Latvia in the 1990’s

Latvia in the 1990's

Already one of the Soviet socialist republics, since 1991 it has been an independent state within the Community of independent states formed following the dissolution of the USSR. It has an area of ​​64,589 km 2 and a population of 2,680,029 residents (1989 census). Of these, 51.8% are Latvians, 33.8% Russians, 4.5% Belarusians, 3.5% Ukrainians and 2.3% Poles. The capital, Riga, had 917,000 residents in 1990. The official language is Latvian (since 1988), instead of Russian. The dominant religion is the Lutheran with Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish minorities.

The economy of Latvia is very modest in size compared to that of the Soviet community of which it was an integral part (in 1989 the three Baltic states gave an overall contribution of just 3.1% to the formation of the net material product of USSR) and on which it depended to such an extent that in 1989 over 60% of domestic production had been ” exported ” to the other Soviet republics. The crisis of the Soviet system has therefore put the economy of Italy in serious difficulty, which, without internal energy sources (with the exception of peat deposits), can no longer count on cheap supplies of hydrocarbons from Russia.

The Latvia, like the other Baltic republics, is trying frantically to diversify on the one hand its sources of energy and raw materials, and on the other the outlet markets of its productions, a not easy task, after forty ‘ years of integration into the Soviet economy. The effects of the recession following the necessary economic reforms were manifested by a progressive increase in unemployment levels and a sharp decline in industrial productivity. The industrial plant, which in 1990 had produced, among other things, 499,000 t of steel, 681,000 t of semi-finished ferrous metal products, 169,000 t of chemical fertilizers, 31,300 t of plastic materials and 99,000 t of paper, subsequently worked beyond below their capabilities. The production of traditional cereal crops also decreased (1.4 million t in 1989) and the livestock sector. In 1990, the production of electricity was 5.9 billion kWh.


After the re-annexation to the USSR in July 1945, for forty years the demands for independence were expressed above all in isolated actions by clandestine groups or in forms of unorganized dissent which were severely repressed. Russification, initiated by Soviet rule, was initially also carried out with extensive deportations. In 1970 56% of the population belonged to the Latvian group (which reached 73% in the 1930s). In the mid-1980s the opposition managed to organize itself and numerous groups often linked to environmental issues arose. Among these, Helsinki 86 was of particular importance which had the objective of monitoring compliance with the agreements of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) signed by the USSR in 1975. The activity of these new formations was encouraged by Gorbachev’s political choices, although the local Party Communist, led since 1984 by B. Pugo, was very little sensitive to perestroika. During 1988 the opposition forces increased their mobilization capacity and demanded radical political and economic changes. In September Pugo was recalled to Moscow and replaced by J. Virgus, while in October the nationalist groups gave life to the Popular Front of Latvia (Latvijas Tautas Fronte, LTF) which could count on 250,000 members, and managed, at least in this phase, to condition its political choices. Indeed, Latvian had already become the official language of the state by September. This provision was considered the first step towards full independence. In the elections of 25 March 1989 for the Pan-Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies, the Front candidates won 26 of the 34 seats. On July 28, on the basis of what had already happened in Lithuania and Estonia, the Supreme Soviet made a declaration of sovereignty and economic independence and in January 1990 it abolished the constitutional rules that ensured the Communist Party the monopoly of political power, thus opening the way to multi-partyism. In the elections for the Supreme Soviet, held in March, the candidates of the Front, present in numerous political formations, they won 131 of the 201 seats, while in April, in the extraordinary congress of the Communist Party, a split took place which led to the establishment of the Independent Communist Party of Latvia. The new Supreme Soviet changed its name to the Supreme Council (May) and adopted a resolution declaring the annexation of the Latvia to the USSR illegal and announcing the beginning of the transition to full independence. At the same time, a government was formed led by I. Godmanis, vice-president of the Front. The decisions adopted by the Supreme Council led to a drastic worsening of relations with the USSR, and on May 14 Gorbačëv issued a decree that canceled the declaration of independence. In the following months the situation progressively became radicalized and precipitated in January 1991, when special units of the Soviet Interior Ministry occupied the press building and a public health committee, strictly Soviet observance, attempted to set up an alternative government. In a climate of tension and massive mass mobilization, a referendum for independence was held on March 3, which involved 86.7% of the population (73.7% said they were in favor) as opposed to the one called for on March 17 in all states of the USSR on the future of the Union. In the following months the government regained full control of the situation and on 21 August, also in response to the coup attempt in Moscow, the Supreme Council declared the full independence of Latvia, while on 23 August he banned the pro-Soviet Communist Party. Many Western countries immediately recognized the new republic and so did the Soviet Council of State on 6 September. On September 17, Latvia joined the United Nations and in the same month signed an economic cooperation agreement with the Baltic states. Fiery controversy sparked a new law, approved in October, which provided for the automatic recognition of citizenship only to those who had resided in Latvia from before 1940 and their direct descendants, while the others could apply for naturalization on the condition of having at least 16 years of residence and have a good knowledge of Latvian. On May 5, 1992, the Supreme Council introduced the Latvian language exam for employees in the private and public sectors.

Latvia in the 1990's