Abrene district
The Abrene district was an administrative district in the Republic of Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 with an area of 4292 square kilometers, formed in 1925 from the northern part of the Ludza
Ludza is a town in the Latgalia region of eastern Latvia. The population as of 2004 was 10,247.Until July 1, 2009 Ludza was the administrative centre of Ludza District...

 district and the western part of the Ostrov region as the Jaunlatgale (New Latgale
Latgale is one of the four historical and cultural regions of Latvia recognised in the Constitution of the Latvian Republic. It is the easternmost region north of the Daugava River...

) district, but this was renamed Abrene in 1938. The district included the towns of Balvi and Abrene
Pytalovo is a town and the administrative center of Pytalovsky District of Pskov Oblast, Russia. Population: Pytalovo was part of independent Latvia as Abrene until Latvia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union...

 and 14 villages, and the civil parishes (Latvian: pagasti) comprising the district were reorganized thrice (there were 12 in 1929, 13 in 1935, and 15 in 1940). 6 eastern civil parishes – Purvmalas (Bakovo), Linavas (Linovo), Kacēnu (Kachanovo), Upmalas (Upmala), Gauru (Gavry) and Augšpils (Vyshgorodok), as well as the town of Abrene (a total area of 1293.6 square kilometers with 35,524 inhabitants) – were joined to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic , commonly referred to as Soviet Russia, Bolshevik Russia, or simply Russia, was the largest, most populous and economically developed republic in the former Soviet Union....

 in 1944. This part of the former Abrene district is now part of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 as the Pytalovo District of Pskov Oblast
Pskov Oblast
Pskov Oblast is a federal subject of Russia . Pskov Oblast borders the countries of Estonia and Latvia, as well as Belarus. It is the westernmost federal subject of contiguous Russia . Its major cities are the administrative center Pskov and Velikiye Luki . Area: 55,300 km²...

, bordering Latvia. "Abrene region" in current usage very often treats the area joined to Russia as though it had comprised the entire district, which can be misleading; nearly three-quarters of the former district are in Latvia, but many treatments of the transfer of the eastern pagasti cite interbellum demographic statistics for the whole of the region, rather than by civil parish.


The Abrene region was long a point of contact and friction between the Finno-Ugric, Baltic, and Slavic languages, cultures, tribes, and countries. The Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 name for the town and region, Pytalovo, probably derives from the Finno-Ugric tulva, "tributary, flood"; the region was part of Tolowa (or Tholowa; Latvian: Tālava), a kingdom of the northern Latgalians, which for a period paid tribute to Mstislav the Brave of Smolensk
Mstislav Rostislavich
Mstislav Rostislavich , known as "The Brave" , was Prince of Smolensk and Prince of Novgorod. He should not be confused with another prince of the same name, Mstislav Rostislavich Bezokii , who was Prince of Rostov and also Prince of Novgorod and who died in...

 (from ca. 1180); the area became part of Livonia
Livonia is a historic region along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. It was once the land of the Finnic Livonians inhabiting the principal ancient Livonian County Metsepole with its center at Turaida...

 in 1224.

In 1270s the area became a part of Livonia
Livonia is a historic region along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. It was once the land of the Finnic Livonians inhabiting the principal ancient Livonian County Metsepole with its center at Turaida...

. The Balts
The Balts or Baltic peoples , defined as speakers of one of the Baltic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family, are descended from a group of Indo-European tribes who settled the area between the Jutland peninsula in the west and Moscow, Oka and Volga rivers basins in the east...

 east of a slight ridge at Viļaka were gradually Russified from the 15–16th centuries, but the philologists August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein
August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein
August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein was a Baltic German linguist, folklorist, ethnographer, and theologian.Bielenstein was born in Mitau , where he also died...

 and Kārlis Mīlenbahs
Karlis Milenbahs
Kārlis Mīlenbahs was the first native speaker of Latvian to devote his career to linguistics...

, conducting linguistic field research in the area in the late 19th and early 20th century, found that many people, called "Russian Latvians" by the local Russians, still spoke the High Latvian dialect.

After the Bolsheviks were driven from what is now Latvia and Soviet Russia recognized Latvia's independence, in August 1920, it proved impossible to draw the border precisely along ethnographic lines because of the multicultural character of the borderlands; once the frontier was negotiated (the border was not finalized until April 7, 1923), large communities of Latvians were left on the Russian side and large Russian and Belarusian
Belarusians ; are an East Slavic ethnic group who populate the majority of the Republic of Belarus. Introduced to the world as a new state in the early 1990s, the Republic of Belarus brought with it the notion of a re-emerging Belarusian ethnicity, drawn upon the lines of the Old Belarusian...

 communities were left on the Latvian side. Strategic concerns also played a part, because of an important railway junction within the Abrene region. The historian Edgars Andersons explains (in Latvijas vēsture 1914–1920 [Stockholm: Daugava, 1976]): "Especially in the north, the Russians had agreed to the Latvians' strategic demands, not complaining about the ethnographic principle having been disregarded. Several civil parishes were completely Russian."

The population of the entire district in the census of 1935, divided by ethnicity, was as follows: 60,145 Latvians, 45,885 Russians, 1,558 Jews and 648 Belarusians. The demographics differed sharply on either side of the Viļaka ridge, which bisects the district – the eastern civil parishes had small ethnic Latvian minorities: 17% in Kacēnu pagasts, 5% in Linavas pagasts, 32% in Purvmalas pagasts, 5% in Augšpils pagasts, and 4% in Gauru pagasts. The civil parishes immediately to the west had strong Latvian majorities, ranging from 71% in Šķilbēnu pagasts to 91% in Viļakas pagasts. The town of Abrene itself, which developed around the Pytalovo railroad station, had 1,242 inhabitants, 484 of them ethnic Latvians.

The inhabitants held Latvian citizenship regardless of ethnicity. Parliamentary Latvia pursued a liberal policy of multiculturalism, guaranteeing education in minority languages from 1919. Modern schools providing bilingual instruction in Latvian, Russian, Belarusian, Yiddish and Latgalian were constructed (by 1936 there were 162 primary schools and 3 secondary schools in the district). The Latvianization policies of the authoritarian president Kārlis Ulmanis
Karlis Ulmanis
Kārlis Augusts Vilhelms Ulmanis was a prominent Latvian politician in pre-World War II Latvia during the Latvian period of independence from 1918 to 1940.- Education and early career :Ulmanis studied agriculture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and...

 resulted in curtailing multiculturalism after 1934. Many minority schools were closed. The Abrene district as a whole differed from most of Latvia by religion, too – it was 48% Orthodox, 38% Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

, and 12% Lutheran.

With the Soviet occupation in 1940, the German invasion in 1941
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, the Holocaust, the return of Soviet forces in 1944, and the illegal mobilization of Latvian citizens by both occupying powers, severe demographic changes took place. The transfer of the eastern part of the district to the RSFSR was decided by a decree from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was a Soviet governmental institution – a permanent body of the Supreme Soviets . This body was of the all-Union level , as well as in all Soviet republics and autonomous republics...

 of the USSR, based on a request by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR, in violation of even Soviet law (the 1936 constitution then in force required that changes in internal borders be confirmed by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, not the Presidium). Though the official documents transfer 1075.31 square kilometers, 1293.6 square kilometers were actually transferred.

The transfer was not formally finalized until 1946. The territory was subjected to forcible collectivization, accompanied by rampant robbery and destruction, including the demolition of farmsteads and mass mortality among livestock. Kulaks, nationalists, and "bandits" (often those accused of being Forest Brothers
Forest Brothers
The Forest Brothers were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II...

) were deported with their families (2728 persons in early 1949 and 1563 persons in May 1950), primarily to Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk is a city and the administrative center of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, located on the Yenisei River. It is the third largest city in Siberia, with the population of 973,891. Krasnoyarsk is an important junction of the Trans-Siberian Railway and one of Russia's largest producers of...

. Officials from Russia proper replaced local administrators even at the village level, and even some who had fought for the Soviets were mistreated. In these circumstances, large numbers of people left for the Latvian SSR. Today there are substantial communities of former residents and their descendants in Balvi and Rīga. The former civil parishes joined to Russia are almost totally delatvianized.

Border agreement

The Latvian constitution stipulates that the borders of the Republic are set by international treaties, and the government considers the 1920 Treaty of Rīga to be still in force. The May 4th, 1990 declaration of independence
On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia
The Declaration "On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia" was adopted on 4 May 1990, by the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR...

 (reinstating the 1920 constitution subject to a transitional period) by the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR affirmed that the restored Republic of Latvia would base its relations with the Russian Federation on the treaty principle. In January 1991 Latvia and Russian Federation (while still in the USSR) signed a document regulating their bilateral relations. The Latvian delegation attempted to include a reference to the 1920 treaty, but the Russian delegation objected. In essence, Russia views Latvia as a newly independent country and consistently refuses to acknowledge that Latvia was occupied and illegally incorporated into the USSR, while Latvia insists upon the legal continuity of Latvian state occupied in 1940. Key-players in post-war politics in the West never recognized or at least asked the legality of the incorporation of Latvia into the USSR, but there is pressure on both countries to resolve the issue. This can be seen on the example of their attitude towards events of beginning 1990-s in Latvia. Thus, the European Community, for example, did not use the term "recognition" but referred to "the restoration of sovereignty and independence" when restoring diplomatic relations in 1991; the US to "the culmination of the United States’ 52 year refusal to accept the forcible incorporation of the independent Baltic States by the USSR." (See, for example, Roland Rich's paper for the Symposium on Recent Developments in State Recognition.). Pressure on the RF includes the need for Russia to have a border agreement in order to pursue a less draconian visa policy from the EU.

The Latvian Foreign Ministry has reiterated "that Latvia has no territorial claims to the Russian Federation," however, and though there is some opposition (particularly among right wing parties) to formally ceding the Abrene region, surveys show that most Latvians don't believe that the transferred territory will ever again be administered by Latvia. Many in Latvia – especially the former residents of the areas now in Russia – are interested in seeking compensation from the Russian Federation, though. Currently, the Republic of Latvia compensates those who lost property. The former residents also complain of the difficulty of visiting their family graves, asking that the Latvian and Russian governments facilitate border procedures. Despite Latvia's assurances that it makes no territorial claims, Russian president Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

 claimed that Latvian wishes to get control of the area and that such claims are against the spirit of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. On April 29, 2005, Latvia announced that it would sign an interpretative declaration in conjunction with the proposed border agreement with Russia, noting that the border agreement would in no way affect "the legal rights of the Latvian state and its citizens" under the 1920 treaty. As a consequence, Russia scrapped the border agreement, as it saw this as attempt to prolong debate on Abrene.

In January 2007, Latvian Parliament agreed to sign the treaty, making no open references to the 1920 treaty.http://news.monstersandcritics.com/europe/news/article_1283332.php/Latvian-Russian_treaty_puts_legal_stamp_on_EU_external_border By the end of 2007, the border treaty was ratified by both parties.

See also

  • Territorial changes of the Baltic states
    Territorial changes of the Baltic States
    Territorial changes of the Baltic states refers to the redrawing of borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia after 1940. The three republics, formerly autonomous regions ruled by the Baltic German nobility within the former Russian Empire, gained independence in the aftermath of World War I and the...

  • Augusts Vilis Abakuks
    Augusts Vilis Abakuks
    Augusts Vilis Abakuks was a Latvian government official and émigré activist.During World War II he served as deputy head of the local government for Abrene district in German-occupied Latvia....

     — deputy municipal head of Abrene District during World War II
  • Soviet attack at Latvian border guards in Maslenki
    The Maslenki incident, was an attack by Soviet NKVD troops on 15 June 1940 against the Latvian border posts in district of Abrene at the then USSR/Latvian Republic border on the eve of Soviet occupation of Latvia....

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