Jaunā Gaita nr. 157, aprīlis 1986

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JG 157

The experiences of the Second World War continue to be a festering sore for Latvians in exile. Should we have resisted the first Russian occupation in 1940 with military force? Were we the victims or the willing allies of the Third Reich? Did we do the right thing in leaving Latvia in 1944, or did our departure just sap more of its living potential? Some of these questions, particularly those dealing with the Jewish Holocaust, have never been openly discussed among us, as if the truth is too frightening to allow it to escape from the memories of those who know.

In this issue, we touch on these questions in several articles. Ēriks Pārups continues his series of memoirs on the Latvian resistance movement during the Russian and German occupations, describing the efforts to curtail Latvian involvement in the military SS, against the wishes of the highest Latvian military ranks, and his arrest and interrogation by the Gestapo. What is especially incomprehensible is why so many of the highest-ranking Latvian officers gave their complete, unconditional loyalty to the Third Reich, in the face of the well-justified military opinion of the time, that the Germans could not win the war by military means, and knowing the German plans for the eventual liquidation of Latvia and its inhabitants.

Andrievs Ezergailis reviews the recently-published memoir of one of the Latvian officers who voluntarily gave their loyalty to Hitler, Oskars Perro. Perro was a natural soldier, and with his considerable literary gifts he gives superb descriptions of the war, "soaking his pen in the stew of the war, giving our tongues a taste of its powerful flavours". But as Ezergailis points out, Perro's descriptions and analyses are tainted: "Can a Latvian, who was awarded the Iron Cross, ever again in his life develop a truly Latvian viewpoint?" Ezergailis is amazed that the entire book, which covers the period 1942 - 1945 in Perro's life, contains no mention of the fact that 70,000 Jewish and other citizens of Latvia lost their lives during this time.

This issue contains the largest book review section ever to appear in JG. Of interest to non-Latvian readers are Juris Kronbergs' first book of poetry in Swedish, and the anthology Contemporary Latvian Poetry, compiled by Ināra Cedriņš. Juris Kronbergs is already an acclaimed Latvian poet, for his collection Biszāles (Daugava, Stockholm, 1976), and Mārtiņš Lasmanis gives this new collection a favourable review, citing also the very positive Swedish response to it.

Contemporary Latvian Poetry, reviewed by Aija Bjornson, contains translated work by twelve poets, six living in the USSR and six in exile. The translations were mostly done by Cedriņa herself, as well as by Ruth Speirs, Astrīde Ivaska, Ivar Ivask, Juris Rozītis and others. The anthology is part of a series published by the University of Iowa, and contains an excellent introduction to Latvia, its history and literature, by Juris Silenieks.

Inārs Brēdrichs reviews the first two volumes, entitled Oppression and Betrayal, of Regīna Ezera's tetralogy With My Own Wind (Liesma, Rīga, 1982-1984). Ezera is one of the finest prose writers of Latvian today, and Brēdrichs especially praises her original imagery.

Two volumes of Latvian poetry are reviewed in this issue. Gundars Pļavkalns gives short shrift to Alma Bēne's Last Season's Jay, while Pāvils Johansons begins his generally negative review of Roberts Mūks' collection The Crocodile and I by asserting "That humanity can be regarded as an insignificant dust particle in the cosmos is nothing original. That humanity and its efforts are portrayed in negative and ridiculous situations... is also nothing unusual." Johansons regards Mūks' poetry as pretentious, excessively complex, and insulting to humanity. Evidently Johansons' opinions are not shared by the jury of the Zinaida Lazda poetry prize...

Laimonis Mieriņš summarizes the highlights of the past year in the visual arts in Rīga. An interesting phenomenon is the appearance of naive art and its official acceptance, which would have been unheard-of even 10 years ago. In spite of the fact that Latvia has the highest proportion of artists and professional designers of any Soviet republic, Mieriņš points out that their efforts seem to be having little effect on the general visual quality of life in Rīga. Even critics in Latvia are distressed by this: "At times one wants to ask, how artists or architects, whose names are already known in the world, can bear to watch as their predecessors' work, such as building facades, stairways, windows are ruined with tasteless additions..." Mieriņš concludes that the problem is not with the abilities of the artists, but with the priorities of the system.

Nikolajs Bulmanis contributes an essay on a young Latvian artist living in Toronto, Ruta Grāvleja, whose main interest has been installation art. Juris Mazutis' column is titled "Travels - A Diary", and in this issue his column is indeed a very personal diary - describing the final passage of his youth and his acceptance of the limits to his life: "No longer do all possibilities, all horizons stand before me..."

Viktors Hausmanis has again sent an article from Latvia, this time describing the appearance of San Francisco actor Laimonis Siliņš in a production of Harwood's "The Dresser" by the Daile Theatre of Rīga.

In this issue Dzintars Sodums begins a prose piece, the story of a character called "Well-brought-up", whose childhood in prewar Latvia is described as a string of seemingly unrelated memories. Poetry in this issue is by Aina Zemdega (Canada), Rita Gāle (USA), Jānis Gorsvāns (USA) and Anna Rancāne (Latvia). We also have contributions from music editor Imants Sakss, Jānis Beloglāzovs, Osvalds Liepa, and Tālivaldis Ķiķauka.


Ilze Valdmanis

Jaunā Gaita