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26.10.2009

Multiple Pasts, Uncertain Futures: Focus on Latvia

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The second issue of Atslēgvārdi/ Keywords continues the theme of the narratives of the past and the future, this time with a focus on Latvia. The year 2009 has seen the commemoration of the ‘Baltic Way’ of 1989, the human chain that stretched from Tallinn all the way to Vilnius in commemoration of the devastating consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. The Pact itself is still a focal point of the Latvian culture of remembrance. This year has also seen continued efforts by political actors both in Latvia and elsewhere to make the interpretation of twentieth-century history more universal, sometimes by substituting simplified ideological or geopolitical explanations for critical analysis and meaningful discussion.

This issue of the journal Atslegvardi/Keywords presents a set of articles that pull, however cautiously, at the tangled knot of ideological discourses and rationales that surround the issues of twentieth-century history in Latvia.

Katja Wezel’s stimulating discussion of Latvia’s history politics and culture of remembrance, focusing on a contextual analysis of the film Soviet Story, is a brave reminder of the scarcity of critical and scholarly approaches in the sea of political discourses that strive to shape Europe’s memory of World War II, Stalinism and repressions. Wezel claims that because an exhaustive and legal identification of the perpetrators has not taken place in Latvia, in part due to a lack of complete and legally usable documentation, a more politicised way of dealing with the past stepped in. This approach carved out a privileged space for remembrance of victims of one dictatorship but not of the other, and attached the Soviet stigma to groups of people within contemporary society.

The stigma of the Soviet experience haunts the authors of Latvian autobiographies who lived and worked in the Soviet era, to which the analysis of their narratives in the article by Mārtiņš Kaprāns bears witness. While their professional experiences are called to validate their narratives as worthy of telling, the authors of memoirs still have to negotiate the narrow straits of complicity with the regime and to arrive at a satisfactory self-justification strategy, which would allow them free access to the gratifying repertoire of positive nation-building discourses.

Finally, Iveta Kažoka’s essay on the difficulties of democratic deliberation in the Latvian Saeima addresses the reluctance of mainstream political parties to discuss the place of non-citizens, the non-naturalised remainder of the Soviet-time immigration, and of the Russian-speaking minority as such, in the political sphere. Attempts to increase the political participation of non-citizens, while often instrumentalised by parties claiming to represent their interests, are also commonly sidelined because of the Soviet stigma attached in public imagination to this group.

The articles demonstrate, by means of academic analysis and intellectual discussion, that nothing is quite so clear, let alone simple in the politics of memory in Latvia today, but that critical discussion is possible – and, indeed, desirable.

Maria Golubeva, member of the Editorial Board

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