Understandably, the push to become independent in the 1980s was strong. The protests in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia played a large part in the downfall of the Soviet regime. That downfall may have happened anyway but when people in those countries formed a human chain on the fiftieth anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin pact, it was a clear sign the people power was on the rise. As the number of people that started protesting at the end of 1990 grew, it became clear that the Soviets didn't have the power to subdue them. When Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia declared their independence at the start of 1991, it was a small but important step in the end of the Soviet regime. The Museum of Barricades of 1991 tells what happened in those few months. After seeing it I wandered around 'dome square', the cobbled area outside the Dome Cathedral. Today there are tour buses and cafes occupying the square. It was amazing to think that in the same place twenty years ago battles were being fought and several people were killed in skirmishes between protesters and soldiers.
Friday, October 8, 2010
I've visited a few museums here to learn about Latvia's history. It's much like Estonia's in that it has been subject to continual invasions over the centuries by Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Russia and had a brief phase of independence in the 1920s and 30s after the fall of Tsarist Russia. In 1939 it was once again occupied by Russia when Stalin and Hitler made a pact to carve up eastern Europe between them. That only lasted a couple of years before Nazi Germany seized the Baltic countries from the Soviets. My impression is that the Nazi occupation was worse in Latvia than it was in Estonia, partly because Latvia had (though I'm not sure on this) a larger Jewish population, tens of thousands of whom were killed in the Nazi death camps, either ones in Poland or in camps set up in Latvia. After the war, the Soviets took over again and thousands more Latvians were exiled to their death camps (and they were death camps, not labour camps in which a lot people just happened to die). In one big purge in March 1949, over 40,000 Latvians were exiled to Siberia.
Posted by Simo at 9:42 PM