Latgalians (modern)

This article is about modern ethnic group of Latvians inhabiting or coming from Latgale. For ancient Baltic people see Latgalians.

(Latgalīši, latgali)
Total population
(c. 150,000 (est.))
Regions with significant populations

c. 150,000 (est.)
c. 50 (est.)
 United States:
c. 50 (est.)

c. 50 (est.)
Related ethnic groups
Latvians, Lithuanians

The Latgalians (Latvian: latgalieši, latgalīši) are the ethnic Latvians of Latgale, who speak a distinct dialect of Latvian and share a common culture that sets them apart from other Latvians.


In the Latgalian language, the terms latgalīši and latgaļi have been traditionally used as synonyms describing both ancient and contemporary Latgalians as a part of the same continuum. The term latgalīši (in both meanings) prevailed in Latgalian literature and mass media during the first decades of the 20th century, whereas the term latgali has been consistently used (also in both meanings) in Latgalian literature and media published during the 1920s and 1930s in Latvia and from 1940 to 1988 in exile. Since the cultural revival of Latgalians in 1988, there is a tendency in Latgalian literature and media to follow Latvians in their use of both names.

Early history

Flag of Latgalians

Modern Latgalians developed as a result of Latgale having developed separately from other parts of contemporary Latvia after it was divided between Sweden and Poland after 1621 Truce of Altmark, leaving most eastern part of Latvia under Polish control as Inflanty Voivodeship. This resulted in the Roman Catholic church becoming the main religious denomination in Latgale (while the rest of Latvia is traditionally Lutheran). The local dialects of Latvian language underwent a sound change probably due to Slavic influence, resulting in another feature distinguishing Latgalians from rest of Latvians.[1] After first Partition of Poland in 1772 Inflanty was incorporated in Russian Empire. In 1865, as part of Russia's anti-Polish policies, a period of Russification was begun, during which the Latgalian language (written in Latin script) was forbidden. This ban was lifted in 1904, and a period of Latgalian reawakening began.

First World War to Soviet era

During the first independence of Latvia (1918–1940), Latgale was the only region of Latvia with strong regional political parties. Although Latvian governments mainly promoted a united Latvian culture, fostering assimilation of Latgalians, especially after the coup by Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934, the Latgalian language was also used. Books were published in Latgalian, it was taught in some schools, and people could choose to use Latgalian when communicating with the government. They were classified as a Narodnosti in the First All Union Census of the Soviet Union in 1926. In the Nazi German Generalplan Ost, as far as can be told from the surviving documentation, the Latgalians were scheduled for deportation, while only half of the Latvian population was to be treated so. The reasons for this difference are unclear, but possibly based on racist linguistic arguments, considering that the Nazis planned to physically remove 85% of the Lithuanians (whose language and by erroneous inference ethnicity has similarities to Latgalian).

The Soviet period severely damaged Latgalian culture. Although publishing in Latgalian was generally banned, some political periodicals, like "Ludzas Taisneiba" ("Truth of Ludza") were published from the end of the 1940s to the 1960s in Latgalian. Russian and Latvian were the only recognized languages.

Modern times

Latgalian emblem

Latgalians continued to publish books and periodicals abroad. Publishing in Latgalian in Latvia resumed during the Third National Awakening in the late 1980s but is still rare. The Latgalian language is mostly used at home in rural areas and Latvian is overwhelmingly used in official use and in urban areas. Some government protection for the Latgalian language is provided by the language law of 2000 which states that "the state guarantees the preservation, protection and development of the written Latgalian language as a historic form of the Latvian language."

Some Latgalians consider themselves to be an ethnic group separate from Latvians. The majority opinion is, however, that present-day Latgalians are a subgroup of the Latvians who are united by a dialect, which has many regional varieties. The number of people who would identify themselves as separate from Latvians is unknown because the Latvian government does not identify Latgalians as a separate group in census data.

2011 Census of Latvia established that 8.8% of Latvia's inhabitants or 164 500 people daily speak Latgalian dialect. 97 600 of them live in Latgale, 29 400 in Riga and 14 400 in Riga region.[2]

Additionally, the majority view is that Latgalians appeared because Latgale was part of Poland for 100 years and later under Russian rule, while the rest of Latvia was under German and Swedish rule. Thus, Latvians living in Latgale are more Russified/Polonized as opposed to the rest of the Latvian people (who have undergone more prolonged Germanization).


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