Jaunā Gaita nr. 186, aprīlis 1992

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JG 186

The judicial injunction to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" hovers over Latvians trying to come to terms with both the Nazi and Soviet-dominated periods in our history. Andrievs Ezergailis believes that an honest, full evaluation of the Nazi period is long overdue, but his attempts to do so have often been labelled as besmirching Latvia's "good name". Here he takes issue with criminologist and former president of the American Latvian Association Prof. Pēteris Lejiņš' criticism of his findings on the extent of Latvian involvement in the extermination of Latvia's Jewish population, pointing out that the notorious unit led by Viktors Arājs numbered 1190 men. Ezergailis urges veterans and academic organizations to support research into this period, now that there is relatively free access to archives in Latvia.

Aivars Ruņģis calls for a fresh evaluation of so-called "Soviet literature". Censorship in various forms played an essential part in its development, making it difficult to justly appraise individual authors. Despite these pressures the 1960s saw the emergence of a new generation of writers who steadily strove for greater freedom of expression, sometimes at a tremendous personal cost as illustrated by the cases of the poet Vizma Belševica (described in her own words from an interview with Rolfs Ekmanis), and the playwright Gunars Priede (in an excerpt from an essay by Ādolfs Šapiro). Belševica's description of her plight has Orwellian echoes: 'A total ban on the publication of poetry. Even mention of one's name. That is our most extreme disfavour - non-publication of a person's name, not even acknowledgement of his existence.' That attempts by authorities to impose orthodoxy have a long history is well illustrated by the case of Roger Bacon in the 14'th century as described by Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga in an excerpt from her speech to the first conference of Latvian scientists held in Riga in July, 1991.

Juris Mazutis is concerned with the role of the state in fostering culture. Under the old Soviet system cultural enterprise was paid for and directly controlled by the state. Now, suddenly, this support is being withdrawn, with culture left to fight for limited resources in a society preoccupied with meeting pressing material needs. However, as Mazutis points out, a vigorous cultural life is the basis for the very existence of a small nation. The state must play a role, but on what terms, and who will decide?

Mārtiņš Lasmanis analyses novelist Aivars Kalve's latest work Air Bridge, which was completed before the unravelling of the Soviet regime. His characters are typically unenterprising, "grey" men, skilled at evasive tactics. Lasmanis wonders how Kalve's future work will reflect the new conditions, free from pressures of the party line, but subject to the uncertainties of a society in transition.

Nikolajs Bulmanis has assembled a series of personal observations while musing over the postcards, photographs and catalogues of exhibitions which he received during the closing months of 1991. A card from a family relative who has broken all ties to the Latvian community raises the question as to how many of the estimated 160 000 Latvians and their descendents in the west still have any real roots in Latvian culture and society. Bulmanis estimates - 20%. He also observes that the uncritical welcome in Latvia given to avant garde shows such as "Interference" from Berlin in 1991 seems to have alienated ordinary viewers in Riga.

The Scandinavian countries have always been highly regarded in Latvia, being held up as models for Latvian development. The Social Democratic Party in Sweden was instrumental in forging the cooperation between the state and private enterprise which characterizes the Swedish brand of socialism. Gunars Zvejnieks draws upon the memoirs of the former finance minister Kjell-Olof Feldt to analyze the causes for the defeat of the Swedish Social Democrats in September 1991, and to speculate on the party's future.

This issue has an exceptional literary section. Vizma Belševica contributes an excerpt from her forthcoming childhood memoirs which will surely rank as a classic of this traditional Latvian genre. Belševica's prose never loses narrative drive, but in its immediacy and precise use of language, has the impact of prose poetry. Something similar could be said about the two works by Imants Zemzars and Lidija Dombrovska-Larsena, although the subject matter of each is completely different. Imants Zemzars' work incorporates a remarkable 'country' lyric, while performing prose improvisations on some of his favourite composers, music and life generally. Lidija Dombrovska-Larsena offers interesting thought-clusters about Latvian culture and traditions both in the past and the future.

In the second act of Uģis Segliņš' play Trakts, tension builds with the approaching deadline of the summons for Vaira's son Egils to appear before the authorities. Vaira must finally see her children as adults, as they hold a mock feast in recognition of this in their kitchen. But a series of oblique revelations culminate in tragedy with the seeming suicide of Vaira, and (possibly) the funeral of Egils. Typically, a question mark remains.

Poetry in this issue is by Ivars Lindbergs, who veers from sensual lyrics to somber appraisal of life, Marta Landmane with an ambitious autobiographical verse sequence describing the exile experience of her generation, Andres El Leton Kārkliņš who fixes his perceptions in haiku form, and Amanda Aizpuriete, whose darkly glittering poems demonstrate why she is a leading poet in Latvia today.

The book review section features Gundars Pļavkalns on the eccentric poet Teodors Tomsons, Juris Silenieks on the third prose collection by Arvis Gross, and Biruta Sūrmane on a collection of speeches by Māra Zālīte. Sūrmane uses Zālīte's own words about another author to describe the impact of the speeches: "How good ... that she exists ... then one can live". Andrievs Ezergailis notes Haralds Biezais' 1991 account of a tragic footnote to Latvian history - the armed World War II resistance movement called Kurelieši. Our cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters and the frontispiece is by Visvaldis Reinholds (Canada).


Juris Zommers

Jaunā Gaita