Popular Front of Latvia
The Popular Front of Latvia was a political organization in 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...

 in late 1980s and early 1990s which led Latvia to its independence from the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. It was similar to the Popular Front of Estonia and the Sąjūdis
Sąjūdis initially known as the Reform Movement of Lithuania, is the political organization which led the struggle for Lithuanian independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was established on June 3, 1988 and was led by Vytautas Landsbergis...

 movement in Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...


Its newspaper was Atmoda
Atmoda was a weekly newspaper in Latvian SSR and Latvia issued in the years 1988-1992. It was an organ of the Popular Front of Latvia and the first independent, opposition paper in the Latvian SSR...

("Awakening", cf. Latvian National Awakening
Latvian National Awakening
The Latvian National Awakening refers to three distinct but ideologically related National revival movements:* the First Awakening refers to the national revival led by the Young Latvians from the 1850s to the 1880s,...

), printed in the Latvian and Russian languages during 1989-1992.

Historic background

Latvia, Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

 and Lithuania were occupied by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 in 1940. To avoid bloodshed there was relatively little resistance
Resistance movement
A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to opposing an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign state. It may seek to achieve its objects through either the use of nonviolent resistance or the use of armed force...

 to the occupation
Military occupation
Military occupation occurs when the control and authority over a territory passes to a hostile army. The territory then becomes occupied territory.-Military occupation and the laws of war:...

, but many Latvians remained deeply unhappy with it and waited for a chance to regain independence. Such a chance came in 1980s when Sovier premier Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 attempted to reform the Soviet Union. In particular, Gorbachev's glasnost
Glasnost was the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s...

policy allowed more freedom of speech in the Soviet Union than ever before.

Latvia's independence movement started with small demonstrations for independence and human rights in 1986. The first demonstrations, organized by Helsinki-86
The CTAG Helsinki-86 was founded in July, 1986 in the Latvian port town of Liepāja by three workers: Linards Grantiņš, Raimonds Bitenieks, and Mārtiņš Bariss...

, were, however, suppressed by the government of Latvian SSR
Latvian SSR
The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic , also known as the Latvian SSR for short, was one of the republics that made up the Soviet Union. Established on 21 July 1940 as a puppet state during World War II in the territory of the previously independent Republic of Latvia after it had been occupied by...

. The breaking point came in summer 1988. Many prominent Latvians publicly announced their support for increased autonomy for Latvia. Latvian newspapers started writing about aspects of Latvian history which had been banned during the Soviet period (for example, how Latvia had been occupied in 1940). The flag of Latvia
Flag of Latvia
The national flag of Latvia was used by independent Latvia from 1918 until the country was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. Its use was suppressed during Soviet rule. After regaining its independence, Latvia re-adopted on February 27, 1990 the same red-white-red flag.Though officially adopted...

 which had been banned during the Soviet period was brought back. To summarize, a strong resurgence of Latvian national identity had started.

Popular Front from 1988 to 1990

This resurgence created several political organizations devoted to increased autonomy or independence for Latvia. Tautas Fronte was the biggest organization. It was founded on October 9, 1988. Originally, Tautas Fronte took a moderate position, requesting wide autonomy for Latvia but stopping short of calling for independence. Tautas Fronte was supported by moderate members of the leadership of the Latvian SSR including head of state Anatolijs Gorbunovs
Anatolijs Gorbunovs
Anatolijs Gorbunovs also formerly known as Anatoly Valeryanovich Gorbunov is a Latvian politician who served as the parliamentary speaker during the last years of Soviet regime in Latvia and during the first years after the country regained its independence...

, but opposed by hardline Communists.

Tautas Fronte quickly grew to 250,000 members. Its goal was to create a wide coalition devoted to autonomy or independence of Latvia. As 48% of Latvia's population was ethnically non-Latvian (mostly people who had moved to Latvia from other parts of the Soviet Union), Tautas Fronte reached out to ethnic minorities. In particular, it advocated school education in languages other than Latvian and Russian to attract the support of non-Russian minorities. At the same time, Tautas Fronte worked with more radical Latvian movements advocating the independence of Latvia.

Gradually, the overall opinion within Tautas Fronte shifted from the autonomy of Latvia within the Soviet Union to full independence. On May 31, 1989, it announced that the government of the Soviet Union had not been sympathetic enough to Latvia gaining autonomy and an independent Latvia had become the only option.

In 1989 and 1990, the first free elections were held in Latvia since 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...

' coup–d'etat in 1934. The most important were the elections to the Supreme Soviet
Supreme Soviet
The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union was the Supreme Soviet in the Soviet Union and the only one with the power to pass constitutional amendments...

, the parliament of the Latvian SSR, on March 18, 1990. A pro-independence coalition, led by Tautas Fronte, won 138 out of 201 seats in Supreme Soviet, more than the 2/3 majority needed to amend the Constitution. Constituency borders were a cause for allegations of gerrymandering in favour of PFL.

Tautas Fronte from 1990 to 1993

After the 1990 elections, Tautas Fronte became the governing party in Latvia. On May 4, 1990, the first law passed by the new Supreme Soviet declared Latvia's intention to restore independence. Dainis Īvāns
Dainis Ivans
Dainis Īvāns is a Latvian journalist and politician.He has worked as a journalist since 1979 and gained the public attention in 1986, by opposing construction of another hydro-electric dam on Daugava river, near the city of Daugavpils...

, the chairman of Tautas Fronte, became the deputy speaker of parliament and his deputy, Ivars Godmanis
Ivars Godmanis
Ivars Godmanis is a Latvian politician and currently 1 of the 8 Latvian MEPs in the European parliament. He was the first Prime Minister of Latvia after the country became independent from the Soviet Union, and he became a Prime Minister for the second time in December 2007.Godmanis served as...

, became the prime minister. Many other members of Tautas Fronte took key positions in the government of Latvia.

From May 1990 to August 1991, Latvia went through a tense period. Its independence was not recognized by the government of the Soviet Union and a military crackdown threatened by the Soviet government was generally feared.

Several Soviet tanks appeared on the bank of Daugava river in the Riga Old Town. Television broadcast material of rifle shots being exchanged during night in Old Town.
In the streets unarmed people built barricades and spent days and nights guarding them, singing Latvian songs. Because of this the independence movement is now known as "the Singing Revolution
Singing Revolution
The Singing Revolution is a commonly used name for events between 1987 and 1991 that led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania...


The independence of Latvia was finally recognized in August 1991. The main political goal of Tautas Fronte was thus achieved. It now faced a more difficult task: reforming the socialist economy of Latvia into a free-market system. The economic transition was very difficult, with GDP of Latvia halving from 1990 to 1993. With the economy in severe decline, the popularity of prime minister Godmanis crashed. Many politicians left Tautas Fronte and formed new political parties to avoid being associated with the unpopular government.

The end of Tautas Fronte

In June 1993, Latvia held the first elections of the parliament since the restoration of independence. Weakened by economic difficulties and defections of many politicians, Tautas Fronte received just 2.62% of the popular vote and gained no seats in the new parliament. It attempted to reinvent itself as a Christian democratic party and changed its name to Kristīgā Tautas Partija (Christian People's Party) but without much success. Eventually, it merged with another party, Kristīgi Demokratiskā Savienība (Christian Democratic Union
Christian Democratic Union (Latvia)
The Christian Democratic Union is a minor christian democratic political party in Latvia. It is currently led by Māra Viktorija Zilgalve.- History :...



All or almost all the political goals of Tautas Fronte have been achieved. Latvia is now an independent country, with Latvian as the only official language. Its economy and politics, formerly socialist and oriented towards the Soviet Union, is now free-market and European-oriented. While Tautas Fronte itself ceased to exist during the economic difficulties of mid-1990s, many of its former activists have important roles in today's Latvia.
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