The Emergence and Restoration of the State: Latvia in 1918 and 1990

Andrejs Gusachenko, Vineta Kleinberga

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On 18 November 1918, the independent Republic of Latvia was declared in an extremely complicated international and domestic environment - the First World War was still going on, empires were collapsing, and ethnically and ideologically diverse military troops were fighting within the boundaries of Latvian territory. Despite the historical context of a previously tense relationship between Latvians and other ethnic groups, representatives of all minorities fought next to Latvians against the enemies of the Latvian state. Up until 11 August 1920, when the Peace Treaty with the Soviet Russia was signed, the prospects of de jure recognition of the newly established state were blurred; yet, the defeat of the White forces in the Russian Civil War opened the long awaited "window of opportunity", as a result of which Latvia managed to achieve its international recognition on 26 January 1921. More than seventy years later, on 4 May 1990, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Supreme Council of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), the international and domestic situation was no less complicated. Latvia was forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 and became part of it, yet the economic and political deterioration of the Soviet Union, the national awakening in the Baltic States and other Soviet republics alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall gave momentum for the regime to change. On 21 August 1991, after the barricades and bloody clashes with the Soviet Special Purpose Police Units (OMON) in Riga on January and the failed coup d'état in Moscow in August, Latvia's independence once again became a reality. In the events of the 1990s, the memories of 1918 and Latvia's independence in the period between the two world wars were crucial. It is manifested by the fact that Latvian statehood in 1991 was not established anew but restored. Acknowledging the importance of history on contemporary identification and policy-making, this article aims to provide an insight into the history of 1917-1922 and its resonance in the contemporary situation. Using the methodology of literature analysis and historical process-tracing it will reveal the complicated process of the state's formation and recognition in the period of 1917-1922, paying particular attention to the role of the minorities and diplomatic efforts. It will also uncover the resonance of the events of 1918-1922 in the 1990s, when Latvia's independence from the Soviet Union was declared, focusing in particular on aspects defining the statehood of Latvia and its citizenship. In this part, it will be argued that the history of 1917-1922 was brought back when the statehood of Latvia was concerned, while overshadowed by fifty years of the Soviet occupation, when the citizenship issue was on the agenda. Indeed, not only ethnic Latvians but also minorities living in Latvia played a decisive role in the efforts of restoring Latvia's independence. However, as a result of the Citizenship Law,1 adopted in 1994, more than one-fourth of the population - in most cases, representatives of the Russian-speaking community - were denied citizenship. This practice contrasts the Act that had been adopted in the interwar period, when Latvian citizenship was granted to all ethnic groups who were living within the borders of the then agreed Latvian territory, notwithstanding their diverse ideological background. Given this fact, the article provides future research opportunities related to perceptions of history in contemporary policy-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-78
Number of pages24
JournalTalTech Journal of European Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • ethnic minorities in Latvia
  • international recognition of Latvia
  • Latvian War of Independence
  • restoration of Latvian independence

Field of Science*

  • 5.6 Political science

Publication Type*

  • 1.1. Scientific article indexed in Web of Science and/or Scopus database


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