Jaunā Gaita nr. 193, oktobris 1993

JG 193

This issue's poetry section presents the work of two younger - Jānis Ramba and Rudīte Raudupe, both of Latvia - and three well-established poets: Indra Gubiņa (Canada), Eduards Salna (England) and Valdis Krāslavietis (USA). The section demonstrates once again that however seemingly intractable our other difficulties, poetry at least is still flourishing and a unifying force across the communities and generations of Latvians.

In response to an article in JG 191 about Haralds Biezais' 1992 book on the illegal conscription of Latvians into the German Waffen SS, which concluded that this resulted in a great loss of life, in this issue Arturs Silgailis, a former high-ranking Latvian officer in the Waffen SS, points out that the demand for conscription came from the Germans, and that the local Latvian authorities only agreed to it to save as many Latvian lives as possible. The Latvian Legion's (as the Latvian divisions of the Waffen SS were called) fighting enabled thousands of civilians to find refuge in Germany from the advancing Russians.

Both Biezais' book and Silgailis' article tend to deal in abstractions: so many mobilized, so many units formed, so many casualties, so many medals. A memoir of the late archbishop Kārlis Kundziņš reminds us of the real cost of war. Kundziņš describes a night in 1945 in Danzig when he was unexpectedly called upon to provide solace and spiritual comfort to ten Latvian conscriptees who had been sentenced to death. In the chaos of 1944 they had decided that the war was over, and their only thought was to get home. They were apprehended, sent to Germany, tried and executed on the night of Epiphany.

Another book by Haralds Biezais, Kurelieši, about a group of Latvian soldiers and officers who formed an armed resistance to the Germans and advancing Russians and were eventually destroyed by the Germans and Russians, is reviewed by Indulis Kažociņš in this issue. Kažociņš praises the author's painstaking research but considers that greater objectivity would have been desirable. Dealing with the same period, Gunars Bekmans has contributed a story about the adventures of a group of Latvian soldiers and a camp follower after the armistice of 1945 in Latvia.

Four articles in this issue deal with recent events in Latvia. Andrievs Ezergailis analyses the Latvian elections, placing them in a wider political and philosophical context. One of his potentially most useful insights is that in the current realities describing politicians as being either on the "left" or "right" is counterproductive. Since it has long been recognized that the methods and personalities of the extreme right and extreme left are indeed identical - only the slogans differ - this, once voiced, seems like a self-evident truth. Ezergailis is one of the few commentators who consider that the previous Latvian government did a creditable job.

Drama critic Lidija Dzene provides a short report on the activities commemorating 125 years of Latvian theatre. She also touches upon the many serious problems facing the theatre today: lack of official support, the decrease in interest from the public and - alas! - the seeming loss of creative spark amongst some professionals. The overall tone of the report is nevertheless cautiously optimistic. Ilze Kroje reminds us that 1993 is also the 70'th anniversary of the Latvian Ballet. Its first performance on Dec. 22, 1922, was not only a theatrical but also a social occasion and a sign of national self-confidence. Among the highlights of the anniversary celebrations in Riga was a performance in dance of Beethoven's 7th Symphony.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of it's' repression of spiritual matters, traditional churches are enjoying a revival, imported cults flourish and many new religious groups have sprung up. Modris Slava describes a Latvian group, of which he is president, whose ultimate aim is to provide a philosophy of life based on a synthesis of the riches of Baltic folklore, theosophy, yoga, ethical philosophies, elements of Christianity and the pronouncements of New Agers.

Mārtiņš Lasmanis' essay "A Life" reflects on some aspects of Zenta Mauriņa's contribution to Latvian letters. Mauriņa was confined to a wheelchair for most of her life; however, being a woman of enormous will power and self-discipline, she obtained a doctorate of philosophy and became a popular writer and much admired lecturer in Latvia before World War II and in Germany and Sweden after the war. Her fame rests on her essays and monographs on various literary and cultural matters, but her most impressive work is her autobiography - seven volumes, over 2000 pages. Not everything in these books corresponds to the plain unvarnished truth, however, and there are discrepancies between the original German and translated Latvian versions of the books. They are nevertheless a remarkable achievement and an important part of our literary heritage.

Juris Mazutis contributes an essay called "War between cultures", referring to "culture" as national identity and deeply held convictions on the proper relationship of man to man and man to God, and arguing that now that ideological and economic wars between nations are on the wane, cultural differences will be the main reasons for conflict.

Nikolajs Bulmanis introduces us to Pēteris Daumants Šnore, an artist born in Latvia (1939), educated in the USA and now residing in Pennsylvania. Šnore started as an abstractionist but by now his paintings are largely realistic, even though he is still attracted to spiritualism and minimalism. As a successful professional artist, able to balance the demands of artistic integrity and the obligation to feed his family, he should be better known in the Latvian community. Bulmanis' article also contains several reproductions of Šnore's work.

Visvaldis Bokalders contributes an article on Maija Eiziņa (Maya Eizin), a highly-acclaimed artist of Latvian descent living in Sweden. Imants Zilberts has contributed several cartoons to this issue, and we also have a section with highlights from the Latvian press, particularly about several Latvians from the West who are actively making a contribution to the new nation of Latvia: novelist Jānis Klīdzējs, political scientists Atis Lejiņš and Jānis Peniķis. The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters, and the frontispiece is by Edgars Vērpe (Latvia).


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