Places in World Most Likely to Secede Latvia

About Latvia a place in the world likely to secede from Russia, size, population, and history of conflict.



Size: 24,595 sq. mi. (63,700 sq. km.), about the size of West Virginia.

Population: 2.5 million.

Traditionally the most anti-Russian of the three Soviet Baltic republics (the other two being Estonia and Lithuania), Latvia first fell under foreign control in the 13th century, when the German Livonian Knights donned their white robes and stormed the region, bent on Christianizing the heathen Letts. Subjugating the natives as serfs, the knights and their descendants ruled over vast estates for centuries. Even after Latvia passed to Russia in 1721, the Letts remained bound to the land of these German barons. Upon the abolition of serfdom early in the 19th century, the Letts began to acquire a taste for self-government, and it was not long before an independence movement arose.

Although W.W. I brought considerable pain and devastation to the Baltics, it afforded Latvia its chance for autonomy. The Letts joined the Bolsheviks in their revolt against the Romanov dynasty, confident that victory here would mean Latvian freedom. The very day the armistice was signed ending W.W. I, the independent Republic of Latvia was born. But the Bolsheviks, now in power in Russia, were unwilling to let Latvia go so easily. Russian troops rushed to capture Riga, the capital, and installed a Communist government there. Alarmed at the sudden rise of Bolshevism, the Allied Powers sent German forces under General von der Goltz to expel the Russians. Although he was not entirely successful, the Letts had organized well enough by this time to drive out the Communists.

From 1920, on, Latvia prospered and even joined the League of Nations. However, the growing Communist strength in the country led to the abandonment of the constitution and adoption of martial law in 1934, with Karlis Ulmanis as dictator. As the 1939 nonaggression pact between Berlin and Moscow opened the Baltic states to Russia, Stalin wasted little time exploiting its provisions; by August, 1940, Latvia was back in the arms of Mother Russia.

As a constituent republic of the U.S.S.R., Latvia has emerged from a largely agrarian society to become an industrial center. Whereas in 1939 two Latvians lived on farms for every city dweller, today the ratio is reversed. Its assembly plants turn out most of Russia's electric railway cars. Russians now total about one third of the Latvian population.

Although the U.S. refuses to recognize formally Soviet authority over Latvia, Washington did accord de facto recognition with the ratification of the Helsinki Agreement in 1975. A Free Latvian charge d'affaires still does business in Washington, however.

Latvians continue to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with Soviet authority from time to time. Most recently, in May, 1976, residents of Riga marched in violent protest over an acute meat shortage in that port city. The incident sent four dissidents to labor camps for two- and three-year stretches.

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