Tag Archives: national minorities

Belarussians in Latvia

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal "Jaunais Cīrulītis"

Illustration from pre-war literal youth journal “Jaunais Cīrulītis”

One of the Slavic nations, besides Ukrainians and Poles  that Latvia shares a common past and future are Belarusians. Latvia and Belarus have common border and cultural and ethical roots. In Latvian the Belorussian is spelled as “Baltkrievs” and not without a reason for the Belorussian ethnic origins come from 5 to 6 century when Ancient Slavic tribes migrated from Central Europe to the lands present day Belarus where the ancient Baltic tribes lived. Various Slavic tribes the kriviči, dregoviči, radmiči moved to lands inhabited by augstaiši, jātvingi, galindi and latgalians slowly assimilating them until the 10 century. The Duchies of Polotsk and Smolensk used old Belarussian language and had political and trade contacts with ancient Latvian tribes. At the 13th century old Belorussian duchies were integrated into  Grand Duchy of Lithuania where Belorussian noble elite played important role. Old form of Belorussian language was used in official jurisdiction of the Lithuanian duchy. No wonder the original Belarus coat of arms was derived from the coat of arms of the Lithuanian duchy. Majority of Belorussian historians consider the Lithuanian Grand Duchy as the state of Belarusians while Lithuanian counterparts tend to disagree.

For various reasons on 16th century the therm “White Russia” or “White Ruthenia” was derived. Consequently people living in it and talking in language different  than in Russia and Ukraine became known as Belarusians. Sadly on the same time after Lithuania united with Poland, Belorussian nobility was slowly removed from the ruling elite. Country had to go trough many destructive wars between Russia and Poland. After the full inclusion into Russian empire the Belorussian nation went into silent decay.

As mentioned the ancient Latgalain rulers had connections with Duchies of Polotsk as early as 12th century. Merchants traveled across river Daugava they called Dvinsk. Larger number of Belorussian settlers came to Latgale when it was under Polish-Lithuanian rule. Either Belorussian nobles or peasants. It’s known that the town of Jēkabpils originated from settlement of refugees of the Orthodox Old Believers, that came from Vitebsk and Smolensk  that may be Belorussian origin. Belorussian migration continued under the Tsarist rule in bordering areas. As Latgale was part of Province of Vitebsk the entry was less restricted than to other parts of present day Latvia.

On 1897 the All Russia National Census concluded that in six districts of the Province of Vitebsk – Ludza, Daugavpils (Dinaburg) and Rēzekne a 66 thousand Belarusians and 63 thousand speaking Belorussian lives in this area. Some Latvian historians and demographers however argued that this amount was boosted by local Poles and Latvians calling themselves Belorussians for their own reasons.    Another crucial factor was the so-called “tuteiši” – people who had no perception of their national identity and simply described themselves as locals or Catholics or Orthodox. Latvians, Poles, Russians and Belarusians not to mention the Jews lived in Latgale side by side and often were prone to assimilation.  As we know today the once national identity is not derived from genes or family roots, but by state of mind and education.  Latgale was ethically and religiously  mixed with a very complicated social structure. For these reasons people in Latgale often had difficulty choosing their national identity.

After Latvia gained independence on 1918, various national census held in 1920, 1925. 1930 and 1935 showed inconclusive results. On 1920. the first national census still counted Russians and Belarusians together, however to distinguish them  Russians were called as “Great Russians” (Lielkrievi). In result according to interpretations 75 thousand Belarusians lived in Latvia on 1920. However, the 1925 census counted now just 38 thousands. Without proper understanding some historians as Viktors Guščins made a claim that a massive Belorussian deportation was organized by Latvian authorities. Since there were no documented proofs of such action taking place the “Belorussian Deportation” is just another of the Guščins wild fantasies. On 1935 just 25 thousand Belarusians were counted. This rapid decrease was dictated by many reasons. Firstly as the Latvian Statistic Authority admitted they often lacked knowledge to determine who is Belorussian and who is not. Some Belarusians were counted as Russians or Poles or even Latvians. Another problem was the low literacy of the Belorussian farmers as some data shows only some 63% of them knew how to read. In same matter Russian and Polish farmers especially in Latgale had this litercy problem. Another factor was the constant Latvian national policy of trying to absorb some nationally unsure Latgalian people as Latvians in same matter as Poles and Russians tried to do same. During the twenties and thirties Latgale was a constant cultural, ideological and  diplomatic battleground to make Latgale more Latvian free from foreign influence. In this matter many Belarusians lost their national identity.

On March 25 1918 the Belorussian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. It had diplomatic relations with the Republic of Latvia and some even took the BPR citizenship. However, the republic was steamrolled by the Bolsheviks and Poles. Part of Belarusians came under Soviet rule with its own Belorussian Soviet Republic. Other part was ended up in Poland and Lithuania. Both countries especially Poland was in uneasy relations with the national minorities. Latvia on the other hand issued a minority friendly laws allowing to form own native language schools. Belorussian intellectuals living in Latvia saw a great chance to start a Belorussian national revival. However, this seemed harder than expected.

On 1922 The Belorussian school authority was established. Baltic Germans, Jews, Russians and Poles already had their own. As much as 40 state funded schools and 2 gymnasiums were opened.  A special courses for Belorussian teachers were made. However, the Belorussian schools had various problems mostly because of the low number of school children. Only 40% of school age children actually attended because of poverty and even lack of shoes. In Daugavpils 19 teachers worked with 86 students in Ludza 5 teachers with 50-60 students. However, it was common sight for many national minority schools such as Jewish schools and others. The national Latvian forces in parliament and press always made a negative discourse towards minority schools calling them “a useless spending of state money” and hostile to Latvians. Even greater was the cross minority rivalry for funding for their schools and school children. Polish and Russian national minority forces were annoyed by the existence of the Belorussian schools and started a campaign against them as early on 1923 resulting a political farce.

Konstantin Jezovitov - the leader of the Belorussian national movement on 1920-1940

Konstantin Jezovitov – the leader of the Belorussian national movement on 1920-1940

Russian and Polish newspapers started to spread propaganda that there is no such nation as Belarusians, but they are just confused Russians or Poles used by ex Tsarist officers who claim themselves as Belarusians. The Latvian press especially the Latvian Latgalian press pick this up and started to write word Belorussian in commas. In their hypocrisy the Latvian newspapers had no problem writing about Belarusians in Poland or USSR a real nation. On 1923 in the Latvian parliament the “Belorussian”  question was officially discussed. Polish deputy Jans Veržibskis accused the Belorussian national leader Konstantin Jezovitiov and others of intentionally devising a nation called “Belarusians”   to gain national state support and new carrier grounds at the expense of Poles and Russians. The Latgalian deputies Fricis Kemps and Jāzeps Trasuns picked up the subject and agreed that there are no Belarusians but instead accused the Poles of attempting to assimilate Latvians. In their view Belarusians were Latvians mislead by the Poles. Belarusians got themselves into cross national crossfire.

The whole 1923 was spent in arguing between both sides. Konstantin Jezovitov wrote a defending publication outlining the Belorussian history and culture. Fricis Kemps answered with  a strong worded publication that caused a lawsuit where Jezuvitov managed to prove him guilty of personal insult. Then on 1924 the anti-Belorussian campaign reached its height. In the Kapiņu parish Belorussian school a school inspected saw a map showing Belorussian borders including parts of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. This was reported to Ministry of Education because the school inspector believed these borders signify the future state of Belarus taking away Latvian lands. Latvian Secret Police had Jezovitovs and other Belorussian activists on their watch-list.  Partly because of alleged conections with the radical leftist forces and Belorussian organizations outside Latvia. Two years before on 1921-1923 both in Poland and Lithuania a trial was made against Belorussian organization “Gromada” that was accused on plotting uprising against the Polish state. Knowing this the Latvian Secret Police made a suspicion that Belorussian organization “Batjaukaščina” of being separatist force.

Eight Belorussian schoolteachers were accused of treason, with them Jezovitov, A Jakubecky, V Korcius and others. The case against the “Belorussian national separatists”  were orchestrated by negative publications in the press and resulted the closure of many schools. Jezovitov spent in prison 11 months as only one of the accused. On 1925 the trial took place and resulted in fiasco. Latvian Secret Police failed  to prove the existence of the “criminal separatist” organization. The witnesses were mostly agents or hostile Russian schoolteachers. It turned out that the map that caused the process actually showed the Belorussian ethical borders not state borders. Although Konstantin Jezovitov was an ex officer of the Belorussian Peoples Republic his separatist actions could not be proved. In the end all accused were found not guilty resulting a heavy strain on Belorussian national movement.

In the following years Latvian politicians were forced to accept the fact that Belarusians live in Latvia and deserve their schools. Belarusians did made hostile opposition in return, and praised the Latvian state support. Nationalist pressure on Belorussian schools  still continued on 1925 local Latgalian newspaper celebrated the closure of the Belorussian  gymnasium in Ludza. However, as the national and diplomatic relations with Poles and Poland worsened especially on 1931, Latvians now accused Poles of inciting hate between Latvians and Belarusians.

Belarusians had many supportive Latvian friends like Rainis the famous Latvian poet and leftist leader.  With his help Belarusians could find their schools and enter politics within the social democratic party ranks. Later, more intellectual Latvians acknowledged the Belorussian national movement. Cultural developments were on the go despite low funding and other problems.

Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime limited the Belorussian national cultural activities while the Soviet Occupation destroyed it completely.   During the Nazi occupation 0n 1943 48 601 people within Latvia were called as Belarusians. The sharp increase can be explained by the flow of people from German occupied Belarus, who either were moved against there will by the Germans or moved by themselves.  Some Belarusians served in Latvian SS Legion some resisted the Nazis. Konstantin Jezovitov was arrested by Soviet SMERCH and died in captivity on 1944.

Belorussian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

Belorussian national activists with the first flag of Belarus along with flag of Ukraine and Latvia in 1990.

After the start of the second Soviet occupation people from Belarus, just as from Ukraine and Russia came to Latvia to settle for a new life. Belarus was utterly devastated by the war and soviets pushed to build factories that needed large amount of workforce. In result between 1959 t0 1989 about 120 Belarusians lived in Latvia. Most again settled in Latgale and Daugavpils, while others moved to Riga and other centers. On 1989 43 thousand Belarusians lived in Riga. Large part of Belarusians still lived in rural areas. However, because of the lack state support towards Belorussian language education some 36% of Latvian Belarusians knew the Belorussian language. Same difficulty they had with Latvian  resulting that many were placed in mass of immigrants simply described as “Russians” or “Russian-speakers”. However, not always the lack of native language skills signify the loss of national identity as common for Belarusians, Jews, Poles and Ukrainians.

In same manner as other national minorities Belarusians founded their cultural societies during the events of 1988-1992. On 1988 November 27 the Belorussian cultural society “Svitanak” that gathered established members of society and culture. A Belorussian Primary School is working in Riga, and many cultural activities are taking place. Unfortunately, from the early start the independent state of Belarus was taken over by post-sovietic authoritarian regime with more emphasis towards  Russia, as Russian language is most used in Belorussian majority country. Latvian politicians for economic reasons have often ignored the political situation in Belarus. Some parties have eagerly expressed support towards Ukrainian national movement while praising Alexander Lukashenka. In result the Belorussian opposition considers Lithuania and Poland as more supportive towards their cause rather than Latvia. According to 2012 census 4,1 of Belarusians live in Latvia making them second largest national minority. Only above 600 of them use Belorussian language at home. The bad effect of the Russification policies is clear, but in the spirit of the changing times can be overcome as the Belarusians is a nation of a historical value and legacy.

Selected Sources:

Apine, Ilga. (1995) Baltkrievi Latvijā. Rīga. 1995.

 Jēkabsons Ē. Белорусы в Латвии в 1918–1940 годах (Baltkrievi Latvijā 1918.–1940. gadā) //Беларуская дыяспара як пасреднiца ў дыялогу цывiлiзацый. Матэрыялы III Мiжнароднага кангрэса беларусiстаў. Мiнск: Беларускi Кнiгазбор, 2001

http://www.svitanak.lv/

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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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Mordehai Dubin The Leader of the Latvian Jews 1889-1956

For a nation that lost its homeland many centuries ago and was stranded in many countries a unity and strong leadership were needed. When Latvia gained its independence on 1918 Jews were living there for many centuries. The new democratic country although based on the national will of the Latvian nation offered equal possibilities for all national minorities. Latvian Jewry was never united in its cause. One part of them were Zionists, among them right and left wing ones. Some Jews embraced leftist and even communist ideas. Others stick to orthodox Judaism. On every parliamentary elections Jews submitted various rivaling party lists. Even at the municipal level their views often conflicted. Because of that many great personalities emerged among the Latvian Jewry. One of the most notable Jewish leaders were Mordehai Dubin. He was a Rabbi, businessman, political and spiritual leader. Despite being religious orthodox he often managed to find a compromise between various conflicting Jewish views and was well favored among Latvian politicians. Doing so achieved many humanitarian victories by saving lives and gaining great respect from many. Some have called him Shtadlan the intercessor a meditative figure between Latvians and Jews. This is a story about this remarkable person who deserves its eternal place in history.

Mordehai Dubin was born on January 1 1889 presumably in Riga. His father was a Rabbi Zalman Ben Dubin who made prayers at synagogue in the Marijas street. Dubin himself also frequently attended this synagogue for the most of his life. He received education at the Riga Heder. The First Word war was traumatic for the Latvian Jewry. During the German invasion in the Latvian territory in 1915, the Tzarist authorities ordered to expel all the Jews from front-line areas. This action was based on biased belief that Jews support the German invasion and may act as spies. During the long tsarist times, Jews living in the Russian Empire were subjected to various forms of discrimination. No doubt some of them hoped that the more progressive German Empire may bring positive change to their status. However, the forced move of nearly all Jews from Courland and Semmigallia was an ill fated act. The Tzarist laws for many years restricted Jews to live outside the former borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That meant that living in places such as Moscow and Petersburg was mostly restricted. Now as large masses of Latvian and Jewish refugees, locals wrote in their diaries that Petersburg is full of “Latvians and Jews”. That seriously effected the revolution in 1917 when these masses were quick to support the revolutionary movement.

Mordehai Dubin was 26 years old at the time. Already a successful wood salesman Dubin also moved to Russia and joined the Jewish refugee supportive committee. That was the beginning of his social and political activity. There he met Mordehai Nurok - his future rival from Tukums, educated in foreign universities. From 1913 to 1915 he was already the main Rabbi of the city of Jelgava. Nurok was  a religious Zionist who believed in a Jewish return to the Promised Land-  Eretz Israel (Palestine). He was deeply affected by Teodor Herzl the founder of the Zionist movement of who he met personally. Dubin on the other hand was Lubavitcher Hassid who believed that Jews must stay were they were born and improve their culture on the spot.

On March 1917 a revolution took place in Petrograd (Petersburg) and Tzar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne. The new provisional government lead by Alexander Kerensky on March 20 made a historic step – all past restrictions to national minorities were abolished. Jews, Latvians, Estonians and many others were free to participate in politics and social affairs. However, many Jews and Latvians used this freedom to join Bolsheviks and on November 1917 deposed the provisional government.

Mordehai Dubin was not one of them. In 1917 he moved back to Riga. On November 18 1918 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. The Latvian national leader Kārlis Ulmanis declared equal rights to all disregarding their ethnicity.  While many Jews were weary of the new government, Dubin  was one of the first to support it. At the end of 1918 Latvia was invaded by the Bolsheviks. The Latvian Provisional Government moved to Liepāja and was forced to ally with Baltic German Landeswehr because it lacked enough forces to stop the Bolsheviks themselves. When the Bolsheviks captured Riga, Dubin remained there. He almost managed to achieve approval to get flour to bake matzo. However, Bolsheviks saw this as a contra-revolutionary step and wanted to arrest him. However, Dubin was infected with typhus that made the Bolsheviks to think that he will die anyway.  However, Dubin managed to survive and was back on his feet just as Bolsheviks abandoned Riga.

After the harsh times of the Bolshevik terror and the defeat of the German armies near Cēsis, most Latvian Jews understood that Kārlis Ulmanis Latvian government is their only friend. On July 13 1919 The Peoples Council was called and had 6 Jewish representatives. 2 were from the social democrat Bund, 1 United Jewish Socialist party, and three Jewish National Party members. Dubin was one of them. While the Latvian government made many promises to support national minority rights, they did not accept calls for complete national autonomy. Demands for Jewish national parliament and Cadastre was impossible to meet. However, the national autonomy for Jewish schools was achieved. However, the Jews had arguments about the way the Jewish education must be taught. Zionists wanted to reintroduce Hebrew to make children ready to leave for future Israel. Orthodox Jews wanted a strict religious education with gender separation.  Socialist Jews wanted to teach children just Yiddish the local Jewish Ashkenazi language that most Latvian Jews spoke. Others insisted that Jews must have modern education and there is nothing wrong to get an education in Latvian, German and Russian schools. In 1934 there were 119 Jewish Schools with 14 gymnasiums. While Dubin stood up for religious schools he did not resist other schools since the orthodox education was not widely popular.

As the war for freedom ended with Latvian victory, Dubin rushed to form his own political party. His party was called Agudat Israel and was mainly religious conservative. It was also against Zionism and Bolshevism. His supporters mainly resided in Riga and Latgale. He had many rivals, the Jewish Bund, left wing Zionists Cerei Cion lead by Maxis Lazerson, Mordehai Nurok Mizrachi. Dubin managed to enter all four Latvian parliaments. His magnetism is expressed at best by the fact that the Jews of Jēkabils in the election day came over river Daugava to the city of Krustpils, because Dubin was listed in the Latgalia election district where Krustpils was located. As a man of willpower and ambition he received conflicting views of his personality. Mendel Bobe and Maxis Lazerson his rivals called him a man with “convinced Jewish hearth and soul that did not discriminate anyone regarding his class and political affiliation”. His distant relative Herbert Dubin called him a ruthless and intolerant towards others. Many Latvian politicians praised him for his support and cooperation. Nationalist Latvians feared him and expressed that Dubin holds too great power over Latvian governments. Kārlis Ulmanis was often criticized for his friendly relations with Dubin.

His close aide was Ruben Vittemberg from Daugavpils. He was later replaced with Simon Vittemberg who was not related to Ruben. His secretary was Abram Godin who managed to survive the  war and wrote his memoirs about his time with Dubin.

Dubin stood out as  a strong defender of the Jewish national rights. During the anti-Jewish riots in the rooms of the University of Latvia in 1922 Dubins along with his counterparts appealed to parliament to stop the beating of the Jewish students. The University administration and police was unable to stop angry hateful Latvian students from attacking their Jewish study mates. After main condemnation from the parliament the riots finally stopped.

In his quest for defending the rights for Latvian Jews, Dubin made many departures from his political and religious ideals. He helped the Jewish communist to get out of prison. He rescued the Jewish theater from closure by the state despite his disapproval of such free form of art. Not only that the theater worked on Saturdays, that was forbidden for religious Jews. When the director of the theater asked Dubin why he helped them despite of his disapproval,  he answered: “Yes, I truly never had attended your theater, and will not attend in the future and that does not mean that I like what you are doing there. However, we Jews must receive equal state support as others do!”.  From this on the Jewish theater no longer worked on Saturdays. He also socially supported the Jewish soldiers and veterans despite his pacific beliefs.

But, one of his main achievements was the rescue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson from the Soviet repressions. In 1927 the spiritual leader of the Hassidic Jews was imprisoned by Soviet secret police. At the same the Latvian leftist government was making talks with the USSR about trade treaty. Dubin used his political influence to use the release of Shneerson as condition to sign the trade agreement. Shneerson was arrested and  sentenced to death, however the sentence was dropped and he was moved to infamous Solovki Monastery prison camp. Later he was moved to Kostroma prison and later released. But, it was apparent that he would be arrested again. Since the left wing coalition lacked support and had only one vote majority. The Dubin who was in right wing opposition the situation where his single vote could affect the vote for trade agreements. Dubin himself went to Moscow in risk of being arrested himself. Soviets who wanted the treaty to be signed, agreed to release Lubavitcher Rebbe. However, since he was released on Saturday that was a Sabbath, Rebbe refused to leave his prison cell angering the soviets. With nearly dooming all the Dubins efforts, Rebbe left the prison when the Sabbath was  over. He moved to Riga and gained Latvian Passport. He stayed in Riga until 1929 when he moved to Warsaw Poland.

Mordehai Dubin visits the US president Herbert Hoover  From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

Mordehai Dubin visits the US president Herbert Hoover
From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

The influence of Dubin was so grand that on 1929 he was privately received from Hebert Hoover the president of the United States. Many Latvian politicians including the president himself could only dream of such possibility. However, on May 15 1934 Kārlis Ulmanis took power by coup and dissolved  the parliament. All political parties were banned including Dubin’s party. In anger he called Ulmanis and declared: “If I am no longer needed here, I will leave!” Ulmanis however, talked him out of it and instead insisted on more personal cooperation. Kārlis Ulmanis limited the Jewish school autonomy and removed the Jewish school authority. He replaced it with the single senior administrator for each minority and that was Dubin for Jews. Dubin used his powers to enforce religious lessons in every Jewish school. He also insisted on teaching Hebrew rather than Yiddish. That lead to disappointment for many.

On 1933 Dubin along with other Jewish leaders took a stand against the rise of Nazi Germany. They organized a boycott of German products. In return Germany blocked Latvia butter exports. Latvia exported 59% of butter to Germany and such block was highly disadvantageous. Dubin sparked concerns about rise of support for Nazism and national radicalism. In return many Latvians started to boycott Jewish shops. In the end Germany dropped the restrictions on Latvian butter.

Soon however the deeply antisemitic Nazi Germany started to make even greater concerns for Latvia and Dubin. Large masses of Jews emigrated from Germany and emerged in Latvia. Many only considered Latvia as half-way to Palestine that was mandated by British or other safer places. Fearing national protests Ulmanis did not want to allow them to stay in Latvia for good. Instead he allowed them to remain here until they find safer destination. And Dubin was the man in charge to find a safe destination for them. Dubin did everything for each of the refugee and even worked with Zionist organizations to get them to Palestine. In 1935 there were 159 Jewish refugees, at the end of the year 55, and in 1937 only 48 remained in Latvia. The situation became much more difficult after Arab uprisings in Palestine that made the British authorities to limit the entry of Jews. In 1939 it was completely banned to enter Palestine.

In 1938 Austria was annexed by Germany. There were now 118 Jelws from Germany in Latvia. When a ship containing 77 Austrian Jews reached the port of Riga. They were told to leave despite Dubins efforts. His son Zalman’s wife was an Austrian Jew. On 1939 559 Jews from Germany and Austria remained in Latvia. Dubin could not sent everyone to a safe place as the international situation worsened and moved to world war.

On September 1 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. It was the beginning of Shoah – the Jewish catastrophe. Lubavitcher Rebbe who Dubin rescued from Soviets now was in prime danger since he was living in Warsaw. Dubin again rushed to rescue him. But, all contacts with Latvian embassy had been broken. Rebbe however had Latvian passport. At first it was considered to transport him with a car, but the main route to Riga was under German bombardment. Then Latvian Foreign Ministry managed to get German agreement to transport Latvian citizens from Poland. Since the railway was also bombed the refugees had to  go trough Koenigsberg. However, at the evacuation day a Yom Kipur festival was more important for the Rebbe and he again refused to leave. In the end Rebbe managed to reach Riga on December. On April 1940 he moved to US. Dubin had rescued him both from Soviet and Nazi genocide. Rebbe lived a long life and became famous worldwide.

However, after two months Soviets occupied Latvia. There was no one to rescue Dubin. Dubin declared: “I will go nowhere!” and vowed to remain in Latvia despite the possible Soviet arrest. Dubin in despair tried to keep Jewish youth from taking part in the pro-soviet demonstrations. They only laughed about him. The leader had lost his power. On February 1941 he was arrested and deported. After the pleas from international Jewry he was released and lived in Kuibishev (Samara) where he again helped the Jewish refugees. His whole family, wife and son perished in Riga Ghetto.

In 1946 he returned to Riga. His beloved synagogue in Marijas street was destroyed. He was told to leave by other surviving Jews. And he did so and never returned to Latvia, his homeland. He moved to Moscow suburbs and supported local Jews. He then was arrested again and died in  prison in 1956.

During his captivity he was imprisoned in the same cellar with German soldiers. He said to them: “Should it be known that I feel no hate against you and the German people, despite the fact that your compatriots destroyed my family. I understand that it was the will of the God and you fulfilled it”. He kept his religious traditions in prison and refused to open package that was sent to him on Saturday. Angered Soviets placed him in the locker room. Only when midnight approached he opened the package sent by the Russian Jewish community. Dubin said to the Germans that the cause of his suffering is carelessness towards his mother. After his father died, she asked him to stay with her, of what he answered that I must daily commit to 150 people not only her. He now viewed this a punishment for placing the interests of others rather than her own mother. He was buried in Russia, Malahovka.

Mordehai Dubin has been Latvian patriot since the very beginning until the very end. He was also a staunch defender of the Jewish rights and crossed many barriers for it. For his heroic and rightful deeds he is one of the most exceptional persons in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

The Jews in Latvia / Ed.–board Mendels Bobe, S. Levenberg , I. Maor . – Tel Aviv: Assoc. of Latv. a.

Годин Абрам. Память о праведнике. Воспоминания о Мордехае Дубине. Иерусалим: Шамир, 5761 (2000).

Bobe, Mendels. Ebreji Latvijā. Rīga : Biedrība Šamir, 2006

Stranga, Aivars. Ebreji un diktatūras Baltijā (1926–1940). Latvijas Universitātes Jūdaikas Studiju Centrs. 2002.

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Poles in Latvia

Latvian Polish political poster from 1931

Latvian Polish political poster from 1931

On 1561-1562 the Livonian Confederation was forced to surrender to the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. It was done to save themselves from even greater foe – Ivan IV the Terrible who invaded Livonia. The Livonian war ended with Polish victory. Poland-Lithuania acquired all territories of Latvia. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was autonomous from Polish throne, however the Duchy of Pārdaugava which included Riga, Vidzeme and Latgalia was under the direct Polish rule. After loosing the war to Sweden in 1629, Poland lost both Riga and  Vidzeme, but kept Latgalia until 1772. Therefore Latgalia had the most sizable Polish national population. Most of them were nobles. However, on 19th century because of social economic reasons many Latvian peasants changed their nationality to Polish. Such phenomena even happened during the interwar period. The national census shows unnatural growth of the Polish minority in different places, that can be explained by nationality change. Many poor people still had no perception of their true nationality, many used Polish in work, family and church sermons. Not only Latvians, Belorussians and Gypsies claimed to be Polish. There were even records when a Polish priest registered Gypsies as Polish without telling them. Today there are many Latvians with Polish surnames, including Prime Minister of Latvia Valdis Dombrovskis (Dombrowski). Some Latvians got their Polish surnames because of the Polish landlords who gave them to his peasants, others had some connections with Polish people.

The Polish revival in Latgalia was obstructed by the Russian repressions against the Polish people. However, few notable intellectuals like historian Gustav Manteifel, scientist and revolutionary Boleslav Limanovsky came from Latgalia. Because of industrial revolution many Poles went to big cities to work in a factory. In 1897 in Riga there were 13415 Poles, in Liepaja 6015. In whole Latvian territory there were 65056 Poles. On 1878 the first Polish organization was made – the catholic charity society and in 1879 the Polish singing society “Aušra”. In the main higher education facility the Riga Polytechnic school two Polish fraternities were formed. First Polish theaters were organized. The revolution of 1905 was also very important for Poles. Just as Latvians they wanted more national freedom and was united in common cause against the Czarist regime. Polish society became more active – first national schools were made and Poles got elected in City Councils. For a long time Russia had imposed the ban on printing with Latin letters in Latgalia. That was damaging both for Poles and Latgalian Latvians. The ban was lifted on 1904 allowing the Poles to start their own press and literature.

The punishment chamber in Riga Polytechnic school (modern day University building) with Polish writings on them

The punishment chamber in Riga Polytechnic school (modern day University building) with Polish writings on the wall

The First World War made many Poles as refugees and they found themselves in Russia. Others joined the Latvian Rifleman battalions and fought the German invaders. However, after the war many came back home. Those who stayed in the Soviet Union became victims of the “Polish Action” on 1937. The new national governments of Latvia and Poland were united in their struggle against the Bolsheviks. The Polish victory over Soviet Russia in 1920 was a guarantee for the Latvian independence. Polish forces assisted the Latvian army in the battlefields of Latgalia and chased the Bolsheviks away. The large number of Poles fought in the ranks of the Latvian army. 9 of them received the highest military award the Order of Lachplesis. In the result of Polish-Soviet peace agreement which was signed in Riga, Latvia established a common border with Poland. It was however, no secret that Poland desired to annex whole Latgalia as their old territory. The “Greater Poland” dream never realized, but Poland still acquired the Vilnius region, Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine. That caused the resentment for Stalin, which was one of the reasons for the outbreak of WWII.

In 1920 there were 52244 Poles 3,4% of the population. In Riga there were 7935 Poles, in Liepaja 2904, Daugavpils 8178 and in other cities there were large Polish minorities. Most Poles lived in cities, others were farmers. Poles got a lesser hold on commerce and industry than Germans and Jews. At first only 57,7% Poles were literate, however in 1935 the numbers rose up to 82%. Poles were mostly farmers and factory workers. On 30ies because of shortage of agricultural workforce many Poles came to work in Latvia. Most of them went to work for few months and then returned. On September 1 1939 there were 26000 such people in Latvia. Many of them stayed there.

The state of Poland was very sensitive about the Polish minority in Latvia. There was many diplomatic quarrels between Poland and Latvia. Poland accused Latvians about Polish discrimination while Latvia feared that Poland may try to use the minority rights as a guise for their territorial claims. Polish deputies were represented at the Peoples Council 0n 1919-1920 and in the Saeima (Parliament) 1922-1934. There was a Polish fraction with one or two deputies. Germans, Jews and Russians had more parliament seats. Jaroslav Vilipshevsky was the first non-Latvian who was elected to the Latvian Land Bank board. Jan Vezhbicky was the assistant to the Minister of the Interior affairs in 1928. The main Polish party was the Polish Peoples Union. There was also a Polish section of Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. The main national society was the Latvian Polish Union with almost thousand members. Poles were elected in the City Councils.

Polish printing press was active and many Polish newspapers came out. From 1922 to 1923 “Glos Polski” (The Voice of Poles), 1925-1928 “Tygodnig Polski” (The Polish Weekly Paper), 1928-1931 “Dzwon” (The Bell), 1931-1934 “Nasz Glos” (Our Voice) and on 1934-1940 “Nasze Zycie” (Our Live).

Polish schools just as other minority schools were autonomous. There was four Polish schools in Riga, three in Liepaja. In whole Latvia already on 1919 17 Polish schools were active. In 1931 there were now 45 Polish schools with 5274 pupils.  Until 1934 in the Ministry of Education a Board of Polish Education handled all affairs of Polish education. After the coup by Kārlis Ulmanis, all minority education boards were removed and replaced by the senior manager. The number of the Polish schools dropped to 16. Most Polish students went to study in Poland, because the entrance examinations in higher education facilities were taken in Latvian.

Poles had active community life. The national organizations like “Polish Union”, and many catholic charity organizations took care for less fortunate. Polish fraternities and academic organizations were active. On the Warsaw street at Daugavpils a “Polish House” was made for many Polish organizations. Polish youth took part in Scout units. Many famous Latvian sportsmen were Poles. Also there was many Polish academics and stage artists.

The Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland was a deep blow for Latvian Poles. On September 17, when the Soviet Union invaded Poland the Latvian Polish Union made a declaration of unbroken ties with the whole Polish nation and promised to support Poland at all costs. Latvian government was unfriendly to Poland, by closing its embassy in Warsaw. No other Baltic State did that. 1500 soldiers of the Polish army entered Latvia together with 300-400 civil refugees. Polish national organizations did their best to help these people.

The interned Polish air force men in Latvia 1939

The interned Polish air force men in Latvia 1939

The Soviet Occupation of Latvia in 1940 was taken unfriendly by Poles. Soviet Union had helped to destroy the Polish state and was against any kinds of national activity. The Polish national organizations were closed. Many leading Polish persons were arrested and sent to Siberia. The Soviet secret police the NKVD discovered an underground Polish resistance group. Large numbers of Poles were sent to Siberia in June 14 1941.

After the Nazi invasion 38191 Poles were registered in Latvia by the Nazi authorities. This count was artificially downsized because many Poles, registered as Latvians, Belorussians and Ukrainians to escape the Nazi repressions. Some Poles openly resisted the Nazi occupation by joining the Soviet underground. The pro-soviet Polish Peoples Army (Armia Ludowa) was active in Latvia. Many Latvian Poles were mobilized in the Red Army. However, because of the Soviet terror some Poles welcomed the Nazi forces and took arms against the Soviets. At first German authorities refrained from mobilizing Poles in the Waffen SS Legion by sending them to work in Germany. However, many Poles were included in the German ranks because they were registered as Latvians or joined voluntarily. Latvian Poles also formed units loyal to the Polish Government in Exile. The “Armia Krajowa” had special intelligence units in Latvia. More than 150 Latvian Poles fought for the “Armia Krajowa”. Many of them were captured by the German secret police and executed.

After the second Soviet occupation of Latvia, Poles remained in strong numbers throughout the decades.  Poles formed 2,3% of the Latvian population at 1989. Some Poles arrived from Soviet annexed West Belorussia and West Ukraine. The Soviet Union rejected the Polish national education and forced Poles to go to Russian or Latvian schools. In result the major part of Poles became Russianized and forgot their native language. The same thing happened to the Jews, Belorussians and Ukrainians. Only 27% Latvian Poles knew Polish language.

Some Poles continued to resist the Soviet occupation and joined the partisan movement. Poles were the only national minority to do so. Together with Latvian partisans they unsuccessfully combated the NKVD. On March 25 1949 many Polish farmers were sent to Siberia.

The leader of the Polish National revival Ita Kozakevich

The leader of the Polish National revival Ita Kozakevich

Polish national activity was mainly suppressed by the Soviet regime. Polish intelligentsia made unofficial meetings and activities. The main point of unity was the Catholic church that made social services for Catholic Poles. At the beginning of the restoration of the independence Poles took an active role. First Polish national society “Promien” (Ray) was organized by Henrik Svirkovsky. In 1988 the Latvian Polish Cultural Society was founded by Ita Kozakevich in charge.  She however tragically died in Italy on 1990. She stays as legendary figure for Polish national struggle. Polish national Jānis Jurkāns became the first foreign minister in restored Latvia. Latvian Polish Society supported the Barricade movement. Many Poles took part in Latvian Peoples Front.

After the restoration of independence there was 38, 9 thousand Poles in Latvia. Latvian Polish Union is active and is lead by Rishard Stankevich. With difficulties Poles are trying to maintain their own national schools. Poland is giving them some support. Many Poles are taking part in politics and  culture. Ivars Bičkovičs is the chairman of the Latvian Supreme Court. Zbigņevs Stankevičs is the main archbishop of the Latvian Catholic church. Viktors Ščerbatihs was Olympic medalist in weightlifting. Many Latvians will find a Polish roots in their family trees. Latvia tries to make good relations with Poland. Poland exports many products to Latvia and Latvia in return. Polish and Latvian historians are seeking common understanding in WWII history since both countries had similar experience of Nazi and Soviet invasion. Last year the President of Poland Bronisław Komorowski visited the University of Latvia where the Riga Polytechnic school was located and opened the restored punishment chamber for unruly students. Since there were large numbers of Polish students, the infamous chamber had many writings in Polish. Together with the chamber a book about the Polish students in Czarist time Riga was opened.  Many famous Polish people including president Komorowski himself had ancestors studying in Riga. The connection between Poland and Latvia is many centuries old and unbroken.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks, (1996) Poļi Latvijā.  Rīga : Latvijas ZA Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts.

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

Janicki, Arkadiusz, Laszczkowski, Michal, Jēkabsons, Ēriks Polentechnikum. Inowroclaw : Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego.

Polacy na Łotwie : wybór dokumentów prawnych dotyczących mniejszości narodowych = Poļi Latvijā : tiesisko dokumentu izlase, kas skar nacionālās minoritātes. (2003) Warszawa : Stowarzyszenie “Wspólnota Polska”

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Latvia’s national minorities in Latvian caricatures 1920-1934

Svari_1925_4dec_nr47

Jews, Russians and Germans shown as the main rulers of Latvian government.
From Svari 1925

The parliamentary period of independent Latvia had two common things the vast ethnic diversity and great freedoms for press. Latvia with her many national minorities outlined in whole picture of Europe. For centuries in the small geographical area of Latvia Germans, Russians and Jews lived side by side. All of these minorities had its own culture and national elite that made Latvia a multi-ethnic nation. According to national census made in 1935 Latvia was inhabited by 75% Latvians, 10,59% Russians, 4,79% Jews, 3,19% Germans and 2,51% Poles.

The founding fathers of Latvia had to cope with these minorities and since the very start at November 18, 1918 Kārlis Ulmanis said these words: “All citizens, without no ethnic distinction are asked to help, for all nationality rights will be ensured in Latvia. It will be democratic country of justice where they cannot be any repression or injustice!” It was a strong promise that had to kept in order to gain support from non-Latvians who were skeptical about new Latvian state. The goal of founding Latvian right-wing politicians was to form a national democratic nation with emphasis on Latvian language and culture, but to give equal rights to all national minorities including them in the state political and social system.

Steps were made for this. The citizenship made in 1919, granted citizen rights to all who lived in Latvia before 1914 without any national restrictions. Already in 1925 96% people of Latvia held citizen rights. The main step towards the minorities was the Law about minority school autonomy issued in 1919, that granted minorities to get education in their maiden language and maintain their own schools. Also the election the law  that did not require no 5% barrier and needed only 100 people to found a party made relative easy to be elected in to parliament.

As for unknowing observer this may seem that national relations in Latvia were quite good and there were no serious problems. However that was only on paper. The nationalistic calls in newspapers, anti-minority talks in parliament and even some national violent outbursts (that were still pretty rare) and rise of radical nationalist movements showed that there is something wrong within Latvians and the minorities.

The cause for this was cross national economical and ethnic rivalry. In every ethnically uneven country it’s not matters how sizable is the minority, but how much influence does it have in state level. And this was the main problem in Latvia. For centuries Latvians faced economical and political discrimination from foreign rulers. Latvians were mainly limited to agriculture sector, in finance and industry Latvians were minority. Still at the end of 19 century and the beginning of 20 century Latvian middle and upper class was still weak and unfolded.

After gaining independence Latvians were still behind the minorities in many sectors. In 1935, of all commercial companies 58% belonged to Jews, 24% to Germans and 5,4% to Russians. Jewish tradesman were present in Riga and the province and Germans owned the large industrial companies. This made many Latvians envious and unsure about their position in their own country. From saying: “Everything belongs to Germans and Jews, we Latvians still are not the masters of our land”   a slogan came “Latvia for Latvians!”. And this were the caricatures come in that shows pretty much what Latvians thought about their national minorities.

Caricatures were integral part of every newspaper at those times. Satirical art was favored by the readers and there many caricaturists. In this article we only will take a look on caricatures published in satirical magazines, for almost all main newspapers had caricatures. Satirical magazines were usually a hobby contribution of many caricaturists who came to together. The magazines consisted from caricatures, anecdotes and funny stories.

From all 40 satirical magazines that came out between 1920-1934 some can be mentioned with distinction. “Svari” (Scales) was the biggest magazine that came out from 1920 to 1931. It first came out already in 1906 in Petersburg, and after short live of fame was banned by Czarist authorities. The main authors of the caricatures were Roberts Tilbergs, Rihards Zariņš and Jānis Zeberiņš. It is worth to note that first version of “Svari” was leftist minded, but after the 1920, the journal became more nationalistic and anti-Semitic. Caricatures were made in national realist style. A contrary to “Svari” was “Ho-Ho!”  a magazine made by young generation artists – expressionists, Cubists and suprematists. Something that was strongly opposed from “Svari” artists. The main artists of “Ho-Ho!” was Romāns Suta, Sigusmunds Vidbergs, Otto Skulme and Aleksandra Belcova. It was extraordinary magazine in arts and style and leftist minded. However leftists were pretty anti-German at those times. The journal came out from 1922 to 1924 after went bankrupt. The third main journal was “Sikspārnis”  (The Bat”) Journal came out with gaps from 1922 to 1940. A nationalist minded it was a big journal and was very found of satirizing Jews.

According to my calculations the most depicted minority in caricatures were Jews a satirized a  total of 204 times, Germans were depicted 204 times, Russians 19, Gypsies 5 times, and Poles 3 times in a period between 1920 to 1934. Before the World war and the Holocaust there was no political correctness towards the minorities, nobody expected the tragic events that would happen with Jews and other minorities. And minorities themselves did not mind much about caricatures and there were no or less complaints registered from them. Today a anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic caricature would cause a large scandal or even violence. None of this was present before the world  war.

A dream by "Svari" editor about removing the Orthodox cathedral and put Monument of Freedom in place From Svari 1930

A dream by “Svari” editor about removing the Orthodox cathedral and put Monument of Freedom in place
From Svari 1930

As the biggest minority in Latvia the Russians were often associated with old Czarist past. The past Russifaction  policies made a large resentment towards Russian language and Russian culture. Caricatures showed antipathies towards Russian monarchists who wanted to restore Russian Empire. “Sikspārnis” suggested to kick them out of Latvia back to Russia. Satirical press praised the removal of Orthodox chapel in Riga Railroad station square in 1925 (it was done to extend the square and chapel was intended to be moved to Pokrov Russian cemetery, but Orthodox church wasted the money and chapel was lost forever). But, that was not enough as “Svari” even wanted to remove the Orthodox cathedral in city center and place a Monument of Liberty there. The church was a symbol for Czarist past for many. Interestingly enough Russians were not associated with Soviet Union at those times.

The Lachplesis fighting against the German baronFrom "Ho-Ho"! 1922

The Lachplesis fighting against the German baron
From “Ho-Ho”! 1922

Germans were lesser than Russians and Jews but held a large influence. They still played a great role in national politics and economy. The past experience the myth of 700 years of slavery made Germans as the main Latvian enemy. Germans were shown constantly plotting against Latvia and Latvians. Great anger was made against Germans that still held large influence and took important governmental posts. The political demands by German parties that were constant were depicted as a threat to Latvian nation. Satirical magazines praised the controversial took away of St. Jacobs and Riga Dome cathedral from German congregations. The most noted German politician Paul Schiemann know for his liberal policies and progressive national ideas was shown as a German nationalist and chauvinist. While Scheimann really had a progressive liberal views he still played the role of German national right defender.

Jew as the ruler as the worldFrom Pūcsspieģelis 1923

Jew as the ruler as the world
From Pūcsspieģelis 1923

The main satirical slur was headed towards the Jews. While Jews had no political claims against Latvian state and no past as a Latvian oppressor, their influence in trade and finance was so clearly seen that they got themselves many enemies. There were many myths about Jews in Latvia that were present in caricatures. Satirical magazines outlined the uneven Jewish role in Latvian society; while being overly present in economy and education almost no role in state sector and army. The magazine “Lapsene” (The Wasp) called Jews the artificial insects and asked how to destroy them. Jews were accused of speculating the new Latvian currency and later even taking over all Latvian money capital.

Another paranoid view since gaining independence was that the many Jews from Russia that never lived in Latvia before, came in large masses along with Latvian refugees. That was partly true, but it should  noted that the Soviet government and the Checka simply loaded many undesired people on the refugee trains to get rid of them. Another thing is that many of the Jews really lived in Latvia before the war. But satirical magazines were talking about the “new Palestine” in Latvia and influx of swindlers. It all came to climax at 1927, when the changes in citizenship that extended the list of people eligible for citizen rights were made. Nationalist parties initiated a referendum to turn down the changes. The nationalists insisted that even more Jews will gain citizen rights.  For whole year till December that was the main theme in satirical press. The referendum failed to reach its purpose as the quorum was not reached.

Jews were also accused of being communists and plotting against Latvia. While there were really some underground Jewish communists and Soviet agents their role and size was not significant as depicted in caricatures. Latvian communists were more a threat and larger in size.

Mordehajs Dubins visits the US president Herbert Hoover From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

Mordehajs Dubins visits the US president Herbert Hoover
From Kultūras Bals Satīriskais kalendārs 1931

One of the most remarkable Jewish personality was rabbi Mordehajs Dubins who was also a Orthodox Jewish politician. He was elected in all parliaments was a personal friend of Kārlis Ulmanis and talented businessman. He even gained audience to US President Herbert Hoover office a something that could not be done by many Latvian politician. He was true leader of Latvian Jewry. In so the Latvian satire depicted him as oligarch and real mover of many governments. Sometimes he even was show as a President or Prime Minister. He really had a large influence on governmental decisions, but his power was overestimated by Latvian satires.

The disinfection of the parasites of the earthFrom Intīmās politiskās aizkulises 1933

The disinfection of the parasites of the earth
From Intīmās politiskās aizkulises 1933

One interesting siting in Latvian satirical press was a journal “Intīmās poltiskās aizkulises, jeb mazas piezīmes par “lieliem” vīriem”  (Intimate political back scenes, or a small notes on “great” men”) with such peculiar name you could not guess that this journal was published by United Latvian Nationalsocialist Party a small political party inspired by Nazi Germany. This was one of the most anti-Semitic publisher of caricatures calling for complete “disinfection of Earth parasites” and removal of “council of Elders of Zion”. Jews were accused of selling cocaine, seducing Latvian women and harming the Latvian state. Party was short-lived from 1933 to 1934 and did not gain any significant popularity but its journal its example of the limits of Latvian anti-Semitism.

The caricatures showed that national question in Latvia was actual and hardly addressable. A Latvian desire for “being masters in their own land” and the presence of nationalism was clearly seen. Despite the fact that caricatures could be accused of spreading the hate not always they called for violence. In place of that a notion was seen that these problems could not be solved by democratic meas. But without democracy no political satire was possible. After Kārlis Ulmanis took power by coup all political satire and anti-Semitic remarks were banned. A national problems were solved simply by not talking about them. That was a proof that Latvia between 1920 to 1934 was very democratic country that allowed freely talk about the national issues.

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