Sunday, July 30, 2006

Baltica 2006

This is footage from Day 3 of this year's Baltica Festival in Latvia. The Baltica Festival takes place each summer in one of the Baltic States, so every third year it is in Latvia, as it was this year. The Baltica Festivals, I believe, started in 1986 and were a major part of the movement that led to the Baltic States' independence from the Soviet Union.

The festival always takes place in a variety of locations in each of the host countries. This year it opened on a Th near the town of Sigulda; Fri it was in Riga; Sat it took place in different locations throughout the Latvian countrside, and Su it closed with a concert and ceremony in the very picturesque town of Kuldiga.

This is footage from Sat in the village of Kolka, which is located on the coast at the point where the Baltic Sea and the Bay of Riga meet in the Kurzeme or Courland region of Latvia.

More specifically, this is footage of two groups from Latgale. Latgale is a region of Latvia that has long fascinated me; it is considered by many to be the most rural part of Latvia, and it shares a long border to the east with Russia. The Latgallian dialect is quite distinct from the rest of Latvian, and Latgallians are considered a distinct group within the Latvian nation, though there is a small, small minority who consider the Latgallians a distinct Baltic ethnicity seperate from both Latvians and Lithuanians. I have heard many people--i.e., other Latvians--claim that one of the major points that makes the Latgallians distinct is the Slavic influence they have inherited in their borderland with Russia. Whatever is the case, there is a degree of similarity between, say, some Latgallian dance styles to those of their eastern neighbor, which is represented here at the end of the clip. I have seen/heard other Latvian groups play this tune while dancing in a different manner to the music.

One of the perfomers gives an explanation of his group's next song in the middle of the clip, which I have not subtitled. He explains, while speaking in more standard Latvian, that North Latgallians also differ from South Latgallians, which I presume he mentioned because of this stereotype in Latvia concerning how different Latgallians are from the rest of the Latvian bunch--well, he seems to be saying, Latgallians even differ from themselves, too! He goes on to say that the next song is an "apdziedasanas" (which I write here without the diacritical marks, as I don't have Latvian fonts on my laptop)--a song in which people sing about one another, often humorously. He says the singing of such songs is still part of wedding traditions in his, I think he meant to say, South North Latgale, and warns the audience that they might not understand the words as they are sung in the Latgallian dialect.

In short, Latgallians are to Latvians what Hutsuls are to Ukrainians.

In general, I have gathered from native speakers of Latvian that they can catch on to Latgallian if they listen carefully enough.

For readers of my blog, this is a perfect example of what I mean by "real" folk music/dance performance--no Sovietski Bullshitski, nor overly arranging and/or ornamenting the music, but rather the presentation of music and dance with an authentic village-based sensibility.

I absolutely adored the orchestra of the 4 older musicians that appears at the beginning of the clip.

In the middle and at the end of the footage appears my daughter with her mama and one of Julija's buddies--they are all dressed in Livonian costumes.

For family and friends: I was part of the festival, performing with the folk ensemble Skandinieki with Zinta; Julija was with us throughout the festival. In the footage you will see her charging to the performers on stage. Julija was a frequent and quite welcomed cameo in a variety of acts during the course of the festival, and was on stage when Skandinieki performed. Listen for the crowd's laughter in this clip as Julija takes the stage.


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thank you for the report and the video, Stefan!

I would add other major reasons why Latgallians are different -- Latgola was separate from the rest of Latvia, part of Poland 1561-1772 and then part of Russia proper (i.e., it was not a "Baltic province" as Courland, Semigallia, and Livland were). Russification was extremely heavy-handed, with a ban on the Latin alphabet and persecution of those who attempted the home-schooling that had raised the literacy rates in the rest of Latvia. Meanwhile, the Catholic church pursued Polonization. The vast majority of Latvia's Russians lived in Latgola prior to the Soviet occupation, many of them Old Believers. Many Latgallians were forced to seek a better life in Siberia in the late 19th C and were replaced by colonists.

Unlike the rest of Latvia, Latgola was part of the Pale of Settlement; Daugavpils (Dvinsk) was a major Jewish center (for instance, the first Ashkenazy chief rabbi of Palestine is from here).

While Latgallian does preserve some ancient vocabulary and forms that modern Latvian has lost, it is indeed influenced by Slavic (not only Russian but also Polish). There are some truly wonderful Latgallian writers, like Oskars Seiksts, who try to use a very pure language/dialect (it does have a standardized literary form). There are also those who speak a sort of Russified patois and call it Latgallian.

Vysu lobu,

Stefan said...

Peteris, you are helpful, as always. I am guessing that the Latgolian Catholics were Roman, not Uniate?

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Yes; when Southern Livland (Vidzeme) was under Swedish rule, the Jesuits came to Dyneburg (Daugavpils) from Wenden (Cēsis) -- and taught the Latgallian dialect of Latvian.

The Counter-Reformation was led by the Jesuits, and while Lutheranism was firmly established in most of the rest of Latvia, about a quarter of Latvia's population was Roman Catholic in 1925, the vast majority of the Catholics here in Mōras zeme (Livonia had been declared Terra Mariana by Innocent III; the term "Latgola" [Latgale] in its modern sense actually dates only to the early 20th C; the Awakening came late here -- serfs in Latgola were freed much later than in Courland and Livland. The Polish terms were Inflanty (a corruption of the German Livland) and the Latin Ducatus Ultradunensis (because it lies across the Daugava from the perspective of Poland-Lithuania) -- the Latgallians were long often simply referred to as "Vitebsk Latvians," because this was part of Vitebsk guberniya. Prior to Russian rule, the Platers (Polonized Westphalians, the Plater family owned much of southern and eastern Latvia) tried to make the now sadly dilapidated town of Krāslava a cultural and religious center -- I've started some paltry pages on it here:

Under Russian rule, the Catholics came under the Bishop of Mogilev. The Old Believers had come to escape persecution by the Orthodox in Russia, the Jews came because this was part of the Pale, and the Orthodox came as settlers and as part of a rather extensive military and administrative apparatus (the Daugavpils Fortress is the largest surviving example of military architure of its type), and many Latvians converted to Orthodoxy.

So I'll add another couple of influences on what it is that made the Latgallians different -- inheritance laws; unlike in much of Latvia, the land was inherited not by the oldest son but divided into long strips, so that people lived in villages. The land is poor, and the birthrate was much higher here. Despite considerable investment between the wars, Latgola never caught up (and is the poorest region in the EU -- anbd only ca. 10% of the investments in Latvia are made here now).

Because of the ban on the Latin alphabet, Latgallians also had difficulty with texts when the Awakening began here -- especially with Fraktur.

Identity here was primarily by confession, not ethnicity -- this exacerbated the differences with the rest of Latvia from the dawn of nationalism. The Red poet Laicens described Latgola as a place where people drink rather than read, squeezed between the Tsarist oppressors and the Polonizing clergy.

It's interesting, by the way, that the percentage of Roman Catholics is now considerably higher in Latvia than it was between the wars, and Catholic churches are being built in previously utterly Lutheran areas.

A little comment on some of the less believable stuff out there -- when the differences within Latgallian are brought up, several times I have heard Selonian called a dialect of Latgallian (by those who claim Latgallian is a language). This makes no sense at all, to my mind; the Selonians were not Latgallians, and as part of the Duchy they developed quite differently.

The Latgallians did have a degree of cultural and linguistic autonomy between the wars, especially before Ulmanis' coup -- there were even passports printed in Latgallian! The latest acomplishment is the creation of Radio Latgola, which just began broadcasting -- it hopes to counter a situation in which pretty much all local radio is in the Russian; the station will broadcast in Latgallian and will not play Russian music on principle, except in programs devoted to Russian music in Latgola.

The Latgallians chose to rejoin Latvia in 1917 at the Congress in Rēzekne; Kemps walked out after not getting elected, roaming the streets with a rabble he'd collected in Petrograd; ethnically Latvian Catholic leaders supported union, but they were opposed by the Orthodox clergy and others afraid of the "baltieši."

Unfortunately, the genuine desire of Latgallians to cultivate their dialect/volūda and culture(s) can even today be mixed with and exploited by people whose politics are sometimes somewhat suspect. Latgola was the only Latvian region to vote against EU entry, by the way.

Vysu lobu,