Jaunā Gaita nr. 181, marts 1991
The first months of 1991 have been among the most dramatic in the history of Latvia and Lithuania. In both Rīga and Vilnius forces loyal to the central government in Moscow tried to overthrow the elected republican governments, using intimidation and violence in an attempt to create a climate of fear and isolation. Unarmed civilians were killed in confrontations with military units supposedly under the control of Moscow, although Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denies prior knowledge of the actions of these units and refuses to acknowledge his culpability in the violence against civilians. But the citizens of Latvia and Lithuania displayed unprecedented solidarity with their governments, defying Soviet tanks with home-made barricades, their bodies, their songs and their spirit. Moscow soon realized that in this confrontation it was only losing what little international respect it had and, even worse, the financial good will of the West; the escalation of violence has stopped for the time being. We have two photographs of these events contributed by Ainārs Meiers - one taken at the historic Swedish gate in old Rīga, and the other of the huge demonstration on the Daugava bank in Rīga in January, 1991 in support of an independent Latvia.
One of the ironies of the present situation in Latvia is that the antagonists on both sides, as has happened too often in our history, are Latvians. In particular, Col. Viktors Alksnis is currently notorious as an opponent of the democratic reform movement in Russia, and has been named as one of the instigators of the attempted putsch in Rīga. Alksnis, it turns out, is the grandson of an officer of the Latvian Red Riflemen who were the military props of the Bolshevik regime in its early days, and who later became one of Lenin's instruments of terror in the campaign to subdue civilian and military opposition. Most of the Latvian Red Riflemen, among them Alksnis' grandfather, were "liquidated" during Stalin's purges. The history of the Red Riflemen is still a subject of controversy: during the Soviet era Russian chauvinism caused much of their history to be falsified. We print an article from Latvia by Voldemārs Šteins calling for a reappraisal of the history of the Red Riflemen, and a rebuttal by Uldis Ģērmanis, who has done extensive research in Sweden on the subject and written a monograph on the commander of the Riflemen, Col. Jukums Vācietis. Ģērmanis advises historians in Latvia to take full advantage of research done in the West on the Russian Revolution, civil war and the Red Riflemen and to use this knowledge as a basis for their research.
This issue opens with a brief in memoriam for one of our most popular contributors, Imants Sakss (1918-1991). Sakss died during the night of Feb. 14-15, a few hours after completing his column for this issue. Ironically, the column itself is an in memoriam, for one of his classmates at the Conservatory of Latvia during the 1930's, composer Edvards Šēnfelds, who died in Dec. 1990. As all of his writing, it demonstrates Sakss' true love of humanity, humour and modesty - these, as well as his irreplaceable musical and historical erudition, delightful literary style and command of Latvian will be sorely missed by the editors and readers of Jauna Gaita. Sakss spent most of his life after leaving Latvia in Hamilton, Canada, working as the organist and choirmaster of St. George's Anglican Church. In the Latvian community he was a choral conductor, teacher, critic, arranger, accompanist and musical consultant to the Latvian Song Festivals of Canada, in addition to writing for Jaunā Gaita. He always regarded himself as a composer first, and several of his compositions have become classics of the Latvian choral repertoire.
This year is the centenary of the birth of artist Jāzeps Grosvalds. Visvaldis Bokalders has prepared a series of previously-unpublished sketches by Grosvalds, in chronological order, for this issue, as well as a commentary of these works. The sketches were done during Grosvalds' travels in the Middle East and his service in the Latvian Riflemen during the First World War, and demonstrate vividly Grosvalds' artistic development during this time. Grosvalds died soon after returning to Paris at the end of the war, and his plans for "real paintings" remained unrealized - but the work he produced during his brief life is still astounding in its quality, expressiveness and originality, as well as being a unique documentation of the scenes he witnessed during his travels.
Uldis Siliņš has contributed a "travelogue" of the Sydney Latvian Theatre's tour of Latvia last summer. Poetry in this issue is by Pēteris Zirnītis, Pēteris Brūvers, Eduards Salna and Roberts Mūks. Ed. Keišs has contributed two cartoons (on pages 57 and 58), and Juris Mazutis writes about the ever-increasing role of computers in the world, one that Latvians cannot afford to ignore. Valentīns Pelēcis contributes some memories of his youth in Rīga and of his grandparents in Maliena, who passed on to him some of the unique wisdom of that area. The book review section covers Klāvs Elsbergs' posthumous collection of poetry, two recent novels by Eduards Freimanis, a memoir by Ernests Treiguts-Tāle, who was a correspondent for the Latvian telegraph agency in Berlin during the 1930's, a collection of articles by journalist Aleksandrs Zariņš, and Tadeušs Puisāns' latest book about the history of Latgale. The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters and the frontispiece is by Jāzeps Grosvalds.