In the popular Bastejkalna parks (Bastion Hill Park) near the Freedom Monument in Rīga, there lie multiple monuments - a testament to the events that unfolded in Latvia 25 years ago. This week in January we remember the Barricades, we honor those who lost their lives, and we remind ourselves that freedom too often comes with the price of human life...
|Edijs Riekstiņš, student|
Latvia had been forcibly conscripted into the USSR since World War II, when it was Illegally occupied by the Soviet Union. Then, on the fourth of May in 1990, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia declared the restoration of its independence. Pro-Soviet forces tried to provoke violence and seize power in Latvia through a climate of fear and a series of bombings throughout the remainder of the year.
|Andris Slapiņš, cameraman|
On January 2nd of the New Year, the OMON (Otryad Mobilny Osobogo Naznacheniya, a system of special forces units within the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs) seized the national printing house of Latvia and attacked police officers who were documenting the event. Then on January 4th they seized the telephone exchange in Vecmīlgrāvis. Next it was the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and soon Soviet troops and armored vehicles were seen in the streets of the capital. On January 11th of 1991, the Soviet military launched an attack on Latvia's neighbor to the south, Lithuania, killing 13 civilians.
|Vladimirs Gomanovičs, senior lieutenant|
On January 13th an announcement from the Popular Front was broadcast over Latvian radio, calling for people to gather in Cathedral Square. 700,000 people took to the streets of Rīga, and agricultural and construction machines began arriving to build barricades. Special points of defense including Latvian Television and Radio buildings, as the ability to continue to broadcast in the case of Soviet attack would enable the rest of the world to hear the truth about what was occurring. These barricades were manned 24 hours a day, men, women, students and even families from all over Latvia coming to stand in solidarity against Soviet forces.
|Sergejs Konoņenko, senior lieutenant|
On January 14th the OMON attacked Brasa and Vecmilgrāvis bridges, then the following night concentrated their efforts on the Rīga branch of the Minsk Militia Academy. The first fatality occurred on January 16th; Roberts Mūrnieks was killed on a second attack on the Vecmilgrāvis bridge. His funeral three days later turned into a demonstration, and on January 20th about 100,000 people gathered in Moscow to show their solidarity and support for the Baltic States.
|The two additional casualties were Ilgvars Grieziņš and Gvido Zvaigzne, the fatally injured cameraman (photo source here)|
That night OMON and other unidentified combat groups attacked the Latvian Interior Ministry. Two policemen, a student and a cameraman were killed, a second cameraman dying later of injuries sustained in the attacks.
There were further attacks such as the May 23rd OMON attack on five Latvian border posts and the Soviet coup attempt which prompted the Latvian government to declare full independence, but the violence was mostly contained to the January confrontations which have come to be known as the Barikādes. Incidentally Latvia’s independence was recognized by the Soviet Union on September 6th, the Soviet Union then dissolved that December.
|Raimonds Salmiņš, killed in the coup attempt in August|