Latvia Independence Day is on November 18. On this day in 1918, Latvia declared its independence from Russian occupation after World War I. But who knew that the country would need to do it all over again 72 years later? Latvia Independence Day commemorates a nation’s struggle to retain its lands and identity. After centuries of occupation under numerous rulers, Latvia became independent (once again) in 1991.
History of Latvia Independence Day
The road to independence for Latvia has been a long one. The country’s original settlers were ancient people called the Balts. By the ninth century, the Balts came under the rule of the Vikings. In the 12th to 13th centuries, Latvia saw rapid Christianization by the German Knights of the Teutonic Order and the Knights of the Sword.
German rule continued for over three centuries. Soon, landowning Germans dominated over an increasingly enserfed Latvian population. After a brief period of Polish and Swedish occupation, Latvia came under the rule of expansionist Russia in the 18th century.
By then, the Latvians had grown increasingly discontent. Latvian nationalism rose in the early 20th century. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Latvia declared its independence from Russia on November 18, 1918. Despite the declaration, there was a period of confused fighting before Germany and Soviet Russia recognized the new country in 1920.
Celebrations were brief, however. Some of the biggest challenges for Independent Latvia were still to come. In 1939, the Soviet Union forced Latvia to grant Russian military bases on its soil. By 1940, the Red Army moved into Latvia, which became incorporated into the Soviet Union soon after.
As World War II raged on, Latvia came under German rule from 1941 to 1944. The Red Army soon swept in, defeated the German forces, and retook Latvia. By 1949, the country was one of the most industrialized and prosperous regions in the Soviet Union.
But the Latvians hadn’t forgotten their 20 years of independence, no matter how short-lived. The yearning for freedom only grew stronger. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet regime went through a revolutionary period of liberalization in the late 1980s. The Latvians seized the day and demanded the restoration of its Independence. On August 21, 1991, Latvia, once again, attained complete independence from the Soviet Union.
Latvia Independence Day timeline
Young Latvians take the lead on national revival and use “the first awakening” to describe the movement.
A radical socio-economic movement acts as a catalyst, resulting in the eventual proclamation of Latvian independence.
Latvia declares independence from German and Russian occupation.
After years of war and political turmoil, Latvia regains complete independence from the Soviet Union.
Latvia Independence Day FAQs
What is May 4 in Latvia?
May 4 is the Freedom Celebration, an annual military parade in honor of the Day of Restoration of Latvia Independence.
How does Latvia celebrate Independence Day?
The day is a public holiday in Latvia. People usually attend parades and concerts. In the evenings, there are torchlight processions and fireworks displays.
What language is spoken in Latvia?
The Latvian language — also known as Lettish — is spoken.
How to Observe Latvia Independence Day
Join the festivities
When in Latvia, don’t miss out on public events. In Riga, people attend parades and also bring flowers to place at the Freedom Monument. Cap off your day with evening torchlight processions and fireworks display over the River Daugava.
Celebrate Latvian culture
You can also enjoy numerous cultural events on Latvia’s most important public holiday. The Riga Culture and Folk Center usually features performances by local choirs and folk dance troupes.
Eat like a local
We’re big believers in food bringing people together. Today, sample some of Latvia’s best: rye bread, beetroot soup, speck, and a signature smoked fish dish called Liepaja menciņš.
5 Facts About Riga That Will Blow Your Mind
Near the sea and just above
The Latvian capital is located about 29 feet above sea level.
Home to one of Europe’s biggest markets
Riga’s Central Market is famous for pavilions inside massive hangars abandoned by Germany after World War I.
Almost everyone lives here
Over one-third of the Latvian population lives in Riga.
Art Nouveau central
Riga has more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings, making it one of the world’s greatest open-air art galleries.
The country has one of the world’s fastest internet connections, with Riga containing over 800 free connection points.
Why Latvia Independence Day is Important
Learnings on lesser-known histories
When you think of the Baltics, one immediately associates the term with Estonia or Lithuania. Latvian history never seems to get its due. Today’s a great day to change these narratives.
A renewed appreciation for freedom
The Latvians fought long and hard for independence. Many of us throw the word ‘freedom’ around without much thought. Latvia’s story makes us stop in our tracks to appreciate what we have.
The Latvian spirit
We love the never-say-die spirit of Latvia; also, their love for song and dance. It’s a country that works hard and celebrates even harder.
Latvia Independence Day dates