Gunārs Astra (1931–1988). Astra's principled defense of individual and national freedom, summarized in his eloquent and prophetic "final word" during his court trial in 1983, have made him the symbolic hero of Latvian resistance to Soviet occupation. Born in independent Latvia and educated as an electrical engineer during the second Soviet occupation of Latvia, he started a promising career in the electronics industry.
Accused of spying for the United States, he was sentenced to 15 years in 1961. After release, he was even more determined to resist the regime. In 1983 he was sentenced to five years for anti-Soviet propaganda. In his final statement Astra accused the regime of having occupied and annexed the country in 1940 on the basis of the secret protocols of the Hiltler-Stalin Pact of 1939; of denigrating the Latvian language and culture; and of suppressing the freedom of information and expression. Five years later these became key issues in the freedom movement.
His final sentences have become emblematic: "I have faith that this age will fade away like a bad nightmare. That gives me the strength to stand here and breathe. Our nation has suffered a lot and thus has learned to survive even this dark age." After being freed in 1988, Astra became seriously ill and died in Leningrad in April 1988, just as the Soviet nightmare was starting to fade. His burial in Riga was attended by a large number of people who used their bare hands to fill his grave with sand.