Latvian Independence Day in Riga
As a British student currently studying in Riga, I have found myself moved by the close relationship held between Latvians and their national heritage. Over the past two months, through visits to museums and archives, as well as in getting to know locals, I have witnessed the respect with which people of all ages approach their shared national history.
Such respect is most evident during public holidays, particularly throughout the month of November, when Latvia celebrates its independence and honours those who have lost their lives fighting for it. In this article, I’m going to share with you the history of one of the most significant Latvian national celebrations, and how you can and should take part as a student at Liden and Denz, Riga.
Latvian Independence Day, November 18th.
Latvian Independence Day or the Proclamation Day of the Republic of Latvia, marks the country’s Proclamation of Independence in 1918, in the wake of Russia’s October Revolution in 1917. A landmark event celebrated annually by Latvians both at home and abroad, Latvian Independence Day honours its people’s struggle for independence throughout the past century and the human cost of occupation and resistance.
This is just one event amongst many throughout the month of November, with others such as Lāčplēsis Day on the 11th, during which families gather to light candles and to pay homage to the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Latvian independence.
So, how can you take part in Latvian Independence Day?
As a student at Liden and Denz, Riga there are many ways to both observe and take part in the celebrations. There are numerous events that take place throughout the city, such as the laying of flowers at the Freedom Monument in memory of those killed in the struggle for independence, as well as military parades, a Presidential speech and guided tours at the Latvian National History Museum and Museum of the Occupation.
In the evening, the city glows with torches and candlelight as the commemorations coincide with the Festival of Light Staro Riga and installations are dotted amongst parks and squares throughout the city. I recently visited Arkādijas Park, a short walk from the Old Town, to mark the celebrations. It was an incredible experience, the atmosphere tangible as bright electric lights contrasted with the rising atmosphere of warm breath in the freezing night and ethereal music echoed throughout the park. Perhaps you’ll choose to follow the thousands of Latvians, military personnel and tourists in a torch-lit procession that makes its way through the Old Town to the Freedom Monument. As you do, I invite you to take a moment to consider Latvian independence and its significance.
Independence is something often taken for granted by those who have not experienced its loss.
In light of current events, this Latvian Independence Day comes with a particularly poignant meaning. It’s a powerful symbol of hope and support for all those who continue to struggle against continued occupation and oppression.
Darcie Peters is a student currently studying at Liden and Denz, Riga.