Two decades of prosperous independence followed where Latvians achieved their place among European nations. However, Russia and Germany were back in World War 2 (1940), both occupying Latvia and perpetrating genocides. Latvians never gave up on the notion of independence, with Latvians both inside the country and outside of it continually working towards the dream of freedom. In May 4th, 1990, Latvians declared the restoration of independence and the Soviet Union collapsed soon after.
Identity & History
Latvians throughout the ages
Regardless of the times, Latvians have always had close and reverent ties to nature. Not only are Latvians historically an agricultural people, its culture, society, and understanding of the world around them is tied to natural phenomena, with the sun and seasons dictating the pace of life.
Even today, Latvians continue to exhibit a strong understanding of the benefits of nature, its healing properties, its value and benefit. This leads to a reverence of natural foods, remedies, and even innovations based on nature’s gifts.
Because millenia ago Latvians settled on hotly contested and geographically meaningful lands, they have been subject to various powers coming and going over the ages. However the Latvian spirit, language, and culture has stayed, proving strong despite global powers’ influence.
Latvia has seen many global powers come and go. While other cultures succumb to external pressure, Latvians have, over the generations, learned to become flexible and resilient in the face of adversity, in the name of preserving their people, language, and culture.
If there is one characteristic that can be attributed to Latvians over the ages, it’s that they are resilient while the world around them changes.
Latvians are the descendants of Baltic tribes that arrived at the area ~4000 years ago, making them one of the oldest European nations in the current location. Over the centuries, Latvia’s geopolitical situation has been shaped by its strategic Baltic Sea location at the crossroads of trade and conflicting large power interests.
Indigenous Latvian nationalism grew rapidly as the cities became Latvian-majority in the 1890s, and the Revival leaders increasingly called for independence, believing that only then would Latvian culture be sidelined by neither its Russian nor German counterparts. Freedom became possible in 1918 when both Russia and Germany lost World War 1, and was declared on the 18th of November, 1918.
After the restoration of the free market, Latvia has successfully undergone the difficult “adolescence” of growing a young country.
Now with a stable economy and the freedom of choice, Latvia has joined the European Union and NATO, has become a hub for innovation, a cultural heavyweight on the musical scene, and a retreat for enjoying the peace of nature.
How Latvians see themselves
The Latvian identity is made up of the collective history compounded over the millennia. This is how Latvians see themselves today:
- Small but capable– there are few Latvians on this planet, and for that reason, its all the more of a celebration when Latvians achieve global success. From winning a major hockey match to our internationally revered musicians, we are loud and proud in our support.
- Reserved– Latvians consider themselves introverts. Historically used to living on farms with barely the ability to see your closest neighbour, Latvians like their space. Due to a history of a series of occupations, Latvians are cautious of who they befriend. But when you do make a Latvian friend, you can know that it’s genuine.
- Innovators– used to making do with what is available, Latvians are expert innovators. From spy cameras to airplanes to 5G, Latvians have a knack for finding their way around limitations.
- Minimalistic– not ones for flashy colours, Latvians tend to stick to a neutral palette, natural fibers, and clean lines. This sensibility can be seen to run through fashion, architecture, design, and more.
- Underpromise, overdeliver– Latvians are extremely humble, but their achievements speak for themselves – anything done is done to the highest degree of quality, often resulting in a leaving a lasting impression on the world.
- United against adversity– as a mission-oriented people, Latvians are supremely capable of coming together to overcome a unifying hurdle. Ranging from raising funds for families that have fallen on hard times, to mobilizing all available resources to support Ukraine’s war for independence.
How Latvians connect with their identity
Each Latvian connects with their heritage in a different way, but a sociological study by the University of Latvia found that today, Latvians connect with their roots by celebrating national holidays, how they raise their children, and how they socialize.
Here's what that can look like:
enjoying summer solstice, while acknowledging the specifically Latvian elements – such as singing the folk songs, playing the games, and eating the locally unique foods associated with the holiday.
celebrating Latvia’s long road to hard-won independence, taking time to appreciate our freedom.
prioritizing the Latvian language, speaking it at home, and raising the next generation with linguistic proficiency.
whether as participants or spectators, Latvian society is overtaken for a week every four years when the Latvian Song and Dance Festival is held.