Riga is the capital of the Republic of Latvia. The city is located on the Daugava River near its mouth to the Baltic Sea. At present, it has 720,000 inhabitants of which Poles account for a very small part.
For centuries the city was part of various state organisms. In the Middle Ages Riga was a major Baltic seaport. Already then the town started to give in to the strong influence of German settlement and culture. Before 1561, when Riga became part of the Commonwealth under the treaty in Vilnius, it was part of the state of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. From the time of the Union of Lublin it came under the common rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. In the second half of the 16th century the Polish influence in Riga was distinct — Stefan Batory came ceremonially into the city after having defeated Ivan the Terrible in 1580. Two years later, the same Polish ruler founded a Jesuit college in Riga. In 1605, not far from the nearby village of Kircholm, Poles defeated Swedish troops. They failed, however, in 1621, and since then Riga was under the Swedish rule, becoming part of Sweden in 1660. In 1710, Riga was captured by the Russians, and, 11 years later, officially incorporated into Russia, becoming the capital of the Governorate of Livonia until World War I. In September 1917, Riga was captured by the German troops. In 1919, Latvia gained independence, and Riga became the capital of the young state. Independence did not last long, however, as already in 1940 Latvia was annexed by the USSR. As a result of war activities Riga passed into the German hands to return to the USSR again in 1944. For nearly 50 years Riga was the capital of the Latvian SSR. In 1991, the city became the capital of independent Latvia again. Riga’s major monuments include the House of the Blackheads, building of the Parliament, Powder Tower, and Swedish Gate. Latvians account for more than 40 percent of the city’s inhabitants and Russians for nearly as much, which is the effect of the population policy pursued by the USSR. Poles living in Riga account for more than two percent of the city’s population today. In the Latvian capital there is a branch of the Union of Poles in Latvia with the “Polonez” Polish Culture Club and the “Wisła” vocal group. There is also the Ita Kozakiewicz Polish Secondary School run by Maria Puzuna-Fomin for years now, the Polish Women’s League, and the Benevolent Society. The local Polish community has the Polak na Łotwie bimonthly. Masses in Polish are said in Riga’s old town every Sunday. Poles living in Riga keep in touch with the Polish communities living in other regions of Latvia (e.g., branches of the Union of Poles in Latvia operating in Daugavpils or Liēpaja). Every year in November ceremonial celebrations of the anniversary of Poland regaining independence are staged in turns in various Latvian towns. The social and cultural life of Poles in the Latvian capital is supported by the Polish embassy and consulate based in Riga.