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About Russia

Nations of Russia

The Latvians

The Latvians live in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Omskaya Obl., the Republic of Bashkortostan, Novosibirskaya Obl., Tomskaya Obl.
The Latvians are the titular nation of Latvia, that became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Latvians are descendants of four ancient Baltic tribal peoples: the Latgalians, the Kursi, the Zemgali and the Seli. In addition, Latvians are in the process of absorbing large numbers of Livonians, a people with a Finno-Ugrian language.
Language: Latvian, belongs to Baltic group
Religion: Protestants and Catholics
Diaspora: Ukraine, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Canada, USA, Australia, Sweden.

Latvians are descendants of four ancient Baltic tribal peoples that lived in the region of present-day Latvia from as early as 800 A.D.
Latvians are closely related linguistically to the Lithuanians but culturally to the Finns and Estonians.
The Scandinavian Vikings invaded the area in the 9th century and the Russians attacked in the 10th century. The invasion of the Teutonic Knights, German crusaders, was resisted in a lengthy struggle, but Latvia eventually came under their control in 1230, and were governed by them for more than 300 years. Thus, unlike the Lithuanians, the Latvians, after the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the 1530s, the Latvians were converted to Protestantism.
By 1562 Poland and Lithuania had taken over most of Latvia, while Sweden conquered the North in 1621. Because of Russia's geo-strategic need for an outlet on the Baltic Sea, time and again they tried to take control over parts of Latvia. Peter the Great began the final conquest of Latvia when he defeated the Swedes and took control over Livonia in 1721. The rest of Latvia came under Russian control through the partitions of Poland towards the end of the century.
The Russians imposed tough restrictions on Latvian language, religion, culture and nationalism, in an attempt to russify the population. Economic life was dominated by Germans, while many Latvians lived almost like serfs. Latvian nationalism grew steadily.
Russian domination lasted until the end of World War I, though parts of Latvia were occupied by the Germans during the war. Russian forces reclaimed control in 1917 but were overthrown by Germany February 1918, when Latvia declared its independence. After another Russian interlude, that was ended by British naval and German forces in December 1919, a shortlived independent Latvian democracy was established.
In accordane with the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Soviet Union took control over Latvia in 1940. The year after, however, the Germans broke the pact, and invaded the Soviet Union. They held Latvia until 1944, when the Soviet Union "liberated" Latvia, and reincluded the country in the Soviet fold. Hundreds of thousands of Latvians had died during the fighting. In addition, many emigrated and some were deported after the Soviets retook control. Until around 1950, Latvian guerillas continued fighting against the Soviets for an independent Latvia.
Following the death of Stalin in 1953, 30,000 out of 200,000 deported Latvians during Stalins era could return to their homeland. But the Soviets ruled with an iron hand. Collectivisation, bureaucratic centralisation and rapid and careless industrialisation severely damaged Latvia's economy and ecology. Soviet rule and industrialisation also brought large numbers of Russians to Latvia, making out as much as a third of the population by 1990.
The Latvian independence movement for many years functioned mainly in exile, although there were occasional nationalist demonstrations in the 1950s, -60s, and 70s. From 1980, national dissent grew, inspired in part by the Solidarity movement in Poland. But it was not until Gorbachov came to power in the mid 1980s, that the winds of change began to blow. Gorbachov himself in 1987 began discussing more openly the possibility of more autonomy for the Baltic states. In 1986, a human rights watchdog-organisation was established under the name Helsinki-86. Many of its leaders were deported to the West in -87, but new and more radical groups soon appeared.
A strong expression of the Balts' (Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians) commitment to independence from the Soviet union took place in 1989, when an enormous number of people from the three nationalities joined hands - literally - in a 400 miles chain from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius, facing west towards Europe, and turning their backs at the Soviet Union.
In plebiscite in March 1991, 73,7 per cent voted in favour of independence, and in the wake of the failed coup in Moscow in August, Latvian independence became a reality.

Among Latvians living in Siberia or other parts of Russia as a result of Stalin's deportations, many may want to be repatriated to Latvia in the years to come.


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