Latgale (Latgalian: Latgola; Russian: Латгалия; Latin: Lettgallia) is one of the four historical and cultural regions of Latvia recognised in the Constitution of the Latvian Republic. It is the easternmost region north of the Daugava River. While most of Latvia is historically Lutheran, Latgale is predominantly Roman Catholic, in fact, according to a 2011 survey, the 65.8% of the total population is Catholic. There is also a strong Eastern Orthodox minority, comprising the 23.8%, divided in 13.8% Russian Orthodox Christians and 10.0% Old Believers.
The region has a large population of ethnic Russians, especially in Daugavpils, the largest city in the region. Many of the Russians who lived in Latgale before the Soviet occupation are Old Believers. Rēzekne, often called the heart of Latgale, Krāslava, and Ludza are other large towns in the region, which also has a Belarusian minority. There is also a significant Polish minority. As part of the Polotsk and Vitebsk guberniyas, the region was part of the Pale of Settlement and had a very large Jewish population – but most of the Jews perished in the Holocaust and much of the remainder has emigrated. The region has a smaller average wage than rest of regions.
Due to its history several different names are historically used for Latgale.
From 2004 on, the Latgalian language is the subject of the biggest sociolinguistic/ethnolinguistic poll in Europe, held by the Rēzekne Augstskola and the Centre d'Étude Linguistiques Pour l'Europe.
Originally the territory of what is now Latgale was populated by Eastern Baltic Latgalian tribe. During the 10th–12th centuries two principalities, Jersika and Atzele, existed on the territory of modern Latgale and Eastern Vidzeme. In addition Latgalians inhabited parts of modern Pskov Oblast in Russia and Vitsebsk Voblast in Belarus.
|Coat of Arms of Latgale (historical)|
In the first decade of the 13th century the principality of Jersika, also known as Lettia, was allied with the Principality of Polotsk and Lithuanian dukes against the Bishopric of Livonia, but was defeated in 1209. Part of it was divided between the Bishopric and the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, the remainder became a vassal country. In 1239, after the death of King Visvaldis, the latter was incorporated into the territory of the Livonian Order.
In 1242, after defeat in the Battle of the Ice, Eastern Latgale (Lotigola) temporarily passed to the Novgorod Republic. In 1263 Livonian knights started to build the Volkenberg castle near to the Rāzna lake (today within the Rāzna National Park).
In 1481–1493 Grand Prince Ivan III of Russia temporarily occupied Latgale.
During the Livonian War Latgale was annexed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1559–1562), which in 1569 was incorporated into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ivan IV of Russia annexed Latgale in 1577, but renounced his claims to Livonia in Truce of Jam Zapolski (1582).
In 1621 most of the Duchy of Livonia was ceded to the Swedish Empire, but part of the Duchy including Latgale remained under Polish-Lithuanian control. This became known as the Inflanty Voivodeship. The creation of Polish Inflanty is the birth of the region we now know of as Latgale. During this period the Latgalian dialect was influenced by Polish and developed separately from the Latvian spoken in other parts of Latvia.
In 1772, Latgale was annexed by the Russian Empire, and 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. Many Latgalian public figures sought reunification with the rest of Latvia at the Congress of Rēzekne in 1917, while some preferred autonomy or incorporation in Russia. The decisions of the 1917 Congress and the declaration of independence on 18 November 1918, claiming Latgale as part of the Latvian state, moved both Latvian armed forces as well as local partisans to fight for the liberation of Latgale: a difficult task, given the territorial interests of both Bolshevik Russia and Poland.
In 1920 Latgale was incorporated into Latvia. By the peace treaty of 1920 with Soviet Russia, parts of the Vitebsk Governorate and Pskov Governorate were incorporated into the new Republic of Latvia. United with other ethnic Latvian territories, as claimed by the declaration of independence (ethnic borders as national borders), they formed the districts of Daugavpils, Ludza, Rēzekne and Jaunlatgale, later Abrene district.
In 1944, at the beginning of the second occupation of Latvia by the USSR, the eastern municipalities of the Abrene district including Abrene were incorporated into the Russian Federation.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Latgale became one of the cultural regions of the Republic of Latvia. Some Russians favour the re-integration of Latgale into Russia, as evidenced by a small demonstration at the Latvian Embassy in Moscow in April 2014.