Wednesday, November 25, 2009

© Eso Antons Benjamins

58 The People of Johns (II)

Due to its geography, the territory that is now Latvia has always been in a state of greater or lesser demographic crisis. No doubt, various conflicts and wars have played their horrific role. However, an undeniable role in the shaping of the culture of the Baltics has been played by the land itself. As I remember from a news report a while ago, the current Premier of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is said to have referred to Latvia as a country where one can find only sand and mushrooms. Of course, in a derogatory sense, Putin is absolutely correct, because the third resource, forests, are now fast disappearing. According to some of my neighbors, the mushrooms, too, may be going due to the fast pace of deforestation.

There is some richly fertile land in Latvia, of course. However, most of it lies in the south of the country, and, from what I read, it has been bought up by foreign companies. Where I live, the northern part of Limbazhu region (not far from the Estonian border), the land has only about a foot of rock-thrown topsoil with clay appearing immediately underneath. This condition is due to the scraping and leaching of the land by the retreating ice age and its plentiful water runoffs not all that many thousand years ago. While farmers are exploiting this topsoil to the maximum and claim that the soil has plenty to give yet (“as long as you keep tilling and fertilizing it”), my own sense is that the land is better served if it were left to the forests and humans adapt to a forest environment.

The geography of Latvia pleads that the land be reforested, that the people learn how to build their homes in forests again as of yore, and that the population continue to be sparse—as it always has been.

Such an readaptation to geography, unfortunately, runs against the grain of the privatist mentality that prevails in the wake of 19th and 20th century philosophies that hold that those in power are “more-equal-than-others” and to simplistic Darwinisms such as “survival of the fittest”. Such theology-philosophy was well represented by the current President of Latvia, Zatlers, when on Latvia’s Independence day, he emphasized three things as being of primary importance: “land, people, freedom”. Why the president omitted sacrifice makes sense in the context of the neo-religion that prevails in Latvia today and is enabled by Latvia’s Constitution, the same that was unable to prevent two savagings of Latvian culture and the country’s economy. The first savaging occurred through the offices of the Saeima and the Cabinet of Ministers of the original Republic, the second is officiating today. Within both time periods the prevailing philosophy of government and, if you will, the theology of those in government, did not encourage “freedom” with responsibility, which of course cannot occur without sacrifice.

The final death knell of Latvian culture of old was sounded by the Latvian poet Pumpurs, who in 1888 published a pseudo epic called “Lāčplēsis” or Bear-jaw-breaker. While it has become a convention to call the poem’s pseudo-hero “Bear-slayer”, he is often portrayed as tearing apart the jaws of a bear. Such an image occurs in Luther’s Illustrated Bible (1543), though the figure is ripping the jaws of a lion and his name is Samson.

I do not believe that most Latvians know that the death of their forebears occurred (I am still hoping that it did not occur) in 1209. The year should be famous among Latvians for two reasons.

One. In 1209 (the date may be of questionable accuracy for those who are critical of Scaligeri’s chronology) Pope Innocent III began a Crusade against the Albigensian Cathars in what is now the south of France. It is my opinion that the Cathars were equivalencies or co-existing arch-Christians cells. The auto cephalic ecclesia of Eastern orthodox neo-Christian churches follows this organizational pattern to this day. The Crusade ended in a victory for the Pope. Many of the Cathar perfecti (teachers and leaders) were burned. The significance of burning, incidentally, is that it was believed to wipe from memory the times and ways defended by those burnt.

Two. In 1209 the neo-Christian bishop of Riga, Albert, sent forces at his command against the kingdom of Jersika, which was located in what is now the southeastern region (most of today’s Latgale). Jersika (pronounce Yersika; sometimes written Gercik, Gereike) was a kingdom ruled by a king named Visvaldis. In literal translation, the king’s name means Ruler of All. The king was not prepared for the surprise attack and Jersika was burned to the ground. In 1842, the thirty-six year old Polish poet Michal Borch, possibly of Latgalian extraction, wrote a poem, in which he imagines the defeated king witness Jersika burning. The poetic image is based on Heinrici Chronican Livoniae (“Indrikha hronika”) written in the 13th century.

After Visvaldis is taken across Daugava and sees his burning city on the other side of the river, the king “…took a deep breath and began to weep. He screamed, and he said: Ai, Jersika, my dear city! Ai, the inheritance of my fathers! Ai, the unexpected destruction of my people!...” (My translation.) Visvaldis is taken prisoner, brought to Riga, and publicly humiliated there.*

For an encore, let me offer a variation on the text. “John screamed, and he said: ‘O, Jerusalem, my dear city! Ai, the inheritance of my fathers! Ai, the unexpected destruction of my people!’” Perhaps it is time to think that Jersika may be a colloquialism for Jerusalem. Bishop Albert tried to capture the name and bring it to Riga. It was not uncommon to compare Riga to Jerusalem in the bishop’s days. However, as we know, in our times Riga remains the seat of secular power. If in Albert’s days Riga’s mission was conversion of arch-Christian proto-Latvians to neo-Christianity, today the government is doing all it can to turn neo-Christianity to Pop culture, which is successfully leading Latvians to a post-Latvian future.

I owe the quote and help in making the above One./Two./1209 c.e. association to Kaspars Klavins and his book “apStāvēšana”, Mansards, 2009, p. 80. I find the title of Klavins book almost untranslatable, but perhaps “Defense Of…” will approximate. Klavins speaks, among other things, of the defense of Latvian culture even as it may be disappearing from the stage of history. The book’s author criticizes the cultural ethos prevailing in Latvia today and rings praise in defense of the values proto-Latvian culture in Jersika. Klavins is Assistant Professor at the Daugavpils University and Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University in Australia. I would add that Jersika’s defeat is taken political advantage of by various interests to this day, which is why information of the culture that most likely prevailed in Jersika is repressed to this day. (More to follow in my next blog.)

Asterisk & Notes of Interest:

*“Tāpēc, nododami pēcnieku zināšanai to, kas noticis mūsu laikos, darām zināmu visiem nākamiem un tagadējiem Kristus ticīgiem, ka Dieva lielā žēlastība, joprojām jauno Livonijas baznīcas dēstījumu atbalstīdama un atbalstot uz priekšu virzīdama, pakļāva mums Visvaldi, Jersikas karali. Proti, ieradies Rīgā, klāt esot jo daudziem dižciltīgiem garīdzniekiem, bruņiniekiem, tirgotājiem, vāciešiem, krieviem un lībiešiem Jersikas pilsētu, kas viņam pieder par dzimtu līdz ar novadu un visiem pie šīs pilsētas piederīgiem labumiem viņš nodeva kā likumīgu dāvinājumu svētās Dievmātes un jaunavas Marijas baznīcai, bet tos savus meslu devējus, kas saņēmuši ticību no mums, viņš atbrīvoja un nodeva mums līdz ar viņu mesliem un novadu, proti Autīnas pilsētu, Cesvaini un citas ticībai piegrieztās. Pēc tam, zvērējis mums vasala uzticību, viņš svinīgi saņēma no mūsu rokas minēto Jersikas pilsētu ar piederīgo novadu un labumiem kā lēnu ar trim karogiem.”  

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

An eyeball view of Latvia (and its forests)  While some sources claim that Latvia is 47% covered by forests, none of it is old growth forest. The Latvian news media provides little coverage of the rapid pace of deforestation. Anecdotal evidence of deforestation in progress from a neighbor of mine: “This fall there were far less mushrooms than last year. The forests we used to go to are gone.”

Of great interest to me:  The article pretty well presents my reasons for supporting the growing of Johns Grass to facilitate the tourist industry in the Latvian countryside.

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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