Life after 50 years in Latvia: Part 2

Note: This is part two of a two part series, to view the first part click HERE

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: Part 2

One of my younger day lady friends, a retired schoolteacher, has suffered a stroke. She is unable to converse, cannot walk, and is restricted to bed in a place which use to be the main general hospital in Liepaja. Today these premises are in a deplorable condition. The care and medical attention in the ward where my friend is situated is tragically deficient. In comparison, living conditions of the old Latvian people in out Retirement Village in Melbourne would be considered by those in Latvia as “a paradise on Earth”.

Among other of my friends and acquaintances in Latvia are medical practitioners, lectures, teachers, shop assistants, trades people, actors and students from schools, colleges and universities. For as much as they are engaged in positions under state control, their life is in most cases a continuous battle for their daily survival.

Very tragical is the fate of those, still young people, who due to no fault of their own become unemployed. Often their previous employers have not paid the required contributions to the government on behalf of their employees. In these cases the retrenched employees do not receive even the small unemployment benefit due to them.

Coming to Liepaja from another country after many years of absence, one has to notice the bad state of repair of most buildings, streets and footpaths. If one stays here for a more extended period, one learns to put up with the unhygienic water supply, canalisation, the irregularity of hot water supply, central heating and the chaotic local phone service. Phone calls to other countries are as good and clear as they are here in Australia. All in all one has to get an impression that in Liepaja for many years and even today the local government activities are of a very poor standard. On the other hand one hears and can read that conditions are much better in other places as for example Ventspils. So much about my experiences and impressions about the everyday life in the city and district of Liepaja.

Now I would like to share with you my experiences about the cultural and social life in Latvia.

Much has been done during the occupation by the powers of the Soviet Union to destroy the vitally spiritual culture and national values of the Latvian people. We can only thank to God that in this they did not fully succeed. The age old values and traditions have been guarded, defended and preserved, so that today they are basically strong and alive, and can be passed over to our coming generations.

In Liepaja is published the traditional daily newspaper “Kurzemes Vards”, in Latvian and also in Russian. So much for the “discrimination” in Latvia against the large Russian speaking minority. “Kurzemes Ekspresis” comes out on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In the city there is the State Liepaja Theatre, one of the finest in the country. This theatre is battling with great financial difficulties, but up till now, by great persistence by its management, staff and supporters have at least partially overcome them. Other amateur theatrical groups are also active in Liepaja. I had the pleasure of enjoying their performances.

Apart from the local schools there are many active adult mixed female and male, secular and religious choirs. Every year a week is devoted to the presentation of works by local and visiting poets and writers with their personal participation. Liepaja has a Symphony Orchestra of high standing. Apart from giving frequent concerts with own and visiting conductors and musicians it has made extensive concert tours to other countries, spreading the name of Liepaja beyond the borders of Latvia.

One of the brightest occasions in the Latvian cultural life in Liepaja in the early part of 1995 was the presentation of concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions, and other cultural activities as part of a festival to commemorize the 370th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Liepaja. On Sunday the 18th March, 1995 a special church service  at the Church of Holy Trinity was conducted by the Archbishop of the Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church, Janis Vanags. The service was attended by the Latvian President, the Prime Minister and invited foreign guests and dignitaries. During this service a specially for this occasion dedicated cantata, “Kantate Liepajai”, was for the first time presented by the Symphony Orchestra of the city of Liepaja with the participation of local and guest choirs and soloists. THe authors of this work are a well known local composer and a local poet. On another occasion during these festivities the Ninth Symphony by Ludvig van Beethoven was presented by the same artists at the State Liepaja Theatre. But apart from the many experiences during my stay in Latvia, I was most deeply and most emotionally touched during a dress rehearsal in Liepaja by the ... State and High School students from the city and district of Liepaja in preparation for the ... Seventh Latvian School and Youth Song and Dance Festival ... [edits made during transcription in order to improve comprehension].

Another unique cultural occasion was for the first time in Latvian Choral history organized concert of religious songs presented by many secular and interdenominational church choirs from the city and district of Liepaja on Sunday, 28th May, 1995 at the open-air stage “Put Vejini” in Liepaja. I had the great pleasure to attend this wonderful concert together with a visiting friend from Australia.

Apart from the city of Liepaja, its district also has many fine choirs and ensembles of Latvian folklore. As it happened, I was kindly invited to the 30th Anniversary Celebration Concert and the following social evening by the Latvian Folklore ensemble of the Shire of Otanki. Other performing guest ensembles had also been invited from the Shires of Barta, Rucava, Nica, and the further away laying city of Ventspils. All of them appeared on stage in their rich national costumes and performed their traditional Latvian folk-music.

Whilst in Latvia, I was introduced to and became acquainted with some lecturers of the local School of Music (Emila Melngaila Muzikas Vidusskola). This school has their own Symphony Orchestra and a small concert hall. THis hall is the venue for the performances by their own students as well as other local and visiting guest artists and ensembles. I was very pleased to be able to attend some of these performances.

In the wider area of Latvian cultural life, I should not neglect to mention the many good programs presented by the Latvian State Radio and TV transmitters. Unforgettable will remain the TV programs transmitted from all over Latvia during the Ligo and Janis day festivities in 1994. These programs showed how Latvians today celebrate this centuries old traditional Latvian festival. During the occupation this was not always permitted. The Latvian State Radion network every day transmits some very valuable programs, local and overseas news as well as items of current affairs, Latvian folklore, traditional Latvian lifestyle, items of a religious nature and from many other walks of life. I would listen not only to the locally prepared news, but also to news in Latvian transmitted daily from the radio networks of Free Europe, the Voice of America, and from Stockholm in Sweden.

Never in my life before did I have the opportunity to join in a common prayer with such a large number of Latvians together in one place as with the overflowing congregation at St. Annas church in Liepaja on Christmas Eve of 1994. Later I heard that similarly full to overflowing were also all the other churches in Liepaja on that night.

So, despite the currently great material hardships for most Latvians which detrimentally affect all areas of Latvian culture, health, education, social life, and general welfare of the people, the nation lives, but just. I would like to believe that our people will survive and overcome the present hard times in spite of the many, unfortunately among them Latvian, adventurers, seekers of material self-interest, the fragmentation of the body politic into too many political parties and the “free for all” activities of the criminal elements in the country. But to fully overcome all of this and to free our country of this dross will demand great patience, strong will, hard work, great amount[s] of self-denial and true idealism by the people of Latvia. I would like to believe that our younger generation will be that “salt” of our nation that will ultimately take our country and people into a brighter future.

Without delving deeper into the details of many other smaller episodes in the present lives of the Latvian people, I could now complete my talk on this topic.

However, in conclusion I should like to mention one more final, in my opinion important, aspect in the present situation in Latvia, the freedom and independence of Latvia and its people. It would seem that there still exists an element inside and outside of Latvia, namely the inheritors of the occupation forces of the preceding years. From what one can observe, it appears that this element cannot or will not forget the “good old times” (read: the more than 50 years occupation of Latvia). During the occupation large quantities of a foreign people were settled by the Soviet Union in Latvia. So far there has not been found a satisfactory solution how to deal the the results of this situation. Often one still hears that these people are quoted as a reason for the “violation of human rights” in Latvia. From time to time on hears open or poorly hidden threats of “coming to liberate the oppressed people”. A ver refined psychological warfare is conducted against Latvia and the other Baltic States. Unfortunately, until now the present and previously elected Latvian Governments are seemingly not taking such threats very seriously. As a result no positive action has so far been taken by our Governments to expose these false accusations within the forums of the wider information channels of the world for the lie they actually and truly are. I firmly believe that this my concluding aspect is not jusr a fruit of my imagination. Serious warnings in this area have also been voiced by other people in Latvia, who care and are concerned about the security, independence and freedom of Latvia and its people.


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