1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Latvia

LATVIA. — The independent republic of Latvia (capital Riga) was proclaimed on Nov. 18 1918, and was recognized by the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers on Jan. 21 1921. Its territory comprises chiefly districts of the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire, which linguistically or ethnographically belonged to the Letts, whence the name of Latvia as a new nation-state. Its area is approximately 25,096 sq. m., formed by: (a) four districts of Livonia (Riga, Wenden or Zehsis, Wolmar or Walmer, and Walk, with the exclusion of the chief town ceded to Esthonia), 7,900 sq. m.; (b) Courland, about 10,500 sq. m., both parts being united legally by the Russian law of April 12 1917 but actually since Jan. 1919; (c) districts of the province of Vitebsk, called Latgalia, 5,290 sq. m., with the towns of Riezhitsy (Rositten, Resekna), and Lutzin (Ludze), obtained by force of arms from Soviet Russia (Art. 2 of the Russo-Latvian Treaty, Aug. 11 1920), with the town of Dvinsk (Dünaburg, Daugapils) obtained by agreement from the Poles. Rectifications of the frontiers with Lithuania, with regard to the coast of Polangen and the zone near Illuxt, were still in process in 1921.

Population. — According to the census of June 15 1920 the population of Latvia was less numerous and homogeneous than was anticipated in 1918, amounting in all to 1,515,815 inhabitants, of whom 1,146,554 were Letts and 355,518 belonged to other nationalities (Livonia, 477,839 Letts and 104,091 non-Letts; Courland, 404,159 Letts and 71,524 non-Letts; Latgalia, 264,556 Letts and 179,103 non-Letts), the non-Letts thus forming about 25% of the total population. These so-called “minority” nationalities were: Russians, Germano-Balts (Balts, Balto-Saxons), Jews, Lithuanians, Poles. In consequence of the political events the number of resident Russians and Balts was in 1921 decreasing, though the number of Russian refugees was considerable. The losses of the Letts were due to: (a) the evacuation of the factories by the Russian Government; (b) the partly forced removal of the population of Courland before the German advance; (c) the wars. In 1916-7 there were 735,000 Lettish refugees in Russia, and 250,000 men aged 20-40 are supposed to have perished between 1914-20. During 1920 and the first two months of 1921 134,000 returned to Latvia, of which 94,000 entered Latvia from Russia, while only 6,400 left for Russia.

Education, in those parts of Latvia where it was standardized by the Protestant Church and Baltic régime, remained on a higher level than in Latgalia with only 38% able to read. The census of June 1920 gave instructive figures: 69-82% able to read, children below 10 years included; 50% able to read and write. The percentage of literacy according to nationalities was: Germano-Balts 85, Esthonians 82, Poles 78, Letts 74, Jews 72, unknown 60, Lithuanians 55, Great Russians 36, others 33, White Russians 32. In Sept. 1919 the Polytechnic Institute of Riga was converted into the Latvia University. Lectures are delivered in Lettish, Russian and German, and nearly all the staff is Latvian. Students on March 1 1921 numbered 2,111 men and 1,145 women, 2,328 students being Letts, 803 minority nationalities, 125 foreigners. In 1912 in the corresponding area there were 98 secondary schools with 22,600 pupils, one per 26,000 inhabitants (in Germany one per 54,000). Compulsory and gratuitous schooling for the Protestants had been enforced in Livonia since 1860, and in Courland since 1875.

Religion. — Seventy-five per cent at least of the Letts are Prot- estants, but there is a Catholic majority in Latgalia and a number of Greek Orthodox among the Letts. The organization of the Protestant Church was formerly connected with the corporation of the nobles of Livonia and Courland, but the rights of presentation pertaining to the manorial estates of the knights and to the Government estates have been abolished by the introduction of a democratic free church.

Occupations. — The pre-war growth of industries, especially in Riga and Libau, tended to reduce the percentage of the agricultural population, but agriculture is still the chief occupation, and the redivision of the rural population was the outstanding feature after 1918. (a) The large landowners, owning about 1,899 estates (of these 310 were in Latgalia), mostly Balts and gentry (“Baltic barons”), were expropriated (Land Act, Sept. 16 1920); (b) about 40,000 owners of small holdings, averaging from 26 to 150 ac., formed the backbone of the Lettish middle class, and the liberal professions (nicknamed the “grey barons”) were partly supported by about 10,000 tenants of small farms; (c) the owners of very small holdings in Latgalia and Courland numbered some 10,600. Of the agricultural proletariat two-thirds were employed by small owners and one-third by the owners of large estates. This class, who desired to own their own land, were believed to have been won over and pacified by the expropriation of the owners of the large estates. In the territory of Latvia the creation of peasant proprietorship was secured before the war in different ways: (a) on the manorial estates; (b) on the Government estates; and (c) in Latgalia, on the Russian system.

Effects of the World War. — The losses suffered by Latvia from evacuation, war, occupation, invasion and Bolshevik rule almost ruined her beyond hope; the official statistician Skuieneeks estimated in 1920 that it would take 50 years to bring her back to the pre-war level. In 1920 there were only 17,606 workers and employees in private industrial enterprises, 988 in municipal enterprises, and 2,880 in state enterprises; in Riga alone, 9,739 in private enterprises against 62,000 in 1914. In Jan. 1913 Riga numbered 517,522 inhabitants, in Aug. 1917 210,590. According to the census of 1920, of 609,475 buildings in the rural districts 84,163 had been completely destroyed and 117,015 partly. In 1920 there were 238,736 horses, 730,421 cattle, 934,084 sheep and 457,052 pigs, against 297,645 horses, 940,319 cattle, 1,100,481 sheep and 538,920 pigs in 1913. Of the total area of arable land, i.e. 4,091,490 ac., only 2,978,570 were under cultivation in 1920, with 473,410 ac. under winter rye against 862,400 in 1913. The total losses suffered by private citizens and corporate societies until the advent of Bolshevism is valued at 1,930,000,000 gold rubles; Soviet Russia inflicted losses to the amount of 953,000,000 gold rubles; German occupation and warfare to that of 481,000,000 marks. Through confiscation of money, and deposits in banks removed to Russia, cancellation of shares, destruction of private and public bonds, and loss of interest, a loss of 379,000,000 gold rubles was caused by Russia, and 6,000,000 marks by Germany. Courland during the advance of the German army lost two-thirds of the population, which began to return after the Brest Litovsk Peace in 1918. In 1916-7 there were 735,000 Lettish refugees in Russia. Lettish man-power suffered more particularly. Soviet Russia found many soldiers among the Lettish refugees, and retained the Lettish rifle division which had fought during the war. In Aug. 1913-4 there were 550 engines and 18,000 carriages and trucks, 3,000 telegraph and 800 telephone apparatus; on Aug. 5 1919 only 25 engines, 64 carriages and 2,023 trucks, 49 telegraph and 28 telephone apparatus were left. Only 11 engines were working. Trade was therefore still a mere fraction of what it was before the war. Both industry and commerce were largely dependent on foreign (German, Baltic and Russian) capital, and agriculture on large and small agricultural enterprise constantly and rapidly growing. The German industrial capital in Riga amounted to 40,000,000 rubles before the war. The arable land in Livonia covered 15.28% in 1866, 16.52% in 1881, 26.65% in 1911. What the war and revolution had left of the large farms, subsequent agrarian legislation further damaged; and in 1921 the Latvian state was still struggling against the dislocating effects of war and revolution, and its finance and commerce were seeking new methods of reconstruction. The rate of exchange had become adverse (by May 1921 £1 = 1,850-1,900 Latvian rubles), and imported goods were getting more and more expensive to the consumer. The returns for 1920 show that 805 ships left Libau, 751 Riga and 123 Windau. British tonnage held the first place, German the second and Danish the third.

Resources. — The natural resources of Latvia are mainly timber and agricultural produce. Brown coal has been discovered in Courland, while peat is already a valuable fuel.

History of Latvian Independence. — With the outbreak of the World War in 1914 a prospect of some kind of national existence opened out to the Lettish intelligentsia, whose antipathy to Germany did not imply a readiness to die for Russia. They rose in order to fight for their own rights, liberties and land. The immediate, object was to overthrow Russian administrative supremacy and to emancipate themselves from the Baltic barons. Great political skill was displayed in finding subsequently support against both. Libau was taken on May 7 1915 by the Germans; the rest of Courland, with one-third of its former population left, was occupied, and German preponderance materialized. The Russian Government permitted the formation on July 13 1915 of a Lettish rifle division 50,000 men strong. During the winter of 1916-7 these volunteers experienced heavy losses; after the Russian revolution in March 1917, Bolshevik sympathies spread among these troops and large sections of the people, while on the other hand national aspirations united the Farmers' Political League (40,000 members), headed by K. Ulmanis, with numerous Letts abroad and in Russia. Even after the fall of Riga (Aug. 20 and the supplementary treaty Aug. 27 1917) this action was continued as opposed to the policy of the leading Balts (Sievers, Oettingen, Baron Pilar, Stryck), who were alarmed by the Bolshevik upheaval, the congress of the landless workers at Wolmar (Dec. 16-19 1917), the outrages of the Russian soldiery, the impotence of the more moderate Letts, the universal anti-German feeling, the danger to life and property, and obtained the occupation of the whole region up to Narva by German troops, thus aiding and abetting the Germans in their plans of domination. The Bolsheviks, on their retiring from Wenden and Walk (Feb. 1918), carried away hundreds of hostages, chiefly Balts, to Siberia, some of whom were shot, whilst others were repatriated later. The German occupation did not prevent the Lettish National Council, on June 26-29 1918, from claiming the reunion of all Lettish territories in accordance with the protest addressed to the German Chancellor on April 4. On Nov. 11 Z. A. Meierovich received from the British Cabinet a favourable reply to his appeal of Oct. 30 on behalf of Lettish independence. Immediately after the collapse of Germany, on Nov. 23, independence was declared, and K. Ulmanis was elected president.

Wars for the Liberation of Latvia. — The German retreat could not be prevented by the provisions of the Armistice (Nov. 11, Art. XIII.); and Ulmanis, under the pressure of a Bolshevik invasion and Bolshevik influence among the Letts, did not succeed in forming an anti-Bolshevik Lettish defence force, but on Dec. 7 consented to the creation of a Baltic Landeswehr. Lettish units were shelled on Dec. 30 from a British mine-layer in the harbour of the new capital — Riga. The Baltic volunteers were defeated by the Bolsheviks on Dec. 29 at Hintzenberg; and since the agreement made on Dec. 29 by Ulmanis with the German representative, the Socialist Winnig, did not attract a sufficient number of volunteers from Germany for the formation of an Iron Div., Riga fell on Jan. 3, the British squadron leaving with 500 refugees on board, including members of the new Latvian Government. A Bolshevik Government headed by Shtuchka was installed in Riga. The Baltic Landeswehr retired behind the Windau river, and, reënforced by German volunteers, a Russian (Private A. Lieven) and a Lett (Col. Ballod) unit took in Feb. Goldingen and Windau, in March Kandau, Zabeln, Kabillen and Tukkum. By March 18 the Bolsheviks were thrown back over the Aa river. Libau formed the base; Germany furnished the supplies; the Balts (Baron Pilar, Baron Rahden) undertook the leadership. The liberation was thus made dependent on the goodwill of Germany. Ulmanis, confined on the steamer “Saratov” at Libau, had no fighting force at his disposal, and his attempts to call the population to arms were opposed as pro-Bolshevik manœuvres. The murder of three men of the Baltic Landeswehr led to the coup of April 16 1919, by the proclamation of the Government of a Lettish clergyman, Needra. Parleys, in which the United States and England took part, did not prevent the advance on Riga and the liberation of this city on May 22, where Baron H. Manteuffel made an entry with a small detachment, and died leading his men. The Bolsheviks, having killed a number of imprisoned “bourgeois,” abandoned the city and the whole region after heavy losses. It now appeared necessary to the Entente Powers to avert Baltic and German preponderance in Latvia as a consequence of the military situation, and the policy of non-intervention was abandoned in favour of Ulmanis' Government. The Baltic Landeswehr, unsupported by the other units, were engaged with Esthonian and Lettish forces near Wenden, and were defeated. The Esthonians were hailed as liberators of Riga by the Lettish Assembly. The German volunteers, forming about 15%, had to evacuate according to the armistice of July 3, losing the advantages of the Dec. agreement. The Landeswehr, under an English officer, Col. A. R. Alexander, became a unit of the Lettish army (Olai agreement on July 15 1919) to be formed by Gen. Ballod, and had now to own allegiance to the Ulmanis Government, while the Russian volunteers were transferred to the Narva front. But the Ulmanis Cabinet was not as yet the sole ruler of Latvia, the Bolsheviks holding Latgalia, and a Russo-German force under Bermondt-Avalov preparing an advance against the Bolsheviks across Latvian territory, a plan adopted at a Riga conference on Aug. 26 presided over by Gen. March, but later abandoned. Bermondt's army in Aug. numbered 10,000 men. The Lettish Government decided to stop the advance on Dvinsk and Rezhitsa at any cost, as a danger to Latvia's independence, and succeeded in obtaining British and Esthonian support. Bermondt, having refused to join Gen. Yudenich's army on the Narva front, decided to advance and to occupy the Duna line, after small skirmishes with the Letts. On Oct. 9 the fighting began; Riga was shelled for five weeks. By Dec. 1919 what had been regarded as a Russo-German danger was averted, the Russian volunteers on the left flank having suffered heavily from the English gunfire. The German mercenaries evacuated Courland by Jan. 1920 and vented their disappointment at the non-fulfilment of the promises made them by devastations. On the eastern front the Bolshevik danger was also overcome. Dvinsk was taken by the Poles, and Rezhitsa (the main town of Latgalia) by the Landeswehr, who advanced to Rozhanova. One-quarter of the opposing Bolshevik army were Letts; Gen. Ballod's Lettish troops played a minor part on this front.

The New Government. — The result of the operations consolidated the Latvian Government. On Feb. 18 the Bolsheviks made peace overtures, and Latvia was prepared to negotiate. The Landeswehr, having been the chief instrument of freeing Latvia from the Reds, was reorganized (March 10 1920), and Col. Alexander departed. The elections for the Constituent Assembly took place on April 18, and negotiations with Germany for reparation were opened. On Aug. 11 1920 the Russo-Latvian peace treaty was signed, following the agreement of June 20 1920 regarding the reëvacuation of war refugees, of whom about 100,000 were supposed to be in Russia. Riga and the other towns were provided with foodstuffs by the United States.

The Russo-Latvian treaty granted to Latvia: (a) an ethnographic frontier; (b) the restoration of confiscated property; (c) an advance payment of 4,000,000 gold rubles (=£1,200,000) on account of the returnable securities; (d) a timber concession of 260,000 ac., in order to assist the peasantry to reconstruct their buildings; (e) amnesty for Latvian citizens; and (f) non-liability for Russian state debts. Soviet Russia, represented by A. Joffe and J. Ganetsky, obtained: (a) the disarmament of anti-Bolshevik forces in the territory of Latvia; and (b) favourable transit conditions. The amnesty was net to be extended to the participators in the coup of April 16 1919 and the Bermondt campaign. The security offered by this treaty was further guaranteed by the formation of a regional league of the Baltic states against external aggression.

The Constituent Assembly convened in 1920 was still at work in 1921. The question of the rights of the national minorities and the enforcement of the Land Act were among the problems of the day that led on June 3 1921 to the fall of the Cabinet of Ulmanis. The recognition of Latvia by the Supreme Council at Paris on Jan. 21 1921 was one of the numerous achievements of Latvian diplomacy; but an attempt against the life of the ex-Premier Ulmanis and the opposition of the Social Democrats and Communists showed that the pacification necessary for a work of reconstruction had not yet been accomplished.

By the Land Act of Sept. 1920 (passed in order to curtail the power of Baltic landowners) a State fund was created with a view to forming new holdings and increasing the size of the minute holdings, and “in order to satisfy the requirements of economic enterprises, social and cultural institutions and to enlarge the areas of towns and villages.” With the State fund are incorporated all large estates, small farms not yet purchased by the occupants and lands acquired by colonization companies, foreign banks and similar bodies. Along with the land are expropriated all claims and rights appended to the land and all instruments of husbandry, live stock included, with the exception of such industrial establishments as are not working to satisfy the local rural demand only. A portion of the estate, equal in size to the average holdings, is left to the owner, without, however, the proviso that this portion must necessarily coincide with the administrative centre, the manor or family house. Lands with an acreage below 246 ac. are not expropriated. The churches retain land not exceeding the average size of a holding, including the buildings. The owners of the expropriated properties are given a term of five months for the removal of their furniture. Liabilities arising out of agreements concluded after May 6 1915 are null and void if not sanctioned by the Government. All contracts of lease, exploitation of forests, waters and natural riches are cancelled. Firewood and timber felled during the period of the German occupation fall to the State. Compensation for the expropriated land and the categories of land to be expropriated without compensation will be determined by a special law. The local market price will form the basis of the indemnity for the live stock and implements to be expropriated. Though radical enough, this Land Act was still not sufficient to satisfy the groups which came into political power on June 3 1921. Foreign Governments lodged protests against their subjects being dispossessed before obtaining adequate compensation. About 160 estates were not to be subdivided, but preserved as funds for schools, hospitals, local institutions, etc.

See The Latvian Economist, published monthly in Riga since May 1920.

(A. M.)