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I Am Latvia

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The author’s approach to this report is fresh and original; speaking as the country makes the paper very readable.

I Am Latvia

In the beginning, my people were primitive, and they used my resources to survive. They used stone, and then bronze and iron for tools. They traded with other peoples from afar, beyond my reaches. They became clever and prosperous; they built permanent homes for themselves. I was happy.

I am beautiful. I stretch from the Baltic Sea to the southern Daugava River, and the lands within are rich. Or, at least, they once were . . . before the invaders came. But my lands had contained riches, of dolomite and lumber, and most of all, of amber. Amber, the ancient tree sap that had turned to rock over time, had become more precious than gold. My people traded amber gathered along my coasts to places around the vast world, and became very rich. They farmed the land and grew grain and flax. Their meals were simple but wholesome. Some special foods were kisels, eaten only on holidays, and putras, a porridge of barley and oats. Their lives were simple.

Then the first invaders came. They called themselves the Teutonic Knights, or Knights of the Sword. They attacked my people, destroying whole towns! Our warriors tried to fight but were slaughtered by the advanced weapons of our conquerors. Soon, they had taken away my lands, and they began to convert my people to a new religion called Catholicism. One of the knights founded Riga, my capital city, and the jewel of my land. Unfortunately, my people were horribly oppressed under the harsh Teutonic rule.

And so it continued. The Teutonics were overthrown by the Polish, the Polish were overthrown by the Lithuanians, the Lithuanians were overthrown by the Russians. My people were always second-class citizens, never independent, never given their own identity. And yet, in some places, the old ways remained, and my people held on. The “St. Petersburg Paper” was published in Riga from 1862-1865. It created some of the earliest feelings of nationalism among my people. Its main editors were Krisjanis Barons and Krisjanis Valdemars. Written only a little later, in 1873, was the Latvian National Anthem (considered so 50 years before Latvia would become a country), “Dievs Svcti Latviyu,” or “God Bless Latvia.”

Time passed. The Germans captured my country next and made my people into slaves. Then, once again, it was the Russians! I wondered if it would ever end. But I had been in existence for a long time, and I was patient. Finally, after nearly 900 years since my people had been independent at all, a Great War broke out throughout the land. The Russians, who were the rulers, had a revolution, and lost their hold on my people in 1918. We became independent! I was so proud of them. A president was elected, and my people recovered, multiplied, and prospered once more. Later, the government of my people became corrupt. A man named Karlis Ulmanis declared a state of emergency and took it over. He was a dictator, but a benevolent one, and he saved the government from collapse. My country began to become one of the richest in the land.

But disaster struck again. Another Great War began, and we were attacked by the Russians. Our armies, despite being untrained, fought better than they did, but still they outnumbered us. They pushed my people back until the only ones still fighting were trapped in a castle in the center of Riga. Then they, too, fell.

The Russians had a new form of government called Communism. They took away all the farms and made them into huge, collectivized impersonal farms, where my people slaved away to live. Then the Germans and the Russians fought, with both sides burning my fields and killing my people. We were caught in the middle, and we couldn’t get out. In the end, the Russians “won” control over us. They polluted my air, land, and water with foul toxins in the name of “industrialization.”

And so we were ruled, for nearly another 50 years. My people wanted independence, for, beyond the bad treatment of their land, the Russians had no similar culture. Not even their language or alphabet was the same! My people use a Roman alphabet, and the Russians use Cyrillic. My people speak Lettish, a language totally different than Russian.

Then things finally began to change. The Russian government began to weaken. My people, allied with people of the neighboring lands of Estonia and Lithuania, spoke out against the Russians. Protesters formed a human chain across the three countries. The Freedom Movement in Riga, a giant statue of a person holding three five-pointed stars, was sculpted by Elmars Rudzitis at this time. When the Russian government collapsed, we were officially granted independence! The new government was a democracy. The president and Prime Minister were elected, and so was the 100-seat Saeima, or parliament. Many political parties sprang up.

There was much to recover from, but my people still had their culture and their heritage. Without the supplies that the Russians had made my people dependent on, there was less money and fewer jobs. And cleaning up the pollution was a huge job. But my people struggled through it. Slowly the economy began to improve, and my people began to manufacture goods to be sent to other lands. Some of the old way of life resumed when the farms were de-collectivized, and freedom grew.

Many aspects of my people’s culture live on. The dainas, which were sacred four-line poems/songs, are still known today. My people are very fond of singing. Since 1876, they have held the Latvian Song Festival, where thousands of people go to sing and dance. It has gone on every five years since then. Folk dances are very popular, too. Many of my people still wear the national costume, which is a traditional suit for men, and a brightly woven skirt over a white blouse for women. Women also sometimes wear glittery golden headbands. Traditional instruments that are played are the stringed kokle, the reed stabule, and the percussion trejdeksnis.

Much song and dance goes on during the holidays. During Ziemas Zvetki, or Winter Holiday, everyone sings of the sun soon to be returning to warm my lands. Though I exist far to the north, the Atlantic Current flows into the Baltic Sea and keeps me warm. Jani, or St. John’s Day, is a holiday where people sing and chant all night to ward off evil spirits. Men and women wear wreaths of wildflowers, and this holiday brings together the ancient Earth-worshipping beliefs and the newer Christian ones. During the Russian occupation, my people were often not allowed to practice any religions, and nearly all my people who were Jewish were killed when the Germans came through. Now, though, many religions are flourishing, and religious tolerance is practiced.

The Coat of Arms is a symbol of myself and my people. On it are a red lion that symbolizes the southern half of my lands, and a white griffin that symbolizes the northern half. A ribbon ties the two halves together. In the last millenium, my people had only been independent for 40 total years. But this time, they were going to hold on to their freedom and national pride.

And so, I sit back and watch them. I am proud of my people, they have accomplished much in the face of terrible odds. They are a beautiful people in a beautiful land. I have seen them. And I remember.


“About Latvia.” Web Design Sixteen-Nine. Last updated 23 Apr. 1999. Web. 27 Apr. 1999.

Engelmann, Kurt E. “Latvia.” Encarta ’97 Encyclopedia. 1997. Print.

Flint, David C. The Baltic States. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992. Print.

“Latvia.” CIESIN Baltics Regional Node WWW. Last updated 30 Aug. 1996. Web. 15 Aug. 1999.

Latvia, Then and Now. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1992. Print.

Lufkens, Matthias. Riga in Your Pocket Dec. 1995. Vilnius, Lithuania: Riga In Your Pocket Company. Print.

Ruggiero, Adriane. The Baltic Countries. Parsippany, NJ: Dillon-Simon and Schuster, 1998. Print.

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