Latvia Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Latvia is a country located in Northern Europe. With the capital city of Riga, Latvia has a population of 1,886,209 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. The Soviet era brought a severe political repression. When it eased in the 1980s, a people front was formed that demanded independence, multi-party systems and market economy. In 1990, the popular front won the elections and declared Latvia independently, which was recognized by the outside world in 1991. The transition to a market economy became painful, and the issue of the Russian minority’s position sparked political strife. It remained a subject of dispute even after Latvia joined NATO and the EU in 2004.

During the Soviet Empire, the nationalization of business, which began in the early 1940s, was resumed. Agriculture was collectivized, and the Communist Party became the only permissible political organization.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Latvia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Latvian resistance movement, with spearheads in the Armed Forests brothers, was brutally defeated. In 1953, approximately 120,000 people had been deported, imprisoned or killed. In a day in March 1949, 43,000 people were sent from Latvia to Siberia. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Latvia.

Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s death in 1953 brought political thunderstorms. Nationally oriented communists took over in Latvia and some economic decentralization was allowed. But in 1959 the party leadership was replaced, and then extensive purges of nationalist letters followed. A severe crackdown on the country was carried out, among other things by massive Russian immigration that threatened to make the Latvian minority.

The Latvian national movement was revived in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Opposition to Soviet rule and unrestrained environmental degradation, especially at the military bases, grew in strength. An environmental protection organization was formed in 1984, and after Michail Gorbachev took over power in Moscow, a civil rights group was formed in Latvia in 1986. It organized mass demonstrations at the Freedom Monument in Riga in memory of historical Soviet abuse in Latvia. The opposition grew into a significant political force, and in September 1988 Latvian was recognized as the state language.

Popular front

The public front was formed in October 1988 and quickly gained a strong position. It brought together the forces that wanted to change the totalitarian regime – everything from supporters of Latvian independence and market economy to reform-oriented communists who demanded greater political and economic autonomy for the Soviet Republic of Latvia. One member of the Communist Party was elected the first chairman of the People’s Front.

In July 1989, the Latvian parliament, Supreme Soviet, adopted a declaration of sovereignty and economic independence. On the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbon Troop Pact, on August 23, residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed a human chain from Vilnius via Riga to Tallinn with demands for freedom and independence. In October 1989, the Popular Front demanded political and economic independence, multi-party systems and market economy. In the local elections in December, Folkfronten’s candidates received about three-quarters of the votes. The opponents were gathered in the Moscow-controlled Interfront Movement.

At the beginning of 1990, the Latvian Communist Party was deprived of its constitutional privileges by the Supreme Soviet of Latvia, who also condemned the 1940 decision to join the Soviet Union. At the same time, the flag, the state coat of arms and the national anthem from the independent Latvia of the interwar period were brought back into official use.

In the spring of 1990, the Popular Front won the election of Latvia’s highest Soviet with 138 out of 201 seats. Parliament changed its name to the Supreme Council and issued a declaration on the restoration of Latvia’s independence. Important parts of the 1922 Constitution were re-enacted as the legal basis for the newly proclaimed Republic of Latvia. Anatoly Gorbunovs of Latvia’s Communist Party, chairman of the Supreme Council, was given the post of head of state, while the Ivory Godmanis of the People’s Front was appointed prime minister.


According to Soviet leader Gorbachev, the declaration of independence of Latvia was illegal, and in Latvia non-litters striked in protest of independence. In January 1991, the leadership of the Communist Party gave orders to the Ministry of the Interior’s special forces – Omon or the “black baskers” – to take over Latvia’s most important newspaper editorials and publishing houses. Over 700,000 people gathered in Riga to defend the country’s independence. Five people were killed in connection with the Armed Forces armed forces a few days later against the Ministry of the Interior. The events gave the independence movement increased support. In a referendum in March 1991, nearly three quarters supported “a democratic and independent Latvian republic”.

In connection with the Moscow coup in August 1991, when the old Soviet guard was trying to regain power, Omon troops entered the Riga TV House and the Ministry of the Interior. Then the Supreme Council met and declared Latvia independently on 21 August. When the Moscow coup failed, the Communist Party of Latvia was banned and Communist leader Alfrēds Rubiks was arrested. Latvia’s independence was quickly recognized by a number of countries, and after a few weeks in Moscow as well.

Latvia’s leaders faced difficult political problems. One sensitive issue concerned the foundations of citizenship in the New Republic. The Supreme Council enacted in late 1991 that everyone who was a citizen of Latvia until 1940, and their descendants, would automatically be granted citizenship and thus voting rights. Strict demands on language skills, insights into the Constitution and loyalty to Latvia were suggested to other residents, most of whom are Russian speakers. It triggered demonstrations among Russian immigrants, sharp protests from Moscow and threatening exercises by the Russian military in Latvia. Among the Latvians, however, there was widespread support for strict laws against the Russian-speakers.

Just over a quarter of the population lacked citizenship and thus the right to vote when the first parliamentary elections were held in June 1993. Of the 100 members elected to saeima, 89 were elected, even though close to half the population was non-Latvian. The turnout was close to 90 percent.

The public front had now lost its leading position and ended up outside Parliament, while eight new parties stepped in. Winning became Latvia’s Road, a Europe-friendly center-right alliance with former communists and public-front activists as well as exiles in leadership. The conservative Latvian national independence movement (LNNK) became the second largest party.

Economic crisis

The newly elected parliament re-established the Constitution of 1922 and appointed the farmer’s candidate Guntis Ulmanis as president. Ulmanis commissioned lawyer Valdis Birkavs from Latvia’s road to form government, and Birkavs launched Latvia’s quest for EU membership.

Negotiations with Russia on the retreat of Soviet troops were difficult, giving increased support to nationalist Latvian politicians. In 1994, a strict citizenship law was passed, with demands affecting the Russian minority, but following criticism from the Council of Europe, the law was softened. Latvia gained membership in the Council of Europe in 1995 and applied for EU membership the same year.

Independence had been followed by an economic crisis of half the GDP. The government succeeded in taking tough measures to reverse the economic situation, but was still voted off in the 1995 election, when a severe banking crisis shook Latvia. Nine parties were elected to Parliament and the formation of government became difficult. One partyless member, the entrepreneur and multi-millionaire Andris Šķēle, finally managed to form a coalition of six parties. But his government was fragmented and corruption-prone, and fell in 1997. Guntars Krasts of the right-wing nationalist Fosterland and freedom, which joined forces with the LNNK, took over, and an investigation found that one-third of Parliament’s members were guilty of corruption.

In the 1998 elections, Andris Šķēle’s newly formed right-wing party, the People’s Party, won. But Šķēle was put aside, and Latvia’s path formed a fragile minority coalition. Šķēle, however, returned as prime minister as early as 1999, but his government also became short-lived now and fell already after a year when Latvia’s path again took over government power.

In 1999, Parliament elected former psychology professor Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga as new president. The Western-oriented Vīķe-Freiberga, who lived in exile in Canada, was commissioned to lead the nation into the EU and NATO. She immediately gave Parliament a backlash on a language law criticized by the EU. A new version was adopted in December, the day before the EU invited Latvia to negotiate membership.

In the 2002 election, the newly formed right-wing Liberal Party won the New Era. The party’s leader, former central bank governor Einars Repše, became prime minister.

In September 2003, a referendum on EU membership was held in which 67 percent voted yes. A crucial argument for the Latvian majority was that the EU should provide security against Russia.

Membership in NATO and the EU

Repše’s peculiar leadership style and his fight against corruption gave him political enemies, mainly in the oligarchic parties. In 2004, Repše resigned just before Latvia joined NATO and the EU. The Indulis Emsis of the Greens formed a minority coalition, but after six months the Šķēles People’s Party took over the leadership of the government with Aigars Kalvītis as prime minister.

EU membership gave Latvian people the chance to go out in Europe and seek better paid jobs. At the same time, Latvia received a construction boom financed by cheap loans from Swedish-owned banks. Unemployment fell and wage levels rose. Before the parliamentary elections in autumn 2006, Latvia had the EU’s highest economic growth.

For the first time since independence, a government in Latvia was re-elected. The coalition’s three oligarchist parties gained a majority: the People’s Party, the League of the Greens and Peasants (ZZS), and Latvia’s first party in alliance with Latvia’s road. Fosterland and freedom were also brought into the government.

In the 2007 presidential election, the majority of parliament elected surgeon Valdis Zatlers as new head of state. He was hand-picked by the oligarchs, who wanted to become a vicious president after the independent Vīķe-Freiberga. However, the Zatlers would prove to be the enemy of the oligarchs.


The Knab Anti-Corruption Bureau found that the coalition parties used illegal campaign funds to win the 2006 election. The government decided to dismiss Knab’s boss, triggering the so-called umbrella revolution in the fall of 2007, when thousands of protesters demanded the resignation of the government. They were supported by President Zatler, and in December Prime Minister Kalviti resigned, while the Knab chief resumed office. New prime minister became Ivar Godmanis, but the parties in the government were the same. The protests against the government therefore continued and in January 2009 about 10,000 people demonstrated in Riga demanding new elections. Violent crowds erupted and hundreds of young people tried to storm the parliament building. Then fell the government of Godmani, after two oligarchs in the coalition demanded his departure.

The umbrella revolution was also a protest against an emerging economic crisis, which hit full force in 2008. The banks ceased lending, consumption slowed, and the overheated real estate and construction market stalled. Latvia’s second largest bank fell, and the government was forced to request emergency loans from, among others, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

EU parliamentarian Valdis Dombrovskis was commissioned to bring Latvia out of the budget crisis, the worst in the EU. He took office as prime minister in March 2009. Under hard pressure from the lenders, his coalition joined the demands for cuts and tax increases. Public wages, pensions and child allowances were cut. Health care and education became stiff, and unemployment went up.

Dombrovskis led a five-party coalition with his own liberal New Era, the Conservative People’s Party, the ZZS, as well as the Nationalist Citizens’ Union and the Fatherland and freedom.

The municipal elections in 2009 were a success for the Russian-dominated and social-democratic five-party alliance Harmonicentern, which won by over a third of the votes. It was seen as a protest against old Latvian-dominated parties, accused of corruption and the economic crisis.

After two years of crisis, when GDP shrank by nearly a quarter the economy began to grow in 2010. The elections in October was a victory for Prime Minister Dombrovskis new electoral alliance Unit, which received almost a third of the votes, with help from the Alliance Latvian nationalists doubled its result. The major loser of the election became For Latvia’s best, an alliance between the oligarchs Andris Šķēles and Ainārs Šleser’s both parties.

The Harmonic Center, which had campaigned against the government’s austerity measures, received a quarter of the vote. Despite the fact that letters were hit as hard as the Russians by the crisis, only a small part of its voters were light.

Dombrovski’s Unit was divided on the government issue. The nationalist philanthropist wanted to reign with the National Alliance, while a leftist group preferred Harmony. Dombrovsky invited the Harmonic Center to a call, but without agreement. Instead, in November 2010, a coalition was formed between Dombrovski’s Unit and the corruption-accused oligarch Aivars Lembergs ZZS.

Political crisis

In the spring of 2011, Latvia was plunged into a political crisis, just as the economy was recovering. President Valdis Zatlers decided to dissolve Parliament, after the elected officials refused to lift the legal immunity of the oligarch Ainars Šleser. He was one of the three powerful oligarchs to be investigated for corruption, and the president considered that the elected officials ended up in an unacceptable conflict with the judiciary.

When Parliament held regular presidential elections in June, the elected officials voted for the Zatlers. Andris Bērzinš, Member of Parliament for Lembergs ZZS, was appointed new President. However, the Constitution required a referendum on former President Zatler’s decision to dissolve Parliament. Over 94 percent voted yes and new elections were announced until September.

There was great popular support for Zatler’s and he used this to form a new political party, Zatler’s Reform Party. Zatler’s fight against Lembergs gained considerable room in the electoral movement, as did the Latvian nationalist National Alliance’s battle with the Harmonic Center on history and language issues. The Harmonic Center changed its name to Harmony in 2011 after three parties within the alliance joined forces. In the recent election, the party won. It was the first time a party dominated by Russian-speaking voters and politicians became the largest in the independent Latvian parliament. Zatler’s Reform Party became the second largest party and took many votes from Unity, which declined sharply.

The national alliance almost doubled its support among voters. The oligarch Šleser’s party fell out of Parliament while ZZS went back and lost its government influence. The oligarch Šķēle had dissolved his People’s Party even before the election. Thus, it seemed as if the Zatlers were successful in their fight against the oligarchs.

Zatler and Dombrovskis, despite rivalry, formed a bloc that initiated negotiations to form a new government. Dombrovskis again became prime minister of a government coalition with Unity, Zatler’s Reform Party and the National Alliance. He had thus succeeded in forming his third government after taking the country through the EU’s most severe budget crisis.

In December 2011, the government was able to terminate the loan program with the IMF after withdrawing just under two-thirds of the € 7.5 billion loan granted. Dombrovskis was well on its way to its main goal, to make the economy ready for the transition to the EU currency euro. In March 2013, the government decided to apply for accession to the euro zone from 2014.

Latvia Modern History