Friday, November 18, 2011

18. novembris

Ninety three years ago on this day was the Proclamation of an independent Latvia. The previous day a People’s Council (Tautas padome) had been established, and elections were held to elect the first Latvian Provisional Government. On November 18th, 1918 the first session of the new government was held in the National Theatre and independence was proclaimed.

Since that day in history, Latvia blossomed as a free country, was overrun by foreign armed forces during World War II, was illegally occupied for almost 50 years by the Soviet Union, declared the restoration of its de facto independence on August 21, 1991, and was admitted to NATO and the EU. I was born in the US during the years of occupation, and it is in my lifetime that Latvia regained its independence. Although my parents were also born in the United States, Latvian was my first language and is the language I speak with my husband and son.

The Freedom monument (Brīvības piemineklis) in Rīga, LV

The 18th has always held significant meaning to me, but more so once I moved away from Chicago and the Latvian society there. When I was a child, the concerts, speeches and memorial services held  were hard to sit through, the solemnity of it all lost on a child. Then shortly before my tenth birthday I was away at camp, and the boy scouts acted out a campfire skit that will forever be etched in my memory; they were soldiers, and they were fighting for Latvia (of course rolling around in the dirt, dying and shooting their guns as loudly as possible, boys being boys). The following day (August 21st, 1991) we received the news from civilization that our Latvija had regained its independence, and over the years it has become harder and harder to remember the days of demonstrating against the illegal occupation, the letter-writing campaigns and all the wishes for a free country. Once I moved to Georgia (where the local group of Latvian Americans met about twice a year), the 18th became one of the only days I could participate in Latvian society, and the significance of this day of remembrance increased greatly. As the 18th remains a solemn day to acknowledge the past, celebrate the present, and express our hope for the future, my internal debates over what it means to be Latvian are silenced for a day, as I honor the nation and culture that has given me so much yet asked for so little in return.

Daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā, Latvija!

Lauris's first time in Latvia in December, 2010


  1. His smile is so contagious! I hadn't realized the occupation was considered illegal, and the international community allowed that? Happy Independence Day!

  2. Yes, at the end of the war possession was 9/10ths of the law, and it was pretty much finalized at the Yalta conference. Although in 1940 the US, Europe and the UN all stated the Baltics were invaded, occupied and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union.


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