History of the Bauska County
Approximately 13 thousand years ago, a glacier receded from the area where Bauska Town and County are situated now, and the today’s network of rivers started forming. Beds of Mūsa and Mēmele rivers were much wider then, which is evidenced by the hollows of the ancient banks of the rivers. Also Lielupe River was much wider then and its flow ended slightly downwards from the present Mežotne, where it flowed into the Baltic Ice Lake.
The first population of the area were reindeer hunters who entered from the present territory of Lithuania when following their game. The findings of ancient items on the banks of the rivers show that the ancient residents lived there approximately 10,000 years ago. The existence of the ancient residents from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age is witnessed by the many settlements and burial-grounds.
In the 13th century, this territory belonged to the Upmales (Riverside) land, whose administrative centre was located at Mežotne Castle Mound.
In the middle of the 15th century, when construction of the Bauska Castle began, Livonian Order brought here the Wots (relatives to Finno-Ugric ethnos) captured in the Republic of Novgorod, and the locals called them krieviņi (Russians).
The Bauska Castle was built as the border stronghold of the Livonian Order for battles with Lithuania and it was home for the Vogt and several brothers of the Order. Afterwards Bauska became the administrative and trading centre for the extensive vicinity. A settlement similar to a town developed near the stronghold, and it was called Vairogmiests.
The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia formed in 1561. The first Duke Gotthard Kettler often stayed at the Bauska Castle with his court, and therefore it may be considered that our town was then the capital city of the Duchy.
In 1584, Gotthard Kettler ordered removal of the buildings of Vairogmiests and allocated a new place in the area of the present Old Town. Planning of streets in the old part of Bauska has remained from the turn of the 16th and the 17th centuries.
In 1609, Duke Friedrich presented the seal with a picture of a lion to Bauska, and therefore this year is considered as the year when Bauska received the official status of a town. Bauska Town Hall was the second largest town hall in Latvia until 1740.
In 1706, the Russian army blew up the Bauska Castle when retreating and it was never restored. The Great Plague spread out during the years of the Great Northern War and took the lives of about half the population of Bauska Town.
In 1795, the Duchy was added to the Russian Empire and then Bauska District was formed here as an administrative unit. It was larger than the present territory of the county.
During the wars of Napoleon, several battles took place in 1812 near Bauska, Code and Mežotne.
During the second half of the 19th century, many modern factories were established, e.g. Lohding Brewery in Bauska, Mežotne Brick-Kiln and other smaller enterprises.
In the beginning of the 20th century, fighting took place here in connection with the Revolution of 1905, which was followed by much bloodier and more devastating events of the World War I. They are still witnessed by the many burial places of the deceased soldiers in the territory of our county. The declaration of independence of the State of Latvia on 18 November 1918 was followed by the Freedom Battles. In spring 1919, the territory had to be freed from Bolsheviks, but in the autumn – from Bermontians.
The territory of the district changed during the first post-war years. The Budberga Parish was added from Lithuania, and part of the territory was transferred to the then parishes of Ceraukste and Bornsminde. In 1920s and 1930s, the Bauska District included Bauska Town and 20 parishes: Bauska, Bārbele, Brukna, Ceraukste, Code, Iecava, Īslīce (Bornsminde), Jaunsaule, Kurmene, Mežotne, Misa, Panemune (Budberga), Rundāle, Skaistkalne (Šēnberga), Stelpe, Svitene, Taurkalne (Valle), Vecumnieki (Vecmuiža), Vecsaule and Zālīte (Grienvalde).
The active development and improvement of the level of living was terminated by the Soviet occupation in 1940 and the battles of the World War II. Such events resulted in actual disappearance of two traditional minorities, i.e. the Germans and the Jews. The Germans repatriated, but the Jews were exterminated by the German occupants.
In summer 1944, the present territory of the county was divided by front line set on Mēmele – Mūsa – Lielupe Rivers for one and a half months. The heavy battles fully or partially destroyed about one third of the buildings in Bauska Town.
Many years after the termination of military action in the front, there were national partisans fighting against the occupying power in almost every parish. The most intense fighting took place in the border area of Lithuania (with participation of Lithuanian partisans). Bauska Town and some parishes were home for several national youth resistance movements.
Several thousands of the Bauska District residents were arrested and deported on 14 June 1941, 25 March 1949 and in many smaller deportation actions.
Several administrative territorial reforms took place during the years of Soviet occupation. Already in 1945, 51 parish councils were established in the territories of 20 parishes of the district, but the parishes and districts were liquidated in 1949. By the establishment of the Bauska Region, its territory lost:
– The territory of the former parishes of Misa, Stelpe, Vecumnieki, Iecava and Zālīte which were added to the Baldone Region;
– The former Svitene Parish territory which was added to the Eleja Region;
– The territories of former parishes of Kurmene and Taurkalne which were added to the Jaunjelgava Region.
Later, the Bauska Region regained the aforementioned territories, except for the territories of former parishes of Kurmene and Taurkalne.
During the occupation, the private property of land and industrial means were liquidated and forced collectivisation was performed which had a radical effect on the rural landscape. The farmsteads became abandoned and the residents moved to the villages built in the centres of kolkhozes and sovkhozes. The national structure of population changed in the largest populated areas, i.e. the proportion of Latvians reduced, but the number of aliens arriving from other USSR territories increased. Several new industrial companies were built to work basically with the local raw materials.
Divisions of all non-governmental organisations focused on restoration of independence of Latvia developed in the region during the Awakening years. On 23 August 1989, the campaign of the Baltic Way organised by the popular fronts of all three Baltic Republics took place – a human chain on the arterial motorway A-7 which is crossing our county was made with the participants holding each other’s hands.
After the restoration of independence of Latvia in 1991, the rights of former owners were restored, many Soviet period companies went bankrupt or became privatised, and brand new companies and farmsteads were established.
The administrative territorial reform was completed in 2009 by establishing four new municipalities in the territory of the Bauska Region: counties of Bauska, Iecava, Rundāle and Vecumnieki. Since then, the Bauska County includes Bauska Town and parishes of Brunava, Ceraukste, Code, Dāviņi, Gailīši, Īslīce, Mežotne and Vecsaule.
Raitis Ābelnieks, Historian, Chairman of the Bauska County Council