Sunday, May 08, 2005

My knowledge of the Baltics is limited to a few small areas: knitting, cooking, a bit of the musical and folk traditions. What I know of the history is based on what I've gleaned from the stories of friends and loved ones. Perhaps I'm not the best person to be rebutting the calls of racism by former colonists in their ex territories. Maybe I'm not one to be arguing against accusations of Nazi Collaboration by the later occupiers. What the heck - I'm going to try to:

The second one is easy: The Nazis, though they did their fair share of hauling people off never to return again there, were considered by many to be absolute Boy Scouts compared to Stalin's men. One person mentioned that, though she had family disappear and her father had just narrowly escaped being deported by Nazis once, they managed to keep things together more or less. The conventional wisdom, given how they viewed Communists at the time (and this, I think, is where the "Nazi Collaborators" line comes in), was that the the gig was prettymuch up when the Soviets came. That's when they left home for the refugee camps across the sea.

As for the Racism part: The Soviets tried to extinguish the cultures of the Baltics. In Latvia, the language was made illegal, cultural manifestations were banned. Think Diaspora: the people were forced to scatter to the far corners of the world. A bit different, but very proud of their uncommon roots, they forged tight knit communities and worked hard to preserve their language and culture. 14 years ago, after more than a generation under Soviet rule, they are given their state back. Families returned to the homeland, the Mother Tongue was again made the language of the land - and a massive effort had to be undertaken to teach the Latvians to speak their language again.

And the Russians who remained? That's a difficult situation. They are Russian, they lived there for a generation. It's not their country anymore; in fact, it never was. If they've wanted to stay, if Latvia were home enough for them to do so (and it is beautiful enough country), they had more than ample time and resources to learn Latvian. Sorry, but: "Il faut hurler comme les loups." (When in Riga, do as the Rigans do.)

These are the opinions of an person who has had limited exposure to a part of the world that has seen a lot over the past perhaps 100 years. For more information, if you're interested, why not start by poking around these places:

This little homepage is a great springboard - they have everything from food to music to general history. An area of particular interest to me is the "daina," or Baltic folksong. Several are translated with links to sources, the form and the history are delved into.

It isn't true, it isn't true
That the sun sleeps every night.
Did she rise up in the morn
Where she went down in the eve?

Latvians Online - news source and calendar for the global Latvian community

Last summer at the biennial Songfest held in Toronto, I got a chance to visit the Latvian Canadian Cultural Center. Had a great dinner of traditional foods (so much like my Grandma's cooking!), got a whole bunch of childrens' books and poetry. Great resource, this place.

An interesting article on Latvians and Jews, on Jews in Latvia, on //s in history and tragic intersections.

Omniglot has a great little synopsis on the Latvian language, complete with history, texts, links to other places.

Here's a bit about the last Latvian Song Fest, held in Toronto in 2004. I didn't see anything about the next one, but you get the general idea from this.

All About Latvia: one of the blogs I read regularly. He's a reporter in Indiana, and an excellent news source on the Baltics. Check out his blogroll, too, for more general looks at the Baltics in general, EU politics, Economy, etc.

Finally, some pictures Hal took at the Songfest last year (Just keep scrolling down; there's a fair bit there and it's close to the bottom of the page. Also, regarding corrections for captions - they are most gratefully received.)

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