What is the significance of 'Lāčplēsis Day' in Latvia?

Take note – story published 1 year and 7 months ago

November 11 is Latvia's day to remember those who have fallen in defense of the Latvian nation and its hard-won freedoms.

Usually it is a day characterized by services, speeches, parades, and the lighting of candles at Rīga Castle and other public places around the country. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that 2021's commemorations were more private and personal than usual, but 2022 should see a return to a more public demonstration of appreciation for the sacrifices made through Latvia's history.

A fairly recent phenomenon is the "Proud to be on guard for Latvia" campaign, during which National Guardsmen are invited to go to work in their military uniform.

Known as 'Lāčplēša diena' or 'Lāčplēsis Day' (Lāčplēsis being the name of Latvia's mythical warrior hero), November 11 coincides with the date upon which the 1918 Armistice at the end of the First World War is commemorated in many other countries. However, the Latvian events are subtly different, officially marking the day a year later in 1919 when a crucial victory against joint German and White Russian forces under Count Pavel Bermondt-Avalov was won by the fledgling republic of Latvia, which had declared independence a year earlier. 

During the decisive battles in and around Rīga, Latvia lost 743 soldiers, of whom 57 were officers, according to the Latvian Army.

It is often observed that though 1918 is regarded as the final year of World War One, in Latvia harsh military conflicts continued for a considerable period after that date, with Latvia receiving crucial support from its northern neighbor, Estonia, to repel not only the West Russian Volunteer Army but the Red Army, too.

Latvia also received valuable assistance from British and French warships. Later, in 1920, Polish troops helped the Latvian Army expel the Red Army from Daugavpils and the surrounding area before ceasefires with Germany and Soviet Russia were eventually signed.

But as with other remembrance events, Lāčplēsis Day is not only a day of historical commemoration but is also used to express appreciation for the service and sacrifice of all those who have served in the armed forces since and who do so today.

And while this is a definitively Latvian day of remembrance, the thoughts of many will inevitably also turn to Ukraine where thousands of men and women are currently making the same sacrifices in defense of their homeland and their freedom against the latest Russian invaders.

More details about the historical context and meaning of Lāčplēsis Day can be found in this excellent online timeline of events.


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