In 1987 Dr. Bertram Zarins visited the Soviet-occupied Latvia for the first time to speak at an All-Soviet Congress of Orthopaedics and Traumatology in Riga. This gave him the idea to organize a similar medical conference, but one that would unite physicians in Latvia with Latvian doctors who had emigrated following World War II.
Dr. Zarins made several more trips to Latvia to work on organizing the Congress. With the help of Dr. Viktors Kalnberzs, he obtained permission from the Soviet authorities to hold the Congress. Dr. Zarins signed up 250 Latvian doctors and their families from outside Latvia and chartered an airplane to fly the group from Helsinki to Riga. This was the first time since World War II that a commercial flight from outside the Soviet Union landed in Latvia.
The First Latvian World Congress in Medicine that was held in Riga in June 1989 and was the greatest event in the history of Latvian medicine. It was the first large public demonstration by Latvians in their occupied country. The Congress opened with a procession from the old city of Riga to the Monument of Liberty. Six thousand people placed flowers at the Monument and then proceeded to the Sports Palace Hall for the opening ceremony. During the Congress, 150 lectures and plenary sessions presented and 27 specialty sessions were held in different parts of Riga. Political meetings were held and numerous entertainment and cultural events took place in many parts of Latvia. The Congress closed in the National Opera of Latvia with the resolution to continue activity.
The Congress was a catalyst in Latvia’s independence movement. Two years later, Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union.
Dr. Zarins used the income generated from this Congress (about $20,000 USD) to establish the Latvian Medical Foundation (LMF).