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History - Embassy of Finland, Riga : Embassy : History


Kalpaka bulvaris 1
LV-1605 Riga, Latvia
Tel. +371-6707 8800
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The History of Diplomatic Relations between Finland and Latvia

Latvia declared independence on 18. November 1918. Finland recognized Latvia de facto on 23 September 1919, following the example of other western countries. In 1921 the political situation had stabilised and so Finland also gave de jure recognition to Latvia's independence.

Latvia decided on temporary diplomatic mission in Finland in early 1919 and changed it to a fullfledged legation later in the same year. In 1920 Finland sent Mr. Reino Sylvander (later Silvanto) as the delegate a.i. to Riga. The Finnish envoy in Tallinn was accredited for Latvia from 1921 to 1926, when a full-fledged legation was opened in Riga. Practically speaking, Mr Sylvander had already been working in Riga all this time and so he was appointed the first envoy of Finland in Latvia. Mr Sylvander presented his credentials to President Cakste of Latvia on 4 February 1926. In 1926 the presidents of the two countries paid reciprocal official state visits, which were warmly welcomed in both countries. By this time the attempts at a specific border state policy developed in the early 1920s between Finland and the Baltic States had come to an end.

By 1932 all the Baltic countries had become dictatorships, in Latvia under the leadership of Karlis Ulmanis. These dictatorships, which reflected the sentimental and idealistic patriotism of the Baltic peasant population, had minimal impact on the countries' foreign policies.

The secret protocol added to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on 23 August 1939, assigned Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence. When Finland, unlike the Baltic States, refused to accept the Soviet ultimatum on military presence in Finland, the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939. During the Winter War much sympathy was felt by Latvians for Finland. The Finnish envoy Edward Palin describes these sentiments in his report as follows:

"I would like to emphasise that during the recent difficult weeks I have received from a wide circle of Latvians countless expressions of sympathy, respect and admiration towards Finland and her stand. Yet I have to add that these expressions of sympathy have been conveyed to me on a strictly private basis as the persons concerned have been afraid of being identified by the Russians."

The Soviet Union occupied Latvia in the summer of 1940. Later that year, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia served diplomatic relations with Finland as well as with other countries and ordered the closure of foreign legations operating in Riga. Thus, on 22 August 1940, the Finnish diplomatic mission in Latvia ended for more than 50 years. Years later many Latvians concluded that the Finnish Winter War had delayed the first Soviet occupation of the Baltic states by approximately one year.

Towards the end of the 1980s Popular Front movements in the Baltic states began to promote the idea of self-determination and independence. By the late 1980s the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed likely. The Baltic States issued declarations of sovereignty demanding the transfer of supreme power from Moscow to themselves. The Supreme Council of Latvia approved the declaration on 4 May 1990, and after the unsuccessful coup d'état in the Soviet Union, Latvia declared independence on 21 August 1991. The Russian Federation recognised Latvia's independence several days later. Subsequently various nations re-established diplomatic relations with Latvia. In Finland the discussion about the independence of the Baltic States had been cautious, but once the collapse of the Soviet Union became obvious, Finland took action towards restoring diplomatic relations with all the Baltic States.

As Finland had never recognized the legality of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries, there was no need to formally recognize their re-established independence. Diplomatic relations, interrupted by the Soviet occupation, were swiftly restored.

The decision to restore diplomatic relations took effect on 29 August 1991. The Embassy opened its doors in temporary quarters in the Old Town of Riga in early October 1991. In November 1996 the Embassy moved back to the location at 1 Kalpaka bulvaris that they had rented prior to World War II but had now purchased and completely renovated.

Since 1991 Finland has had five ambassadors in Latvia. Finland and Latvia maintain close and warm relations. Finland has provided support to Latvia in her efforts to integrate into the western social, economic and security structures. Particular assistance has also been provided for Latvia as a result of the bilateral assistance programme to neighbouring areas as well as within the Nordic-Baltic cooperative structures. The Embassy also works for diversifying and strengthening relations between Finland's and Latvia's business and social communities.

There has been a frequent exchange of visits between Finland and Latvia at various levels. President Ahtisaari paid an official state visit to Latvia in 1995 and president Halonen in 2001.

The Finnish Jaeger Movement

The desire of the Finnish people to free themselves of the Russian domination accelerated with the beginning of World War I in 1914. The idea of armed opposition originated first with university students. Germany, which was at war with Russia, agreed to provide military training for 200 volunteer Finns. Military training under the guise of a scout camps was begun in Lockstedt near Hamburg on 25 February 1915. In September 1915, this training was expanded to include a whole battalion. Altogether 1900 Finns received military training in Lockstedt.

The Royal Prussian Jaeger Battalion No. 27 comprised of Finns was formed in May 1916. In order for the battalion to gain combat experience, it was sent to the eastern front in the Kurzeme region of Latvia. The battalion took part in battles fought between the Misa River and the Gulf of Riga. For approximately a year the battalion received training behind the front lines in Liepāja.

When Finland declared its independence on 6 December 1917, the Jaegers wanted to return to Finland. They retired from the German army. On 13 February 1918, in the Liepāja Holy Trinity Church they pledged allegiance to the legal government of Finland. At the same time, the Jaeger flag was consecrated. Precisely three years after the start of their military training, on 25 February 1918 the main group of Jaegers returned to Finland from Liepāja. The civil war had broken out in Finland, during which most of the Jaegers fought on the side of the government troops.

After the war e 600 Jaegers continued to serve in the newly formed Finnish Army. They were instrumental in forming, training and equiping the National Defence Force. For a period of 33 years the Commander of the Finnish Defence forces was a Jaeger.

The Jaegers operated in almost all sectors of Finnish society, including culture and the economy as well as leading positions in the industries. But the most successful Jaeger accomplishments were achieved in the armed forces. Trained in Germany and in Kurzeme, the Jaegers assumed commanding positions in the successfully conducted defensive battles against the Soviet Union both in the Winter War 1939 – 1940 and during the Continuation War 1941 – 1944. During 1944 and 1945 Jaegers fought against their erstwhile trainers and brothers-in-arms – the Germans – in Lapland.

After Latvia's independence was restored in 1991 it has heen possible to revive the Latvian part of the Jaeger story. Volunteers from the Jaeger Tradition Society have located the graves, monuments, battlefields and other historical sites and restored them. In 1997 a granite stone brought from the Finnish Eastern antitank defence line was erected on the bank of the Gulf of Riga as a memorial to the Jaeger Movement and in 2003 a permanent photographic exhibition depicting the Jaegers' war experience was inaugurated at the Lapmezciems local museum. In 1997 a memorial plaque commemorating the Jaegers' oath of allegiance to the legal government of Finland was unveiled in the Holy Trinity Church in Liepaja and in May 2004 a copy of the memorial next to the military cemetery in Klapkalnciems, originally erected in 1929, was unveiled.

Museum of Lapmezciems civil parish
Tukums region Lapmezciems
Liepu iela 4, 2nd floor

Tel. 31 63230

1.                   10-00-16.00
2.                     9.00-16.00
3.                   10.00-16.00
4.                   10.00-16.00
5.                     9.00-14.00

From May 1 to September 1 on Saturdays 11.00-15.00

On Sundays in case of prior appointment only.

The Livs - the furthest western Finno-Ugric people on the Baltic Sea 

The Livs are Finno-Ugric people who live the furthest west on the Baltic Sea. They used to inhabit a wide territory in Vidzeme and Kurzeme. Before World War II, Livs remained only in twelve fishing villages along the Kurzeme coast. The villages were located in an approximately 60 kilometers long and a few kilometers wide coastal zone (Liv coast), which runs from the northernmost point Kolka to the west. 

The Finno-Ugric Liv language consisted of western and eastern dialects. Nowadays the Liv language is spoken as a mother tongue only by about ten Livs. More of the Liv-speakers have learnt it as an academic subject than as a mother tongue.

On the first Saturday in August the Livs and their friends gather to celebrate their summer festival in Mazirbe on the Liv coast. The house of culture that was inaugurated there in 1939 was returned to the Liv Society in the year 2000. The Society was founded in 1923 and has nowadays approximately 250 members.

The Liv language, culture and way of life have been of interest to Finnish and Estonian linguists and ethnographers. An exhibition based on photographs they had taken in the fishing villages from 1902 until 1927 was presented to the Liv Society on its 80th anniversary by the Finnish government in 2003. It brings to life the villages that nearly died out in the Soviet period. The exhibition is on display in the house of culture in Mazirbe in the summer.

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Updated 9/7/2008

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