Jaunā Gaita nr. 171, februāris 1989

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JG 171

Why did President Kārlis Ulmanis order the Latvian armed forces not to resist the invasion of Latvia in June 1940 by the Soviet Union? The tense conclusion of Raimonds Staprāns' new play attempts to show how and why Ulmanis rejected resistance despite pressure from the army to fight no matter how hopeless the odds. His advice to the Latvian people was bleak: "Stay in your places, as I will stay in mine." Ulmanis could not fulfill his promise: he died in exile in Russia less than two years later. His efforts to avoid bloodshed saved lives, but perhaps foreclosed other forms of resistance.

It is fitting that in this issue Hermanis Vilks summarizes the achievements of Jānis Čakste, the first president of democratic Latvia. Čakste served from 1922 until 1927, when he died during his second term in office. His monument in Rīga was deliberately neglected for over 40 years, but in the past year it has become once again a symbolic focus for the hopes of Latvians.

Another manifestation of the dramatic changes in Latvia during the past year is the large increase in visits to the West by writers and musical ensembles such as "Ave Sol". Astrīda Kairiša and Kārlis Auškāps, two of the most prominent theatrical talents in Latvia, toured the United States in the spring of 1988, performing a program of poetry and dramatic excerpts. Their performance in Los Angeles was warmly reviewed in JG 167. Now Kārlis Auškāps has written a meditation and commentary on this tour. There were many practical problems to cope with, but more than that, the question of why they were here, and how we in the West would react to them, was always on their minds. Auškāps probes the question of Latvian identity and shrewdly senses some of the hard realities facing the Latvian exile communities, for instance the fact that our youth and older people show great interest in what is happening in Latvia - but where is our "lost" middle generation? Throughout the article his stance is tentative and questioning, a journey of hope tempered by realistic appraisal.

Another visitor from Latvia was Ilona Breģis, a very promising young composer. In her interview with Jānis Beloglazovs, she characterizes her musical style as laconic, without decorative excess. She has just finished what she describes as a "chamber opera" based on Māra Zālīte's play Dzīvais ūdens (Live Water). Imants Sakss evaluates the concert given in Toronto by soloists of the Latvian State Opera - soprano Solveiga Raja, tenor Ingus Pētersons and accompanist Ventis Zilberts. The programme featured songs by Latvian composers, as well as excerpts from Verdi's operas that demonstrated the vocal and dramatic power of these singers, who maintain the Latvian Opera's tradition of high standards.

Juris Mazutis and Jānis Aperāns discuss the changes in the Soviet Union initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev. Mazutis uses Abraham Maslow's concept of a hierarchy of needs, the most basic being food and shelter, to show how the system that fails to provide these needs has to rely on terror to stay in power. Aperāns discusses how the reforms will affect Latvia and how Latvia can use its position as one of the republics where the reforms are being tested, to exert leverage in obtaining more concessions for the national aspirations of Latvians. Aperāns suggests how Latvians in the West can help in this process.

Ofelija Sproģere contributes an article on the work of poet Mirdza Bendrupe, while Edīte Zuzena discusses two recent books that combine poetry with art: the 1930's poems of Aleksandrs Čaks with the drawings of Kārlis Padegs from the same period, and the poems of Imants Ziedonis with drawings by Kurts Fridrichsons.

The poetry section in this issue features two winners of the Zinaida Lazda Award for poetry, Valda Dreimane with a deeply felt lyric poem titled 'That undefended house, the heart", and Roberts Mūks, whose poems display a mix of unexpected imagery with the reality of love and death. Ivars Lindbergs makes a welcome reappearance after his years in Saudi Arabia. Poems by Gundars Pļavkalns and Lidija Dombrovska, and a Latvian translation of Ivar Ivask's "Eighth Baltic elegy" are also represented. The poetry of Guntars Godiņš from Latvia poignantly reflects its tragic history: "All my truth / is a pencilled-out page." Godiņš is the literary editor of the new magazine Avots.

The extensive review section looks at 7 recent books: poetry by Zinaida Lazda and Jānis Radāns, novels by Gunārs Janovskis, Laima Kalniņa, Alberts Bels and Jānis Gorsvāns, and the 1986 volume of Archīvs, which examines the administrative structure of Soviet Latvia. Aija Priedīte reviews the massive (8 volume) Dictionary of the Latvian Literary Language, questioning the basic premises of the book: what exactly is a 'literary language', and does this dictionary carry out its stated purpose? Zinaida Lazda's A Green Leaf, a collection of her poems translated by Velta Sniķere and Robert Fearnley, is a welcome addition to the handful of Latvian works available in English.

Skaidrīte Rubene and Aleksandrs Zariņš have reviewed recent Latvian theatrical productions from Latvia, Sweden and Australia. Nikolajs Bulmanis writes about Christmas cards from Latvia. The cover is by Voldemārs Avens and the frontispiece is by Imants Tillers.


Juris Zommers

Jaunā Gaita