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1 saw a place in northern Latvia [in 1919] which reminded me of some of the villages on the Somme during the War. I mean it was smashed to pieces, utterly flattened. There was nothing left of it save brick foundations and a few charred beams, and 1 said to my Lettish [Latvian] interpreter, “Good Lord, 1 didn't know there was any fighting as far north as this; what happened?”

He smiled, the curious, cruel smile of a subject people which has been downtrodden for generations and has at last defeated its oppressors.

“Oh,” he replied, “that wasn't the War, that was the ‘punitive expeditions’ in the spring of 1906. You see, we revolted then against the Tsar and against our Baltic landlords, the Tsar’s gendarmes, the bloody German landlords and mercenaries who killed our Lettish peasants in the name of the Tsar, to hold the land for themselves. And in any village where there had been one single revolutionary, the punitive expeditions' came to the village and burnt it flat, like this one you see here… It was a lesson, they said, to teach the Letts not to revolt again.”

Walter Duranty, correspondent of The New York Times[1]

A disastrous war with Japan in which Russia was humiliated led to the Russian revolution of 1905. The spark was ignited on “Bloody Sunday,” January 22 (9), 1905 (Russia used the Julian calendar (old style) until February 1, 1918; February 1 in 1918 became February 14 in the Gregorian calendar (new style). Bloody Sunday was [page 7] on January 9 in the old style calendar. Old style dates will be shown in parentheses). A demonstration of workers in St.Petersburg was fired upon by Cossack troops. The casualties were estimated at from two hundred to fifteen hundred[2]. A sympathy demonstration in Riga on January 26 (13) was also fired upon. There were forty to eighty dead and about two hundred wounded[3] [4].

Throughout Russia workers went on strike. The sailors of the cruiser Potyemkin mutinied. Peasants rebelled. A strike by railroad workers, begun on October 20, paralyzed all of Russia.

In 1905 Rîga was one of the most industrialized cities in Russia. The Latvian workers flirted with the same ideas as workers in the rest of Europe: socialism, democracy, anarchism, nationalism, etc. The Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party had more members in 1905 than the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party[5] which in 1903 had split into Mensheviks and Lenin’s Bolsheviks. In socialism Latvian workers found an international philosophy which seemed to fit their struggle against oppression-with the difference that the oppressors were non-Latvians and, therefore, socialism was blended with a strong current of nationalism. Consequently, the revolution in Latvia was more violent than in Russia proper because in addition to the social and economic reasons why Russians revolted, the Latvians had national reasons. Peasants were setting torches to the estates of the Baltic German barons. The Russian administration was forced to flee or was rendered helpless. Armed groups of Latvians clashed with Russian troops and took over towns and villages. Foreign newspapers reported that the Latvians have established an independent republic[6]. That was an exaggeration, but for all practical purposes the Latvians were in control of a good part of Latvia even though the Russian government had declared martial law in Courland in August and in Vidzeme (northeast Latvia) in December of 1905.

Czar Nicholas II issued a manifesto in October 30 (17) which gave Russia the first constitution in its history. It authorized an elected parliament (the Duma) with very limited powers; it granted a few civil rights, but most importantly: it broke the general strike. Russian public opinion, resenting the inconvenience of the strike, turned against the revolutionaries. By the end of 1905 this “dress rehearsal” for the revolution of 1917 was over.

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The Russians and Germans criss-crossed Latvia with well armed punitive expeditions. At first they did not bother with trials. Against the backdrop of the burning villages shots rang out, and the official report afterwards said: “Killed while attempting to flee.” Thus thousands were slain.

Next came the show trials of large groups. Death sentences were handed out by the hundreds. Finally, five teenage sons of the condemned, believing that the killing could be stopped only by a sacrifice of young lives to arouse public opinion, drew lots, and the “winner,” Olìerts Daudzieðans, shot the presiding judge of the military court, General Koshelyev, on a Rîga street. Koshelyev was wounded, yet survived. Olìerts attempted to kill himself before capture. However, he just wounded himself and was later hanged[7]. The other four looked for his grave, but never found it. The mass trials stopped - the boys had been right.

[1] W.Duranty, I Write as 1 Please (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1935), p.65.

[2] W.H.Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution (The Universal Library, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1965), vol. I, p.49.

[3] Bilmanis, p.264.

[4] Ìçrmanis, p.213.

[5] U.Ìçrmanis, Oberst Vâcietis und die lettlschen Schützen im Weltkrieg und in der Oktoberrevolution (Colonel Vâcietis and tbe Latvian Rifles in the World War and in the October Revolution, in German) (Almqvist & Wiksell, Srockholm Studies in History, 1974), p.54.

[6] Ibid., p.55.

[7] A.Kroders, Atmiòas (Remembrances, in Latvian) (Imanta, Copenhagen, 1968), pp.64-73.

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