04 July 2006

On "The History of Russians in Latvia" at Wikipedia

I agree with you (Pēters Vecrumba) with regard to dislodging German as the language of prestige and the language of administration having been the main goal for both the Russian government and most of the Young Latvians (note, though, that Russification also took place in the ethnographically Latvian part of Vitebsk guberniya for a longer period and more thoroughly, but quite differently [incl. denationalization in favor of religious identity, Belarusianization, etc.], where the Germans had been Polonized and there was a Polish and Russian aristocracy) -- even so, Russification in Courland and Livland was most dramatic in education, and in this it strongly favored the Russians (or, more accurately, the Russophones) and affected not only the Germans but the Latvians (for example, at Tartu [Dorpat, then renamed Yuryev], the number of Lutheran [i.e., German, Latvian, and Estonian] students fell threefold between 1892 and 1901, whilst Russian enrollment rose ten times, partly because the graduates of Orthdox seminaries were admitted -- destroying that nest of Baltic [i.e., German] separatism was one of Manasein's main recommendations [Arveds Švābe: Latvijas vēsture 1800-1914. Uppsala: Daugava, 1958, p.514]). Latvians largely supported Russian instruction in the schools, and many even supported Russification (e.g., Valdemārs: "Speaking Russian, Latvians are never lost to their nation [tauta] -- not even when some of them have begun to forget how to speak Latvian." [Baltijas Vēstnesis, 1884 /Ernests Blanks: Latvju tautas ceļš uz neatkarīgu valsti. Västerås: Ziemeļbāzma, 1970/]) Baltijas Vēstnesis was the influential newspaper led by Fricis Veinbergs, who remained a Russophile even unto 1917.
Your point that the Latvian nationalists "were not agitating for independence" is very important. Fricis Brīvzemnieks (Treuland), brought in as an inspector of public schools by Kapustin at Valdemārs' request ("it was politically advantageous for the [Tsar's] government that Russification would be introduced by the Latvian and Estonian nationalists themselves"), wrote a letter to Kaudzītes Reinis in 1886 in which he rejects an article Kaudzīte had written; the part about the friendship between Russians and Latvians, acording to Brīvzemnieks, is fine -- but the rest of the article needs to be amended to note that "defenders of the German Ritterschaft are trying to spread the belief among Latvians that the Tsar's government and the Russian people want nothing more than to deprive Latvians of their language and religion [...] Latvians have heretofore habitually expected good things only from the Russian government, and harmful things from their German overlords [...] they know that the government [...] has nothing to fear from the Latvian or Estonian languages because the Latvians and Estonians have never been independent nations and the seed of separatist thought finds no soil among the Latvians..." Brīvzemnieks goes on to say that the fears of Russification in Latvia are either "exaggerated or completely baseless." (Švābe, p. 462)
The fact is that fears of Russification were growing and they were rooted in reality and not in a plot by the Ritterschaft -- Valdemārs, entwined with the Slavophiles in Moscow, was increasingly irrelevant and no longer understood what was happening in the Baltics. The overall situation in education is also important to an understanding here (as it wasn't to Manasein): the Baltic provinces were the most advanced parts of the Russian Empire in education, whilst the Baltic Russians were comparatively ill-educated -- in Riga in 1881, for example, 47,8% of Russians over age 14 could not read or write (vs. 23,7% of the Latvians and 23,0% of the Germans). According to the official Russian statistics for 1886, there was one public school per 654 inhabitants in Southern Livland, vs. 1:2147 in Moscow guberniya and 1:3155 in Pskov guberniya. 2.37% of children in all 50 gubernii attended public school -- but this percentage varied considerably by guberniya: 9.25% in Finland, 9.87% in Southern Livland, 5,42% in Courland, 0,81% in Kovno, 3,44% in St. Petersburg, 2,01% in Kiev. In Vitebsk guberniya, and thus in Latgola -- 1,13%. 87,5% of the Old Believers in Latgola were illiterate, and 77,2% of the Belarusians (but even there, literacy was considerably higher in the ethnographically Latvian part of the guberniya and among Latvians). Latvian literacy also depended upon the rural and parochial schools, and to a very large degree on home schooling -- but home schooling in Latgola, which was particularly successful for females, was criminalized during Russification. ("Baltijas 'jaunā ēra' un rusifikācija"; Švābe, op. cit.) It might be noted, too, that the situation in the heavily Slavicized Ilūkste district in Semigallia was similar to that of Latgola, and Manasein in fact suggested that it be joined to Vitebsk guberniya.
Brīvzemnieks came to regret his position. As Russification intensified (and education declined), he was frequently attacked in the Russian press despite his pro-Russian stance, including by the newspaper you have mentioned -- Рижский Вестник, which demanded the imposition of Cyrillic in the Baltic provinces, as it had been imposed in Latgola, "to pour cold water on the fantasies of those who dream about a Latvian culture." This was their reaction to the success of the third Latvian Song Festival, and it is strikingly similar to the reaction of the Baltic Germans to the first forays of the Young Latvians (e.g., of Das Inland to Alunāns' Dziesmiņas) -- except that Latvian culture and in essence a Latvian nation were no longer a dream but had already come into existence. In 1888, Valdemārs wrote a lengthy defense of his career, explaining that he had worked harder than anybody else for the Russification of the Baltic provinces. This is where I will question the notion of "laissez-faire," Pēter -- to what extent was there laissez-faire, and when, and why? In the late 1880s, the Baltic German press came to defend Latvians against attacks in the Russian press -- Zeitung für Stadt und Land, for example, observed that the Latvians had a third path open to them, besides Germanization or Russification: retaining their identity. In defending Latvian against Cyrillic, Baltic Germans like Bielenstein found common ground with their Latvian political enemies -- to the horror of the Russians. What I am suggesting, then, is that it may have been laissez-faire between the 1850s and the 1880s, but only so long as the Latvians were not nationalists but merely anti-German Lettophiles and Slavophiles, and even apolitical Lettophilia was extremely suspect in an increasingly illiberal empire. "Not agitating for independence," to boil it down, really meant not only "not agitating for autonomy," which they also did not do -- it meant "not agitating for anything."
Valdemārs was a pragmatist and materialist, a "reālpolītisks minimālists" as Blanks defines him, who joined a cultural Lettophilia to an enthusiastic cosmopolitanism; the Russification he supported was education in the language, not coercive assimilation, and he always thought in practical terms (as when he suggested that Latvian veterans of the Russian army being settled in Voronezh guberniya be settled here instead and teach the Latvians Russian; Valdemārs was also quite clever in opposing Cyrillic). Living under police supervision in Moscow, however, he did not appreciate how far his nation had come. Many writers contrast Kronvaldu Atis' more spiritual thought with Valdemārs' -- again, this was a cultural but not a political nationalism, and Valdemārs himself notes that the Young Latvians had no political program at first; Kronvalds saw the Latvians and Russians as entering into a compact, however, with Russia having the duty to protect the Latvian language and culture in exchange for the Latvians' loyalty (thinking similar to the Germans'). Many Young Latvians naïvely believed that they could "drive out the German Devil with the Russian Beelzebub" (Švābe), but this was not be, obviously -- Mikhail Zinoviev, the governor, explained to the Riga Latvian Association in 1887 that "to us, Estonians and Latvians will only be a useful element when they become Russians."
This brings us to the 1890s and the advent of a Marxism that not only the right (e.g., Blanks) but also the left (e.g., Jansons-Brauns) labels dilettantist -- the New Current. Histories and contemporaries indicate, however, that it wasn't a matter of socialism replacing nationalism so much as the national movement reaching a point of crisis; a critic of the New Current, Alexander Weber (Vēbers -- an ethnic German who had in some sense assimilated, but later abandoned "Latvianness" in response to 1905) was among the many who saw it coming, observing the growing gulf between the growing Latvian bourgeoisie and the increasingly desperate masses. The Baltic Germans had lost their potency as the enemy. Much of the left saw nationality and its manifestations as the plaything of an exploitative élite that used and abused the ethnic as part of its business plan. Still, even "internationalism" didn't necessarily bring Russian and Latvian socialists together -- attacks on the war with Japan by the Latvian left, printed in 1904, noted that Asians were the Latvians' allies, victims of Russian imperialism like the Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians, who suffered the most under the Tsar. All of this against a background of very dramatic demographic changes, with Latvia second only to Britain in Europe's urbanization -- meanwhile, there was a rural exodus not only to the cities but also to Russia proper, whilst settlers replaced those who departed (e.g., ca. 68 000 foreigners, mostly Russians, arrived in Latgola between 1895 and 1902, whilst the Dvinsk military garrison alone numbered 12 700 [Kārlis Stalšāns: Krievu ekspansija un rusifikācija Baltijā laikmetu tecējumā. Chicago: Jāņa Šķirmanta Apgāds, 1966]).
Most of the above doesn't belong in this article, of course -- I'm afraid I must drift into some general observations on "the story of Latvia." My main point is that it is almost impossible to delineate the political currents in that period (those periods, actually -- ca. 1850-1890, 1890-1905, 1905-1914), because they overlap and twist (and are often very shallow, too, with only a few fish in them); it actually took a minor eddy on the extreme left, the erstwhile эсеры Valters and Rolavs, to "invent" autonomy, and in the view of some revive a nationalism that "had gone down into herring" (Rainis) -- Valters moved rightward in the 1920s, abandoning his liberal views with regard to the minorities as impracticable when the nation drifted toward what you are calling "ultra-nationalism." I'm trying to draw attention to some major questions in our history, some of which Jānis Peniķis identified -- for example, what is the meaning of 1905? I recommend this article by Jānis Krēsliņš seniors, published in Diena last January (in Latvian). As Krēsliņš underlines, a definitive history of 1905 has not yet been written. He points to two opposing views of the Revolution, the nationalist and the Marxist, and the fact is that most Latvian historiography holds one of these two prisms. I refer to Ernests Blanks, a rightist ideologue from whose work the concept of the three National Awakenings was derived, deliberately -- as Oļģerts Liepiņš notes in his preface to Blanks' book, our nation-state is in large part the result of 1905, simply because almost all of Latvia's founders "were involved in that mutiny, and many retained their destructive approach to the bourgeois, who were also human and also wanted to enjoy freedom." Liepiņš offers a metaphorical apple tree -- one branch growing democracy, the other turning bright red. This is gross oversimplification, of course, but it helps bring some of the dynamics into relief. These dynamics echo loudly through later Latvian history -- whilst Liepiņš claims that 1905 had a socialist basis and was only later given a nationalist tint, leftists like Fēlikss Cielēns see independence as the child of that revolution. The class differences and their politics are integral to what happened, of course -- why most of the Latvians did not ally with the Germans and vice-versa, though Grosvalds et al. ended up in the Rate; German and Russian lists were together at times, and few Latvians had the money to qualify as voters -- there was also a brief phase in which the Latvian bourgeoisie was allied with the Germans municipally.
I eagerly await the next section, Pēter! Inesis Feldmanis does not mince words when it comes to the Russian minority in the interbellum: according to him, most did not identify with Latvia. In 1930, only 18,9% of the Russians spoke Latvian. The local Russian language press expressed satisfaction at the growth of Russian power with the invasions of Finland and Poland, its true sympathies revealed after the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. (Daina Bleiere, Ilgvars Butulis, Inesis Feldmanis, Aivars Stranga, Antonijs Zunda: Latvijas vēsture: 20. gadsimts. Rīga: Jumava, 2005.) I've already said that I disbelieve in historians' objectivity -- I should add that I believe treating more POV rather than trying to eliminate POV is a better way to achieve the fabled NPOV, and IMO this is particularly true when trying to provide an overview, which necessarily involves generalizations. In the case of the Russian and Baltic German minorities, I do not see how the subject (and, indeed, Latvian history in the 20th C and the processes today) can be treated meaningfully without treating the concept of an "imperial minority." --Pēteris Cedriņš 20:00, 1 March 2006 (UTC)


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