Unsung Heroes

January 10, 2019

2018 was significant in Latvian history: 100 years earlier, on the 18th of November 1918, Latvia declared its independence; 30 years earlier, in 1988, the formation of the Popular Front of Latvia (Latvijas Tautas fronte) was the beginning of the Singing Revolution, which culminated on the 4th of May, 1990 when the Supreme Council of Latvia declared restoration of Latvia’s independence. Full independence was confirmed on the 21st of August, 1991 and acknowledged internationally the following day, with Iceland being the first country to formally recognize Latvia’s restored independence.

This bloodless revolution is unique in world history. Much has been written about the insurgency within the Baltics, including the Baltic Way and the Barricades in Riga.

Much less has been written about the contribution of Latvians in exile, particularly the younger generation. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Latvia’s independence, the Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum (KLAM) has created a Power Point presentation UNSUNG HEROES/NEAPDZIEDĀTIE VAROŅI – a tribute to the Latvian youth, many born in Canada, who valued their Latvian culture and who participated in various protest actions in Canada and elsewhere to remind the free world of the brutal Soviet occupation of Latvia and the other Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania.

The first notable event was to take place in 1968 in Berlin, West Germany at the World Congress of Latvian Youth.

The so-called “Forbidden Congress” was organized by the Worldwide Latvian Youth Association to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Latvian state and to protest against the occupation of the Baltics. The USSR ambassador in East Berlin protested against the Congress and its goals, and called for it to be banned. The West surrendered to USSR pressure, and the day before the opening of the Congress, it was banned, and so the venue was moved to Hanover.

Latvians who had not gone on to Berlin welcomed the organizers and participants as heroes at Hanover Airport.

On October 25th, 1971, Baiba Bredovska and Verners Cinis (in bear costume) were participants in a demonstration at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto during a visit by Alexei Kosygin, Premier of USSR.

On November 18th, 1985, in Washington D.C., at the commemoration of Latvia’s Independence Day, two of the six Latvian youth who chained themselves to the fence of the USSR Embassy in Washington were from Toronto – Alberts Vītols and Haralds Ozols.

The Baltic Peace and Freedom Cruise on the Baltic Star, was a round-trip three-day cruise from July 1985 departing from Stockholm just after midnight on the 27th, traveling along the Baltic coast, stopping in Helsinki on the 28th along the way and returning to Stockholm on the 29th.

The Berlin Wall built to stop people escape from East Germany to the West Berlin. In time the West Berlin side became the “largest canvas in the world” as one of the painters, Gundars Jēgers said.

In 1986, a group of Latvian youth, after the Song Festival in Mūnster, traveled to Berlin and helped paint the Wall; Torontonian Alberts Vītols applied the white background to the Gundars Jēgers “canvas”.

May 4th, 1990: The Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR voted to adopt the Declaration “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia”.

August 21st, 1991: at 13:10, the Supreme Council of Latvia adopts the Constitutional Law on the Restoration of the Republic of Latvia.

August 22nd, 1991: the start of international recognition of the restoration of Latvia’s independence. Iceland is the first country to recognize Latvia’s renewed independence.

References: “Nyet, Nyet Soviet!” – a book published in 2018 by “Latvieši Pasaulē” – muzejs un pētniecības centrs (“Latvians Abroad” – Museum and Research Centre);

Participants’ personal archives.

Ervīns Jākobsons, “Baltiešu tribunāls un Brīvības un miera kuģa brauciens 1985. gada jūlijā/ Baltic Tribunal and Baltic Peace and Freedom Cruise”; www.laikmetazimes.lv.

Project supporters:

Latvian National Federation in Canada

World Federation of Free Latvians

Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia

Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum

Thank you to my editors – Vilma Indra Vitols and Andris Ķesteris.

Ženija Vitols -Director of the Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum.