shows flowers and carpets moved by the strong wind. It was because the decorations had no roof and were affected by the strong winter winds. As silent movie it had only live piano feature, but also the preserved version had no subtitles. It was because the lines of the movie characters were spoken by actors during the movie display.

The two main characters Rafail and Adele

The two main characters Rafail and Adele

The movie plot has a very complicated and social character. The main heroine Adele is from Bessarabia (Moldova). Without her parents she arrives at Riga to look for higher knowledge. She suddenly meets her old friend Rafail Edelgertz. A love is born as two enjoy sudden rush of romance. But, then a first wave of storm hits: authorities has sent her a notification to leave Riga as her rights of residence has been removed. This was because of the old Tsarist law since the Third partition of Poland. Russian Empire after acquiring vast territories of Poland-Lithuania was not ready to deal with such a large Jewish minority. Afraid from the migration, the Tsars suppressed Jews to live outside the former borders of Poland-Lithuania. And Riga was outside the so-called “Settlement line”. Getting into Riga was tricky for many Jews, but as Russia became more liberal at the end of 19th century it was possible for more Jews to come. But, in this case her residence permit was declined.

In desperate thoughts about going back to Kishinev, Adele asks Rafail for help. He seeks the advise from an educated doctor who also knows the law. He suggests to register Adele as prostitute so she can stay in Riga. To get registered she and Rafial makes a fake date, where Rafail poses as client. Police officers catches them in the intimate situation at  the table with drinks near bed. After that she moves to another apartment to clear off police suspicion.

Scene shot in Venstpils

Scene shot in Venstpils

But, the storm rashes again; Rafiel must visit his sick father. He leaves Adele all alone in Riga. And then the trouble starts. A two robbers with similar look of Adele and Rafiel attacks man on the street and robs him. In fateful coincidence the event takes place near Adele apartment and as they run off the Adele walks out the door. In similar clothes and hat the robbed victim quickly turns her to police.

The first part of the prison cell dramatic scene

The first part of the prison cell dramatic scene

Second Part of the prison scene

Second Part of the prison scene

 

This is where the movie culminates: in mental breakdown in the prison cell innocent Adele dressed in black recalls her past. In the dramatically emotional moment Adele fades into her childhood home in Kishinev. She sees her parents and the maid. A seemingly happy scene turns into nightmare when the angry mob of men invades their house and kills her parents. It was a clear reference to the Jewish pogrom of 1903 that took place in Kishinev. A more pogroms took place during 1905 revolution. This part is notable for two things. The grandiose gothic like scene of Adele loosing her mind and the  spectacular fading to events in past. A genial dramatic footage for the times of 1913. Also the pogrom scene a – touchy subject sparking the Jewish will of resistance.

The pogrom scene

The pogrom scene

The real criminals are found and Adele is released, but she is sick from her mental suffering. In final scene she dies in the hands of the ruined Rafail. The original footage featured him also dying on her grave, but the 1917 version of the movie had cut that scene out. The movie was a great success, however the Tsarist authorities were not too pleased about the pogrom scene. Many had accused the Russian government on being involved in the Jewish pogroms or doing not enough to halt them. Movie screening was limited. On 1917 after the revolution the movie was re-edited and shown again.

After a year on 1914 the World War I begun. Large numbers of the Latvian Jews were forced to move to Russia. The settlement line was suddenly broken. There is no info of what happened to S Mintus and his photo and movie business. Many details about his biography are yet to be found. The Riga Jewish History Museum and Ventspils History Museum has held events commemorating this historic movie, an academic detailed account is hopefully to follow.

Selected Sources:

http://www.kinoglaz.fr/u_fiche_film.php?num=4597

http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/empire/12698/annot/

http://judaica.kiev.ua/Eg_11/Eg1115.htm

http://www.lechaim.ru/ARHIV/100/kino.htm

http://jewishmuseum.lv/en/item/89-Kinovecher_v_muzee_100-letee_pervogo_khudozhestvennogo_filma_v_Latvii.html

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Latvia 2013 The Year of Struggles

Another year is coming to an end and as always I will gather all what was important in Latvia during the 2013. The year 2012 was labeled by me as the year of quarrels, now in 2013 these quarrels have become a full time struggles. Struggles between various political forces and forces within the society have resulted in many calamities like the burning of the Riga Castle, the Zolitūte disaster and the breakdown of the Valdis Dombrovskis government. The results of these struggles are yet to be foreseen for next year as they are still unfolding in full strength. This was truly the year of Snake as the unpridicatbaly of the Snake was the eminent within the events of Latvia and elsewhere.

Municipal elections with a record low turnout

Municipal elections took place on June 1 a very hot summer day. Was this the reason for such a low participation of voters – 686 097 or 45,85% of all eligible voters? More possibly it was a political passivity within the towns and rural areas, the lack of new voters because of emigration. In such almost in every major city there were no big surprises. Cities such as Ventspils, Liepāja, Jēkabpils kept their mayors who had been in office for some 20 years. There were major changes in Daugavpils. The old leadership by Žanna Kulakova was voted out, as she made a poor move by joining the declining Reform Party and was caught up in corruption scandals. She was replaced by old time mayor of Daugavpils Jānis Lāčplēsis from the Unity. However, the most votes were acquired by the Harmony Center party. While securing stable win within the center of Latgalian region – Rēzekne, Harmony Center still is unable to take a clear lead over the second largest city of Latvia with the mayor Russian speaking population. Also the resort town of Jūrmala, favored by Russian millionaires, with one of the most unstable municipality with more than 4 mayors in four years, finally got a “stable” municipality with “just” five parties and Gatis Truksnis as the mayor. Despite his flamboyant arrogance and attempts of making a cult of personality he managed to secure leadership of the resort city. Harmony Center was unable to seize power in the major parts of Latvia, but one point of the Latvian map became their stronghold – the city of Riga, also known as the capital of Latvia.

Riga Municipality – a state within the state with a Tzar Nil Ushakov

When the young journalist Nil Ushakov from First Baltic Channel entered the politics he was portrayed as the new political hope of the pro-Russian parties. Seemingly good intellect, perfect Latvian knowledge skills and magnetic personality were what convinced many to elect him into parliament in 2006. However, the work in the  opposition was boring for him and so on the 2009 he was placed as a first runner for the Riga municipal elections. With the help of the massive election campaign, using the 9th May celebrations, assisted by the advisers from the Russian Embassy, he secured a first great victory for the Harmony Center. He however had to share his power with Ainārs Šlesers an experienced businessman and a political gambler. By leaving the New Era party and the Civic Union who later united in Unity party, Ushakov and Šļeser had a stable dual leadership. Some said that Ushakov will be just a puppet in the Šlesers hands. But, on 2010 Šļesers made another gamble to gain entry into the new parliament that proved to be a political disaster for his party. The Vice Mayor Šlesers was replaced with his party member Andris Ameriks an experienced politician. Ushakov now gained a upper hand in all the deals within Riga and started to rule as sole Tzar of the city with Ameriks as his faithful First Advisor.

The power changed the actions and the personality of the Nil Ushakov. After the failure of his party in 2011, when it failed to enter the coalition despite gaining the most votes, he made a crucial step by supporting the two language referendum initiated by the Russian nationalist radicals. He now alienated himself from the leading Latvian parties and set path to long run hostile opposition in the Harmony Center. With Harmony Center in hapless opposition within the parliament, Ushakov made Riga as a fortress that disobeys the central government. While Dombrovskis government desperately pursued the austerity policy looking to lower the state budget deficit, Ushakovs made populist moves like giving free public transport for pensioners and school students. A multi million flower pavilion with no toilets and screeching doors, enormous andministarive resource spending on boosting on political advertising. Also dark cases such as assault on freelance journalist Leonīds Jākabsons who uncovered Ushakov association with the Russian Embassy. There is no proof of Ushakov has been involved in this crime against Jākabons, but the cynical tweet by Ushakovs – “I have an alibi!” at the time of the assault showed the face of the Tzar of Riga.

With all this on 2013 municipal elections the coalition parties should have to devise a way to topple him from his throne. Instead all was done to allow Ushakov to gain victory more easy. Instead of making a united election list each party went on their own. The Unity first runner was Sarmīte Ēlerte a notable figure from the times of Third Awakening, former editor of the newspaper Diena and former Minister of Culture. She however picked up a poor election strategy by centering on the nationalist slogans, “If we loose Riga, we loose Latvia!” a slogan more preferred by the National Alliance. National Alliance took advantage of this and made Baiba Broka as the first runner a jurist, working in the Ministry of Justice. A charming, calm but also a cunning woman Broka instead of emotional nationalist slogans put forward argumented social policy and in the end National Alliance won more seats than Unity. However, Ushakov’s Harmony Center unified list with Ameriks new party Honor to Serve Riga gained 54% of votes and secured the fortress of Riga.

Ushakovs now a comfortable leader with two cats living in his cabinet to show his good side made two poor choices. First an attempt to make a special Riga resident card for people registered in Riga. People with such cards would have a cheaper public transport prices, while others registered in other parts of Latvia would have to pay more. A wave of protest soon followed against such segregation of the people of Riga. After all many people who live in other towns have a daily work in Riga, or those who live in Riga, but have declared address in other municipalities. Despite governmental disapproval, protest campaigns Ushakovs went against all odds, even by openly bypassing the law issued these Riga Citizen Cards. On December 18 the Riga Town Council issued a budget deficit of 35 million Lats. Obviously a Riga Card was a vain attempt to fix the deficit issue. Free public transport for elders and school children is not exactly free, but funded by Riga tax payers. Another mistake by Ushakov was an erratic response to Zolitūde disaster. First showing sings of strong leadership and responsibility, after the resigning of Dombrovskis, Ushakovs showed an erratic behavior of calling the Dombrovskis resignation as the act of populism and aggressively denied any calls of resignation for himself. In the end Ushakov just showed that he is just another Eastern type politician who sees the resignation as a sign of personal weakness and taking responsibility as a sign of humiliation. Just like Vladimir Putin in Russia whose party United Russia has signed a cooperation agreement.

The fight within the coalition that lead to collapse of the Dombrovskis government

Already in 2011 after the emergency elections were over the new Dombrovskis government were seen as short lived by some. There were simply too many different parties with different aims. Unity party kept their Prime Minister seat, the Chairman of the Parliament, Finance, Defense and tried to lead the coalition. The Zatlers Reform Party already loosing six elected members in the first of parliament working day was badly traumatized. The leader Valdis Zatlers soon lost his control over the party because of his illness. So the party was simply renamed to the Reform Party. But, the reforms pushed by the ambitious Minister of Education Roberts Ķīlis that met a strong resistance right from the start finally ended when he resigned April on behalf of his poor health. Later he was caught in making drunk driving which resulted in a car crash. His replacement Vjačelavs Dombrovskis is more known for his scandalous press secretary Anna Kononova who previously worked for Ushakovs. Another Reformist Edmunds Sprūdžs also faced his defeat against the oligarch mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs in vain attempts of removing him. He resigned and later left the party as the new leadership was now looking to work with the Lembergs Green Farmers. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edmunds Rinkēvičš, Minister of Economy Daniels Pavļuts and the Minister of Interior Rihards Kozlovskis had better results, but since the Reform Party ratings are below 5% the Reformist struggle started by Valdis Zatlers has suffered a mayor defeat.

Meanwhile the third coalition partner the National Alliance was playing a partisan warfare against the Dombrovskis. Constantly threatening the bring down the government if their demands are not met, they never came close to actually do it. Fight against the residence permits in return of investments for non EU citizens, resulted only in partial victory. The Minister of Culture Žanete Jaunzeme Grende a business lady tried to instore order over the Latvian National Opera. Despite Latvian Opera artists being famous all over the world, the Opera had financial problems. Jaunzeme Grende decided that the only way to save the opera was the change Opera leadership. But, the longtime director of the opera was wealthy Andrejs Žagars, with too many connections with National Alliance rivals and vast support base of the artistic society. In the end Valdis Dombrovskis dissatisfied with the Opera scandal dismissed Žanete Jaunzeme Grende sparking anger from the National Alliance. However, Dombrovskis also decided not to cancel the removal of Žagars. In such he shot two rabbits with one shot. Opera was then taken over by famous composer Zigmārs Liepiņš known for his conservative views and connections with the National Alliance. A pyrric victory for the National Alliance.

The NA defended Žanete Jaunzeme Grende in the most aggressive way, but in this same way they wanted to remove their own minister of Justice Jānis Bordāns by excluding him from his party and asking him to resign. The official reason was his affiliation  with the Democratic Patriots an offshoot movement from NA. However, the real reason was the Bordāns desire to reform the insolvency process. Many of the NA leaders including the General Secretary Aigars Lūsis where an experienced insolvency administers boosting the party profit. Bordāns soon became involved in conflict with the NA jurist clan lead by Gaidis Bērziņš his predecessor. In the result he was excluded, despite his desire to continue working with the NA. But, NA could simply fire Bordāns from his office and replace him with Baiba Broka. Valdis Dombrovskis could only fire his ministers and he decided to keep Bordāns as the Minister of Justice. Confused NA declared the coalition agreement no longer in effect. Despite such calls, the coalition continued to work and even managed to issue a state budget for 2014. The coalition was like breaking building with unstable foundations and one great trigger was needed to destroy it completely- and that was the disaster of Zolitūde.

Latvia 2013 A year of disasters

When Latvia is mentioned on the first page of any international news page? A) Election event, B) major sports victory, C) a major disaster. Sadly enough on 2013 C) variant was the most frequent. The first event was in March during the Good Friday on March 30 223 under ice fisherman became stranded on the ice cap that was washed away from the coast. Navy ships and army helicopters were involved to get them back on the land. Fishing on frozen ice is a tradition in Latvia for decades, and every year at least 2 fisherman is lost because of unstable ice. But, when they start to fish on the ice of the frozen sea the trouble begins. Rūdolfs Blaumanis already at the end of the 19th century wrote a novel called “In the Shadow of Death” of ice stranded fisherman in the open sea. This shows how long Latvia had dealt with this issue. For news agencies like CNN this might had been amusing, but for Latvia nothing unusual and rather shameful.

The frosty winter took away 23 lives of Latvian citizens. But the hot summer was not only hot in temperature, but also in the flames that destroyed the Castle of Riga. The Medieval Castle surviving many wars, renovations had never caught a fire in his history. But on the night of June 20, when the repair workers had gone away the castle roof erupted in massive flames. The Castle again had renovation works, the Presidential residence was moved to the House of Blackheads in the main Old City Square. But, the Museum of Arts, and the Museum of National History were still working there. The whole night of June 20-21 was spent in the heroic struggle of extinguishing the flames. In the end the museum collections survived, but they will be moved to other places next year. The Presidential block however suffered the most.

The November 18 the Latvian Independence day seemed very happy and full of patriotism. Most could not imagine the calamity that took place on the late evening of November 21. A roof over crowded Maxima supermarket collapsed burying many people under the ruins. Safety services again tried to rescue people from the rubble of blocks, 3 firefighters were lost in the process. 54 people died resulting the biggest disaster in the Latvian history.

The rescue works were not over as the struggle to find the responsible begun. One blamed the Re&Re company that was responsible for the building, others blamed Maxima shopping chain because it continue to work while there was buildups of artificial garden on the roof. And also for making evacuation because of alarms that for some reason went off an hour before the roof collapsed. The Maxima response was a communications disaster when its arrogant and cynical Latvian Maxima director Gintars Jasinskis made comments that angered the whole Latvian society resulting boycott of the Maxima shopping chain. Jasinskis was later fired.

As Ushakovs and Dombroviskis was unwilling to take political responsibility that is where the President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš came in. In his first speech after the disaster he called the event as “murder” and called for political shakeup. And then he realized his words with actions. A week after Valdis Dombrovskis the longest serving Prime Minister resigned after a long conversation with the president.

Andris Bērziņš now turned everything into even greater confusion by his inability to pick up a new candidate. The Unity put forward Artis Pabriks the Minister of Defense, but since Bērziņš disliked the strong anti-Putinist Russia stance by Pabriks he was turned down. Bērziņš then added even more confusion by asking to make people elected president, with full powers over all controlling state offices like the Bank of Latvia, The Anti-Corruption Bureau, Constitutional Defense Service ect. A president with such functions will be almost Vladimir Putin in Russia. After that some even asked about the mental state of the aged president. As Bērziņš is continuing to play games by not calling an exact candidate for the Prime Minister; it makes a question – are his actions dictated by the foolishness or a rafinate political cause. After all Bērziņš was from the Green Farmers party, the party of Aivars Lembergs is looking for revenge after the dismissal of the parliament in 2011. Or an old time Communist Party official is looking for a slick way to allow the Harmony Center in the coalition. The answer for this question will reveal on next year.

The next year may be labeled as the year of changes. The new Euro currency, the parliamentary elections and many other things that will happen along the way. There were many positive things of 2013. The Song and Dance Festival, many achievements of our sportsmen and international cultural achievements. Latvia became more closer to Catalonia by its Prime Minister acknowledging their legitimate struggle for independence. A connection that must kept within the next year as Catalonia will hold a concluding referendum next year. The Dalai Lama visit was inspiring for many.

Next year is the year of the Wodden Horse for it may be a good omen fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better. However, as the Trojan Horse was made from the wood we must let to make 2014 go off that way. Let’s work, act and pray to make the year 2014 as the year of our personal and mutual victories!

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History of Money in Latvia

The Last special issue of the Latvian 1 Lat coin

The Last special issue of the Latvian 1 Lat coin

Only a few weeks left until another currency change takes place in Latvia. This time Latvia joins the Eurozone and replaces its national currency Lats with one of the largest currencies in the world – Euro. But, the history of money in Latvia has been long and many currencies have been used here. This is a concise history of the various currencies in Latvia during the centuries

During the Prehistoric times for the exchange of goods various valuable objects were used. Nauda means money in Latvian and originates from the word cattle, similar to Lithuanian nauda, Norvegian nautr. Also the Indian rupee originates from word in Sanskrit rupa that also means cattle. That’s because the cattle exchange was used before the proper means of currencies were introduced. Other valuable and often symbolic objects were used. The Baltic region was known across the ancient world for its amber a fossilized tree resin was favored by the Greeks and Romans. Used primary for jewelry it was also known to make electricity giving it divine reputation. First signs of amber trade were found Middle Neolithic Stone Age. At the swamp village of Sārnate locals built amber manufacture. They exchanged amber for flint and shale work tools.

The Roman Silver Denarii found in Latvia

The Roman Silver Denarii found in Latvia

First coin money is known to appear in the 7th  century BC Lydian kingdom in modern day Turkey. As the metal was recognized as the most effective mean of exchange – solid and easily divided and with precise weight. Now the metal was made as a round coin with inscriptions and pictures on the both sides. First coins found in Latvia dates to Early Iron Age 1-4 century AD (according to Latvian specific periodization). The first coins in Latvia came from Roman Empire, the Baltic tribes were reached by Roman traders. They visited Latvia using the so called Amber way from the city of Carnuntum (modern day Austria) to the East Prussia and Courland where the valuable amber was mostly found. Another way was by the sea route from the lower river Rhine and the Gallic provinces to the Baltic coastline. The Roman historian Tacitus in his Germania reported that the Baltic people that he called Aesti receives a money reward with wonder for their amber. It’s probably because local Balts did not know what to do with coin money; they viewed it as just as some pieces of metal. Despite that they kept and made deposits and took them in their graves, believing it could be valuable in the afterlife.

Mostly the Roman silver denaries and bronze semis were found by archaeologists in the ancient grave sites and hidden deposits. After the fall of the Roman empire the territory of Latvia was no longer reached by the Roman coins. The silver was used as the main currency coming from Russia and Scandinavia.

The Arabian Dirham

The Arabian Dirham

During the 8th-9th century in the ascent of the Muslim civilization the Arabian currency dirham became the most valuable across Europe. Dirhams came to Baltic lands from the Kievan Rus, using Volga- Daugava waterway. From Persia to Volga Bulgaria (modern day Tatarstan), from Volga to Ladoga, then trough river Neva to the Finnish Strait. And then with the help of the Scandinavian Vikings reached Courland. Another route was from Middle East trough Caucasus region and then by river Dnepr to the lake of Ladoga. Arab traders never entered the Baltic lands and mostly stopped and the Volga Bulgaria as it was Islamic country. Their goods were then transported by Vikings who had their trade bases in Novgorod, Smolensk and Old Rostov. The national museums in Tallinn, Stokholm, St Perersburg and Moscow holds more Arabian dirhams than in whole Middle Eastern countries. In Latvia 2 473 dirhams have been discovered, originating from Iran, Turkey, Baghdad, Syria and the Central Asia. At the middle of the 11th century dirhams became less used as the Muslim Caliphate collapsed and whole Europe became affected by the silver deficit.

The Western European rulers adopted their own coins and with the help of Vikings the Baltic lands were now reaching by the silver dinars. German phenings were commonly found in Latvia. As the Holy German Empire was not a unified country, but a union of the many smaller states, that had rights to forge their own coins there are many types of denars in Latvia. Also Danish coins from the time of the Knut the Great was found in Latvia.

Ancient Latvian made replicas of the Western European money

Ancient Latvian made replicas of the Western European money

The 11th century was known for its monetary crisis. Again silver bars were used as a currency. There are reports of the ancient Livonian tribes making their own replicas of the Western denars. 39 such local made coins were found in 13 places within Latvia. It was a sign of early state development among Baltic and Finno-Ugrian tribes.

The Phenning of the Bishop Albert

The Phenning of the Bishop Albert

The 12-13th century is the time of the Crusades in Latvia. The first minted coins in Riga were the Bishop Albert Phenings made at the Castle of Mārtiņsala. After the Confederation of Livonia was established on 14th century, Riga started to forge their own silver coins. Every city of state within the confederation that had its own rights for minting issued their own currencies Currencies in Livonia were many. 1 Marc was 4 Verdins or 36 Shillings. Sometimes in Livonia silver Dalders and golden Ducats.

The Dalderis of the Free City of Riga

The Dalderis of the Free City of Riga

After the collapse of the Livonian Confederation and its annexation by Poland – Lithuania in 1561, a new era of money begun in Latvia. Riga for a long time tried to become independent from Poland -Lithuania and rejected the Polish minting rules.  So they issued their own coins for a long time. The Duchy of Pārdaugava issued shillings and verdins at the Castle of Dole in 1572. The city of Riga known for its hostile stance to the Polish king banned the use of these coins. On 1589 Riga convinced the Polish king Sigismund III to become the only city in whole Livonia to mint coins. Riga issued Ducats and Graši.

1780 Dalderis showing Peter Biron the last duke of Courland

1780 Dalderis showing Peter Biron the last duke of Courland

The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was an autonomous state within Poland and Lithuania with its own royal family. Its capital was Jelgava (Mittau) where the first shillings were made in 1575. On 1577 Polish king Stephan Batory canceled the Jelgava minting rights. They were restored in 1579 in accordance to the Polish-Lithuanian rulers. Despite the economical upswing during the rule Duke Jacob the money was issued on small numbers. Last coins were issued during the rule of Duke Peter Biron called Dalderis.

The Swedish dalderis minted in Riga showing Gustav Adolf the II

The Swedish dalderis minted in Riga showing Gustav Adolf the II

In 1621 Sweden annexed Riga and the region of Vidzeme. Latvian lands became even more divided in the terms of currencies. Sweden hoped to establish unified Swedish currency rules within the new Baltic province, but failed to do so. Riga still kept its rights to forge money according to Polish rules. Only on 1630 Sweden forced Riga to issue silver shillings according to Swedish rules.

1704 Russian 1 Ruble showing Peter I the Great

1704 Russian 1 Ruble showing Peter I the Great

On 1710 Riga and Vidzeme was taken over by the Russian Empire. During the next decades of the 18th century whole territory of Latvia was annexed by the Imperial Russia. The decimal money system established by Peter I the Great finally ended rather chaotic money times and united whole Baltic region under one Russian currency.

Golden 15 Rubles showing Tsar Nicholas II

Golden 15 Rubles showing Tsar Nicholas II

The Riga money mint was closed. Pleas to restore the minting rights were denied by Petersburg authorities. Slowly the Baltic lands were adopted to the Russian ruble and the Russian unified economic system. In 1786 first Russian paper money called asignatsia (from french assignet- paper money). There were 100, 75, 50 and 25 ruble assignatsias. On 1843 they were replaced by the state credit tickets fixated by silver and gold equivalent. On the end 19th century Russia entered the Gold Standard and minted golden rubles.

1917 postamp-money in value of 3 kopeks

1917 postamp-money in value of 3 kopeks

On 1915 the German army invaded the Latvian territory sparking a new currency chaos. Plagued by the deficit of coins Russia even issued money stamps as equivalent of kopek. The paper money lost its value, after the 1917 February revolution the Provisional government issued paper state cash signs or so called kerenkas after the Prime Minister Alaxander Kerensky. With the old imperial rubles still in effect the money flow was in chaos.

1916 German Ostkopek for Eastern Frontlines

1916 German Ostkopek for Eastern Frontlines

Meanwhile the Germans occupying the Courland and Semigallia issued their own Ostmarks and Ostrubles. Also a iron kopeks and loan sings were issued within the German owned lands. After the German capitulation on 1919 the currency chaos deepened. Some cities like Liepāja, Venstpils and Jelgava issued their own municipal currencies. They were allowed to use until 1925 and was allowed to convert to Lats until 1931.

Riga Soviet of Workers 3 rubles 1919

Riga Soviet of Workers 3 rubles 1919

Meanwhile the Bolsheviks invading Latvia made their own currencies. Cēsis had its Cēsis district Workers Deputy Soviet executive committee loan coupons 5 to 1o rubles. Riga Soviet made its own currency sign 3, 5 and 10 rubles. Even the Baltic German and White Russian army of Bermont issued its own money that was used only for a month.

The money of the Army of Bermont

The money of the Army of Bermont

Northern Latvia was for a long time occupied by the Estonian army assisting the Latvian army in their fight for independence. So also the Estonian money was in effect along the Vidzeme region. Estonian marks were used there until 1920. On 1919 Riga town council issued their own rubles after the city was taken over by the Latvian government.

Latvian 500 rubles 1919

Latvian 500 rubles 1919

The Latvian government had to stop this never ending chaos of currencies. On  January 29 1919 decision was made to release Latvian State cash signs and on March 22 a design competition was called for the new Latvian currency. Even the hostile pro-German government kept issuing these banknotes. After was for freedom was won a work was underway for a a unified Latvian currency. The Latvian ruble was a provisional currency and was in effect during the post war economic stabilization. On 1922 all was ready to adapt the new national currency Lats.

Latvian 100 Lats 1923

Latvian 100 Lats 1923

On August 3 1922 Lats became the official currency. Without taking the loans from abroad Latvia managed to stabilize its currency in short time. On September 19 the Latvian State Bank was founded to issue the new currency. Most Latvian paper lats were made in UK, only in 1939 100 Lats banknote was printed in Latvia. Designed by Rihards Zariņš the Latvian paper money was one of the most beautiful in Europe.

The famous Five Lats silver coin from 1931

The famous Five Lats silver coin from 1931

Latvian Lats and its demoniation santīms were released also in coins minted in Switzerland and UK. On 1937 first Latvian coins were minted in Riga. Latvia was known for its silver 5 Lats coins showing a Latvian woman in traditional costume and the cout of arms of Latvia in reverse. Designed by Rihards Zariņš who chose his employe Zelma Brauere. The coin became famous across the world, Latvians nicknamed it as “Milda” a common Latvian female name. The coin was valued after the occupation of Latvia as the symbol of the independent Latvia.

50 Latvian Lats with dictator Kārlis Ulmanis

50 Latvian Lats with dictator Kārlis Ulmanis

After the 1934 coup by Kārlis Ulmanis, his portrait appeared on 50 Lats banknote. On 1939 Ulmanis was looking forward to make a new five lats silver coin with his face on it. Soviet occupation halted his ambitions however the British minting company received the orders and managed to make a prototype of silver five lats replacing Milda with Ulmanis.

Latvian five lats from 1940

Latvian five lats from 1940

The last Latvian banknote was issued in 1940. The Latvian Soviet puppet government first promised to keep lots. However, soon on August 25 1940 the Soviet ruble was issued as a parallel currency. On March 25 1941 the last was abolished and completely replaced with the ruble.

Soviet ruble of 1937. Showing soviet paratrooper a symbol of Soviet expansionist plans

Soviet ruble of 1937. Showing soviet paratrooper a symbol of Soviet expansionist plans

When Nazi Germany invaded Latvia, some patriots restored the work of Latvian State bank and tried to restore Lats as a national currency by imprinting “Latvia July 1 1941″ on the pre war Latvian Lats. Nazi Germany was no less hostile to Latvian national efforts as soviets and issued the Reichmark as the official currency. After Soviets returned on 1944 ruble came back with them.

Soviet banknotes

Soviet banknotes

Despite the original Marxist teachings about the abolishment of money, Lenin and his successor Stalin had no clear idea of how to do it. And again rubles with Lenin replacing Peter the I returned. On 1947 Soviets made a significant currency reform stabilizing the ruble for years to come. However, it failed to thwart the speculation and corruption. Efforts on reforming the soviet economy followed after the death of Joseph Stalin. Nikita Khrushchev made many advancements but failed and lost his power. Leonid Brezhnev a moderate neo-Stalinist perfectly understood that radical reforms in the Soviet social system would mean its collapse. In so the Soviet Union was caught in stagnation for many years to come. In the era of total deficit various vouchers for products became the unofficial Soviet currency. The attempt to cure the plague of deficit and corruption by Mikhael Gorbachev ended in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A 1991 sketch of the new Latvian lats

A 1991 sketch of the new Latvian lats

As the spirit of regaining independence was in the air, on 1991 the Latvian Cultural Fund issued a design competition of the restored future Lats. Some 20  projects including Sergey Kovalenko from Kharkiv were made. Most of the ideas resembled the past Latvian lats. Some wanted to place Kārlis Ulmanis, while others wanted to add Baltic German writer Garibl Merkel on 2 lat banknotes.

Latvian rubles 1992

Latvian rubles 1992

In 1990 the Latvian government made real steps to replace the Soviet ruble. The Latvian State bank was restored. After full independence was gained a fast moves were made to leave the inflation driven Soviet ruble. On May 7 1992 the Latvian ruble was again in effect. Nicknamed “repšiki” after the first president of the Latvian Bank Einārs Repše the Latvian Lats was introduced successfully. On 1993 Latvian Lats returned as the national currency. Latvian currency survived the hard economical situation during the 90′ies. Despite the relative ecomical upswing during the 2004-2007 Lats was plagued with inflation. Calls of devavation during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, were not met instead an inner devaluation was made.

Special 1 Lat coin. The Middle coin with a salmon is standart 1 lat

Special 1 Lat coin. The Middle coin with a salmon is standart 1 lat

Latvian Bank made a great tradition of releasing the special 1 Lat coins for special events. They became admired by coin collectors for their great design. Many special coins won special international prices. However, when Latvia entered the European Union one of its obligations to enter the Eurozone. Unlike Poland, where the constitution prevents from changing currency, Latvia had no law to prevent the entry into Eurozone. Instead the Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis was pushing to enter the Eurozone despite the crisis and problems within the Eurozone. And it was achieved despite large numbers of Eurosceptics within the government and society. However, their efforts were rather passive. Latvia in the XXI century has only three choices all of them not positive. First is to keep going west with its EU and US allies despite their instability, second is going East with Russia that has become semi-totalitarian and hostile, and third keep full neutrality, that is completely impossible. The third choice was made by Kārlis Ulmanis on 1934-1940 that doomed the state of Latvia. This time the currency change was made by the Latvian government and the people that elected them. The Latvia future with Euro is a story to be told by the next generation historians.

Selected Sources:

Ozoliņa, Anda, Ducmane, Kristīne (2013). Naudas Laiki Latvijā. No mārkas un vērdiņa līdz Latam un Eiro. Rīga. Lauku Avīze.

Ducmane, Kristīne. (2004). Nauda : enciklopēdija par savu un svešu naudu Latvijā no seniem laikiem līdz mūsdienām. Riga : Zvaigzne ABC.
Ducmane, Kristīne and Veciņš, Ēvalds.(1995) Nauda Latvijā. Riga. Latvijas Banka.
Paiders, Juris. (2002) Arābu laiki Latvijā. Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.

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