Last modified: 2008-08-02 by dov gutterman
Keywords: latvia | europe | baltics | livonian people | wends | vends |
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image by eljko Heimer, 8 April 2002
Official Name: Republic of Latvia (Latvijas
Previous Name: Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic
Location: Baltic Eastern Europe
Government Type: Parliamentary Democracy
Flag adopted: 27 February 1990
Coat of arms adopted: 27 February 1990
ISO Code: LV
According to the Constitution the flags is "red with a
white stripe". In fact it is not really red but almost
Dr. Karlis Ulmanis, first Prime Minister and last President of Latvia before the Soviet invasion in 1940 described the meaning of the colors thus:
"Our red-white-red colors! What do they tell him who loves his native country ardently? White stands for right and truth, the honor of free citizens and trustworthiness. But the red reminds us of the blood that has been shed in the recent past. It has been shed at all times in the remote past and we are ready to offer it again for freedom and independence, for our nation and country."
Source:The Flag Bulletin VIII:3, Published by
the Flag Research Center, Box 580, Winchester, Mass 01890
USA, Summer 1969, ISSN 0015-3370
Dave Martucci, 2 September 1996
According to "Flags of All Nations" by Cleveland H. Smith and Gertrude R. Taylor (Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, 1946; pg.101):
"The Letts used the juice of berries to make the crimson for their original flag. Latvian poets say that the red in the flag indicates the readiness of the Latvians to give blood of their hearts for their freedom, which was represented by the white in the flag."
Dave Martucci, 6 September 1996
Color used for Latvian flag is defined as
"carmine-red". It means something dark brick red. Some
colorists define color as dark cherry red. Our company uses
0,100,90,40 (for printig on fine quality paper). Officialy colors
aren't standardized in any system.
Gvido Petersons, 29 June 1999
According to Album 2000 [pay00]
- National Flag (CS-/C-- 1:2) - Red-white-red triband, ratio of
struipes 2+1+2. Latvians still call it simply red, at least in
eljko Heimer, 8 April 2002
I came across a company's website (<www.karogufabrika.lv>), where they list the official color of the "Latvian red" as PMS 1807C. This color was apprently chosen by the Heraldic Commission back in 1995 (April 11th). The page also give the official specs as well as a list of flag flying holidays in Latvia.
The Latvian flag is reputed to date from 1279, which would
make it one of the oldest national flags.
Stuart Notholt, 5 October 1995
The earliest extant reference to the Latvian flag is in a
volume called the Livlandische Reimchronik which dates
from the 14th century. It describes a banner 'red in colour, cut
through with a white strip' used by a Latvian military unit in
1279. The reference was unearthed by a scholar, Janis Grinsbergs,
in the 19th century and was popularized as an ethnic flag for the
Latvian people by students at the University of Tartu in 1870.
The current colours and proportions were adopted on 18 November 1918 when Latvia became independent, having previously been established in this form in May 1917. It was recognized by law on 20 January 1923.
When the Communists annexed Latvia in June 1940 the flag became illegal within Latvia itself. However, the west never recognized the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states and Latvian legations continued to operate in western capitals. These continued to use the Latvian flag, as did Latvian emigrés worldwide. The Latvian flag began to be used again in Latvia in 1988, and was legalized on 29 September 1988, replacing the Soviet Latvian flag on 27 February 1990. Latvia formally regained its independence on 21 August 1991.
Principal source for the above: "The Flag Bulletin" XXXI:6/149, Published by the Flag Research Center, Box 580, Winchester, Mass 01890 USA, November/December 1992, ISSN 0015-3370
Stuart Notholt, 12 December 1995
According to "Flags" by Carol P. Shaw, there are
conflicting stories about the origin of the Latvian flag. It was
first mentioned in a Latvian chronicle of a battle in 1280, where
a battalion from Cesis, a northern region, bore a red flag with a
white stripe which was also the banner of a castle there. Another
legend refers to the leader of a Latvian tribe who was wounded in
battle and wrapped in a white sheet. The part of the sheet on
which he was lying remained white, but the two edges which were
folded over him were stained by his blood.
Bruce Tindall, 13 December 1995
The Constituent Assembly of Latvia declared the official flags
by a law passed 1922-02-15, signed by the President 1923-01-23.
The law also provided for flags and pennants to used by the
President, Prime Minister, other military and civil officials,
warships, fortresses, etc. -- in all a total of seventeen
Source: "The Flag Bulletin" VIII:3, Published by the Flag Research Center, Box 580, Winchester, Mass 01890 USA, Summer 1969, ISSN 0015-3370
Dave Martucci, 7 September 1996
Many legends about the origin of the Latvian flag come from the early Middle Ages. One of them, describe events that occurred before Christianity was established in the Baltics: "A Latvian castle was surrounded by Estonian troops. The siege lasted several weeks and the starving residents considered surrender. The only alternative was to charge over the battlements to break the enemies lines. Knowing this, an old kokle (Latvian lute) player, suggested a short prayer and full scale attack. A ram was sacrificed and the old man took off his shirt and dipped it in the sacrificial rams blood. The shirt was completely soaked in blood except where it had been held. The old man attached this red-white-red coloured material to a shaft. Waving this as a standard the warriors attacked and drove their enemy away. Ever since then Latvian fighters have used this flag."
That is the legend. What about more reliable sources? In the late 1860's one Latvian student (later Dr. Lautenbach-Jusmins) at the University of Tartu, checked The Rhyme Chronicle of Livonia (the chronicle of the Order Of Livonia in two volumes written in rhymes, recording the history of Baltic's from the 1290's and glorifying the German crusaders) and found at lines 9219 through to 9223 information on Latvian flag:
"A Brother and a hundred men had come from Wenden to Riga to defend the land, as I have heard. They had been notified. They came in a courtly manner, with a red banner which was crossed by white, in the manner of the Wends. Wenden is the name of a castle from which this flag bacame known, and it is located in the land of the Letts, where women ride in the same fashion as men do. I can tell you this in all truth, this is the banner of the Letts. " from Livlandische Reimchronik by Dr. Ausma Regina Jaunzemils, Stanford University
The current design of Latvian flag was approved in May 1917,
at a meeting of the Art Promotion Association. Several proposals
were reviewed. Finally the design with red-white-red flag having
colour ratio 2:1:2 was accepted. The designer was Ansis Cirulis.
The design was officially adopted as the Latvian flag. During the
Soviet era (Latvia was incorporated in the Soviet Union in 1940)
the use and keeping of this flag was prohibited. The governing
Communist Party considered it the symbol of forces hostile to
Soviet power. Only in the spring of 1990 was the red-white-red
flag restored as the official Latvian flag.
Santiago Dotor, 30 October 1998
Written records of the red-white-red Latvian flag have existed since the second half of the 13th century. Bearing a red flag with a white stripe ancient Latvian tribes went to war against ancient Estonian tribes. This would place the Latvian flag among the oldest flags of the world. At the end of the 1860's Latvian student, folklore researcher and later, professor Jekabs LautenbahsJusmins found reference to the use of a red-white-red flag in The Oldest Rhyming Verse Chronicle of the Livonian Order (in Latvian: Vecaka Atskanu hronika). The Chronicle depicted events in Latvia in the second half of 13th century (till 1290) and glorified the feats of the crusaders in converting the pagan inhabitants of the Latvian region to the Christian faith. Based on the aforementioned historical record, the present day flag design was adapted by artist Ansis Cirulis in May of 1917. The red colour of the Latvian flag is a particular dark red tone that is referred to as Latvian red in the rest of the world. The flags colour proportions are 2:1:2, but the correlation of the width and length of the flag is fixed as 1:2. The Latvian national flag, together with the national coat of arms was affirmed in this format by a special parliamentary decree of the Republic of Latvia that was passed on June 15, 1921.
Jarig Bakker, 13 May 2000
Wends have also some possible influence in Latvian flag
history. According to some historical hypotheses in early 10th
century near todays Ventspils was setlement of western slavs
tribe Wend (name of main river of western Latvia Venta (german
Wendau, Windau) comes from this tribe). They live there untill
12th century (Germen influence in Balticum). Wends have moved
eastwards - 1st to Riga, then in central Vidzeme and founded
settlement Cesis (german Wenden). According to historical
documents Wends troops have red/white flags as all western slavs
As refered above (and in other documents too) from chronicles and legends the flag come from Cesis neighbourhood. Some historians point of view is that Wends was great part in this "Latvian military unit" (realy there were Livs (Livonians) and Latgalians). Wends as separate etnicity were recognized untill 16th century.
Gvido Petersons, 19 September 2000
Latvian colleagues I met in Budapest for a scientific congress
told me an interesting story about the Latvian flag. They said
that after the prohibition of the Latvian flag by Staline regime,
Latvians became fanatic supporters of the football club Spartak
Moscow, because its colour were red-white-red ("normal"
red) and matches were a good opportunity to expose the prohibited
flag. Authorities understood quite quickly the trick ... and the
Spartak was ordered to change its colours. They also told me that
all the stories on the origin of the Latvian colours were
The licence plates of Latvian cars have the national flag on them.
Ivan Sache, 15 October 2000
The flag of Latvia have existed since the second half of the 13th century. Bearing a red flag with a white stripe ancient Latvian tribes went to war against ancient Estonian tribes. This would place the Latvian flag among the oldest flags of the world. The distinctive dark red color of the Latvian flag is often referred to in the rest of the world as Latvian red.
Dov Gutterman, 25 January 2002
image by eljko Heimer and Zachary Harden, 28 September 2002
A Latvian friend of mine, who subscribes to many Latvian journals, says that the way they achieved independence in 1990 was by "nullifying" or canceling all Soviet legislation between 1940 and 1990. It was in this way that they reverted to their own national flag and probably to all 17 of the flags adopted in 1923.
To confirm this, I found the following on the Latvian Government Information WWW pages:
- Declaration of the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR on the Renewal of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia (Adopted: 4 May 1990)
- (excerpt) Being determined to restore de facto the free, democratic, and independent Republic of Latvia, The Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR decides:
- Section 2
To declare null and void from the moment of inception the decision of 21 July 1940, by the Parliament of Latvia: "On the Republic of Latvia's Joining the USSR".
- Section 3
To re-establish the authority of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 15 February 1922, in the entire territory of Latvia. ...
Dave Martucci, 5 September 1996
Latvijas valsts un tirzniecības karogs = National and
Valsts prezidenta standarts = President's standard
Ministru prezidenta karogs = Prime minister flag
Sūtņa karogs = Ambassador flag
Konsula karogs = Consul flag
Kara ministra karogs = War minister flag
Armijas virspavēlnieka karogs = Chief of latvian army flag
Admirāļa karogs = Admiral flag
Ostas valdes karogs = Harbour administration flag
Muitas valdes karogs = Customs flag
Kara kuģu karogs = Warship flag
Cietokšņa un kara kuģu bugspritkarogs = Warship bowsflag
Pasta karogs = Post flag
Hidrogrāfijas kuģa karogs = Survey vessel flag
Loču karogs = Harbour pilots flag
Jūras kapteiņa komandvimpelis = Commander pennon
Kara kuģu vimpelis = Warship pennon
Guy Babonneau, 12 March 2001 and Gvido Petersons, 8 June 2001
There are official Flag days in Latvia (days when houseowner
should wear flag in front of house).
Note: (M) - means mourn (black ribbon) .
The flag days are:
- February 16 - Lietuvas Republikas neatkarības diena - Independence day of Lithuania.
- February 24 - Igaunijas Republikas neatkarības diena - Independence day of Estonia.
- March 25 - Komunistiskā genocīda upuru piemiņas diena (S) - Commemoration Day of Victims of Communist Terror (M)
- May 1 - LR Satversmes sapulces sasaukšanas diena (1920). Darba svētki - Convocation of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Latvia (1920). Labour Day.
- May 4 - LR Neatkarības deklarācijas pasludināšanas diena (1990) - Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia. (1990)
- Juny 14 - Komunistiskā genocīda upuru piemiņas diena (S) - Commemoration Day of Victims of Communist Terror. (M)
- Juny 17 - Latvijas Republikas okupācijas diena (S) - Occupation of the Republic of Latvia. (M)
- July 4 - Ebreju tautas genocīda upuru piemiņas diena (S) - Commemoration Day of Genocide against the Jews. (M)
- August 21 - Konstitucionālā likuma “Par Latvijas Republikas valstisko statusu” pieņemšanas un Latvijas Republikas faktiskās neatkarības atjaunošanas diena - Passing of the Constitutional Law on the Status of the Republic of Latvia as a State and Actual Restoration of the Republic of Latvia.
- November 11 - Lāčplēša diena - Latvian Freedom Fighters’ Remembrance Day - Lacplesis Day.
- November 18 - Latvijas republikas proklamēšanas diena (1918) - Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia. (1918)
- December 7 (first Sunday) - Pret latviešu tautu vērstā totalitārā komunistiskā režīma genocīda upuru piemiņas diena (S) - Commemoration Day of Victims of Genocide Against the Latvian People by the Totalitarian Communist Regime. (M)
Every house or office building must wear flag. There is also penalty (until 50 Ls - ~90 USD) for not displaying flag in days mentioned above or displaying wrong, corrupt, dirty, without ribbon, wrong mast or staff.
More details at see <www.latinst.lv>
Gvido Petersons, 9 January 2003