Latvia's Independence: A Tale of Non-Violent Mission & Secrete Treaty

The Singing Revolution: Latvia's Journey for Independence

The Singing Revolution was a series of events that happened from 1987 to 1991. These events helped Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania regain their independence from the Soviet Union. The term "Singing Revolution" was created by Heinz Valk, an Estonian activist and artist. He used this term in an article he wrote a week after people gathered at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds on June 10-11, 1988, for a great singing protest.


Latvia's Independence: A Tale of Non-Violent Mission & Secrete Treaty
Postage stamps dedicated to the Baltic Way


The Singing Revolution is an extraordinary chapter in Latvia's history also, as it successfully intertwined with the spirit of nationalism in the pursuit of freedom. It served as a powerful expression of national pride in Latvia. This non-violent resistance movement brought together the people of Latvia, transcending their differences, as they united in their love for their homeland and their protest to proclaim their sovereignty.

In the 20th century, Latvia faced a series of occupations and fought for self-government. After World War II, Latvia, along with other Baltic states, was forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union. During the period of Soviet rule, Latvia suffered political repression, cultural assimilation, and economic difficulties. However, as the Soviet Union started to weaken in the 1980s, a new wave of resistance surfaced in Latvia. In this article, our main focus will be on the events leading up to Latvia's independence movement.


💻 Table of Contents:

  1. Latvia's Struggle for Independence: Facing Challenges amidst Giants
  2. The Emergence of the Environmental Protection Club: A Catalyst for Change
  3. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: A Secret Agreement Dividing Eastern Europe
  4. The Baltic Way: A Human Chain for Freedom


Latvia's Struggle for Independence: Facing Challenges amidst Giants

In the heart of Europe, Latvia's path to independence was influenced by Germany's rise and the complicated wave of power dynamics on the continent. Situated in the Baltic region, Latvia observed the changing flows of empires, from the Teutonic Knights to the Russian Empire. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Germany, led by Ottovon Bismarck, swiftly ascended as a major European force, casting a long shadow on Latvia's dreams of freedom.


Latvia's Independence: A Tale of Non-Violent Mission & Secrete Treaty
Singing Revolution


As World War I unfolded, Latvia, part of the Russian Empire, faced a crucial moment. Germany's 1917 offensive led to the occupation of Riga, Latvia's capital, bringing the entire country under German control by 1918. This occupation marked by policies of Germanization and Russification, intensified Latvia's resolve to achieve liberation. The presence of the Germans played a role in sparking Latvian nationalism. The oppression of Latvian culture under both German and Russian control fueled a strong longing for independence.

As World War I concluded and Germany faced defeat, Latvia seized the opportunity to declare independence from German and Russian occupation on November 18, 1918, after the war. The power vacuum created by collapsing empires allowed smaller nations like Latvia to proclaim their sovereignty. Yet, Latvia faced significant challenges dealing with threats from both Germany and the emerging Soviet Union in the early years of its independence. Other nations, particularly the Allied Powers of World War I, recognizing Latvia's presence on the global stage, made a substantial impact. This helped Latvia become a strong country that could handle the always changing situation in Europe.


The Emergence of the Environmental Protection Club: A Catalyst for Change

In the challenging history of Latvia, the road to independence was marked by the shadows of World War II and the subsequent Soviet occupation. Initially invaded and annexed by the Stalinist Soviet Union in 1940, Latvia, along with the other Baltic countries, faced a blustery period. Following a brief occupation by Nazi Germany in 1941–1944/45, the Soviet army re-conquered the Baltic States in 1944–1945.


Latvia's Independence: A Tale of Non-Violent Mission & Secrete Treaty
Riga The Latvian Red Reflemen Square


In 1986, it became public knowledge that the USSR planned to build a hydroelectric power plant and a metro system in Riga, the capital of Latvia. These projects threatened Latvia's natural landscape and cultural heritage. Journalists urged the public to protest against these plans, prompting an immediate response. On February 28, 1987, the Environmental Protection Club was founded, becoming one of the most influential mass movements in the region. As the movement gained climax, demands for Latvia's independence began to emerge.



On June 14, 1987, the human rights group "Helsinki-86" organized a gathering where people placed flowers at the Freedom Monument, a symbol of Latvia's independence. This event is considered the starting point of the National Awakening. Additionally, the Latvian Song and Dance Festival of 1985 played a role in the awakening, as singers requested and performed a song called "Gaismas pils" (Castle of Light), which spoke about the rebirth of a free Latvian nation.


The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: A Secret Agreement Dividing Eastern Europe

In June 1988, the Writers' Union held a congress where discussions about democratization, economic sovereignty, language rights, and the acknowledgment of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact took place. This congress further fueled national revival.


Latvia's Independence: A Tale of Non-Violent Mission & Secrete Treaty
Heinz Valk


The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was an agreement signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939. It was a secret pact that outlined how the two countries would divide control over Eastern Europe. The pact gave the Soviet Union control over parts of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as the eastern regions of Poland. In exchange, Nazi Germany gained control over western Poland and other parts of Europe.

The pact was a significant event because it allowed both countries to expand their territories and influence. However, it also had negative consequences for the countries affected by the agreement. The Baltic countries, including Latvia, were occupied by the Soviet Union as a result of the pact. The pact was eventually broken when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, leading to a shift in alliances and the start of World War II.


The Baltic Way: A Human Chain for Freedom

During the summer of 1988, two significant organizations were formed—the Latvian People's Front and the Latvian National Independence Movement. These groups, along with the Citizens' Congress, aimed for the restoration of democracy and independence. On October 7, 1988, a mass public demonstration was held, demanding Latvia's independence and the establishment of a regular judicial order. The Latvian People's Front became the main representative of the independence movement.

On August 23, 1989, the Baltic Way demonstration took place, where people formed a human chain stretching from Tallinn, through Riga, to Vilnius—a total of 600 kilometers (373 miles). This demonstration symbolized the people's call for independence from the Soviet Union.

In January 1991, pro-communist forces attempted to restore Soviet power, leading to clashes between Latvian demonstrators and Soviet troops. These events, known as the "the Barricades," saw Latvian demonstrators successfully preventing the re-occupation of strategic positions by Soviet forces.


Latvia's Independence: A Tale of Non-Violent Mission & Secrete Treaty
Flags, people and Nationalism in Riga


In Moscow on August 19, 1991, there was an attempt to take over the government called a coup d'état, but it didn't work. People in Russia who wanted democracy stopped it with large protests. On August 21, 1991, following the failed coup attempt in Moscow, Latvia declared the restoration of its independence. The non-violent resistance and the international pressure exerted through a series of Revolution played a significant role in this historic achievement.


Conclusion:

The road to Latvia's independence was a complicated story involving historical struggles, environmental activism, and the inspiring power of the Singing Revolution. Despite the difficulties faced during Germany's dominance and the Soviet occupation, Latvia's journey to freedom showcases the unwavering strength and determination of its people. The formation of the Environmental Protection Club and the Baltic Way demonstration represent how a nation was determined to protect its identity and assert itself globally.

The Singing Revolution marked the independence of not just Latvia but the entire Baltic region, making it historically significant. Its essence lay in a nationalist movement, adding a unique dimension to the modern world.


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