Sunday, March 16, 2014

Eso’s Chronicles 309 / 8  
A Suicidal Civilization
© Eso A.B.
All comments appearing within brackets [ ] are editorial in origin. This series begins with 288.


Geopolitical matters continued to play their role in the evolution of the new Latvian national community, which like it or not, had emerged from the Herrnhuter efforts. However, once the emerging was done, the various forces that competed for attention of the emerging people, were almost too numerous to count.

Once it was realized that the Herrnhuters had been ‘true’ and uncompromising believers and, therefore, stood in the way of secular powers, everyone learned to throw their way a praise that acted like a boomerang. In effect, the Herrnhuters quickly faded from the stage, were unwilling or unable to offer notable resistence, and took umbrage in “unity in Christ” and the Lutheran bureaucracy took full charge.

Since very few people had ever heard of Latvians before 1918 (the year Independence was declared), the founding identity became folk literature. Notably, one Krishyanis Barons, collected a large number of Latvian folk poems-songs (over 200,000 items) , which came to be considered the founding canon of Latvian culture.  The folk poems played an immense role in shaping the identity of the Latvians of the first Latvian nation (1918-1940). In 1940, following a secred deal with Germany, the country was occupied by the Soviet Union.
Following the first Russian Revolution in 1905, which broke out in St. Petersburg on January 9th, it reached Riga four days later on January 13th. Over 70 people were killed in Riga. The unrest also broke out in the peasant controlled countryside, especially in the northwest part of the country. As I wrote in the previous blog, the Herrnhuter movement had been especially strong in the area I now live, at that time thickly populated. The German baron’s estate, only about a kilometer from my residence was burned to the ground, and nothing but a few stones and a restored park pavilion remain today.

The events that followed the outbreak of WW1 are too voluminous to describe in one blog; however, what is interesting is that about a year before the declaration of Latvia’s Independence in 1918, by the Latvian borgeoise (of which mine were part), the northern part of Latvia, became the seat of Iskolat , a committee founded (1917) by landless Latvian peasants with the help of the socialist party then under the control of the Bolsheviks. This happened while the German military forces had been driven from the country. However, when the German forces reoccupied Latvia later in the year, Iskolat fled to Moscow, where the organization (a pseudo-national entity in a manner of speaking) was disbanded (possibly because too nationalistically oriented), to the likely regret of the Bolsheviks at a later date.

As the next link explains the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty (between the Bolsheviks and countries of former Habsburg Empire, become known as ‘Central Powers’) expected the Baltic countries to become vassal states to Germany. Fortunately for former Livonians, Germany surrendered to the Allies ( armistice of 11 November, 1918 ) and signed the Versailles Peace Treaty in June the following year.

Latvia declared its independence 7 days after the Armistice—on November 18. Because a peace treaty between German and Allied Powers was not to be signed for another six months, Germany, though a loser of the war, technically retained the Baltic countries in its sphere of influence. This influence, though strenuously denied by subsequent governments of Latvia, was to play a significant role in the evolution of Latvian politics.

The political situation for Latvia was complicated by the fact that the Bolsheviks were still fighting a Civil war (1918-1922) , and it took a young British officer to lead the Baltic German Landeswehr (the Baltic Germans were anticommunist in their political orientation) against the Soviets and push them from the country. A Peace Treaty was signed with the Soviet Union in 1920.

By 1918, “Jaunākās Ziņas”, the newspaper founded by my grandfather, had become under his editorship a huge success. It became an even greater success when following the signing of the peace treaty in Riga (1920), he agreed to a suggestion by a fellow Herrnhuter, a well known Latvian writer and editor at the newspaper, Karlis Skalbe, to publish free of charge advertisements of refugees returning to the country from exile and looking for lost relatives. It made the newspaper one of the most widely read newspapers (4-6 readers per issue) in the world.

The newspaper was able to make a noteworthy cultural contribution to Latvians, when—on the proposal of Emiliya Benjamins, grandfather’s second wife—it began to publish a weekend magazine called “Leisure” (Atpuhta). Since the political leadership of the country by that time had been taken over by a ‘soft’ autocrat, Karlis Ulmanis, the editorial emphasis of the magazine was on strengthening nationalist cultural identity. President Ulmanis being single, Emiliya took on the role of the country’s ‘first lady’, often wearing a folkloric shawl. If one made a judgment of Latvians from pictures and photographs of the time, one would likely conclude that their culture was deeply imbedded in folklore and that their spiritual beliefs remained close to a pagan religion.

If there is criticism to be made of the newspaper editors’ perspective, what comes to mind is that the folkloric tradition followed the glossy views of consensual academic historians and anthropologists, and did not attempt to take a fresh and critical view of the folkloric tradition. Perhaps this was due to authoritarian views of the Lutheran church leadership.

What ailed the Latvian cultural tradition then and now is its conformity to an orthodox Catholic Christian viewpoint, when in fact inconsistencies and contradictions abound going as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries. (For example, the Crusade of 1208 against Lanquedoc coincided with the Crusade against the small kingdom of Jersika.) While the folk songs place great emphasis on the Sun as a symbol that plays the role of a guide and mother, and represents gentleness and endearment of all things of nature, the orthodox religious as well as academic points of view tend to ‘antique’ the tradition rather than enliven it and bring it forward into our own days.

This is where my digression from the theme of fascism as a vital communal element ends. Beginning with the next entry, I will see if I can find a way to bring ‘fascism’ to the fore again not on a note of anti-fascism, but reestablishment of an orientation toward the community. This is necessary if for no other reason than the trend toward federalization and globalization of ‘culture’ has worked to destroy communities to benefit an orientation toward political parties as pseudo communities or associations with but superficial interest in the community for its own sake.

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