Jaunā Gaita nr. 198, oktobris 1994

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JG 198

Poetry in this issue is by Czeslaw Milosz (translated by Jānis Krēsliņš, sr.), Lidija Dombrovska-Larsena (who is also the featured painter in this issue), Aivars Ruņģis (USA), Valentīns Pelēcis (USA) and Pēteris Zirnītis (Latvia). A common theme in these poems (and in this issue) is the aftermath of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States: Milosz revisits his family homestead in Lithuania after fifty years to find it has disappeared - only a clearing by the river has retained its former beauty. Ruņģis dedicates his poem to "those, whose gravesites are unknown" and describes Latvia after the Soviets as a garbage dump for industrial plunderers.

Raimonds Staprāns, who has become an important Latvian playwright in recent years, even though drama is his second profession after painting, has contributed a new play to this issue called The Last Performance. An actress and a director, living in an American nursing home, decide to perform Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The play describes their initial meeting, the rehearsals, the final (non)performance, and the problems they deal with: their decrepit bodies and the staff of the nursing home, whose main concern seems to be the avoidance of any potential problems. The play has many acute observations of the emotional and physical difficulties of old age, and on the ageless, eternal need for artistic expression, while among its underlying themes are the condition of the arts in current times and the state of theatre in the Latvian community abroad.

Arguably the finest sculptor working in Latvia today, and certainly the best-loved, is Indulis Ranka. His series of stone sculptures depicting Latvian "dainas", just outside Sigulda, is one of the finest visual interpretations of this exquisite, verbally almost untranslatable folk art form. Ranka writes in this issue about sculpture in the landscape, which poses unique challenges in terms of size, siting, and finish. Ranka warns that Latvians' traditional closeness to and respect for the natural environment is in danger of being swamped by the tide of "disposable" materialistic modern culture.

Contributing editor Andrievs Ezergailis (Ithaca College) interviews the director of the Institute of Latvian History, Prof. Indulis Ronis. Ronis feels that there has been a rebirth of ethics among Latvians - since the "third awakening" (the name given to the popular movement toward Latvian political rights and sovereignty that began with Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika in 1985 and culminated in the "barricades" of Riga in the winter of 1991), but that the lack of moral authority among Latvia's political leadership and economic hardship could cause this sense of ethics and responsibility to erode. Ronis is disturbed by a tendency among Latvian scholars to see only the negative aspects of the first Latvian Republic (1918-1940) and to blame the Latvian leadership of the time for these faults, without considering the constant efforts of foreign states, especially Soviet Russia under Stalin, to destabilize the Baltic states. Ronis is highly sceptical of the "facts" now emerging from the archives of the KGB in Latvia: in his opinion, these archives were heavily edited before the public was permitted to see them.

The eminent economist Gundars Ķeniņš-King was also interviewed for this issue. Prof. King notes both positive and negative aspects of the current economic situation in Latvia: the stable currency, the quick tempo of privatization, growth in foreign investment and small business, the achievement of world standards in the forest-products industry and government structural reforms on the positive side, with lack of capital and planning, public disenchantment, and the crisis in agriculture on the negative side.

We have three book reviews in this issue, forming an interesting contrast in their approach and style. Velta Rūķe-Draviņa (Sweden) reviews an etymological monograph on Lithuanian words and place names relating to water. Prof. Draviņa outlines the content of the book and points out several similarities between Lithuanian, Latvian and Finnish, as well as several minor errors in the book. Gundars Pļavkalns (Australia) reviews Klāra Zāle's latest volume of poetry, selecting several of her poems as illustrations of both the main theme of the book, namely, the religious beliefs of the author, and the artistic shortcomings that arise when poetry is used as a means of expressing one's convictions. As he often does, Pļavkalns not only reviews the book, but examines the book's theme from a wider perspective. We also have a contribution from Jānis Liepiņš, a polemicist and writer living in Latvia, ostensibly a review of Arvids Skalbe's collection of poems, Ar svētītu vilni (With a blessed wave), published in Riga in 1992. However, as Liepiņš admits, his "40-year friendship with the poet heavily burdens" his review, hence he devotes most of the review to a description of this friendship and Skalbe from a personal rather than a literary point of view, emphasizing Skalbe's great contribution as a poetry editor during the years of Soviet occupation.

One of the jurors for the Zinaida Lazda poetry prize describes his recent "tour of duty". Some 20 poets from both Latvia and abroad submitted entries, and a common theme among most of the entries was the tragic experience of Latvia under German and Soviet occupations. Poets from abroad tended to treat this theme in a clichéd, ultra-patriotic style, but the best entries from Latvia showed innovative, postmodern approaches.

Contributing editor Juris Mazutis (Canada) recalls the moment, 25 years ago, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon's surface, the first time a human being had done so. This moment enthralled the world, even though it was, as Mazutis points out, the result of President Kennedy's determination not to allow the Soviet Union to gain the upper hand in any endeavour of political importance. Mazutis also points out that at the time, only 48% of the population of the USA was in favour of the massive ($125 billion) expenditures required, while today, when NASA's budget has shrunk. the exploration of Mars would be supported by up to 66% of the population, but the clear goals and strong leadership to achieve this are missing.

The young violinist Daina Plostniece played a solo concert for the President of Latvia, Guntis Ulmanis, in September 1993 when he visited New York. ln this issue she describes her musical education and future plans. The cover of this issue is by Vito Sīmanis (USA) , and the frontispiece is by Lidija Dombrovksa-Larsena (Australia). Imants Zilberts contributed the political cartoons on pages 48, 51 and 54.


I.V., J.Z., L.Z.

Jaunā Gaita