Jaunā Gaita nr. 184, novembris 1991

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JG 184


Since Latvia's declaration of independence on August 21* of this year, its sovereignty has been recognized by most of the countries of the world, by the Russian republic, and by the Soviet Union itself. The Baltic States are now full members of the United Nations. It would seem appropriate now to look back on the struggle that has just ended, but it appears that a task at least as difficult as that of regaining independence lies ahead: the rebuilding of the Baltic nations from the economic, political and social ruin that is the result of fifty years of Soviet rule. Two of our regular contri­butors, Juris Mazutis and Andrievs Ezergailis, examine various aspects of the task of rebuilding in this issue. Mazutis compares the condition in which Latvia finds itself today with the situation in 1924, at the beginning of Latvia's first period of independence, taking the article "Latvia, Home of the Letts (One of the Baltic Republics Which Is Successfully Working Its Way to Stability)" from the October 1924 issue of National Geo­graphic Magazine as his starting point. Then, as now, agriculture has to start afresh, replacing the old system of estates/collective farms with family farms; then, as now, there is the question of industrialization - what to do about the old factories and the foreign labour im­ported to work in them, how best to renew a normal market economy and trade with the world? Then, as now, cultural, educational and language questions were at the forefront - how to consolidate the use of Latvian as the official language of the nation and the educational system after the years of degradation and second-class status on its own territory? How to ensure that, at the least, those who were the instruments of the old system have no more access to positions of influence?

Andrievs Ezergailis emphasizes that democracy and justice must be given high priority, that only with these will the Baltic States be able to become full members of the community of nations. The Lithuanian announce­ment of amnesty for all those suspected of war crimes during World War II distresses him, and he points out that those who committed such crimes were probably protected by the KGB - much information from the West and archives of the period were hidden by the KGB, but these materials will now be available to the public - the KGB has no power over them now. Ezergailis has high praise for two Latvians who in his opinion were the most instrumental in achieving independence for Latvia: the poet Jānis Peters and political scientist Mavriks Vulfsons. Peters utilized glasnost to continuously ad­vance Latvian interests and develop Latvia's credibility in the Supreme Soviet, while Vulfsons relentlessly brought the criminality of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and the fact that the Soviet Union had never repudiated it, to the world's attention.

Helēna Hofmane has assembled a series of photo­graphs depicting the events of the week of August 19-23 of this year in Rīga. The most arresting is that of a man tearing up the cobblestones of the street where he is demonstrating against the putsch with his bare hands - he has just heard of the arrival of troop carriers against the demonstrators, and the stones are the only weapon he has against them (pages 28-33). The photographs form a fascinating contrast with excerpts from Andrejs Dripe's diary written in the early 1950's, when the Soviet regime was still fighting "bandits", as it called the resistance fighters who waged attacks from their hide­outs in the forests, and both the Communists and the CIA were broadcasting warnings of an imminent attack by the West on the Soviet Union. Dripe also records the pitiful contrast between the slogans of the Communist leadership of the local collective farm and the near-starvation that was the reality.

Nikolajs Bulmanis describes the events of August and September 1991 in Rīga as an eye-witness, although his main interest was, as always, the visual arts and artists. Bulmanis delights in the artistic variety that he discovers there - "no comparison with the standard menus of the past". Imants Zemzaris looks at the state of contemporary music in Latvia - what is it that distin­guishes Latvian music from the rest of the world, how can these characteristics be protected, supported? Why are Latvians still working on their basic musical language at the end of the twentieth century? (A partial answer, of course, lies in our cultural history of the past fifty years.)

Poetry in this issue is from the literary readings of the IX Latvian Song Festival in Toronto this past summer. Archbishop Arnolds Lūsis, Velta Toma, Aina Zemdega, Lolita Gulbe, Indra Gubiņa represent Latvian writers in Canada, while Gunars Saliņš, Roberts Mūks, Aina Kraujiete, Ivars Lindbergs and Mārtiņš Grants represent Latvian authors in the USA. Knuts Skujenieks was the only one of three authors invited from Latvia (the other two were Vizma Belševica and Anna Rancāne) who was able to attend the festival - his reading of "The Button", written while serving a hard-labour sentence in Mordovia, earned a huge response from the audience and required an encore at the second poetry reading.

Gunars Bekmans raises the issue of vengeance in his short story "The Bastard" about a Latvian who returns to Latvia to find and punish those who were responsible for his father's murder during the war, but ends up punishing the wrong man. The theme is well-suited to Bekmans' idiomatic and colourful literary style.

Maruta Cīrule contributes an essay on Anna Briga­dere's comedies, and book reviews in this issue cover poetry (Aivars Ruņģis), short prose (Aleksandrs Pelēcis), art history (Jānis Siliņš), folklore (Vaira Vīķis-Freibergs) and literary, bibliography (Creative Writing in Latvian in Australia). Of special interest is the review by Juris Silenieks of a novel that is largely based on the author's life: Anita Liepa's Exhumation (Ekshumācija, Liesma, Rīga, 1990). The main line of the story is the author's search for her two uncles, brothers who were officers in opposing armies, that of the Latvian Republic and the Soviet Red Army, but who suffered the same fate - death in Stalin's Gulag.

The cover is by Vitauts Sīmanis (USA) and the frontis­piece is a sculpture of found objects by Gints Grīnbergs (USA). Another work by Grīnbergs appears on page 52.


Ilze Valdmanis


* In This Issue for JG 183 inaccurately stated that independence was declared on August 23.

Jaunā Gaita