Friday, November 13, 2009

© Eso Antons Benjamins

54 The Ides of Marx (II)

To discover how a bean reaches the sky takes some serious attention, but most of us leave it be knowing that once the shoot breaks the ground, it needs a branch or a wire to attach itself to, and once these are provided, the rest takes place on its own. However, the bean that I am talking about is named Latvia, and its growth has been, at best, stunted.

Latvia is a small nation that originates in Indo-European tribes, specifically as a linguistic group that since the foundation of the Baltic countries have come to be known as the Balts.  If originally the Baltic Germans (occupiers of many of the territories of the Balts) applied the name only to themselves, linguists began to apply it to the languages spoken by the Lithuanians and Latvians, which is why those who spoke these languages became known as Balts. In a geopolitical sense, however, the name “Baltic countries” includes Estonia. This is because the Soviet Union annexed all three countries at about the same time. In any event, here she is, behold Latvia, ninety-one years since its founding in 1918.

The Latvians borrowed their name from the Latgalians, a tribe of Balts that played a significant role in creating Latvia itself. The Latgalians were an aggressive tribe. Perhaps this was because they were so much so egalitarian, that upon his death a father divided his land equally among all his sons. Since such a practice soon left his sons, especially his grandsons, with little land, they were left with no alternatives other than go look for (seize) more land or chose village life. In some ways, the Latgalians never resolved their egalitarian sensibilities, which is one reason why—when easy expansion into thinly settled lands of Neolithic people was no longer easy—they became prey to their militarily more advanced neighbors.  First, they were joined with the Lithuanian-Polish Empire that brought them into the ranks of neo-Christianity by way of Catholicism. In 1918, to escape the grasp of the Soviets, as well as the Poles, the Latgalians joined Latvia.

When one looks at a map of Latvia, one soon notes that Latgale, when compared to the rest of Latvia, lies inland, bordering with Russia and Belorussia. The rest of the Latvian regions are edged by or closer to the Baltic Sea. Because of this geographical difference, the rest of the Latvians were ever so much more influenced by their German occupants, not only in the sense of being more oppressed by them, but in the sense of being more readily exposed to the influences of the Age of Enlightenment and its pretensions as well. The difference in geographic location played a role in the discriminatory way Latvians living near the sea viewed their cousins living inland. The discrimination still has a role to play in our day. Most of the funds made available to Latvia by the European Union, many earmarked for Latgale, are reported not find their way to Latgale. Instead, the funds remain in Riga, the capital of Latvia, seat of the Latvian intelligentsia, elite, and source of discrimination against the people of Latvia at large, Latgale in particular. The overdevelopment of Riga at the expense of poverty-stricken Latgale is especially sad, since Riga’s geographical location condemns it to sink under the sea in less than a hundred years time.

While this is not the space to discuss the history of Latvia, it is important to note that subsequent to the religious civil war in Europe [the so-called Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)] the seacoast areas of Latvia came under Protestant control, while Latgale remained under the influence of the Catholic Church. While in this writer view the parties facing each other in this war were parties to the neo-Christian church (Catholics vs Protestants), the arch-Christian church—of which the Children of Johns (Jahnu behrni) had been a part—was already repressed to such a degree that it had become identified with the world of the “pagans”. One may say that in the sense of being present at the event, the Children of Johns had no role to play. Nevertheless, in hindsight, and in view of the Latgalian sense of egalitarianism when it came to tribal economics, it is the 17th century when the dust blew over the chasm that separates the egalitarianism of Latvians of antiquity from the Latvians of an age when being “more equal than others” is the future. [You may wish to click and read the blogsite Cits Krasts, a site that I follow. Some interesting observations there by Belorusian peasant women about Latvians.]

The covered over economic chasm has a role to play in 1917 with the creation of the executive committee of the Soviet Latvian Workers, Soldiers and Landless Peasants Council (Iskolat).  While the Republic of Iskolat disappeared from the stage quickly and is a near unmentionable today, it nevertheless may give a hint of the social structure and behavior of the Latgalians in antiquity. While Valmiera is in northern Vidzeme, not far from the Estonian border, many of the inhabitants of this region come from Latgale. Until the Great Northern War (in the first decades of the 18th century), Valmiera was part of Livonia, which along its seacoast was populated by Livs, a Finno-Ugrian people. After the war this region was so depopulated that “only dogs are left howling”—according to a report by General Boris Sheremedjev to Tsar Peter the Great. Latgalians, who brought with them their sense that a just world was an egalitarian world, replaced the dead and missing Livs, who may well have believed the same.

Asterisk & Notes of Interest:

On Old Europe, Gimbutas

On the theme of “more-equal-than-others”  ;

An eyeball view of Latvia (and its forests)  The two maps match, but you should look at both to get a realistic sense of the meaning of the supposed 47% forest cover. The Latvian news media provides little coverage of the rapid pace of deforestation. At this moment, only “lousy” weather and water filled swamps keep the chainsaws somewhat at bay. Anecdotal evidence of deforestation in progress from a neighbor: “This fall there were far less mushrooms than last year, because the forests were we used to go are gone.”

These blogs tend to be a continuum of an idea or thought, which is why—if you are interested in what you have read—you are encouraged to consider reading the previous blog and the blog hereafter.

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