Jaunā Gaita nr. 165, decembris 1987

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JG 165

It seems that for Latvians in the exile community, the Second World War has not yet ended - exile is, by definition, an unresolved condition, and the war experiences of many remain a scar upon their consciences, and an unanswered question for the younger generation. Most of the authors in this issue touch upon these subjects. The most outspoken is Andrievs Ezergailis, who challenges the older generation to admit that crimes were committed by Latvians on Latvian soil during the Second World War, and to declare the anniversary of the 1941 Rumbuli massacre (Dec. 8) a day of national mourning. Eriks Pārups continues his series on the Latvian national resistance during the German occupation, claiming that the Germans found many willing collaborators among the Latvians. Most Latvians, however, quickly realized that they were scarcely better off under the Germans than under the Russians, unaware as they were of the plans the Germans were making for the conquered eastern territory. (A translation of these plans, and their ideological motivation, has been recently printed in Latvian by the journal Treji vārti 119 (September 1987) for the information of Latvians who, as the prominent historian Dr. Edgars Andersons puts it, "still live under certain illusions about the German occupation and the policies of the Germans toward the Latvian nation.")

The problem of exile - are we a legitimate part of the Latvian nation, and if so, can we ever return? - is one of the themes of Nikolajs Bulmanis in his column on the visual arts. Three Latvian artists from the USA, Vija Celmiņa, Svens Lūkins, and Edvīns Strautmanis, who have achieved recognition in the American art world, had shows in Rīga recently, but met with a disappointing response from both their intended audience and the conservative art establishment. A young Latvian artist from Canada, Ruta Grāvleja, participated in the Arts days in Rīga this past spring. Her experiences there were mostly positive. However, both she and the organizers of the Arts Days were shocked at the mockery and aggression directed at the more unconventional installations. A rare homecoming was achieved by Jānis Kalmīte, who had a retrospective show of his paintings in his birthplace Valmiera, although the artist himself celebrated his 80'th birthday in Minneapolis, USA.

Rolands Lappuķe discusses the attitudes of young Latvians in exile toward their community and its cultural life, stressing that their diffidence is probably caused more by a lack of identification with Latvian culture, than because of a perceived low level of quality of our cultural life. Lappuķe points out that the conservatism of our cultural attitudes is the natural result of our political and economic situation - a community that is separated from its natural home and is subject to the problems of assimilation and decreasing size, finds it difficult to be daring and open to all new ideas, fearing to weaken it s "true" identity. A century ago, Latvians also suffered a problem with assimilation: the educated Latvian middle class tended to assimilate into the culturally "superior" Baltic German community. Kronvaldu Atis was one of the first to recognize this and to fight against it. His work in organizing "Latvian Evenings" at the University of Dorpat (Tartu, Estonia) among the Latvian students there, as an alternative to the German-dominated fraternities, is described by Arturs Baumanis in this issue.

Veronika Strēlerte has contributed an essay on the life and work of poet Elza Stērste (1885-1976). Stērste was the daughter of Andrejs Stērste, a distinguished lawyer, teacher and patriot, and was in contact with the mainstreams of European culture and the Latvian national awakening from her youngest days. She was educated in St. Petersburg and Paris, and found that in France she was able to feel the closest ties to her native land. She was married to the poet Edvarts Virza (1883-1940) and after W.W. II suffered exile to a labor camp in Siberia from 1950 to 1955. She continued to write after her return to Rīga in 1955.

Our regular columnists Juris Mazutis and Imants Sakss have contributed to this issue. Poetry is by Juris Mazutis, Andris "el Leton" Kārkliņš, Ontons Zvīdris, and Imants Auziņš. A poem by Vizma Belševica on the first page compares artistic freedom with a linden that blooms in its own season, when it has to. The one with the axe can always cut it down, however, and then wipe his boots in the blossoms, "softer than all the silks in the world"; and even though the bees may protest, they do so in vain - they pay for their sting with their lives.

The frontispiece is by Sarmīte Venita Salnāja, and the cover is by Ārija Ozols-Alksnis.


Ilze Valdmanis

Jaunā Gaita