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"Rigas Sargi"(defenders of Riga), Latvian movie. True story or rewriting history?

I recently watched the DVD called "Defenders of Riga", a movie made in 2007. It is indeed a movie that must have had quite a budget. It is interesting and quite exciting too, well worth watching as entertainment.

However, though it claims to be based on a true story, it would seem to me that the movie is more about building a national myth than about telling the real history of those days.

We follow Martin, a staunch Latvian nationalist who enlists in the Russian imperial army to fight the Germans during WWI. He gets all his friends to enlist too as they have been allowed to form Latvian batallions. After that we see nothing of WWI except for his sweetheart Elza waiting for him.

Then one day the train brings Martin and his fellow Latvian soldiers home in imperial uniforms with the emblems removed from their caps. President Ulmanis has put up the Latvian flag on the fortress tower. All is joy, but on the horizon a dark shadow looms...

There is General Goltz and his freikorps Iron Division who plots with the "White" russian colonel Bermont to take Riga by feigning to attack the bolsheviks, but having to pass through Riga to do so. Of course they will take Riga and reestablish German power in Latvia then.

The Germans and "White" russians attack Riga, but are halted as one bridge over the Daugava river is blown up, the other being a turn bridge is opened, so the Iron Division cannot pass.

In the meantime president Ulmanis is under heavy internal pressure to surrender the city, his government is full of defeatists and Martins sweetheart Elza also wavers and leaves the city. But, Ulmanis stands firm, Martin never doubts, and Elza returns....

A frontline of trenches is dug through the city, a Latvian army is hurriedly assembled and a bold plan is hatched.... A group of soldiers will attack across the turn bridge, a smaller group will seize the German artillery, and the main body of the army will cross the Daugava in boats once the signal goes....

So, at the end of the day the latvian forces annihilate the Iron Division, Bermont flees, and Goltz is left alone. All is well and Latvia is free.

So, why am I sceptical to the way history is presented here? Well, unless someone who knows the history of 1919 better than me will correct me and tell me that this indeed happened, I think a few details are wrong here. Was not Goltz beaten by Estonian and Latvian troops after he actually took Riga? Not a single estonian gets any credit in this movie.

It is a thoroughly entertaining movie, with staunch heroes Martin, Ulmanis and Elza notably, and with heinuous villains, the psychopatic Golz and the vain drunkard Bermont....

It is definitely a "nation building" movie, seen from a Latvian perspective. True to history? Hardly, there are more errors here than mere "artistic licence" can explain.

Still worth seeing, though. They have put a lot into equipping the freikorps and Latvian army correctly (a few flaws there too, though). And, it is indeed exciting and dramatic enough.

So, go see it, but it is best viewed with some knowledge of the real events....
 

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I have not seen this movie, though I have read the complaints about the lack of credit to the Estonians in it before. I have a friend who is Latvian-American. They had a screening of the movie in his Latvian Lutheran church some time ago. His view of it was similar to Bc's. The older generation, the Latvian immigrants, thought it was somewhat overblown but entertaining. Modern politics in a small country with a large Russian minority are going to color any effort like this. And I'm still trying to find any identifiable Latvian markings on their Army's weapons.
 

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I am Lithuanian and the it is interesting to note that the actor who portrayed President Ulmanis is Lithuanian. One historic inaccuracy I noted was the crossing of the Latvians across the Daugava River. The river was actually frozen and no boats would have made it across. Nevertheless the movie was very entertaining.
 
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