Independent interwar Latvia (1918-1940)

1918 declaration of Latvian independence sparkled foreign invasions aimed to extinguish the new state. In the period between 1918-1920 Riga suffered alternating Russian communist, Russian monarchist and German occupations. However, Germans and Russians were both weakened by World War 1 and, having joined their forces together, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians routed out the invaders in the Wars of Independence.

Delimitation of Latvian-Soviet border
Delimitation of Latvian border with Soviet Russia in 1920 marked the successful defense of independence.

Two decades of prosperous Latvian freedom followed. Riga was now a political capital, named „Paris of the Baltics“ for its beauty. The massive population growth had ceased as many non-Latvians left to build their own homelands, so the mission of Latvian governments was to transform past growth into an enduring prosperity.

Construction of Ķegums hydroelectric plant in 1937
Construction of Ķegums hydroelectric plant in 1937 which harnessed Daugava to provide Latvians with enough electricity.

They were mostly successful. New major developments brought Western European joys to Latvia (Ķemeri spa, Ķegums power plant) and paid the belated official respect to Latvian culture (Riga soldiers cemetery, Riga skansen). Industry flourished, manufacturing even cars and airplanes. It seemed that Latvian history reached its happy end. But nothing could have been father from truth.

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Ķemeri spa soon after it had been constructed in 1938.

During 1930s much of the Europe saw democracies overthrown by dictatorships. While the Latvian authoritarian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis that began in 1933 was relatively benign, much more oppressive systems evolved in Soviet Union (communist) and Germany (nationalsocialist). Both regimes sought to redraw the map of Eastern Europe and independent Latvia had no place in their schemes. Soviet-German Ribentropp-Molotov pact „ceded“ Latvia to the Soviets, and they swiftly occupied the nation in 1940.

Riga city hall project, 1939
Riga city hall, one of the many interwar projects meant to give Riga that feeling of ‘seat of power’ was one of many cancelled by the Soviet occupation.

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