Imagine everything that gives us a national pride of our country. Our flag. Our national anthem. Our currency. Our values. Our passtimes and hobbies. Our joys.
Now, imagine every single aspect of our national identity completely taken away.
That is what happened to the people of Latvia. Not once. Not twice. But three times.
In 2018, Latvians will celebrate the 100th anniversary of their independence. Following the Latvian War of Independence, this nation of just under two million emerged as an internationally recognized country.
However, during those 100 years, Latvia has been illegally occupied by another country for 51 years.
From 1940 to 1941, it was the Soviet Union. Latvians lost their sense of national identity as their entire society adhered to the strict guidelines on propaganda and censorship created by the Soviet Union.
Then from 1941 to 1944, it was Nazi Germany. Suddenly Soviet propaganda and forced cultural symbols were replaced by Nazi propaganda and cultural symbols.
And then, in the longest occupation of Latvia, the Soviet Union illegally occupied the country from the end of World War II in 1944 to the fall of the Union in 1991.
One of the sites we visited during our seven-hour visit to the unknown capital city of Riga (where one-third of the Latvian population lives) was the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
The museum shared the horrific situations Latvia (along with their Baltic neighbors – Estonia and Lithuania) underwent during the occupation. During the 1949 Operation Priboi, 90,000 citizens of these three countries were forcibly deported from their homes and sent to work camps in Siberia, outlying Soviet towns, or killed.
The museum then shared the remarkable bravery of several Latvians. These resistance movements fought against the Soviet oppression and shared ideas, art, and symbols of Latvian nationalism.
However, for me, the most moving stories came in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is the time of the Singing Revolution.
This revolution was non-violent. No drop of blood fell on Latvian soil. Rather, Latvian culture served as fuel in this fire towards independence, and song was the weapon of choice.
During the strict Soviet control in the late 1980s, traditional Latvian songs sung at the Latvian Song Festival (one of the largest choral events in the world) were banned and replaced by Soviet propaganda. Despite this, Estonians collectively and without any direction began singing their nationalist songs with great pride.
Singing, a major part of Latvian culture, continued to serve as ongoing inspiration for citizens to rise up against the Soviet Union and declare their love for Latvia. An example of these peaceful demonstrations includes The Baltic Way, a 675km human chain that connected two million people across the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
For me, our visit to Riga, Latvia was an incredible opportunity to learn about the immense bravery from this small country that is so often overlooked on the world stage.
Tills nästa gång, (Until next time)