100 years on, Latvia’s “Riflemen” far from forgotten
More than 1,000 people participated in a march to mark the centenary of the Latvian Riflemen Battalion on Saturday, August 1.
The story of their formation in 1915 is still widely told and subject to heated historical debates. When the German army was advancing into Latvian territory in 1915, some prominent Latvians decided to call on the Russian Tsar to establish all-Latvian battalions. As Germany was advancing into Latvia, they argued, such units would be particularly effective. On 19 July, 1915, the Tsar approved the formation of the Latvian Rifles. On the same day, Latvian lawmakers in the Russian Duma, Janis Goldmanis and Janis Zalitis, published a patriotic appeal to “Gather under Latvian flags in Riga.” The first volunteers started to apply on August 12 at Riga. In two days, 472 volunteers applied and on August 14, the first volunteer were seen off to their military training site in Milgravis.
Many questions are still surrounding those battalions — were they heroes or victims? Did they fight for Latvia and its independence or did they betray their motherland?
Nonetheless, this year Latvian Riflemen are being commemorated in both Latvia and Russia. For instance, Raimonds Vejonis, the president of Latvia, has opened a memorial plaque on Terbates street, on the building where the Latvian Riflemen battalion organizing committee used to be in 1915.
As stated on Delfi news portal, the riflemen will get commemorated in Russia as well: Vladimir Siminday, who is on the ‘black list’ of Latvia, is planning to organize a scientific ‘round table’ on the topic of ‘Latvian riflemen in the historical memory of Russia and Latvia’.
During the march, the new Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis pointed out that the riflemen had left a lasting mark on the latvian psyche that continues to this day. “Latvian riflemen are an integral part of the history of our land and nation,” he told the crowd while unveiling the memorial plaque. “Every one of us has the “gene of the soldier” that wakes up at the time when the homeland has to be defended.”