Terviseks! Sveiks! Labas!Our Passion, Our Mission

Rūdolfs Blaumanis
(1863–1908)

Welcome!! Join us in celebrating nineteen years of LATVIANS.COM on the web!

These words of the writer Rudolfs Blaumanis, from our home page, speak to our love of Latvia and of our Baltic heritage more than any others:

Mans Zelts ir Mana Tauta,
Mans Gods ir Vinas Gods.

My Gold is My People,
My Honor is Their Honor

We want to give you a feel for Latvia and the Latvians by sharing our pictures, experiences, and personal perspectives. As children, we learned Latvia was a far off paradise held hostage by Soviet occupation. When Silvija finally visited during Soviet times, and Peters after independence, "reality" only amplified our appreciation and passion for all things Latvian.

We also want to be a resource to those seeking to learn more about Latvia by reproducing materials not widely available on the Internet, whether an album of pictures of Riga from a century ago, or the account of Soviet mass deportations and genicode in Latvia.

Foreign powers have waxed and waned over the Baltics for eight centuries. None has broken their will or dulled their identity. Latvian and its sister Lithuanian are the oldest surviving Indo-European languages and cultures. The Estonians' ancestors settled along the Baltic even earlier. That the Baltic peoples have preserved their culture over the centuries in the face of inestimable odds pays tribute to both the people and the powerful calling of their heritage.

Silvija and Peters Vecrumba
(Write us at contact@latvians.com)

Things About Latvia You Won't Find in Wikipedia**Unless we put them there!

What, and where is Latvia, and who are the Latvians?

Latvians haven't always been called that. If you're a Cole Porter fan, you've been humming to yourself about Latvians for years. Along with the birds and the bees:

In Spain, the best upper sets do it,
Lithuanians and Letts do it,
Let's do it, let's fall in love!"

Despite her obscurity during the last half of the 20th century, shrouded behind the Iron Curtain, illegally annexed into the Soviet Union, Latvia has been a part of Western civilization since the Crusades went north into the Baltics in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (1340-1400) mentions Latvia* in the Knight's Tale:

Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in pruce;
In lettow hadde he reysed and in ruce, ...
Full oft the table's roster he'd begun
Above all nations' knights in Prussia.
In Latvia* raided he, and Russia, ...

*In the interest of full disclosure, as much as we like this scholarly translation from the middle English, "lettow" more accurately translates to Lithuania, Latvia's sister country and culture.

Chaucer's reputed model for the Knight, King Henry IV of England, made it to Latvia in July, 1390, while temporarily attached to the Knights of the Livonian Order. Even earlier, a Latvian who had come to England with a party of Norse invaders wound up battling against William the Conqueror around 1070.

To find the earliest mention of the Baltics and Latvia, Tacitus (56-117 to 120) writes of the Aesti (the Estonians are called the "Eesti" in their own language), who collected amber from the Baltic Sea and traded it. Roman coins unearthed in Latvia (which we've seen on display at the history museum in Cēsis) attest to Roman merchants making the long and arduous trek north. And a Baltic amber figure dating to perhaps a millenium earlier has been found along the Tigris.

Latvia has mainly been a cross-roads of commerce and conflict between regional powers since the Crusades. Riga was a center of Euro-Russian (and southeastern Europe) commerce as early as 1282, when it became a member of the Hanseatic League of traders, which controlled commerce on the Baltic and North Seas. Riga attained the status of a "free city" in 1561. This was short-lived, however, as the Swedish empire swept in and occupied the Northern Baltics, along with Riga, in 1629. Riga instantly became the largest city in the Swedish empire. It was Latvia's first golden era in terms of the rights of the Latvian people. Courland (Kurzeme) achieved autonomy and independence, from 1561 to 1795 and established a reputation for itself as a naval power, founding colonies in the Carribean and on the African Gold Coast.

Latvia and the Latvians made a name for themselves during Latvia's first, brief, period of independence between the world wars.

  • Latvians achieved one of the highest literacy rates in Europe.
  • Latvia was renowned for its agricultural and farm products — the British had quite the craving for Latvian bacon!
  • Latvians invented the Latvian "brown cow", internationally registered as an independent bred in 1922 — famous for its milk, and especially the richness and sweetness of its butter
  • Latvians invented the Minox "spy" camera — mint condition Riga-produced originals can now fetch a thousand dollars

Not to mention Latvia's Jūrmala beaches, dubbed "the Riviera of the Baltics."

In all fairness, we do have to admit that Latvia's sister Lithuania, does hold ultimate boasting rights: it was once an empire that stretched from the Baltic to Black Seas!

Some quick statistics:

  • Latvia is east across the Baltic from Sweden.
  • Latvia is due south of Estonia, which is due south of Finland.
  • Latvia is north of Lithuania, which is north of Koenigsburg (Kalingrad, thanks to Sovietization) and Poland.
  • Latvia is about the size of West Virginia, or Belgium plus the Netherlands.
  • About 2,500,000 people live in Latvia, mostly Latvian; and about 1/3rd Russian, the result of intense Russification during the 50 year Soviet occupation; students of history will note this was not the first campaign to Russify Latvia, the prior one being conducted by Czar Alexander III in the late 1800's — motivated more by fear of Germanic ambitions, but also a time during which speaking Latvian in public was grounds for imprisonment.

For a quick read, we suggest the brief history of Latvia, formerly at the Latvian U.S. embassy website, here, on our site. For those with more time or curiosity, consider Dr. Arveds Svabe's The Story of Latvia also on our own site.

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Center for Baltic Heritage is a LATVIANS.COM project.