11 November – Lāčplēsis Day in Latvia

11 November – Lāčplēsis Day is listed on the calendar as a memorial day. It is a day when Latvia’s flag is hoisted above in all of the country, it is a day when residents light up candles, a day when Latvians share historical events, and a day when a sense of unity rules the country.
Lāčplēsis Day – is a memorial day for soldiers who fought for the independence of Latvia.
Rīta kafija portal looks back at history to remind residents about the importance of this day.
Lāčplēsis – is a Latvian folk hero. His exploits are depicted in both literature and films. Lāčplēsis is a symbol of the greatness of Latvia’s people. His courage symbolizes the courage in defending one’s homeland from invaders.
The state of Latvia was founded 18 November 1918. However, Latvians had to defend its existence in tough battles against both German and Russian troops, as well as the Soviet Red Army. The battles would later be named the Freedom Fights.
On 11 November 1919 the Latvian army defeated the combined forces of Germans and Russian White Army under General Pavel Bermont-Avalov in Riga and liberated the left bank of Daugava River. This victory guaranteed the independence of Latvia and continued existence of the country. This date is symbolic because it represents the moment when Latvia’s residents united and won against a well-equipped and numerically superior enemy in difficult fights. On 11 November Latvia commemorates the troops who gave their lives for Latvia.
Other western countries celebrate 11 November, but for a different reason – the Armistice of 11 November, 1918, which meant the end of WWI.
A look at the importance of 11 November events for Latvia.
After the defeat suffered in Cesis in June 1919 and in accordance with the Strazdumuiža Armistice, German forces were to leave Latvia. However, German General Rüdiger von der Goltz secretely joined the forces led by Russia officer Pavel Bermont and formed the West Russian Volunteer Army. On 8 October the combined Russian-German forces commenced the offensive against Riga.
Latvia’s position was precarious
Bermont forces were rapidly approaching Latvia’s capital city through Jelgava, Olaine and Ķekava. In spite of the resistance put up by Latvian forces, the onslaught from the Western Russian Volunteer Army forced Latvian troops to withdraw over Daugava River. War refugees flooded Jugla. On 10 October the fate of Riga and Latvia was, as they wrote «was a hair’s breadth away from disaster». Nevertheless, Latvia’s army managed to stop the enemy at the bridges over Daugava River.
In the morning on 15 October about 100 volunteers left for the Iron Bridge over Daugava’s right riverbank towards Pārdaugava. Their objective was to divert the enemy’s attention from Daugavgrīva – the main direction of the attack. On their way the troops sang «Div` dūjiņas». They were certain most of them would not return. This episode – the attack on the Iron Bridge – was later immortalized by sculptor Kārlis Zāle on the side of the Freedom Monument.
On the same day Latvia’s army commenced the main attack, backed by British and French war ships. The ships shelled Daugavgriva, Bolderaja and the rear flanks of Bermont’s forces. Allied assisted Latvia when it became clear its army was strong enough to continue the defence. After ferrying troops over Daugava the first order of business was liberating Bolderaja to continue the attack from there. With small losses Latvia’s army managed to take back important strategic locations – Daugavgrīva Fortress and Bolderaja. Latvia’s army had the initiative in its hands. On 16 October the entire Latgale Division was transported to Daugava’s left riverbank.
On 11 November 1919 Latvia’s army defeated the German-Russian forces in Riga. By the end of November Latvia’s forces had driven enemy forces from the country. The victory over Bermont-Avalov’s West Russian Volunteer Army ensured the independence of Latvia and its continued existence. The victory over Bermont-Avalov forces allowed Latvia’s government to focus on the fight against the Red Army in the east in 1920, finally ridding the country of all foreign invaders.
After this victory, 11 November was given the name Lāčplēsis Day in Latvia. In 1920 Latvia also founded the Order of Lāčplēsis, which was awarded to troops to commemorate Latvia’s Freedom Fights. Following the occupation in 1940 celebration of Lāčplēsis Day was prohibited in Latvia.
After the restoration of independence, Lāčplēsis Day was reinstated as a memorial day.
Author: Latvian History Small Library Support Fund