Latvians of Lithuania | True Lithuania
True Lithuania


Latvians, together with the Lithuanians, are the only nations speaking Baltic languages left in the world. Lithuanian-Latvian relations are generally extremely cordial, and they call each other brothers. While there have been some political downtimes, this has never made Lithuanians and Latvians dislike each other.

There are only some 3 000 Latvians in Lithuania - much less than there are either Poles, Russians or Belarussians, the three other ethnic groups with whom Lithuanians share their borders. One part of Latvians lives in historical communities in northern Lithuania close to the border of Latvia. Another part of Lithuania's Latvians lives in the major cities where they largely immigrated in the 1940s and later from Latvia-proper.

In 1918, when both Lithuania and Latvia became independent from the Russian Empire the ethnic boundary was far more diluted. There was a short dispute on where the Lithuanian-Latvian border should run, solved by a peaceful arbitration in 1922. Still, the new border left many people "on the wrong side", with some northern Lithuanian towns (e.g. Palanga) being 10%-25% Latvian. Overall, there were 14 883 Latvians in Lithuania according to the 1923 census (0,7% of the entire Lithuanian population) and several times that number of Lithuanians in Latvia.

Subsequently, the minorities on both sides of the border declined due to various reasons, not the least among them emigration to their newly-established ethnic homeland. The Soviet population transfers failed to replenish the communities.

The Latvian nation is multi-religious with strong Roman Catholic and Lutheran communities. Latvians of Lithuania were traditionally overwhelmingly Lutheran (in 1923 as much as 91% of Lithuania's Latvians were Lutheran). Today however only 36% of Lithuania's Latvians are Lutheran, another 36% are Roman Catholic and some 21% are irreligious (as per 2001 census).

Būtingė Lutheran church near Šventoji borderland (built 1824) is one of the last borderland parishes to offer occasional Latvian prayers. The sermons are however Lithuanian, possibly due to lack of Latvian-speaking priests. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Perhaps because of their cultural similarity to Lithuanians the Latvians of Lithuania generally receive less public attention than other traditional minorities of comparable size.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Hello Augustinas, my family was born in Panemunelis Lithuania and Druja (today in Belarus). They lived in Latvia approximately from 1909 till 1920 (only supositions). I wrote to latvian archives and they havo no information about them there. Do you have any idea where the lithuanians worked in Latvia in that period? The were land workers in Lithuania. Many thanks.

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