Saturday, December 31, 2011

10 A Latvian Latvia for Latvians? Mimesis or Alterity?

There are actually two names for the name of “clone”. The other is “clown”, one and the same name, but differently pronounced and, an inflection of derision aimed at “clone” by "clown".

One story how the name of “clown” originated concerns the king’s court, the king vs the “clown”. The absolute ruler, the one who takes absolute responsibility for his acts, seeing through his act (as all too human and fallible), therefore puts himself in the way of one full of derision for the office by inviting into the court a “clown”.

Though the clown is portrayed, in the West, mostly as a male, whose head on occasion rolls,the clown may also be a female. A female clown is but the mime of the king’s desire. However, when and if the king is caught copulating with the clown, it is he who becomes the clown, moreover, the one who betrays all his many clone predecessors and with them the supra authority connotation that goes with the name and office of king.

Today the office of king is widely derided in the name of human liberty and/or rights. This is one of the reasons why “monarchy” is no longer seriously considered as an alternative to democracy as a culture buble, now nthed and called "Pop", capital P.

There surely are many reasons why the office of “king” has caved to before the snouts of swine to be sniffed and rejected with an “urk, urk!”

The Windsor affair in England as per the following link (below) to “Her Royal Affair" shows that the roles are interchangeable, between a male and a female, between king and queen. Who is the clone and who is the clown are roles almost too painful to contemplate. If traditionally the role of the clown is played by a male, the “human rights libertarian”, who by implication (unless he recuses himself) is a supporter of liberal neo-capitalist economy, is often a she The Windsor affair in England shows that the roles are interchangeable in a number of ways, between a male and a female, between king and queen; and who is the clone and who is the clown is difficult to tell.

Nevertheless, the king's pain is when king begins to becomes a clown, he betrays then not only himself, but thousands of years of political history and elevates to the office of the Sun, the object of his incestuous desire, ra Sun, who turned into a bone (nicely fleshed out), pulls up her skirt  for him.

 1. When the valet of King Edward (see clip of “Her Royal Affair”) tells his master: “…but you are not a man, sir… you are a king”—and the king’s apparent incomprehension of what it is that his valet is telling him—sums up the tragedy of our times in a few words for many. Here is a short list of the tragedies:

2. If addressing AB and Emilija (about whom the preceding blogs), the same valet could be saying: “…but you are not a stud, sir… you are a father of four”;

To the Latvian people, the vallet would say: “…but you are not a mere people called Latvians, sirs and madams, but you are a community dying;”

Of course, there are a million excuses for Latvians--illiteracy with regard to politics and history, among the foremost of them.

Then there is ‘face saving’, claimed to be a human right of the ego, more important than the ‘charisma’ of self-sacrifice unto death that is a proven  bond of a community.

There is, of course, the angst that Russia, a once Holy Land populated by the same Children of Johns, who were also proto-Latvians, now infected with the “wealth virus” or oligarchism, will awaken to its ancestry, and all the romanized Ivans will arise so many resurrections, but with invalid passports, denied them for being Latvians supporting Latvia's romanization, re westernization.

There is the oligarchy of the European Union, whose laws are more important than Latvian sovereignty, and to whose banks the Latvian President, Prime Minister, Finance Minister, and State Bank President are beholden above being beholden to Latvia.

Then there is “the law” issued by the secular government in Brussels dictating “religion”. Not to mention the matter of centralization of power in Bruessels (Vatican II) presuming itself to be infallible in matters both  secular and of religion.

Herewith ends my autobiographical essay regarding the affair of AB and Emilija. These clones of oligarchal viruses, alterities and clones of other oligarchs. This disease prompted them both to reject mimesis and present themselves as alterities of their former selves. The price for doing the trick was formidable with regard to the future of those who followed them.

Unpleasant as this digression has been to their descendants (Emilija was my godmother, thus religious tradition wise, I have her to descent from), the reawakening of their memory through a photograph of a moment at their wedding ninety years ago, prompted me to say what remained unsaid. Photography, incidentally, is the technical side of mimicry.

The copy mashine is the theatre of our day, because that is how the day is and happens.
In the next blog, I will turn to the history of Istanbul, once called Byzantium. Someone at this portal (LOL) asked me what I thought about Istanbul when I visited it.

I will tell next why I did not go to Istanbul “to see it” or look at it, but to be able to say “I have been there”. There may be a few pareidolias’ on the theme among the upcoming blogs.

Friday, December 30, 2011

9 A Latvian Latvia for Latvians? Mimesis or Alterity?

Each actor, when asked to play a role, will play it his or her way. Thus, each Latvian actor, if asked to play The Bear Destroyer (Lachplesis), will do it differently. The same goes for the reenactment of any role, say, in an opera. This role playing is what is called miming, mimesis of an original presented by the creator of a story or the “Creator”.

However, when an actor becomes something entirely different than the character presented by a writer/creator, if the actor becomes a turn-coat vis a vis the character, then this is known as alterity. Thus, Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde or Mr. Hyde becomes Dr. Jekyll. Such a switch also describes a split personality. The story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was originally written (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Lewis Carroll, who wrote “Alice in Wonderland”, a story famous for  the invention of many curious characters, one being the Cheshihre Cat , sees the cat mimicing himself by leaving behind himself a grin even as he himself disappears.

The terms “mimesis” and “alterity”, I take from Professor Michael Taussing’s work by that name. I was especially taken by the chapters in the book on the Cuno (also Guno, Kuno) Indians of Panama , who according to Professor Taussig in spite of many and frequent exposures to cultures other than their own managed to stay the same, did not change in their fundamental character, and did not become turn-coats vis a vis their ancestry.

In the Cuno culture, it is the men who mimic their western occupants, soon learning to dress as their occupants, while the women remained the guardians of the ancestral values, especially through their skill at making appliqués, the famous mola blouses .  The Cuna men to our day remain protective of their women. However, the key to maintaining the Cuna community is (to quote from Wikipedia) “a Saila (pronounced "sai-lah"). The Saila is traditionally both the political and spiritual leader of the community; he memorizes songs which relate the sacred history of the people, and in turn transmits them to the people.

Now the Saila for the Slavic and Baltic/Latvian people was traditionally know as Ivan and/or Janis/John. Unfortunately, unlike among the Cunos, where their Saila retained the power of life and death in the community, among Latvians, their John or Johns were savaged, killed and humiliated, by the religion of the oligarchs. Left with no place to run and hide—the forests being largely destroyed by the middle of the 19th century—the Latvians were left with little choice but to “westernize” or lie themselves into an alternate existence. This “lying into” another make-believe creature is fanatically defended (a characteristic of the convert) as “real” (rather than virtual). This is a widely shared Latvian characteristic. Any subliminal guilt associated with the denial of the culture of their forebears is hastily covered by prejudice, re: once anti-Semitism and now anti-Russianism or anti-Slavism, a feature quickly exploited by the real occupants of Latvia: the romanizers, which includes everything and all characteristics that are described by the word “West”.

If the reader has followed my blogs, he-she can see how the “westernization” affected and manifested itself through this writer’s family and his experience and eyes. The brightest playing cards in this “game of transformation” belong to AB and Emilija.

First, there were my grandfathers, ‘westernized’ men, who came (about 1740) to “westernize” demoralized Latvians through bringing them into their Herrnhuter community. Second, there are the women: a) my paternal grandmother, also famous for her work with yarn and needle, but eventually brought low by their “westernized” counterparts. The road traveled by the “westernized” or romanized counterpart is clearly seen by the process of alterization experienced and performed by my godmother Emilija Simsone Benjamins, who changed from a woman with soft features into a harsh, stern, steely, managerial looking magna-tes.

Much could be written about the metamorphosis of the mimetic faculty into an alternate and alternizing character. The excuse for the submission of tradition to something entirely different is summed up in the statement so common in urban liberal democracy, re: change: .

Having gained his “million”, AB buried himself ever more in work, became extremely “fat” (went on cures to Germany to heal his ‘heart embraced by fat’), and wished that he could divorce Emilija. He did not do the latter on the advice of his lawyers, one of who was my godfather, a “senator” of Latvia’s Supreme Court, because then he would lose his amassed ‘million’ in the hands of his 2nd wife, Emilija. Whether AB had originally been willing to so “alter” himself, I will never know, but he had no doubt taken the chance that he may die of the effort. The ‘heart embraced by fat’, perhaps a psychological consequence of losing his sovereignty over his person, was a consequence of his succumbing to the “wealth virus”.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

8 A Latvian Latvia for Latvians? Mimesis or Alterity?

Because his earlier bankruptcies in the hardware business had made AB, my grandfather, unable to sign on as a publisher of the newspaper, and, therefore, the million of his dreams let him get but a whiff of it—with the substance of the money going into the personal account of Emilija—AB’s first wife and mother of his four children was, so to say, “not happy”.

At the time when AB first came to Made Jurjane and pleaded with her for her signature that would permit him to divorce her and marry Emilija, my grandmother was, one “angry” Latvian countryside woman.

Among other things, the documents that AB and Emilija had exchanged between themselves with regard to who owned what and who would get what if one of them were to die, was one known in the family at large as the “Testament” or “Will”. According to the Will, in the event of Emilija’s death, all the material substance, proceeds, and monies of “Jaunākās Ziņas” (The Latest of Latest News) would go to her heirs, these heirs being her mother, two sisters and their descendants.

On her lawyers' advice, Made Jurjane did not agree to release AB from his obligation to her and the family that he had left in her care as he, first, went bankrupt as a shopkeeper; and, second, was willing to sell out the principles of egalitarianism of the Herrnhuters in a Faustian deal to make “a million” by sacrificing his own.

If the link to Emilija  is correct, that AB and Emilija started living together in 1911, Made Jurjane let them both feel that they were not to get away with their under handed deal to do in Blankenstein, owner of Rigaer Tagesblat, and her and her children for their benefit alone. On the advice of her lawyer (one Liepins), my grandmother held her will against that of Emilija for over a decade, thus allowing all of Riga know that AB, her husband, and Emilija were “living in sin”—as such live-together arrangements were known in those days.

To this writer’s surprise and delight, a friend sent him a photograph, taken in 1922 at the wedding of AB and Emilija. The photograph had been hidden among family possessions for near ninety years. According to the sender, the family was doing house cleaning and burning old stuff found in the attick, and had come across the picture. The reason it was not consigned to the fire was because one family member remembered that their late mother had said that the photograph ought to be saved, because it was of certain well known people and apparently had some social significance.

There are a number of interesting features about the photograph. The most significant is that of Emilija—her appearance, her looks—in 1922; and her appearance in subsequent years (see link above). The appearance of Emilija today is known through a hastily written and sensation seeking book (probably the only way a book can be sold in Latvia with some profit these days) , “Mīla”, written by the Maija Muktupavele  It is interesting for me to see AB all these years ago. While AB (62 at the time; his 150th birday anniversary was celebrated with a display at the Missinu library last year, 2010) is immediately identifiable by his nearly bald head, Emija (41) looks a completely different woman from the one being presented to the public today.

Photo Copyright Eso Anton Benjamins.

First Row (from L to R): George Aicher (Juris Benjamins), son of Annija Aichere (immediately behind), Ede Usiņa (Peter’s grandmother and Emilija’s mother), AB, Emilija, and Theatre director Eduards Smilģis.

Second Row (from L to R): Annija Aichere, Mina Usina (stage name Tusnelda), Rudolph Aicher, unidentified young woman.
Both Emilija and AB display their wedding rings.

What is striking about the photo is how different Emilija Benjamins looks in 1922 from the way she looked in later years.

The photo shows at least five theatre professionals (AB, the sixth, became associated with the theatre as a result of his efforts to become a playwrigfht in years before his association with Emilija (He won an award for his play, called “Fog” (Migla)—something of a do-it-yourself moralizing and educational play about why stay sober to make it in the world. In restrospect the number of actors present 9 (in retrospect) in the photo includes almost all shown. However, as ‘reality-theatre actress’, Emilija topped all.

Let us now compare the faces as projected in the following two photographs:

Emilija Benjamin, photo said to be taken in the 1920s, possibly around 1928, 29.
It is certainly post-1922.
In this first picture is Emilija as we are used to seeing her presented today in books or media.

Copyright Eso Anton Benjamins. Emilija on her wedding (2nd) day in 1922.

Here  is Emilija’s face in the photo on the day of her wedding in 1922.

I have no other photographic evidence of AB’s and Emilijas wedding day.

The other side of the family (AB’s children)  was also present, but is out of the picture. My father, John (Janis) Benjamins, who under less stressful family circumstances would have been in Rudolf Aicher’s place as his father’s, AB’s, “best man” is not in the photo. It is interesting to see Eduard Smilģis, a theatre director, act the role of Emilija’s father, the one who gives the bride away. Perhaps, in a symbolic sense, he was her father: that is, we may guess that he introduced Emilija to AB ten or more years (1904 or a little later) before.

Incidentally, the design of the photograph is that of two hands, cupped, fingers spread, both hands facing the viewer . If we attempt to re-enact the positions in the photograph with our hands, the R hand overlays the L. This may not have any significance, but perhaps it does. Emilija enacts the role of the index finger, while Smilģis is the R hand’s thumb, and AB the middle finger, Ede Usiņa the ‘ring finger’, and Juris Aircher-Benjamin (4) is the ‘pinky’.

The photograph also reveals some other things. But suffice unto the day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

7 A Latvian Latvia for Latvians?
A Russian Russia for Putin?

The last paragraph in my previous blog read: “The question that remains is—just how much did the Reformed Church, the Herrnhuters, the Lutherans, the spiritually revived proto-Latvians succeed in ‘reforming’ the collaboration between secular and religious forces? If we are to judge by results—the liberal neo-capitalist world order of today—the result of the ‘Reform’ of religion has been nil and on the minus side.”

The following clip is an excellent come-back to the accomplishments of the “Reformation religion” now come to rule America, and trying to bring the “Arab spring” to Russia and China. If I read it right, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, , too, has chimed in against the commercialization of Christmas .

If we look for the deep-sourced-cause for the “wealth virus”, this writer recommends to the reader a history of the wealth virus as presented through the eyes of economist Michael Hudson, who takes us back to the Romans decimating democracy in ancient Sparta.

In any event, by traveling through many of history’s labyrinths, the virus found its way to Latvia, first brought by the (good for nothing)  religious vassals--relatives not fit to direct a secular oligarch guided government--of French and German kings. The vassalage (or knighthood) originated  at the Cluny monastery in France and its subsequent imitators. This 'religious' route was of oligarch lineage. It led to Latvia through  Bishop Albert of Riga a city on the coast of proto-Latvia or Livonia. Six centuries later the religion lived on through the well meaning efforts of the Herrnhuters in the 18th and 19th centuries converting all proto-Latvians to the religion of liberal capitalism. Not surprisingly, Latvians to this day do not have a left political wing. The repression of the left in Latvia since at least the 12th century, and, thus, with no mitigating agency in conflicts between  an oligarchy and the poor, with the only “left” ever in power being Stalin and his supporters among the Latvian Bolsheviks.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, essentially because the violence of this once in a life-time “left” made people sick and disgusted with it, Latvians quickly reverted to the dictates of the capitalist dna, now channeled by English-speaking Latvians and Latvian-European pathways.

For AB and Made Jurjane the capitalist virus began to break down their “ģimene” (family) on the very cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries. The hammer of coincidence hit the nail, their “ģimene”, smack on the head, and killed it.

After AB had served some twenty years as a director of the Platere school (I am not sure what grades it taught), his boast made at an inn in his youth that “someday I will be a millionaire”, made him open two hardware stores. Either through AB’s lack of experience as a shopowner or because of inexperienced and/or slowenly employees, the stores went bust. These bankruptcies made AB become a virtual slave to his creditors, there being no protection for the bankrupt in those days.

If AB ever wished to realize his dream of becoming “a millionaire”, he would have to entrust his next business venture to another person, one whom the creditors could not touch and whom he believed he could implicitly trust.

The next venture led AB to leave his job as school principal and move to Riga. When in Riga, AB found a job as an editor of a German newspaper. AB had learned German from his father, who in turn had probably learned it from his father, and which language at the age of four this blogger spoke as well as he spoke Latvian.

In 1904, in Riga, AB also met Emilija Elks, a young woman, twenty-one years his junior, who worked selling ads for the same German language newspaper AB was editor at. Emilija was married at that time to an actor by the name of Elks. It was not a happy marriage. Family stories have it, that AB met Emilija when she submitted for publication a review of a play at Riga’s Jaunais Teātris, (Riga’s New Theatre). AB let the review be published. This was about 1904, when AB was forty-four years old, and Emilija was twenty-three. They began to live together in 1911.

By supporting Emilija, AB did not only give backing to a yet fragile young woman, but through that woman, found for himself the next leg to his dream of “a million”. Emilija, young and pretty, and now because of AB’s backing also self-assured, sold ads so successfully, that AB began to dream of becoming a newspaper tycoon or magnate.

at Wikipedia tells it, AB and Emilija, increased their collaboration, did some obvious scheming among themselves, and using the owner’s (Blankenstein) absence from the newspaper as an opportunity for themselves to in due course take the newspaper over.

Because of his earlier bankruptcies, AB could not sign on as a publisher of the newspaper, now renamed Jaunākās Ziņas (The Latest of Late News), and began to distribute it throughout Riga as a “for a kopeic” newspaper). This was one of the first ever NEAR FOR FREE publications in the world. The idea for such a newspaper traveled the America to St. Petersburg to Riga route. My father and uncle Karlis both were students in Peterburg, and Karlis brought the idea of a penny newspaper to Riga. The idea itself began in England through the development of ballad broadsides, which made some of the publishers of words to popular melodies rich
and sometimes tragically misused by their valet, man or woman . “The Latest of Latest News” does not look all that much different from a ballad broadside.

 “Jaunākās Ziņas”, took Riga by storm. In the short time of ten years, both AB and Emilija (they married in 1922) were millionaires. In twenty years, Emilija Benjamins was playing on occasion the role of Latvia’s First Lady for the Ulmanis (unmarried) regime.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

6 A Latvian Latvia? By Way of Mime or Alterity?

When Made Jurjane met Antons Benjamins (henceforth AB), he had just arrived in Ergli (actually it was Vecogre) from his first year as a teacher in Rujiena (about 1881). As AB was also a choir leader, and Made had a nice voice and musical relatives, she joined the choir.

As people say today, AB and MJ started ‘dating’ and in the course of time married. AB moved on to a teaching post in Platere, a small village then near Ogre. In the course of time, AB became the choir director for the entire region of Vidzeme. He and Made had four children. My uncle Karlis, was he oldest son, but he died years before I was born. My father, Janis, was second in line, followed by two sisters, Anna and Marta.

The trouble that was lurking for my grandmother was a kind of hidden bacillus infecting the social arena of the time. As I pointed out in a previous blog, I think of this bacillus as a wealth virus, a kind of a flue of the time.

The infection arrived with the Herrnhuters in the years that followed the Great Northern War, which ended in 1711. The first Herrnhuter (in English this may be translated as Top Hat) arrived in Latvia about 1739. My first ancestor’s name was one Andžs, from which I take my pen name of Jandžs. Andžs is known in the English language as Angus. The Irish Poet Yeats has a wonderful poem called “Song of Wandering Angus”. I cannot read it without thinking about the wandering proto-Christian preachers known among Latvians as Jahni or Johns. Such wandering preachers or Angus were common in the early centuries of the 2nd millennium also in Languedoc, now southern France. Known as Cathars, these early Johns were wiped out by the Inquisition in the latter part of the 13th and early part of 14th centuries. The Cathars were infiltrated by pseudo-Christian spies of then rising Roman Church. An account of the times and events can be read in Caterina Bruschi’s ground breaking book called “The Wandering Heretics of Languedoc.” Bruschi is a Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Birmingham.

I am not quite sure how my theory about the rise of the Roman Church sits with the academic community, but I suspect that it arose with the rise of the secular princely and landed class about a thousand years ago. Needing to repress the anarchic energies of a truly democratic forest people (in those days most of Europe was covered by forests), the landed classes coopted the proto-Christian church by persuading it to remove the Johns (Cathars, Bogomils, etc.) to a region in the skies, which these early oligarchs called their Haven, which we know today as Heaven. Along with this removal effort, the proto-Christian myths were rewritten. Thus, the Sun of the Winter Solstice, became one Jesus, while the Sun itself became the halo surrounding the baby’s head that we still see in so-called nativity scenes.

The battles between the Johns and the priests serving the oligarchs has not ended to this day. Anyone, who knows something of the history of the Christian religion, knows that the destruction of the Cathars did not end the civil war (if you will) between the various Christian sects and movements. The Herrnhuters were an outgrowth of these conflicts.

While a Reform movement, the Herrnhuters were not reformers without faults of their own. In the process of the many intra-Christian conflicts, they, too, had become infected with the oligarchal virus that came with the violent rise of the oligarchal classes. Indeed, the founder of the Herrnhuters was a German noble from around the region of Dresden, Germany. Though a prince and an oligarch, he was, at the same time, once of the rich kids with an anarchic streak in him. The German nobles kicked him out of their high society, and one of his first trips as an exile was to Valmiera, proto-Latvia. After this, he went to America, but did not have too much success as an evangelizer for his ideas.

One of Graf Zinzendorf’s revolutionary ideas was that evangelists should not be simply talking down to the  people, but should be living in their midst. After he was persuaded by the conditions about Valmiera, that his movement would be useful there, he issued a call for volunteers. The first arrived in Valmiera in 1739 . My guestimate from looking at my family tree is that Andžs arrived in proto-Latvia about 1740. Wherefrom? I do not know. My dna tests show that my paternal ancestors, my closest dna relatives, are clustered about Croatia, northern Italy, and Romania.

AB’s father, Janis Benjamins, was working as a starasts (elder, community leader, for a German baron). I am not quite clear just where, but it is not beyond the possibility that it was about the region of Taurene, where a famous (and allegedly cruel) German noble had part of his estate. In the course of time, JB became the owner of an inn, a ‘krogs’, where on Sunday’s he held Herrnhuter meetings. In those days, it was not uncommon to have inns near churches. The proto-Latvian peasants often visited these inns before going to the church and, no doubt, after getting out. One did after all have to wash all the rhetoric and advertisement out of one’s mind.

The question that remains is—just how much was the Reformed Church, the Herrnhuters, the Lutherans, the spiritually revived proto-Latvian succeed in ‘reforming’ the collaboration between secular and religious forces? If we are to judge by results—the liberal neo-capitalist world order of today—the result of the ‘Reform’ of religion has been nil and on the minus side.
5 A Latvian Latvia? By Way of Mime or Alterity?

Latvians living today abroad and removed from their forebears social environment by at least two, more likely three generations,  have no idea of the life-style in Latvia a hundred years or more ago.

The basic difference in the social environment is that between life in a household and life in a family, and between a profit system based on an exchange of gifts and favors and a social system based on money.

The household based social system rests on the development of communal bonds, while the money system rests on who has more money and the skills to make more money--at whatever the social cost.

I learned of the difference between the two systems in a crash course in 1940, when as a “rich kid…” (as one cranky ex-Latvian among the responders to these blogs describes the effects of my blogs on his limited experience and ability to interpret Latvian society, he evidently knows nothing about, and apparently is too conceited to want to learn more).

With the occupation in 1940 of Latvia by the Soviets, Latvia was confronted with the final phase in the destruction of its ancient social system, which was based on the household or what Latvians call “saime”. I have not read or heard a thing about saime in the Latvian media since my return to Latvia. The 'saime', has been utterly replaced by the family or “ģimene”, and this replacement has been the subject of many of my blogs in one way or another.

I met the “Sokleni” saime, when my father, “a rich kid” due to his father’s wealth, was suddenly faced with all his means of income nationalized. In order to save his family from destitution, he removed it to the countryside, where a sister of his mother, Made Jurjans, had a farm. Thus, at the age of eight, I met my aunt Emma Melbardis, nee Jurjans.

The Jurjans were then and still are, a well known family in Latvia. Back in the days of about a hundred years ago, the family was well established in the Vidzeme hights region, specifically round about the village of Ergļi. The Brothers Jurjans continue to be recognized as musicians, who organized the first horn (pūtēju) ansemble in Latvia, and were partly responsible for the creation of the Latvian opera .

I am innately fascinated with names, and have since childhood been interested in their origins. Unfortunately, in Latvia, knowledge of history is not a well developed area either in academia, media, or the public at large. One may excuse this by pointing out that Latvia is a poor country, and has few and little resources available for the study and research of history’. Today, the internet makes this easier—if only people clicked their “Search” buttons more often.

As to the origins of the Jurjan tribe, the Search button, when looking for “Jurjan” will bring the reader to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea , and a city by the name of Gorgan , in an ancient region of northwestern Persia (today Iran) known as Golestan. As the first sentence of the Wikipedia site has it: “The Volga trade route was established by the Varangian Rus who settled in Northwestern Russia in the early 9th century.

The relationship between the name of Jurjan and Gorgan must be sought traveling the etymological route. The consonants J and G are frequently interchangeable. Moreover, in former times, not all people could readily pronounce the consonant R, thus formerly Amsteldam is today’s Amsterdam, and the Golestan region remains Golestan, even though its capital city is Gorgan or perhaps Jurjan (to those Golestanis' who became Latvians). Incidentally, the name of Jurjan is met with in many European nations as a search for that name will discover.

It is rather surprising for a Latvian to discover that his maternal lineage takes him back to Persia, and that the dark locks of hair that made my aunt and grandmother somewhat “sprogaina” may originate in the area of the Caspitan sea. So much for the Westernized Latvians’ attempts to drag me into the system of “money” that destroyed and keeps destroying through “civilization” the household traditions of Latvian saime that was the corner stone of Latvian society a century ago.

The “saime” of Sokleni, consisted of my aunt Emma, her husband Rudis (Rudolfs) Melbārdis, their two step children, uncle Rudis brother Karl, a retired sailor and man of all trades (smith, wagon maker, horse trainer, etc.), two household helpers (one from Poland), young women both, milk maids, a family of three “young farmers” (husband, wife, and daughter Valda), my own family, consisting of a mother with three children, and before he had to return to Riga and face arrest, my father, too, did his chores as a farm hand. All in all, the saime consisted of fifteen people, with Sergey, a Russian prisoner of war, joining as a trustee, in a later year.

When the war began, and the farm house (visible from the highway) was often filled with fleeing civilians and military, aunt Emma fired up the bread oven, opened the honey pots, and fed, both, the fleeing Russian and advancing German troops. The livestock of the household consisted of 25 cows and a bull, 12 horses, 35 sheep, 10 pigs, one cat, and two dogs, innumerable chickens and ducks. When let graze in the open field, the latter were in my charge. It was this social unit that went through the war as one community, not basing its economy so much on money, as on cooperation, a criss-cross of personal bonds, and the will to survive and stay alive.

Far removed from such households/ saimes as existed in centuries before it, Sokleni, nevertheless, was less an imitation of same, as an alterity, a recreation of a traditional social system. Violence and vulgar behavior was not tolerated, and was dealt with on holidays. Indeed, the famous brawls of Latvian holidays, often were not the result of drunkenness, but a ground for settling scores which it was not convenient to settle at home.

It is interesting that “the rich boy” with plenty of money in pocket and bank account, was forced to return to the traditional and still existent household system, when time came for ‘naked’ survival. Today’s urbanites have no idea whence or what the social environment of their forebears. It is a shame that urban “virtualism” reigning in Riga should dictate Latvia its future through an advertisement oriented social setting.

Friday, December 23, 2011

4 A Latvian Latvia? By Way of Mime or Alterity?

Many readers of my blogs have, no doubt, been sometimes as frustrated as puzzled and have wondered why my blogs tend to be so contrary to what they have been tought or have learned as having to do with being “Latvian” or of Latvia. When I first began writing my blogs, I wrote almost exclusively about the origin of John, pronounced in Latvian, “”Yahnis”.

I knew John to have been an important figure in Latvian folklore and ritual, the latter, expecially by way of the midsummer festival known as Johns Eve.

I was amazed that the origin of the Johns Festival, said by many to be Latvia’s most important annual event (over and above Christmas) was—in spite of the many songs that it came with—actually so mute. No one knew to tell anything about its origins. It sufficed that men and women decked their heads with wreaths of oak leaves and flowers intertwined by grasses and danced around a wooden barrel stuffed with wood and pitch of pine, raised high on a pole nine meters tall.

The burning wood barrel stuck on top of a pole (rather than a bonfire) appeared to be a purely Latvian invention. Such food as was traditional to the festival, was home made beer and home made cheese with lots of caraway seeds.

As I was gradually discovering John/Yahnis, I came to the conclusion that he had some distant but certain relationship to John the Annointer (I dislike the term ‘Baptist’). Since in my youth, I had considered studying “religion” and had briefly imagined myself a priest, I soon came to the conclusion that John was not only a precursor of Jesus (as the NT claims), but that he actually was what Jesus had been before John, poor man, was “neutered” through priestly insistence that he be demoted, after which humiliation, he was sent to a  “heaven” somewhere in the skies.

In my younger days, led by one or another inspiration, I must have read the Bible and the New Testament from one end to the other (I guestimate) up to five times. By comparison, I read Dante’s Divine Comedy and Cervante’s Don Quixote 2x. I was rather familiar with the Orthodox Christian imagery through my fascination with the interior of the Riga Russian Orthodox Cathedral, where at about the age of six, I had first come face to face with a life-size crucifix in a floor to ceiling niche. My mother, distraught over the disappearance of her father upon the entrance of the Soviets into Latvia, had taken me with her to where I had never been taken before.

Karlis Ozols, Latvia’s ambassador to Moscow many years before, had mistakenly believed that his wife’s friendship with Mrs. Tsurupa, whose husband was the Soviet Union’s Finance Minister, would somehow protect him. This in spite that many years before, he had been told in Moscow that if he wished himself and his family to be safe, he better return to America, where he had spent the years of the First World War.

Unfortunately, grandfather was taken with having once been an ambassador and having become owner of a notable estate in Priekule (the one near Liepaja). To make enough money off the estate was not easy. In its early history, the estate had made its wealth off its mill, which used to make wool yarn for Latvians as well as Lithuanians. The practice of agriculture brought a lot of headaches (even though his son Aleksandrs had studied and become an agronomist) with unhappy labor showing its unhappiness by occasionally burning down a hay barn. I remember one occasion when, after I was awakened by anxious voices in the hallway, I looked at the walls and ceiling of my room and saw or imagined seeing on the bare and graying walls reflections of distant flames. The year was 1937 or 1938.

In any case, to return to the theme of mimesis, alterity, and acculturation that informs this series of blogs, I am of the opinion today that Ambassador Ozols was done in by his desire to act (and therefore be) an important man. The obsession brought him to the Lubyanka Prison  cellars in Moscow. Alas, miming wealth is a notorious virus that infects the human brain from about, at least, the middle of the 19th century.

It is the attempt to play the role of a wealthy person that has by 2011 infected the minds of almost every Latvian. There are almost no Latvians, who escape the wealth virus. The virus, shaped like a mind meme, travels throughout the land and kills any potential for alterity.

I should know. I will reserve the story of my other grandfather, Antons Benjamins, the Latvian newspaper tycoon and his second wife Emiliya, for the next blog. The wealth virus cost them both their lives, and ruined many more.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

3 A Latvian Latvia? Par Latvisku Latviju. For Whom?

In defining “mimesis”, Professor Taussig (mentioned in blogs 1&2) writes: “Mimesis plays this trick of dancing between the very same and the very different. An impossible but necessary, indeed an everyday affair, mimesis, registers both sameness and difference, of being like, and of being Other.”

For a conventional dictionary definition of “mimesis”, click this link:

There is another Other to mimesis, re: alterity. Taussig defines alterity in the context of speaking of the Cuna, an Indian tribe that lives in Panama. Writes Taussing: “The available histories of the Cuna shed strange light on the logic of this process, for by remaining resolutely ‘themselves,’ resolutely alter vis a vis old Europe as well as—note clearly—its black slaves, the Cuna have been able to ‘stay the same’ in a world of foreceful change.”

If we return to the subject of Latvia being and remaining a Latvian Latvia, then it is rather clear that the Latvians of today are not alterities to their forebears. The Latvian Latvia is a conglomerate of acculturations of Latvians, re Latvian Latvians, Latvian Soviets, Latvian Germans, Latvian Americans, Latvian Australians, Latvian Canadians, soon to come Latvian Irish, etc. At best, these acculturated Latvians “play this trick of dancing between the very same and very different….” There are no alternate Latvians of their forebears.

The alternate Latvian was in the process of creation or recreation from about the time of the Poet Rainis and many others, through the years of the (dictator?) Ulmanis regime, on until the occupation of Latvia in 1940 by the Soviets. As I have argued, the Ulmanis government was liked by most Latvians, because it allowed for the coexistence of a subsistence economy along with the development of a middle class. The latter proved itself being in the process of creating an alternate Latvian identity, in my opinion, through the tremendous amount of energy in schooling Latvian young in the refugee camps in the various occupation zones in post-war Germany. Unfortunately, this passing on of a Latvian alterity was interrupted by the necessity to move on and normalize the “refugee” status by adapting to the various cultural environments (largely liberal capitalist) of post-WW2 world.

With the end of WW2, the process of Latvians creating of and for themselves an alternate culture ceased in the West and in the East. In the West, an outstanding example of an attempt to create an alternate Latvian, was provided by the post-Soviet Latvian President Vaira V. Freiberga and her husband, when they collected and classified all the Latvian folk-poems (tautas dziesmas), which had come down to our time from the days when the Latvian God was a Goddess, Saule, the Sun. Unfortunately, by this time, the Romanizing tendencies in the congregations of Latvian exile churches, had made any actual resurrection of an alternate Latvian culture impossible. My personal criticism of VVF presidency is that courage failed her, and she did not take the opportunity to change the words of the Latvian anthem from “Dievs svētī Latviju” (God, bless Latvia) to “Saulīt svētī Latviju” (Dear Sun, bless Latvia).

Such a change in the Latvian anthem would have made possible a revival of the evolution of alter Latvians, instead of leaving the post-Soviet space filled with acculturated Latvians. Of course, one may argue, whether Latvians would have picked up the challenge and sung: “Saulīt, svētī….” Whether yes or no, at least Latvians would have given the matter a thought. This is not happening now, especially not with when a Latvian Latvia has political leadership/government that to cite a woman on a television program (Sastrēgumstunda) yesterday evening claimed with obvious presumption that “We are after all a European nation”.

Such assertions are but continuations of the Crusades begun by the West against the East, known by historians as “the Great Schism”, which forced much of the priests of the East, the proto-Christians, the Johns, the Ivans, the Johanns, the Johns, the Dions, etc. to remove themselves from walking the pathways of Europe East to a ‘resurrection’ where they were to sit on their hands in a world beyond the clouds. Zhena, a feminization of the name John, once known to Latvians as the Daughter of the Sun, too, was diminished. Nothing of Zhenas remains in Latvian Latvia, though in the Russian language, they have come to stand for the name of ‘girl’, re ‘zhenchina’. Of the Latvian alternate, all that remains is ‘Jancīga’, when talking about a girl or woman with uppidy airs about her.

Today is Winter Solstice. May the Dear Sun (Saulīte) shine on Latvia!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2 A Latvian Latvia. Par Latvisku Latviju. For whom?

“But I cannot help feeling many of the people and countries voting for the new agreement (following The British decision to veto the proposed new EU treaty) were only thinking about their financing needs in the short term, and were not fully cognisant of the fact that they were voting for a new beginning, a new type of Europe, where living standards may be lower, but the debt dynamics will be more stable. Personally I can only make sense of this in terms of Europe’s current demographics, and the challenge that is represented by maintaining health and pension systems in the face of low growth and ageing and declining workforces.” --Edward Hugh
As the economist and blogger Edward Hugh  above has it, many are expecting “a new type of Europe, where living standards may be lower….”

Is a Latvian Latvia one of the countries of “a new type of Europe”? The answer is “certainly not” in the sense that it was asked by the chairman of the Editorial Board of the Latvian newspaper “Larvijas Avīze”. See Blog 1 in series. Unfortunately, his vision of a Latvian Latvia leaves Latvia essentially as much “a do nothing” and “know nothing” state, a role it has played for over twenty years.

Latvians are not “a do nothing” and “know nothing” people. However, it is an undeniable that their government has put them into this unenviable position by its ““do nothing” and “know nothing” manner of governing.

The irresponsible government of Latvia pretending to represent the State of Latvia has also for a long time enjoyed the support of such daily publications as “Latvijas Avīze”. While the editors of the publication certainly are “free” to indulge themselves in blowing hot jingoist airs, it and any number of like mindsets, have acted to thwart for the Latvian people their narrative. This thwarted narrative has by now produced for the people an untenable ambivalence whether their language, Latvian, perhaps should give room to Russian as the country’s 2nd language.

Interestingly, the untenable ambivalence was generated by the most jingoistic of political parties, the “Nationalist League”, when to boost its political standing it began a campaign to gather signatures to stop teaching Latvian Russian children in Russian—as has been the country’s tradition since its inception in 1918. The Russians countered with a signature gathering campaign that bested the Nationalist League by a ratio of 19:1. This self-invited disaster, which so obviously is the result of the false pride generated by over two decades of thwarted narrative about the future of Latvia, has, at last, awakened “some” kind of a narrative.

One of the narratives is swirling around the Latvian Russian accusation of Latvian Latvians as being fascists.

Latvians respond to this with a resounding NO WAY! On the other hand if we define fascism by the definition given it by Wikepedia (which has no pro-Russian axe to grind), re: “a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology.[1][2] Fascist ideology exalts the Nation over the individual and favors plans by the few to exclude plans by the many.[3] Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood.[4] To achieve this, fascists purge forces, ideas, people, and systems deemed to be the cause of decadence and degeneration.[4]

That Latvia today should have fallen into the trap of the above definition is one of the results of thwarted narrative creating out of the cobwebs an  “untenable ambivalence” that gathers about Latvia as some “anarchic rubble”. Incidentally, I have borrowed these couplets [“thwarted narrative, “untenable ambivalence”, and “anarchic rubble” from Michael Taussig’s book “Mimesis and Alterity” (Chapters 10 & 11).

The ladder out of the trap is obviously “a visionary ladder”, an object that appeared to Jacob in a dream's_Ladder after Jacob had laid under his head a stone for a pillow, an excellent symbold for a “thwarted narrative”.

A merry Latvian “jandāliņšh” (yandahlins) to everyone. Come the darkest hour of the Sun’s descent, go bang your pots and pans to awaken a new day. May Latvians make Latvia “dimd!”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Latvian Latvia. Par Latvisku Latviju. For whom?
By Antons Benjamins 

While in Valmiera this morning, I picked up a copy of “Latvijas Avīze”. My eyes stopped at the 3rd page, re “Komments and Viewpoints”. The Viewpoint was expressed by Voldemars Krustiņš, who is listed as the Chairman of the Editorial Board, the Editor in Chief being one Linda Rasa.

What caught my eye about editor Krustins Viewpoint was that it came under the heading “The Referendum—About a Latvian Latvia.” The title, moreover, was written under a lead, that went: “There is not and cannot be/ any question over the Latvian language, but only about a Latvian Latvia./ If the question is not over the latters, then what is it about?”

I am inclined to second the last by Krustins. However, with reservations. I have never met editor Krustins and know little about him. The overall sense of him that I have received over a period of many years (I am an occasional reader of “Latvijas Avīze”. My subjective sense of Krustins viewpoint  is that he is right of center, the ‘right’ defined mostly by anti-Russian orientation, which is premised on his certainty that “the Russian problem is the result of the influx of Russian speaking people, which is the result of the Soviet occupation of Latvia”.

However, if this is so, how is it that in the years immediately following 1991, Latvians did so little reflecting on who they were, what it is that they wished for themselves in the future? Since my first visit (since 1944) happened in that year and was followed by several more, before I came to stay in 1995, What was most impressive about those first years was the reckless abandonment of the Latvian countryside to Latvian apparatchiks who did not count as Soviet occupiers. Most of the collective farms (sovhoz), were abandoned, if not outright destroyed, by people carrying away everything that was moveable. Forests, too, were being cut down with little sense of responsibility, because the doers of the damage were local municipal administrators, who had no flear of any law, because they were protected by administrators at the next level up, say at the regional level.. Most often, the money earned by this demolition derby did not go into the account of the pagasts, the municipality, but simply disappeared. People who protested, were quite simply intimidated  with methods of threats inherited from the Soviet times. The intimidators were not the Soviets, but Latvians.

One Latvian who protested the corruption—actually vandalism by Latvian officialdom—Adolfs Buķis, killed himself (1993) at the foot of the Riga Freedom Monument. His relatives were threatened Soviet style, not to speak, because their children would be kept from attending school. Another inheritance from the Soviet occupants. I was interested in this sacrificial event (as I am interested in self-sacrifice as part of statecraft), and interviewed several family members of Buķis, who confirmed the above.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, the politce promised the public to investigate whether Buķis allegation that his act was to protest government corruption was true. The investigation never took place, perhaps due to the presumption of some Latvians that to take such an extreme action against one’s own now said to be FREE nation, is as incredible as it is unacceptable.

This writer’s own disgust with the Latvian government in office, after all is said, eventually goes back to this uninvestigated event and the presumptions behind it. It is the presumption that everything that came under the name of Latvia was about a “Latvian Latvia” that has by this day evolved to  become virtual dictatorship by a corrupt government. Is it beyond argument that a parliamentary democracy is beyond criticism of having turned itself into a form of fascism (social security for the in-group)?  How does one explain the so-called Zatler’s “Reform” Party going quietly into that good night without any protest when the leader of presumed “reforms” accepts a car costing over 65,000 lats, when a decent enough car can be had for one tenth the cost? At least the newspaper’s cartoonist shows Zatler’s kicking the tires of the Audi and asking, if the car will stand up to a tank?

If former President Zatlers stands for a Latvian Latvia, I have to LOL. I hope that editor Krustins forgives me for standing way left of center to his statement that “There is not and cannot be/ any question over the Latvian language, but only about a Latvian Latvia./ If the question is not over the latters, then what is it about?”

I am inclined to think that what it is about is over the use and meaning of words in the Latvian language. What does it mean when Latvian words say one thing, but the Latvian leadership presumes that it is alright to go in the opposite direction? I welcome the fact that the Referendum appears to be inciding discussions over whether to vote For or AGAINST it.