Jaunā Gaita nr. 183, augusts 1991

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JG 183

As this issue was in the final stages of preparation, we were shocked by the news that eight "hardliners" had taken over the Soviet government, holding Mikhail Gorbachov at his summer residence in the Crimea and sending tanks into Moscow to take over the Russian Parliament and key communications centres. Similar moves were made in the Baltic republics. But the citizens of Russia defended their Parliament and President in much the same way as Latvians and Lithuanians did in January of this year: building antitank barricades, gathering en masse and defying armed violence with only their will-power. They succeeded, and the rest is history: the Baltic republics are now sovereign nations. Latvia declared its sovereignty on August 23, exactly 51 years after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which resulted in the Soviet takeover of the Baltic states during World War II.

This issue opens with poems by three Baltic writers: the second series of Ivar Ivask's magnificent "Baltic Elegies" (1989), translated from English by Valters Nollendorfs, two poems describing events in Rīga in January of this year by Voldemārs Avens (USA), and two poems by the Lithuanian exile poet Bernard Brazdžionis: "How difficult were these years, only Heaven knows." Our frequent contributor Juris Silenieks describes his return to his birthplace in the Latvian countryside after a 45-year exile in an essay titled 'trees", using trees as a metaphor for the changes that have taken place both within himself and the places he visits.

The events of January, 1991 have been memorialized in a small book, Barricaded Rīga (Rīga barikādēs), of scenes at the barricades sketched by Tenis Grasis. We have a reprinted a selection of these sketches and Uldis Bērziņš' poem "A shadow falls across the river ..." on pages 18 to 22 of this issue.

Latvian writers in exile are published frequently in Rīga now, part of a conscious effort to "catch up with" what has been going on outside the Soviet Union over the past 50 years. Inta Čaklā reviews a collection of poems by the iconoclastic exile writer Valdis Krāslavietis published in Rīga in 1989. Čaklā comments that "in Latvia the reassessment of the experiences of the war from a personal perspective was not done by the generation who were participants [in the war] ... in the 1970s this was attempted by Ojārs Vācietis of the next generation ...", while in exile this reassessment was done by poets such as Krāslavietis, who had been participants in the war themselves. But these reassessments earned both poets much enmity.

Velta Rūķe-Draviņa writes about three recent books that compare the three Baltic literatures (Draviņa points out that the first book to do this was only published six years ago): Radegast Parolek's A Comparative Review of Baltic Literature (Rīga: 1985), Silvestras Gaižiūnas' comparison of cultural traditions in the Baltic literatures, published in Vilnius in 1989, and Fr. V. Scholz' Die Literaturen des Baltikums, published in 1990. All three emphasize the influence of German culture on the early development of Latvian and Estonian literature, but disagree on the value of this influence: Scholz maintains that these literatures would have remained "provincial" if they had not been in contact with German culture during their early development, while Gaižiunas states that German influence, due to a lack of insight into Baltic folk culture, was mostly destructive. In any event, Draviņa concludes, the field of Baltic literature has barely been explored: there is much work here for future literary specialists.

The Ninth Latvian Song Festival in Canada took place in July of this year. Biruta Sūrmane reviews the three plays performed at the festival: R. Blaumanis' traditional "Katherine's Sins", Lelde Stumbre's contemporary "Rose", and Baņuta Rubesa's and Neil Bartlett's controversial adaptation of Aspazija's first play "The Avenging Woman", written in 1887. All three plays have women as their central characters and the dominant forces in the action of the plays. Juris Mazutis criticizes some aspects of the Song Festival, and questions how well the organizers of the Festival, which had a much lower attendance than expected, understood their "market".

Aleksandrs Zariņš writes about artist Džems Krīvs (1924-1989), who lived in Australia after leaving Latvia. Book reviews in this issue are by Biruta Sūrmane (of a novel by Indra Gubiņa), Gunars Zvejnieks (of the second part of Ernests Treiguts-Tāle's memoirs), Valentine Lasmane (of Cardinal Vaivods' diary of life in Liepāja in the closing months of World War II), and Imants Bite (of a monograph on ancient Tālava). As well, Valdis J. Zeps contributes an amusing review (with serious intent) of the Dictionary of Latvian Slang (Melbourne, 1990). Andrievs Ezergailis continues his series on "Knots" in Latvian history with an examination of the last letter written to President Kārlis Ulmanis by his close friend and early advisor Miķelis Valters. Valters expressed his anguish at the short-sightedness of the Latvian government, particularly its foreign minister Vilhelms Munters, in understanding the international political situation of 1939-1940 in this last letter.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters and the frontispiece is by Daina Dagnija.


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