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”.

Unfortunately, during my short stay in Riga I did not find the time to explore our large captial in greater detail. After a few days there I travelled to Liepaja and Nica, the places of my childhood and younger days.

Due to the care of our previous neighbours, who are now the owners of the homestead which belonged to our family, most of it has been preserved in a reasonable condition, and I was kindly received there. During the next few days I met again 6 of 8 still surviving cousins, their children and grandchildren, some 40 relatives in all. The younger ones I only knew from pictures sent to me to Australia. They all became very dear to me which made the subsequent departure back to Australia not as easy as it would have been otherwise.

As time went on, I participated in the local Church services at Nica, where I had been baptized, and at the St. Anna church in Liepaja, where I received my confirmation many, many years ago. During the years of occupation the church at Nica had been converted to a sports hall. Not too far away from this church is a cemetery called “Perlu Kapi”, the resting place of my parents and my sister. I was also able to visit the resting places of my grandparents and relatives at other cemeteries.

I found that over the years the whole Shire and the central part of Nica has greatly changed from the place I knew before. During the early part of 1949 the previously private owned farms were forcefully incorporated into a large collective farm. Over 40 thousand Latvians from all over our country were cruelly deported to other parts of the Soviet Union during March 1949 in this process. In Nica a part of the collective farm still operates as an incorporated private company. The farmlands are now very slowly and gradually returned to their previous owners or their descendants. Most of the land which belonged to our family has been built up or put to other uses. Apart from only 3 hectares of our previous land the balance has now been allocated to me next to it. I have transferred my inheritance in Latvia to my godson, who is the son of one of my cousins.

All my Latvian relatives live in the city and the district of Liepaja. It was more convenient for me to live in the city. Before I found and purchased a flat, I was kindly taken in by one of my cousins.

One of my cousins has inherited the earlier farm of his parents. At 76 years of age it is hard for him to properly look after it, since farm labour is very difficult to obtain.

Another of my cousins has also inherited two previously privately owned farms of his parents. He and his wife live on one of these farms. The other farm he regained only during 1993 after the local collective farm was liquidated. He found this place in a very badly run down condition. The family of his daughter are now living there. His son, my godson, lives on a property which he inherited from a close relative of his grandmother. The property rights of the land there are not yet finalized. The total land available to these three families permits them, 6 adults and 6 children to only eke out their daily living. My cousin’s family were deported during the collectivization process. Now he and his wife receive an invalid pension. The buildings of their farm are still in a good condition. His son has managed to repair the home he inherited and has established all new outbuildings required to a farm. A lot more work and funds are needed to do the same on the farm where his daughter lives. She is a schoolteacher and works at the local State Primary School.

These three families are very busy with their day to day responsibilities on their land, particularly during the short summer in Latvian. My cousin and his wife are now getting older and cannot do as much as during their younger days, but the others are still young and healthy, and help is growing up. There is a reliance to their own capabilities and a hope for a better future for themselves and for the Latvian people as a whole.

One of my female cousins who used to be my nanny, passed away whilst I was in Latvia. I did not have the opportunity to meet her while she was still alive. The other three of my female cousins are age pensioners. Their present living conditions are very hard.

Two of my male cousins are both tradesmen, and used to having decently paid positions. Nowadays their jobs have become irregular, very poorly paid, and at a constant danger of dismissal, due to the stagnating economical conditions in Latvia. At their age and in Liepaja where they live, it would be practically impossible to find another place of employment. To these five of my cousins the future looks insecure, hopeless and very sad.

I had a great pleasure to meet four of my mates from our earlier college days. They had remained all their working lives in Latvia and had been professionally engaged. One of them, after his retirement, is still running his own farm in the country. Of the other three, two live in Liepaja and one in the country. They are all retired and used to draw a good superanuation. However now they have been brought down to the common low level of all age pensioners in Latvia and share their common fate.

Among all my previous known and now newly met people in Latvia I did not have any closer association with any of the few “newly rich” ones.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Life in Latvia after 50 years coming soon


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