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Livonian people

From Academic Kids

The Livonians are the indigenous Finnics who since ancient times populated the shores of the Gulf of Riga adjacent to the Indo-European Balts. The Livonians spoke the Livonian language, randakeel ("coast-language"), and referred to themselves as the raandalist ("coast dwellers"). By the 19th century most Livonians had assimilated with the Baltic Latvians. In the 20th century they experienced both a brief cultural revival and Stalinist extermination.

Like many other Finnic tribes, the Livonians were farmers, livestock-breeders and fishermen. Like the Karelians of the Karelian Isthmus, they occupied an area of international importance in ancient times, the trade route along River Düna/Daugava. They had close trading contacts with Gotland in the West, the Kievan Rus in the East, and Ingrians/Karelians in the North. Before christianization they were one of the more developed cultures of the Baltics.

The Northern Crusades led to the establishment of Riga at the estuary of River Daugava. The subjection of the Livonians is traditionally dated to 1201 and 1206. Subsequently, Livonia was settled by the more numerous Baltic tribes Curonians, Semigallians, Latgalians and Selonians (later formed Latvian nation), and the Livonians were gradually assimilated. There are many traces of Livonian language in Latvian place-names and in the Livonian dialects of Latvian language.

Livonians have however not completely disappeared. They were able to retain an identity, based on fishing, distinct from that of the Latvians in the inland villages. In addition, the coastal Livonian settlements were cut off by forests and marshlands, and they had closer relations with the island of Saaremaa. The world wars of the 20th century were significant setbacks. In both world wars, Livonians who hadn't already fled to Gotland were evacuated, and the some of those who returned were in 1949 deported to Siberia. Others had to leave their villages when the Soviet Union made its Baltic coastline (its Western border) a "closed border area" where no one was allowed to live.

Nevertheless, Livonian culture prospered in the Latvian Republic of the interwar years. Livonian song festivals were important manifestations, and the Livonian language became an optional subject in schools in 1923. A national awakening and desire to develop the Livonian ethnic culture was spurred by the Finnish promotion of closer ties with the kindred Finnic peoples. With Glasnost a Livonian Cultural Society was founded in Latvia, and since then a revival of the old language and culture is in progress. The Latvian government has created a cultural historic protected territory, Līvõd Randa, (Livonian Coast) in the area around Kolka where some of remaining Livonians live.

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