Riga

Riga's Revolutions

06 Dec 2016

Could it be that the cold, damp, dark dreariness of January inspires feelings of dissatisfaction, rebellion and, dare we say, revolution in the hearts of Latvians? A quick glance at a history book, those antique receptacles of knowledge that people used before the internet, will answer this question with a resounding ‘hell, yes.’ That’s not to say that the locals will grab their pitchforks and flaming torches and go on a rampage while you’re drinking a mulled wine at the Riga Christmas Market, but over the past century or so civil unrest in the first month of the year has led to the collapse of governments, riots, reform, bloodshed, unparalleled heroism and hooliganism and even the pillaging of an innocent Latvijas Balzams alcohol shop.

13 January 1905
At the beginning of the 20th century, Riga was an important port city with a sizeable manufacturing sector. It was around this time that many of the city’s beautiful art nouveau buildings were erected and that Riga truly came into its own. Although we often hear of its incredible wealth during this supposed golden age, we rarely consider that Latvians, who were essentially second-class citizens in their own homeland, manned the factories, building sites and loading docks of the city. In short, without them, commerce would have ceased. The descendants of German crusaders controlled Riga and many of the vast estates in the countryside, while Russian bureaucrats implemented the tsar’s laws, policies and whims. Both nationalist and socialist ideologies had gained favour among the Latvian rank and file and the events of Bloody Sunday in St. Petersburg on January 9, 1905, when hundreds of peaceful protestors were slaughtered by their tsar, inspired Latvians to show their solidarity with the workers of the Russian capital by staging a strike during which meetings were held, songs sung and demands for greater autonomy made. This ominous powder keg was finally lit on January 13 when peaceful demonstrators met a Russian military force near the River Daugava. Shots were fired and panic ensued. Some demonstrators were killed by bullets and others fell through the ice in the river and drowned.

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