In the 800s, the Vikings raided Latvia. In the 900s, the Russian Forces attacked Latvia several times. The Teutonic Knights were an organization of German crusaders.
They invaded Latvia in the 1200s. The Latvians finally surrendered in the late 1200s. The knights then governed Latvia for over 200 years. Latvia was part of a larger state called Livonia. By 1562, most of Latvia had come under the rule of Poland and Lithuania. In 1621, Sweden conquered northern Latvia. In 1710, Russia took control over this area. By 1800 Russia ruled all of Latvia, but German merchants and landowners in Latvia continued to hold much political power.
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During the late 1800s, the Latvians began to organize an independence movement. This movement took action in the early 1900s, because the Russian and German authority declined in Latvia. They proclaimed independent just after the end of World War I, on November 18, 1918. Then in 1922, they adopted a constitution that established a democratic form of government. They passed land reform laws that divided large estates that were owned by the few wealthy people, and distributed it into farms given to poorer citizens. When the president seized power, he reduced the parliament’s power and the rights of political parties. In 1939, the Soviet Union made Latvia sign a treaty that let the Soviets build military bases in Latvia.
In June 1940, the soviet troops occupied Latvia, and the communists took over the government. In August, the Soviets made Latvia part of the Soviet Union. German forces invaded Latvia in 1941, and occupied it until 1944, when the Soviets recaptured it. Many Latvians tried to fight back, but they failed. The Soviet Union took control of all industry and land, and established a powerful communist government. The Latvians didn’t like the Soviets ruling their country, so they organized a non-communist organization called the "Popular Front" in 1988. This organization elected representatives to the Soviet parliament created in 1989. The government of the republic agreed to restore the national Latvian flag and anthem, which had been banned, and they also allowed freedom to the press and to religious groups. They also changed the official language from Russian to Latvian.
In late December of 1989, Latvia’s parliament voted to end the communist party’s monopoly on power. The Latvians wanted independence from the Soviet Union. In January 1991, the Soviets raided the headquarters of the Latvian Interior Ministry, killing four people. In August 1991, some communist officials tried to overthrow Gorbachev and take over the Soviet central government, but failed to do so. During this incidence, the Latvian parliament declared independence. Then the Soviet Union recognized Latvian’s independence and finally left.
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