18 May 2008

W(h)ither the Nation? (IV)

I can't call an end to my hiatus yet, but I thought I'd post a slightly altered version of something I wrote for a "political demolition derby" elsewhere. Ambersun said, with regard to Dr. Miķelis Valters (pictured at left):

You also fail to state here, as you do elsewhere, that Mikelis Valters was a “Socialist Revolutionary.” This would add to an understanding of the language chosen and thinking behind.

[The language in question is that of the Satversme, Latvia's Constitution -- it states that the "sovereign power of the State of Latvia is vested in the people of Latvia," not the Latvian people. This isn't trivial -- it's the basis for the political nation, as opposed to the ethnic nation. My response to Ambersun follows.]

Would it? Perhaps so. But what would it add, exactly? I have written about Valters' politics here [at that forum] in the past (and the stubs on Valters and the Latvian эсеры at Wiki were begun by me -- see, for example, "Latvian Social Democratic Union").

Valters, of Liepāja, was exiled to Dvinsk (!) in 1897 as a member of the New Current, whence he fled to Switzerland and studied law (and wrote poetry). Active in SDS in exile (whence the first demands for a democratic Latvian nation-state, published in the West), he penned lengthy, eloquent polemics about the Latvia he envisioned and argued against both the denationalized, pro-Russian Left and the reactionary, pro-Russian Latvian bourgeoisie.

There are a few strains of thought in Valters' national socialism (and yes, that's what it was, though the term is obviously now sullied by later associations...). In his own words, however: Mūsu politiskā programma ir pirmā kārtā personas stiprināšanas programma. Valdības nomācošam virzienam viņa stāda pretim citu: atsvabināšanu. Kādam tam jābūt, zīmējoties uz atsevišķu cilvēku, par to nav domu starpības, bet neskaidrāki ir uzskati, zīmējoties uz tautas personu. ("Patvaldību nost, Krieviju nost!" Proletārietis, 1903). [Roughly: "Our political programme is first of all that of strengthening the person. In opposition to oppression by government, it offers another direction: liberation. What that must be like, with regard to the individual, isn't in dispute -- but views with regard to the national entity are less clear."]

Arnis (Runcis') book on the Latvian political awakening (first published on the eve of Ulmanis' coup [1934] and reprinted in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1971) summarizes Valters' thoughts quite well, with extracts from his writings. There's a lengthy polemic against Andrievs Niedra, for example, also printed in Proletārietis in 1904. In response to Niedra calling the national socialists traitors to the fatherland, Valters explains that a fatherland is a state, consisting of land, people, and government. This last component must reflect the will of the people. Valters writes that we can see what the fatherland of Niedra and those who side with oppressors is -- tie ir svešinieki, svešais kaŗa pulks, kas nāk laupīdams mūsu zemē, svešie ierēdņi, pātaga un kulaks. Mūsu tēvu zeme ir cilvēki, mūsu tauta. (Valters' emphasis on "[m]ūsu.") [Roughly: "they are strangers, a foreign military that comes to raid our land, alien functionaries, the whip and the kulak. Our fatherland is the people, our people /or 'nation'/"].

Throughout these writings, Valters consistently emphasizes citizenship, especially active participation by the citizens in government. "Tauta" can have a variety of meanings, from
народ to nation. Ethnicity, tautība, is inferior already in the 1905 resolution of the SDS -- the right of self-determination belongs to the citizens of the state, regardless of their gender, religion, or ethnicity [or "nationality"] (6. punkts).

I would like to point out that the reactionary period -- the First Falling Asleep that followed the First Awakening, from the late 1880s -- is often referred to as the "tautiskais laikmets," [very roughly -- "the ethnic period"] and the bourgeois Latvians Valters opposed inherit the name "tautībnieki" [ethnicists] from the Lettophiles of the Awakening, but in a derogatory sense. Even with regard to the song festivals -- Valters looks back upon Festivals I, II and III (held in 1873, 1880, and 1888) as involving the masses (tautas masas); by IV (1895), the angle of emphasis on Latvian culture had become mere butaforija [a mere prop]. The middle classes were for the most part content in the Russian Empire, for material reasons.

Essentially, what Valters and Rolavs did was transform the cultural awakening that began in the 1850s but had petered out by the 1880s, into a political awakening, which is the subject of Arnis' book. This took place in a narrow circle of people, in exile -- one couldn't publish such things in the Baltic provinces, and as far as I know, not many issues were smuggled in or disseminated.

Valters did not look upon the Russian Empire as a state in his sense of what a state must be, and he didn't see the Tsar's subjects as citizens. He was well-educated, and I think the "Latvijas" ["of Latvia"] is more a reflection of his legal training and his study of Western Europe than it is of his socialism. You can say that he was an SR, true -- but he and Rolavs were clearly nationalists from the very beginning (their views also diverged after a time, btw), and time is important here; Valters was in the Farmers' Union, Ulmanis' party, when he was a member of the provisional government (Rolavs was dead -- murdered by the powers that be).

This is not at all surprising -- it's a direct consequence of their understanding of Latvia and democracy. Both looked carefully at Switzerland (which, as you know, consists of ethnically German, French, and Italian people, and others, who are politically Swiss). Rolavs even tried to envision an overhauled Russia as a giant Switzerland, and he contrasted France to the Confederation as undemocratic, because of its centralization.

Both men were highly critical of the mainstream Left -- the New Current and the Social Democrats. They both write of Latvia's intellectual poverty -- Rolavs observes that our culture is only half a century old [sic!], and notes that we had only 16 students in 1856. They see the jaunstrāvnieki as providing bad translations of alien and inapplicable German (and, later, Russian) Marxist thought, copying what the half-educated only superficially understood until they became blind to how ludicrous they were. Valters also attacks the deracinated Jewish cosmopolitan, btw, as a supporter of empire (one sees this throughout Eastern Europe), and criticizes the New Current as composed of the deluded sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie.

So, if you are suggesting that being an SR made him less of a nationalist, you couldn't be more wrong -- nationalism suffuses his work. He rails against the Latvian bourgeoisie both grande and petite, for example, observing that building a border between Russia and Latvia even in thought was a threat to their material interests; that not teaching Russian in the schools would have led to material losses for them, and that the mass movement (Social Democracy) that they bred made them more Russian than the Russians.

He placed his faith in the Latvian farmer, seen as the next recipient of the democracy that had broken down feudalism in the cities. Valters came from the working class, but in his notes on his intellectual development -- which primarily concern philosophy and poetry, not politics -- he writes of how the excitement of youth brought different Latvians together... how learning took him from the "alcoholic proletariat" of the lower class suburbs of Liepāja ("[t]e sabiedrības vai tautības jēdziens neeksistēja" [roughly: "neither the notion of community nor nationality existed here"]) to the Ancient Greeks and Kant, overcoming seemingly insurmountable differences in background with the sons of vain Semigallian landowners. (In Trimdas rakstnieki, 1. sēj., ed. Pēteris Ērmanis. Kempten [Allgäu]: Viļa Štāla Apgāds, 1947).

You [Ambersun] are incessantly raving about Russians, your "overwhelming, crushing, and nation-destroying” "problem" (and you do so in a slippery way -- I would note that 50 000 is far fewer than 14%, that not a few of the people who go to the Victory Monument are not Russians, and that many people go there without anti-Latvian sentiments in mind, which sentiments anyway come in different colors and degrees). The most overwhelming, crushing, and nation-destroying problem the Republic faces is posed by Latvians, Ambersun. As has been pointed out to you time and again, the "Russian parties" aren't in government and have had almost no influence at all upon Latvia for the last seventeen years. Further, re the percentage [of minorities in Latvia as part of the population], as I already suggested -- non-citizens don't count; the percentage of minorities as a portion of the electorate is not as dramatically different as raw demographics would make it seem. Hanging out a few auseklīši [eight-pointed stars that have come to symbolize "Latvianism"] and playing ethnopolitical games to get the vote doesn't obscure the mercenary instincts of the Latvian (latviešu! -- ethnic Latvian!) elite.

Yes, Valters changed -- he was always changing, actually, though not illogically so. As [the historian Aivars] Stranga writes in the Jumava history, many notable figures who had stood at the cradle of Latvia's democracy surrendered to the wave of anti-democratic sentiment and themselves helped to strengthen it, Kārlis Skalbe and Miķelis Valters among them. Later, Valters changed yet again, demanding the restoration of democracy -- he called his friend Ulmanis and the Ulmanist cabal the "gravediggers" of the Latvian state.

Though at least a couple of our esteemed forum participants apparently live in a dream world shot through with nightmare rather than in Europe, whatever wisdom can be gleaned from the study of Latvia's coming into being must be tempered with today's realities, in which the great questions that concerned Valters and our other founding fathers -- land reform and class struggle, for instance -- are quite simply irrelevant. The establishment of the nation-state is a fait accompli, too, and that was doubtless the most difficult task they accomplished.

A sense of "nationness" [Ambersun's word] in a Europe that just concluded the Lisbon Treaty, giving the EU a president (heh -- two, even) and, supposedly, a common foreign policy, is obviously different, too. Some things from that earlier era remain valid -- the emphasis on governance, for example, and on the need for our representatives to be responsible to the people. One can stew in national romanticism all one likes, and become roadkill, but most Europeans snigger at the Kennedy formulation -- people ask what the country can do for them, not the other way around. Government is seen as a service provider, primarily.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! VERY interesting blog. I've recently written some musings about Lithuania:

25 May, 2008 10:57  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks -- yours is very interesting, too! Linking to it.

25 May, 2008 14:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the fact that blogs can bring people (and in the long run nations) together. :-)

25 May, 2008 19:00  
Blogger Mykolas said...


(I origionally wrote the following in response to messages of approval for my contributions to a Lithuanian site that no longer exists. It is about inspriation in regards to heritage. ‘Marginalia’ serves to inspire Lativians to look deeper into their own history and heritage. I don’t think that any deeply conscerned Lithuanians could possibly separate themselves from our Latvian brothers and our bonds. Thus, I have adapted the original text to apply to Latvia and hopefully to appeal to Latvian readers. My reason for posting this is simple. If I succeed in inspiring even one single Latvian to become a more active member in Lativian society or to contribute to the preservation of their Latvian heritage, I will have contributed to our Lithuanian and Latvian ‘Baltic’ legecy in some small way.)

>>> I hope that some of you will be inspired to look a little deeper into our heritage. By taking the time to learn more about the struggles and achievements of our ancestors, Our heritage can be understood in a far more vivid light. Just about everyone has some desire to ‘belong’ to or associate themselves with a club, a team, an organization, a ‘movement’…well you get the picture. Some are quite passionate in their support. “sports fans” are perfect example of this. Just a reminder…”OUR TEAM” has been around for thousands of years!And the ranks of the players have been filled by our ancestors and family members since long before recorded history. Every time we speak a Latvian word, a little ‘magic’ is shared between us. (Doesn’t matter how much or how little you can speak!) Every time you pass on a small piece of our heritage to your children, that ‘magic’ is allowed to propogate and flourish! During the holidays, when we put a few traditional foods on the table and recall tales told by loved ones who have long since passed on, We remember our bonds. These simple acts of tradition reach across the ages to connect us with our ancestors, and across the globe, to connect us with each other! It is not simple romantics that keep you ‘in touch’ with your Latvian ‘Spirit’. It is not ‘by chance’ that Latvia continues to exist despite the challenges of invading armies, occupation by neighbors, and severe hardships suffered throughout the centuries. Some might say “But I never learned any Latvian and my family never celebrated holidays with Traditional Latvian foods or decorations!” I would tell them …”It has all been preserved FOR you!”

If you don’t know any words…learn some!

If you don’t know of any tradional

Latvian foods…ask for recipes!

If you don’t know any traditional

folk stories…search for them!

All of these things BELONG TO YOU! …and much more!

There are many people who are willing to help you to discover more about your heritage.

Above ALL, a place for you has been reserved!

Please feel welcomed!

17 June, 2008 18:22  

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