Latvia declares independence

The small Baltic nation, about the size of West Virgina, has known an inordinate amount of strife with its larger neighbor to the east. In the early 1700s, Russia took over the area after defeating neighboring Sweden, and enacted Russification policies to change the language and culture of Latvia. By 1860s a nationalist movement in Latvia began resisting the Russian campaign, and that cycle of cultural dominance and resistance would carry through for the next century.

On this day, August 21, in 1991, Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union. The Latvian independence movement was dormant for much of the post-WW II era, as warfare and forced deportation took the population of native Latvians to near 50%, making them close to being a minority in their own state, but was awoken again with the policies of Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Seizing on Gorbachev’s policy of reform, several Latvian independence groups formed up to throw off Soviet power. One of them, the People’s Front of Latvia, won in parliamentary elections  — the first true ones since 1931. Around the same time, the Latvian Supreme Soviet, the nation’s governing body, enacted a new constitution and declared their own laws to supercede those of the USSR.