In January 1991, hundreds of thousands of people went onto the streets of Riga to defend their newly declared independence. That was another turning point in Latvian history. No matter how satisfied are Latvian people with the current state of affairs in their country today they are honoring the unarmed protesters who 26 years ago faced Soviet troops, sent to re-impose direct rule from Moscow. And many are also mourning those who lost their lives when the troops attacked.
The days of the Riga Barricades – as they are known in Latvia – began on 13 January 1991 and lasted a week. About 700,000 people – nearly a third of the country’s population – gathered in the Latvian capital, after protesters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, were attacked by Soviet tanks and paratroopers. The Soviet troops took over the national TV and radio station, and surrounded the Lithuanian parliament, killing 14 people and injuring more than 100. In Riga, protesters built concrete barricades all over the city, and the stand-off lasted until 20 January – when Soviet special forces attacked the interior ministry – killing five people.
But eventually, the Soviet troops retreated, protesters triumphed and military rule was not imposed. That was an impressive victory of Latvian people on their road to full independence from the Soviet Union.
by Laura Sheeter / BBC NEWS / 2006 VIDEO
Below is the detailed calendar of the described above events put together by Viktors Daugmalis / Barikades / 1991 :
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issues a series of accusations against the Baltic Republics from the podium of the Soviet Supreme Council, speaking of the need to conclude a new Union Treaty.
The chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia, Anatolijs Gorbunovs, and the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia, Ivars Godmanis, meet with Mikhail Gorbachev and refuse to sign the Union Treaty. Gorbachev threatens to institute direct presidential rule and an economic blockade.
There is a national demonstration in Latvia in honor of the country’s Independence Day.
After a protest from the USSR, representatives of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are banned from participating in an OSCE conference in Paris.
The Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia sends a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev and the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union, calling on them to halt interference by special OMON troops in Latvia’s domestic affairs and political life.
The Soviet Supreme Council gives the president of the USSR unlimited authority to specify an emergency situation and institute presidential rule.
The Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Party sets up the All-Latvian Public Rescue Committee, and its delegates announce that they have the right to sign the Union Treaty.
A draft of the Union Treaty is published in the Soviet press, along with statements saying that it can be signed by “authorized representatives”.
Soviet Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov issues an order which says that the armed forces have authority to determine what kinds of monuments can be set up in the Soviet republics. In a televised speech, Yazov threatens to eliminate “those which are ideologically alien”. The Latvian People’s Front, meanwhile, launches a petition drive in opposition to the Union Treaty, collecting 1,002,829 signatures by December 17.
The Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Party launches a radio station called Sodru? which is based in the facilities of the Biryuzov Political Military Academy in R. The Supreme Councils of the three Baltic Republics call on the parliaments of the world to help them in regulating relationships with the USSR. They also call issue a declaration for the residents of the Baltic Republics, as well as a resolution on national equality.
The All-Latvian Public Rescue Committee demands that recently installed monuments to Latvian Legionnaires at Code, Vecsaule and D?be dismantled, saying that if this is not done, it will “take relevant steps”.
December 5, during the night
Four monuments to the Latvian Legionnaires are blown up.
The All-Latvian Public Rescue Committee calls for direct presidential rule in Latvia.
A total of 27 democratic parties and political organizations sign a declaration titled “Unified for Latvia!”
The first secretary of the Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Party, Alfr礳 Rubiks, who is also a member of the Politburo, says at a meeting of the Soviet Communist Party that Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev should remind President Mikhail Gorbachev that the observation of the Soviet constitution and all Soviet laws must be ensured throughout the Soviet Union.
The Latvian People’s Front issues an announcement of what must be done before “Zero Hour” (i.e., the institution of presidential rule in Latvia) and thereafter
A bomb explodes at 3:10 AM outside the public policy center of the Latvian Communist Party at Valdemⲡ Street 5 in R. The Communist-controlled press accuses Latvian nationalists of setting off the bomb.
The chairman of the Soviet KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, speaks on central television about the indivisibility of the USSR.
The Interfront holds its third congress, issuing a call to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR to institute presidential rule in Latvia and also announcing a campaign of civil disobedience in Latvia.
The fourth session of the Congress of People’s Deputies is opened in Moscow, and there are bitter debates between democratic and pro-imperialist forces.
At 2:45 AM, there is an explosion on the grounds of the R garrison’s military prosecutor’s office at Vais Street 1. Ten minutes later, another bomb explodes at the building which houses the Latvian Communist Party’s governing committees for the Moscow, Kirov and Rdistricts of the Latvian capital city, at Daugavpils Street 31. Approximately five minutes after that, a bomb goes off at the Lenin Monument in Brbas Street.
Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov admits that the Soviet armed forces have bombed monuments in the Baltic States. The Supreme Council and Council of Ministers of Latvia denounce attempts to destabilize the situation in the republic through acts of terror.
Speaking at the Congress of People’s Deputies, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze warns of the approach of dictatorship and announces his resignation.
At an emergency congress, the Baltic Army Association announces that if the Congress of People’s Deputies does not implement order in the Baltic region, the army will. Behind closed doors, a plan is worked out on neutralizing Latvia’s administrative and power structures during “Zero Hour”. All leave is canceled for KGB, army and domestic military officers. It becomes known that the KGB has, on instructions from the Central Committee of the CPSU, developed a plan for a military coup in Latvia.
At 11:22 PM, there is an explosion at the Biryuzov Military Academy at Ezermalas Street 8. Explosions also occur on December 26 and 27 and January 14 and 16, 1991. There are no casualties. The Communist-run press blames all of the blasts on Latvian nationalists.
Several dozen people who are part of a secret military unit are discovered at a KGB hotel in the Latvian town of J?a. The Supreme Council of Latvia announces that any attempt at a coup in Latvia would endanger peace and security in Europe.
The OMON forces take over the Latvian Press Building on orders of the Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Party, thus paralyzing, in part, the publishing of democratic newspapers and magazines. The deputy chairman of the Supreme Council, Dainis ζ⮳, the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, Ilmⲳ Bi𥲳 and Interior Minister Aloizs Vaznis seek entry to the building but are turned back at gunpoint. Criminal police officers who have been documenting the taking over of the Press Building are beaten up, and their documents and photo film are confiscated. Their automobile is shot up. The Latvian People’s Front calls for a protest demonstration at the building of the Latvian Communist Party.
In contrast to claims from OMON officers, Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo and Mikhail Gorbachev deny knowledge about the taking over of the Press Building. A delegation from the Soviet Interior Ministry, led by Lt. Gen. Solodkov, arrives in R for an inspection visit.
On Mikhail Gorbachev’s instructions, Dmitriy Yazov orders special military units to enter Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the stated aim being to ensure that the military draft proceeds properly. The commander of the Baltic Military Region, Fyodor Kuzmin, affirms to Supreme Council chairman Anatolijs Gorbunovs that the military units have arrived and promises that they will not do anything until January 13.
The Soviet deputy defense minister for emergency situations, Lt. Col. Achalov, arrives in R secretly to meet with Fyodor Kuzmin and Alfr礳 Rubiks. Achalov has previously been one of the chief commanders of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The board of the Latvian People’s Front decides to organize a national demonstration.
The White House in the United States denounces the arrival of additional Soviet military forces in the Baltic Republics. The government of Kazimiera Prunskiene resigns in Lithuania.
Mikhail Gorbachev issues an ultimatum against Lithuania, demanding the repeal of all recently approved constitutional acts. An unauthorized Interfront meeting in R calls on the government of Ivars Godmanis to resign. Some 50,000 people attend, and they try to break into the building of the Council of Ministers when asked to do so by military personnel.
The Latvian Women’s League stages a protest in R to oppose the drafting of young men from Latvia into the Soviet army. A closed meeting of the Military Council of the Baltic Military Region is held. It is decided to issue automatic weapons to officers and students at military schools. Military units and armored vehicles increase their presence in the streets of R.
The Council of the Latvian Popular Front announces a national demonstration for January 13 to support the republic’s lawfully elected government. The decision is taken to guard strategically important objects. The presidium of the Supreme Council of the RussianFederated Soviet Socialist Republic calls on the Soviet government to withdraw its extra military forces from the Baltic Republics. Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Ivars Godmanis meet with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow and are given a promise that military force will not be used.
During the evening, tanks encircle the Supreme Council of Lithuania, and military forces occupy the local television, radio and telegraph facilities. During the event, 14 people are killed and another 110 are injured. At 4:45 AM, the Latvian Popular Front issues a call for people to gather in Dome Square to protect the Supreme Council and other strategically important objects. Dainis ζ⮳ reads the announcement on Radio Latvia.
At noon, the Supreme Council meets in plenary session to talk about defense issues.
At 2:00 PM, a national demonstration attracts some 700,000 people to the shores of the Daugava River in R. The Baltic Military District’s personnel fly overhead in a helicopter, scattering flyers above the crowd which contain a warning. The chairman of the Latvian Popular Front, Romualdas Ra?calls for the erection of barricades around strategically important objects. After the demonstration, participants march to the Freedom Monument.
Ministers and Council of Ministers employees set in motion the bringing of heavy agricultural and construction equipment, as well as trucks full of logs to R so that barricades can be set up. These orders are implemented during the night and the following day. Barricades are set up in R, as well as in Liep⪡ and Kuld.
The chairmen of the Russian, Estonian and Latvian Supreme Councils meet in Tallinn, signing a declaration in which military activities in the Baltic Republics are denounced. The chairmen of the Baltic Supreme Councils call on the secretary general of the United Nations to assemble a meeting of the Security Council and an international conference to talk about the situation in the Baltic Republics.
The chairman of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic, Boris Yeltsin, calls on Russian soldiers and officers to refrain from any military attacks against Baltic civilians and institutions.
Speaking at a meeting of the Supreme Council of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev supports Interior Minister Boris Pugo’s view that the Soviet armed forces behaved properly in Vilnius. Fyodor Kuzmin issues an ultimatum against Anatolijs Gorbunovs, demanding the repeal of laws which have been adopted by the Latvian Supreme Council.
At 2:50 PM, OMON forces attack people who are guarding the Vecmrⶩs bridge. Members of the forces shoot at the cars of participants, beat up several people, threaten them with weapons and steal their property.
At 6:45 PM, OMON forces attack people at the Brasa bridge, throwing Molotov cocktails at cars and causing a fire.
At 8:00 PM, there is another attack at the Vecmrⶩs bridge. During the course of the day, 17 automobiles have been burned.
The Svoboda radio station claims several times that there is to be a military coup in Latvia
During the night, OMON forces twice attack the R branch of the Minsk Military Academy at Zeﯵ Street 8. Students are beaten up, facilities are damaged and weapons are stolen. Later, the Interfront gathers some 10,000 people at a stadium in Kri𪢲a Barona Street. The All-Latvian People’s Rescue Committee announces that it is taking over power in Latvia.
Funerals are held in Vilnius for the victims of the January 13 attack. It is a national day of mourning. The Supreme Council of Latviaorganizes members of the council to stand duty at the Supreme Council building during the night.
At 4:45 PM, during an attack at the Vecmrⶩs bridge, Roberts M?ks is shot and killed, while two other people are injured.
At 6:30 PM, OMON forces attack the Brasa bridge, injuring one person.
The American-led Operation Desert Storm is launched to liberate Kuwait. A state of emergency is declared on the barricades in R. A strike committee that has been set up by the Latvian Communist Party declares that a fascist regime is being instituted in Latvia. A delegation from the Supreme Council of the USSR comes to R and announces upon its return to Moscow that it supports the institution of presidential rule in the republic.
The Supreme Council of Latvia decides to set up a unified national self-defense commission.
The funeral of Roberts M?ks turns into a people’s demonstration. During the night, OMON forces detain and beat up five members of a volunteer national guard unit.
Some 100,000 people attend a demonstration in Moscow to support the Baltic Republics, calling on Mikhail Gorbachev, Dmitriy Yazov, Boris Pugo and Vladimir Kryuchkov to resign in the wake of the bloodshed in Vilnius.
At 9:07 PM, OMON forces and members of other, unknown military units launch an attack against the Interior Ministry of Latvia. During the battle, militia officers Vladimir Gomanovich and Sergeiy Kononyenko are killed. Near the ministry, filmmaker Andris Slapind high school student Edijs Riekstire shot and killed. Cameraman Gvido Zvaigzne dies of his wounds several days later. Injuries are suffered by four officers of the Bauska militia, five participants in the barricades, a Russian journalist and a Hungarian journalist. Casualties are also suffered by the attackers. After the battle, the OMON forces move to the building of the Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Party.
The Supreme Council of Latvia calls on young people to go to work in the Interior Ministry system. Anatolijs Gorbunovs goes to Moscowto meet with Mikhail Gorbachev and talk about what is happening.
Boris Pugo denies that he ordered the OMON forces to attack the Interior Ministry.
A participant in the barricades dies.
The Council of Ministers of Latvia sets up a Public Safety Department which takes over the guarding of the barricades.
A national day of mourning. The funeral of the victims of January 20 are held. Most participants at the barricades go home.