The Lithuanians and Estonians are the closest neighbours of the Latvians. Latvians and Lithuanians share the same Balt language family. They have similar traditional culture. In contrast, Latvians and Estonians share common history since the Crusader invasion. They have a similar political and religious development.
Latvian folksongs illustrate early contacts between Latvians and Lithuanians. Chronicles and Latvian literature demonstrate steady and intensive connections among the neighbours up until modern times. In the 19th century, many Latvian Lithuanians were industrial workers and traders, whereas during the Interwar period many were involved in local agriculture. Some Lithuanians, who were deported to Siberia by the Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, were prohibited to return to Lithuania and settled in Latvia instead. In the 1980’s, Latvian Lithuanians actively supported independence, among them the leader of the community at the time R. Ražuks.
30 thousand Latvian Lithuanians live in Latvia today. Almost half of them are native Latvian speakers. The rest, mostly the older generation, indicated Lithuanian as their native language. A Lithuanian grammar school is located in Rīga for more than a decade. The graduates of the school are equally fluent in Latvian and Lithuanian.
Latvians and Estonians, on the other hand, share a common history since the Livonian Order came to dominate their lands. Latvia’s Estonian population grew in the late 19th century, reaching ten thousand. Many Estonians settled in Rīga following the Industrial Revolution, although a lot returned to Estonia once it became independent.
In the second half of the 20th century, several Latvian Estonian performers achieved regional fame, such as the singer Aino Bāliņa. At the present day there are less than three thousand people who consider themselves Latvian Estonians. The bulk of this community lives in Rīga and localities along the border with Estonia like Alūksne and Valka. The Estonian secondary school in Rīga attracts both Latvian Estonians and other pupils with an interest in the language and culture of their neighbours.
© Latvian Institute 2015