Sunday, 23 December 2012

Life in Latvia after 50 Years: Part 1

The following is from a speech which Janis CIRKSIS delivered detailing his experience as a Latvian returning home after 50 years of Soviet occupation. It was written in around 1997 so most likely a lot has changed since then. It is a deeply personal account of his experience and by no means is it intended to be indicative of a more general experience. Having said that, it does express many of the daily struggles of Latvians as they tried to reestablish their independence after 50 years of occupation.

The original document is written in a script font and thus I have had to transcribe it manually.  In order to publish something this week, I have decided to break it (arbitrarily) into 2 halves. As per usual, I would love to hear from you. In particular How do you think life in Latvia has changed since 1997?

Life after 50 years in Latvia


Tonight I would like to share with you my experiences and observations about the present life in Latvia. I visited Latvia for about 3 months in 1993, and during 1994/95 I lived there for a further period of 17 months. What I will have to say should not be generalized, because my statements will be to a large extent very subjective. Part of them will also be of a private nature, but I hope will illustrate the current living conditions in Latvia during these periods.

One cannot fully put in words the felling I experiences on my arrival in Latvia after so many years of absence from the country of my birth. For the first time in my life I could see with my own eyes our old capital Riga, our largest river Daugava, the Latvian Statue of Liberty, and take quiet walks through the
The view from Turaida Tower as photographed by Janis CIRKSIS
inner city with its beautiful gardens. From the observation platform of St. Peters church in the heart of Riga opens up a wide panoramic view of the inner, and large part of the outer city. While still in RIga, I visited the Latvian Memorial Cemetery “Bralu kapi”, and the resting places of our best sons and daughters. Later on during my travels through the Latvian countryside I could enjoy the views of the green farmlands, wide forests, rivers, lakes and the Baltic seaside. For a few days I visited the “Gauja” National Park. From the various lookouts and from the tower of “Turaida” one obtains a good view over this very large and beautiful Park. Within this park one finds also the well known “Dainu” hill and the resting place of the “Rose of Turaida”.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Reaching Out

Given the relatively narrow focus of this blog I have been quite surprised by the number of visitors that have viewed my posts. It seems that I have had over 600 unique visitors over the past few months. This presents an interesting question for me: Are the people viewing this blog CIRKSIS family members or people interesting in Latvian history?

If you are a CIRKSIS family member I would be interested in hearing from you. I am particularly interested in anyone who has information on the origins of the family name. If you are interested in Latvian history, what aspects are you interested in?

So even if you don't think we are directly related, why not post a message in the comments section of message me on twitter @cirksis?

I like to pop a photo into most posts so here is today's:

Here a few of the family heirlooms. On the top left is a ring given to Janis CIRKSIS by his mother during WWII. On the top right is a 1 Lats coin, it is made form silver and was worn on a necklace by Janis. In the middle are a pair of Latvian cufflinks which belonged to my father, I think they are silver, in the centre is an amber jewel. Finally, at the bottom are a pair of silver cufflinks which belonged to my uncle. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Australian Latvian Male Choir in Melbourne

While many Western English speaking nations define themselves in relation to their attitudes and there "way of life", Latvian folk song, folk tales and the Latvian language itself is considered fundamental to the Latvian identity. The language itself was born of the peasant farmers and solidified by Latvian academics who studied under Russian rule during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  See my article on  The Latvian Ethnic Identity for an in depth account of how Latvian Ethnic Nationalism came into being.

During the Soviet occupation, the Latvian language became endangered by mass deportations and immigration from the Soviet Union. Today the Latvian language continues to be an endangered language as the Latvians, Latvian Russians and stateless Russians in Latvia attempt to clean up the enthno-social mess left behind by the Soviets.

It is no surprise then, that the Latvian Diaspora considered it vital to maintain Latvian language culture in their new homes. One of the ways in which this was done was through Latvian Choirs. My father, Janis CIRKSIS was a member of such a choir, the Melbourne Australian Latvian Male Choir. One article published in the Sun (now the Herald Sun) mentions them:

Two of the best choir groups in an international choral concert at Wilson Hall ...  the Latvian Male Choir conducted by Karlis Nunavs, was heard in a selection of stirring or reflective songs which revealed splendidly resonant voices and good choral training in a company of singers already an acquisition here.
Below are some photos of the event, photographed at Wilson Hall at Melbourne University.

THe Latvian Male Choir of Melbourne, Australia sing at WIlson Hall at Melbourne University.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Project Update

There are many more photos to come! I am quite eager to have the scanning part of my project done so that I can get on with some "real" in-depth  research. It was with that in mind that I hired a professional scanning service  at a local shop. The scanning was to have been completed about a week ago. Unfortunately, the shop mistakenly scanned the photos at a very low resolution. Obviously this has put a bit of a spanner in the works as I can't invest any money in the software and services I will need to obtain until I am sure the scanning is complete and paid for. Rest assured that I will continue to post something at least once a month.

As I mentioned in a past post this will mean that some of the commentary will be a little superficial at times. As new information comes to light, I will update these posts.

I am also aware that some of the photos appear a little on the small side in the posts. If you haven't tried it already, they are all "clickable" and can be enlarged for a better view.

The Hard Life

For most people born into families that have enjoyed several generations of freedom and democracy  -as is the case for most people living in Western society - it is difficult to even imagine the day to day fear and depression of living under an oppressive regime.  The closest I can ever hope to come to understanding is through the photos of some of my family members that stayed in Latvia during the occupation. Not all of the photos are depressing, some show how difficult it is to crush the human spirit. The following few photos illustrate:

I believe this photo was taken in the 1970s in Latvia. It shows My grandmother, Katrine CIRKSE in her house.  While it is a relatively new tradition to smile for photographs, the look on my grandmother's face speaks to me of a deep sadness. By this stage of her life she had outlived her husband and two out of three of her children.  It must have been difficult for my farther to see photos like this and not be able to return to Latvian to console her.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Displaced Person Camps After WWII - Photos

Edit: New information from the International Tracing Service suggests that the photos contained in this post may actually be from Barum DP Camp in approximately 1948. If you are able to confirm this or otherwise identify the location pictured, please leave a comment below and I will amend the captions.

I have been busily scanning photos and documents for the past several weeks so unfortunately I haven't been updating this site as much as I would like. On a positive note, just as I think I have nearly scanned everything, I find more documents and photos. This meaning that once I have finished scanning, I will have a heap of material to post from. In the mean time I will try and post a few bits and pieces as I scan them. Unfortunately, because I am busy scanning at the moment, I won't have much time to research and write about what I post so my intention is to update some of these posts in the future as more information comes to light.

In the mean time here are some photos from my father's collection that relate to his time as a Displaced person. As mentioned already, I haven't done much research on these photos yet so some of the captions will be a little light on information and perhaps accuracy. I believe that most if not all of these photos are of a DP camp in Hallendorf in Germany. If you can add any information about these photos feel free to comment below!

One of the Baltic DP camps that Janis CIRKSIS stayed in after WWII. "Baltic DP Camp Wohnheim 2/3" near Hallendorf

Friday, 27 July 2012

Scanning the Family albums

Over the next few months I intend to post some old photos that my father Janis CIRKSIS kept in various albums. I'll post a couple of photos here with some quick descriptions so you have some idea of what is to come.

As I post photos, it is my intention to research them as much as possible. If you can add any information about anything I post please feel free to comment below.

Miķēlis ČIRKŠIS, my Grandfather. I believe this photo was taking slightly after or possibly during WWI. Miķēlis was a Latvian freedom fighter. I am hoping to trace some record of where and on which side he fought during the war - before he fought for Latvian independence. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

A short life story of a Latvian who migrated to Australia.

Presented on the historical  and cultural background of the country and people of his birth.
[The following is a short life story written by my father in September 2000. My father, born in Latvia, was a Displaced Person (DP) after WWII. From an Australian point of view, Janis' story shows us how important immigration has been -and in my view, continues to be - for this country. I have used Optical Character Recognition software to transfer the story from hard copy to soft copy. As it turns out this is a far from perfect process and there were many error that I had to correct so please forgive any errors that remain.]

My name is Jânis Osvalds Čirkšis (pronounced in English “Yahnis Osvalds Tsirksis"), born on 31" July 1924, in Níca at the South-Eastern corner of Latvia, a small country, the size of Tasmania, adjoining the South-Western shores of the Baltic sea. l was born the second son of my Latvian parents, preceded by a 2 years older brother and subsequently followed by a 2 years younger sister.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Latvian Ethnic Identity

The Following is an essay that I wrote on Latvian ethnic identity while at university. It's a little heavy for the casual reader - it is an academic essay - but I think it is still quite accessible to the average person. If you have any questions or comments, please post below and I will do my best to respond.

The concept of ethnic identity as an ideologically constructed myth is the primary concern of constructivism. Whereas primordialism and instrumentalism take ethnic identity to be real -either based on an innate feeling of loyalty or as a rational response situational constraints, respectively- constructivists describe nationalism and ethnic identity "as phenomena that are socially constructed ... products of human thought and action" (Yeros, 1999, p. 1; Brown, 2000, p. 20). Accordingly, constructivists deny that nations are real, substantive entities, suggesting instead that "the perception by those involved that they are real should be understood as a form of ideological consciousness which filters reality, rather than reflects it" (Brown, 2000, p. 20). Therefore, constructivists perceive ethnic identity as a process in the mind of the subject, constantly under negotiation through social interactions, as opposed to an objective reality.
In this essay, I will discuss two major formulations of the constructivist approach that are useful for analysing Latvian ethnic identity: Quasi-Marxism and post-modernism. I will begin with a discussion on the quasi-Marxist variant of constructivism and the role of the intellectual elite in the initial construction of the Latvian ethnic identity. I will then describe the role of discursive practices constructed around native folklore, folksongs, peasant traditions and Latvia's inter-war 'golden age' in the ongoing construction of the Latvian identity during and after Soviet occupation.

About the comming Blog

Coming to this space very shortly : The history of the Cirksis family. Of course it is only my branch of the Cirksis family but I will endeavour to find connections with family members all over the world.

While physical records deteriorate and are lost, it has been said that once information is uploaded to the net, it stays there. This website forms part of my research into my personal family tree and is intended to preserve the 'narrative' of the Cirksis family for future generations.

I will begin with some history on Latvia. I have several essays written by myself and by Janis Cirksis. The first ones I will post are on the history of Latvia and Janis' life story. I will also post essays and letters, written by family members, as a basis for understanding how they thought of the world at various times of their lives.

And now the disclaimer:

It is important to note that the ideas expressed in this blog are my own and are not associated in any way with any organisation that I might be or become affiliated with. Some of the ideas expressed here are not my own. I do not necessarily endorse or otherwise agree with everything that I post.