In honour of the 25th anniversary of the Barricades of 1991, the Saeima is publishing a compilation of the press releases distributed to foreign media during the Barricades by the Supreme Council, which was the legislature in Latvia at the time.
The publication “January Chronicles. Press Releases Issued by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia, 1991” is a collection of the press releases issued in English by the Supreme Council. These press releases were disseminated to the Western journalists accredited by the Supreme Council and distributed to media worldwide, Latvian organisations abroad and foreign embassies, serving as a trustworthy source of the latest information about events in Latvia.
“Soviet aggression in the Baltics in January 1991 was also curtailed by reactions of the international community and Western countries, which favoured the defenders of the barricades. Although the Gulf War made the front page news at the time, events in the Baltics did not go unnoticed. Millions were watching. About one thousand foreign journalists were accredited by the Press Centre of the Supreme Council in January 1991; they hungrily awaited every new bit of information and passed it on to their audiences around the world. We were heard,” in her foreword to the publication Ināra Mūrniece, Speaker of the Saeima, emphasises the importance of informing the West.
“The Press Centre not only informed about the work and decisions of the Supreme Council, it was also the source of true and unbiased information about events in Latvia, at times even becoming a news agency of sorts,” explains Aleksandrs Mirļins, the editor of the book and former Head of the Press Centre of the Supreme Council.
Mirļins points out that heightened interest by Western media in the events in the Baltics was already evident in October 1990, when it became clear that the promised reforms of the USSR had hit a wall in Moscow. The Supreme Council decided to prepare and distribute information about events at the parliament and in the country in English. Invaluable support came from the Latvians in exile, who came to help the Press Centre as volunteers. Their English skills allowed the press releases to foreign media to be prepared quickly and in high quality.
During the tragic days in January, the Press Centre of the Supreme Council became a crisis management centre which forwarded Western media the latest information about those killed and injured in shootings. „This piece of paper is the first monument to our fallen, the first international accusation of the murderers,” Dainis Īvāns, former First Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council, writes in his foreword to the publication. He also stresses that the mission of the Press Centre was to pass the truth on to the West.
The book includes a compilation of typewriter and hand-written press releases, retaining the original wording, corrections and deletions. Each press release is provided with a translation into Latvian. The compilation of 120 press releases issued by the Press Centre represents only a fraction of the total amount of information disseminated by the Supreme Council, nevertheless it constitutes a real-life narrative and coverage of our struggle for freedom through the eyes of the political epicentre of that time.
The publication covers a period between 2 January 1991, when the USSR army captured the Publishing House and suspended issuing of newspapers, and 4 May 1991, the first anniversary of adopting the Declaration of Independence.
The compilation constitutes an account of the period, covering such then pressing topics as the tensions between the Latvian parliament and the leadership of the USSR Baltic Military District, struggle with the economic hardships, talks with the leaders of Western countries, as well as negotiations and discussions with the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Chairman of the Russian Supreme Council Boris Yeltsin.
The opening of the book will be held on 20 January in the Saeima as a part of the traditional gathering of the journalists who covered the events of the Barricades. The event will take place in the Red Hall of the Saeima at 17:00.
Saeima Press Service