100th anniversary of Latvian riflemen celebrated

Take note – story published 8 years ago

On August 1, 1915, the first ever Latvian national military units - the Latvian Riflemen - were established. They went on to fight heroic battles for Latvia, and later on for the Bolsheviks too, remaining a much-contested phenomenon of Latvian history. This year marked the 100th anniversary of creating the Latvian Riflemen battalions, and the event was widely celebrated in Riga, reported the LSM Latvian news site, along with Latvian Radio and Latvian Television on Saturday. 

When German invasion was imminent in 1915, Latvians petitioned the Tzar for forming Latvian national battalions. Russian Tzar Nicholas II had his doubts - which would later prove to be well-founded - about the true allegiances of the Latvians, many of whom had participated in the anti-Tzarist 1905 revolution, but eventually allowed for the battalions to be formed. The first units were formed from volunteers, and conscription was started in 1916.

The legendary battles in which Latvians fought against the German forces, sometimes in temperatures of below -35 degrees Celsius, have been immortalized by several Latvian poets and novelists.

As revolution swept through Russia, most of the Latvian Riflemen turned coats and fought at the Bolsheviks' side - though it would seem they did so mostly for national, not ideological motives - and helped securing the military dominance of the Soviets, as opposed to Tzarist White Army. The whole story is, of course, much longer, and infinitely more complex

As part of the celebration this year, a plaque was presented to commemorate the committee for organizing the Latvian Riflemen battalions, and concerts were held in Vērmane park and at 11. Novembra krastmala. The army demonstrated equipment and troop alike, while statesmen stressed that the battalions were the military beginnings of what was to become the Republic of Latvia.

The plaque was instated at Tērbatas iela 1, where the first Latvian Riflemen unit gathered a hundred years ago. President Raimonds Vējonis said, in an address to the people, that the commemorative plaque testifies that Latvians remember the bravery and the selflessness of the Latvian Riflemen. Vējonis, among with other officials and participants, sported white carnation flowers on his suit, a symbol of sorts for the celebration, though of unknown origin.

After that, a concert was held in Vērmane park, and more than a thousand of National Guard, Youth Guard, soldiers and others walked to the bank of Daugava where military equipment, weapons and transport could be inspected, including Mi-17 and Black Hawk helicopters. 

Presidents Vējonis said that, thanks to the Defense Ministry and the Latvian National Armed Forces, a new tradition has been instated, and that [on August 1, 2015] both the soldiers of the past and of this day are celebrated.

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