Continuing to work through this piece in Lenta, about the Latgalian ethnic minority within the nation of Latvia. We discussed the controversial figure of Kārlis Ulmanis, inter-war Latvian dictator who invented the slogan “Latvia for Latvians”. As fascist dictators go, Ulmanis wasn’t such a bad guy, really. In the scheme of things, and by the standards of that time. Whose standards (on his side of the ledger) were set by the likes of Mussolini and Hitler. Ulmanis didn’t really oppress the Latgalians all that much, he didn’t forbid them to use their own dialect or stop going to Catholic Mass, he just wanted to make it clear that Latvians were the titular people, that’s why the country as a whole was named “Latvia” and not, for example, “Lettish Federation” or something like that.
Ulmanis had a good run for his money. But his fate, and Latvia’s fate, was to be decided at the big boys table. After the pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop) between Germany and the Soviet Union, Latvians voted to join the Soviet Union as the 15th Federal Republic (July, 1940). Westies pooh pooh this election, natch, and claim that Stalin rigged the vote. But keep in mind that Westies tend to dismiss any vote that doesn’t go their way, even unto modern times. Therefore, their whinings and objections should be met with raspberries of doubt. Western propagandists are like that tribe in the classic logic puzzle who tell sometimes truths and not-so random lies. Also keep in mind that pre-war Latvia was a class-based society, consisting of landowners, capitalists, workers, peasants, and priests. In a class society there are going to be different political views; and among those views, during that era, there were lots of socialists and communists as well. Who may have legitimately gotten perfectly sick of Ulmanis by then, and were quite capable of marching to the voting booths and pulling the lever for Stalin.
As a fascist dictator, Ulmanis had his own way of dealing with class differences. Which was the Mussolini way of creating entities called “corporations”, which were sort of like class-based guilds. And you have to give some credit to the fascist philosophy, that at the very least fascists recognize the fact that society has class differences and lives in a state of class conflict. And the fascists of that time actually tried to come up with ways to deal with this issue, and to regulate the class conflict. As opposed to liberal democracies which, to this day, dwell in a state of denial that classes even exist, or that the conflict rages on that level. Liberals assign all of society’s woes to incidental factors and identity issues, rather than delving down to the core of it. Then, in the absence of rational discussion of actual class differences, fringe groups are able to step in and point the finger at their own favorite scapegoats. As in “These guys are the source of all our problems!”
So, in his approach to the Latvian situation and the class conflict in general, Ulmanis set himself up as the so-called “Heart” of Latvian society. The Heart (=the intelligentsia and charismatic leadership) which, according to fascist sociology, as enunciated best by Thea von Harbou, mediates between The Hand (=the industrial working class and peasantry) and The Head (=the ruling classes of capitalists and landowners).
Well, the Soviets had a different way of dealing with class differences: They tended to seek out the political support of The Hand, try to win over The Heart, and chop off Heads when needed. Capitalist Heads tend to be like hydras, though: They keep growing back!
Case in point: Inter-war Soviet Latvia was very short-lived. Barely had it begun its existence, when the Nazis just marched right in (Nazi invasion of June-July, 1941). Nazism, a virulent strain of fascism, blames all bad things on Jews. And it didn’t matter what class a Jew belonged to, whether he was rich or poor. Women and children were not spared either. In fact, the whole point was to exterminate the Jews as a people, so women and children are particular targets. During the Nazi occupation, most of the Latvian Jewish families were murdered in cold blood.
But what about the Latgalians? Did they suffer too? Well, no, they actually did okay under the Nazis. As Veretennikov writes, there was even a certain revival of Latgale culture under Nazi occupation. Veretennikov writes “paradoxically”, but I don’t actually see the paradox here. Since Latgalians are majority Catholic, hint hint. Anyhow, in 1943 a newspaper in the Latgalian language, Latgales Bolss (“Voice of Latgale”) was issued in 30,000 copies. Latgalian writer and publisher Vladislavs Locis, was active during this time in Daugavpils, publishing books and magazines in the Latgalian language.
With the war over, the Nazis chased out, and Latvia once more a Soviet Republic, the Latgalian language finally lost its status. The Powers That Be decided, ho hum, well, it’s just a dialect, after all. The year 1960 marks the final time that anything was published in Latgalian, and it happened to be an issue of the “The Kolkhoznik’s Calendar”, Latgalian language version. And yet the flame had not yet died out completely, Latgalians never lost hope that one day they too could become a real language…
[to be continued]