The First World War

The First World War

The First World War was a serious ordeal for many countries in Europe. Latvia found itself in the thick of warfare from the very first days. In 1915 part of Latvia (Courland) was occupied by the German army, who had advanced a long way towards Riga. A considerable number of Latvia’s residents left the occupied territories and became refugees. Riga became a city on the front line. Most of its enterprises were evacuated from Riga deep into Russia, along with their staff. Many of these never returned to Latvia after the war. As a consequence the city’s population of half a million was reduced by more than a half.

In the summer of 1915 the Russian authorities formed the Latvian Riflemen battalions. Volunteers joined these battalions in their masses. In 1917 the monarchy of Russia was overthrown and democratic reforms were begun. Russians of Latvia participated actively in political life. A new association - National Democratic Union of Russian Citizens was established in Riga less than a month after the Revolution. The Union was not only active in culture and education but also put forward candidates to the city council, where it received 5 seats. But the City council never succeeded in its work – on 3 September 1917 Germans troops entered Riga.

In October 1917 Bolsheviks came to power in Russia. According to the peace agreement reached in February 1918 between Soviet Russia and Germany, Latvia remained under the control of German forces. The German authorities strove to attain maximum profit from their control of Latvia. They severely limited the rights of the local population with regard to language and education. For example, instruction in Russian schools was switched to German. Pro-German elements within the Landtage (regional parliament created by the occupying forces) called for the annexation of Latvia to Germany. The defeat of Germany in the First World War and the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia did not allow these plans to be realised.

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