May 4, 1990 – Independence Restoration Day

History has never given Latvia much, yet one of the exceptions is the two birthdays the republic has.

The Republic of Latvia was proclaimed on November 18, 1918, however the Latvian calendar marks the Independence Restoration Day as well. Latvians lost the state they found to totalitarian aggressors of the period – Soviet Union and Nazi Germany – during World War II.

The long years of Soviet occupation came to an end on May 4, 1990 as the parliament of Latvia restored independence. This motion began a democratic transitional period until a full restoration of the constitution. The transition was finalized in 1993 with the parliament – Saeima – elections according to the constitutional order, where already the citizens of Latvia took part. 

In a historical context, the people of Latvia used the easing of the totalitarian grasp at the given time to achieve freedom again. The strategic choice of the Popular Front of Latvia was to win influence in the existing power structures and achieve a peaceful take-over.
 

Background

1985

Gorbachev initiates ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’.

1986

Latvian human rights organization “Helsinki 86” founded.

1987

Despite official restrictions, people in Latvia commemorate deportations to Siberia and protest against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

1988

Joint plenary session of the Creative Unions of Latvia. The Soviet occupation is denounced.

1988

The Popular Front as an umbrella organisation uniting pro-independence movement s is launched.

1989

The Baltic Way: two million people form a 600 km live chain between Tallinn, Rīga and Vilnius in protest of Soviet occupation.

1990, March

The Latvian Popular front wins the Communist Party bloc in General Elections

 

First and the only multiparty election in the Soviet Union in 1990 propelled the pro-independence Popular Front of Latvia to the decision making level. On April 21, 1990, several thousands of all-level local municipality deputies from every community of Latvia gathered in Rīga. A majority of over eight thousand deputies mandated the Supreme Council, elected on March 18, to take up the restoration of independence of Latvia.  

The Popular Front had 131 seats in the Supreme Council. 132 votes were required to pass the declaration. Following a long deliberation marred by anti-independence deputy filibuster, the Council came to voting on the declaration on May 4. Each vote was called out one by one while the journalists jam-packed the Council building and people filled the yard. Even more followed the live broadcast on their portable radio receivers.

138 deputies voted for the restoration of independence. The Declaration “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia” was enacted. People rejoiced in the streets. Chairman of the Supreme Council Anatolijs Gorbunovs was overwhelmed with flowers. Several deputies like Mavriks Vulfsons were carried on the hands of the jubilant crowd.

Latvia was re-established as the continuation of the original Republic of 1918. Satversme – the constitution – of 1922 was only partially put into effect, to be completely restored in 1993.However, the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers or the government created legislation and administrative bases for relevant state structures and institutions in all sectors like the judiciary, security, military, financial etc. The government was formed by Ivars Godmanis on May 7.

People of Latvia still had to fend off serious military resistance to independence by setting up barricades in Old Rīga in January 1991, after violent Soviet attacks in Vilnius. The last attempt to reanimate the Soviet Union failed during the coup d’état in Moscow in August 1991. Latvian Parliament was the first to denounce it as illegal.

On August 21, 1991, following Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia adopted The Constitutional Law on Full Independence thus de facto re-establishing sovereignty. International recognition followed. As a result, the Republic of Latvia, established in 1918, regained its independence and returned to the global community of free nations.