The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century

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					The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th
Century: the Nation as a Quasi-Religion
                                                                                   Deniss Hanovs
                                                                         Latvijas Kult¥ras Akademija

         Deniss Hanovs, born 1977 in Riga, Latvia, is a Latvian of Russian origin. His Ph. D.
         Dissertation (The Middle-class nation – Baltic Herald, 1869-1906) was dedicated to the
         problems of deconstructing the national ideology in Latvia. He has taught at different
         universities in Riga, at the University of Vienna and is currently the Deputy Director of
         the Department for Ethnic Minorities at the Latvian Ministry for Social Integration.

                               MOVEMENT IN THE BALTIC REGION
                           The process of nation-building among the indigenous peoples of
                           the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire in the second half of
the 19th century is one variation on the theme called nationalism. This phenomenon
spread throughout Europe, and its 19th-century forms was a continuation of the 18th-cen-
tury political philosophy of the late Enlightenment which discovered folk culture and reli-
gious beliefs and stressed the importance of a new historical subject – the people.
Latvian nationalism is one of the cultural processes that shows the interconnectedness of
European culture. As an example of this phenomenon the connection between religion
and national movement and ideology shows parallel processes of nation-building in differ-
ent European political cultures. Religion – mainly the traditional State Church in the
absolutist Europe of the 18th century – became one of the main targets of the

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century                     Religion, Citizenship and Empire   131
      Enlightenment philosophical and political thought. At the same time in the early stage of
      development of the ideology of nationalism, religious elements or elements of cult (litur-
      gy) were integrated in the public events and elite activities of the European nationalist
      movements. It is enough to remember the beginning of the French revolution in 1789, the
      Festivals in the name of the Highest Reason and confessional identity as a part of nation-
      al ideology in the modern Balkan region, Poland or Russia. Religious practices as created
      for public access and participation have been combined with new subjects of the new
      ‘national’ liturgy. The Nation, as a politically active people, often made use of the idea of
      a ‘chosen’ nation. According to the German historian Michael Jeismann national ideolo-
      gy can, in a short period of time, develop its aggressive energy, creating first an exclusive,
      then a chosen and finally a holy nation that can tolerate no competition. During this
      process, in the representation of ethnic superiority religious elements (including sacred his-
      tory and new ethnic saints) are integral parts of the new political ideology 1. The
      Enlightenment came to the Baltic provinces through the reception and interpretation of
      the German Enlightenment. At the same time the reception of Enlightenment thought
      was not passive: most of the intellectuals who lived and acted in the region took an inter-
      est in the local situation. Attempts in the Baltic region to realise in practice the concept
      of the educated individual as an autonomous and physically and spiritually free person go
      back to the beginning of the 18th century. The desirability of free peasants instead of serfs
      in the Baltic region was proposed by Theodor Ludwig Lau (1670-1740), one of the repre-
      sentatives of the early German Enlightenment, whose socio-economic essays based the
      idea of abolition on his experience as a ducal official in Courland 2.
      One of the most prominent figures in this field in the second half of the 18th century was
      another German intellectual, Pastor Gotthard Friedrich Stender (called the Old Stender,
      1714-1796). In terms of the scheme proposed by Miroslav Hroch 3 he was one of the rep-
      resentatives of the “A period” of the national movement. (During this period, according to
      Hroch, national heritage is the object of scholarly discourse among educated representa-
      tives of foreign cultures). Stender’s interest in Latvian folk culture and language was taken
      as a sign of the real value of Latvian popular culture, as well as an indicator of the need to
      enrich Latvian written culture through media of mass communication (newspapers). The
      first editor-in-chief of the Latvian national newspaper “Baltijas Vestnesis” [The Baltic
      Herald] (published from 1869 to 1906), Bernhard Dirik, in his work Latviešu rakstniecÆba
      [Latvian Literature] (1860), praised Stender above all other writers in the Baltic provinces
      because he had tried to realise the ideas of the Enlightenment as a mass process, and
      because his aim had been to give the Latvians opportunity to acquire education at a time
      when they themselves were unable to develop their language and literature 4.
      Johann Gottfried Herder was without doubt one of the most significant representatives of
      the German Enlightenment whose ideas became an essential part of the system of the
      Latvian national movement. His work Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit
      (1784-1791), written in classical Weimar, gave crucial impulse to the thought of the
      Latvian nationalists, not only because Herder viewed language as an expression of the
      character of the ethnic group, but above all because he viewed culture as created and artic-
      ulated by the people, which (he said) was capable of creating aesthetic categories 5.
      Herder had made some comments on the obscure origins of the Latvians and had stressed

132                                                                                    Deniss Hanovs
the inner aesthetic value of their language. But it was his close friend and ideological dis-
ciple, the Baltic German journalist and writer Garlieb Helwig Merkel (1769-1850) who
articulated most clearly the case for liberating the serfs, described the situation and state of
Latvian culture, and was consequently integrated into the historical scheme of the Latvian
national movement as one of the heroes and protagonists of nationalism in the Baltic
region. His ideological image, a cult created after his death, illustrates the way in which the
leaders of the national movement sought to create the past of the nation, something which
at that time was still a task for the future. As an instrument of the new national ideology,
the phenomenon of the nation was defined in terms of a metaphysical, irrational and
extremely emotional set of beliefs, supported and represented in a new historiography by
nationalist authors and put into practice by different rituals that will be analysed below.
Although the nationalist tradition depicted Merkel as a passionate hero, almost a messiah,
his proposals to improve the situation of the peasants should not be seen in isolation from
his own ethnic and social identities 6. Merkel had accepted a pension from the tsar for his
book Die Freien Letten und Esthen. Eine Erinnerungs- Schrift zu dem am 6 ten Januar 1820 in
Riga gefeierten Freiheitfeste [The Free Latvians and Estonians. A Commemorative Essay ded-
icated to the Freedom Festival celebrated in Riga on the 6th of January 1820], Riga 1820).
But after his death in 1850 he became for the Latvian national movement the embodiment
of the dissenting Enlightenment tradition, with respect to Latvian culture. Why were his
influence and the reception of that influence more important than that of the classical
authors and representatives of the Enlightenment such as Herder? Under what historical
conditions did Merkel become the representative of the Latvian ethnic cultural myth, who
revived (constructed) the ethnic past? Why did Latvians use Merkel for their kon-
trapräsentische Erinnerung [memories as reaction against the present] 7? The answer to the
question should be sought in the idea of cultural equality with other ethnic cultures,
including German, which was expressed by Merkel at the very beginning of Die Freien
Letten. Merkel described as unnatural the situation in which one group of Baltic citizens
(the German landowners) exploited another group of equal citizens (the Latvian peas-
antry: Merkel uses the term Mitbürger) 8. This can to some extent explain the enormous
popularity of the book among the Latvian nationalists, especially taking into consideration

                                                      Fig. 1
                                                      Title page of Merkel’s Die Letten in the original

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century                     Religion, Citizenship and Empire   133
                                                    Fig. 2
                                           Atis Kronvalds.

      the fact that the book was actually written not for the Latvian peasants at all, but for the
      educated society of Germany and of the Russian Baltic provinces, and also for the Russian
      government, addressed directly in the person of the book’s dedicatee, the Governor-
      General of Liefland, Estland and Lithuania, General-en-Chef Prince Nikolai Vasil’evich
      Repnin 9. Merkel’s reconstruction of the past can be seen as justified if analysis of it is based
      on dialogue of the Latvian nationalists with Die Freien Letten. For the national movement
      Die Freien Letten was Merkel’s central work, and it was discussed in the national press.
      Merkel himself stressed in his subtitle the themes which were later taken up by the nation-
      alists as their main subjects, such as language and history.
      The information about folk culture which Merkel promised in his subtitle is the reason why
      the book took pride of place among the works crucial to the national movement. Another
      crucial work was Nationale Bestrebungen [National Aspirations] (1872), by Atis Kronvalds,
      one of the principal figures of the movement. He elaborated Merkel`s ideas on the need to
      develop written Latvian culture and to support education. These ideas underlay the publi-
      cation of the “Baltijas Vestnesis” article mentioned above. The article opened a long peri-
      od of development of the national ideology created by the Latvian national press, in which
      “Baltijas Vestnesis” was the leading Latvian newspaper from 1869 until the first competi-
      tion was set up in the 1880s by democratic middle-class groups 10. The Latvian national
      press reflected the evolving image of the national past, its history and social mythology.
      Merkel`s place in the thought of the national movement was based principally, as already
      indicated, on the reception of his book Die Freien Letten by the young Latvian intellectu-
      als who now constructed and defined the attributes of Latvian national identity, and who
      called their own activities the ”national awakening”.

134                                                                                       Deniss Hanovs
                                                 Fig. 3
                                                 Krišjanis Valdemårs.

Merkel created the basis essential to every national movement - a past that could be activat-
ed for current political aims 11. The glorious past which represented the Latvians as brave fight-
ers for freedom was associated with particular intellectual capabilities, which were for Merkel
constituted a kind of guarantee of development and progress of the ethnic group. The Latvians
are depicted as a nation with its own history and a people which has its own rights 12. Although
the Latvian nationalists avoided calling the Latvians a nation, but used the word people
instead, they participated in the creation of the essential parts of the nation. The conception
of the past which they discovered in Merkel`s book was useful because it showed that the cur-
rent situation of the Latvians in the Baltic region could be changed; it legitimised Latvian
progress up the social scale, as exemplified in the biographies of the first generation of Latvian
nationalists themselves 13. The representatives of the national movement were mainly indi-
viduals who had personally experienced the growing movement of Latvians from the coun-
tryside into the cities, among which Riga was the region’s principal industrial centre in the
19th century. This first generation of Latvian nationalists also exemplified the cultural trans-
fer of German nationalist theory and the reception of its main works. Kronvalds, for example,
was influenced by Fichte’s Reden an die deutsche Nation 14. Krišjanis Valdemårs, another key
figure of the first generation, studied at the University of Tartu, where he created and partici-
pated in the so-called student evenings, gatherings that were in fact the first forms of organi-
sation of the Latvian national elite 15. To understand what the group called the Young
Latvians, or national activists (a synonym used by the American Latvian historian A. Plakans)
  , had in common, it is necessary to mention the elements which forged the social and cul-
tural identity of the group, whose members had grown up both in the realm of German
landowner culture and in that of the German urban middle classes. Some of them, such as the
editor of “Baltijas Vestnesis”, Dirik, and the head of the Riga Latvian Association, Kalninš,  ˛

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century                     Religion, Citizenship and Empire   135
      were married to German wives and spent their private life within the German cultural tradi-
      tion 17. Most of them were active in the nationalist press and were concerned to develop the
      Latvian cultural environment. This explains why the national movement was interested in
      linguistic rights, and wished the language to be spoken in the various fields of Baltic cultural
      life – in schools, the law courts, and during the song festivals. For example, the “Baltijas Vest-
      nesis” made the language question the main focus of its critique of German domination and
      the main goal of the nationalist cause – equal rights: “As we all know, one of the main aims of
      the Latvian national awakening is to give the same rights to the Latvians as can be enjoyed by
      the Germans” 18.
      The idea of progress, the importance of language and songs for the preservation of ethnic
      and cultural differences, were reflected in the ideology of the Latvian nationalists.
      The national movement can be viewed as the result of different economic and social as
      well as cultural development, of reforms and new processes within the social structure of
      the Baltic region. After the liberation of the serfs in the Baltic provinces in the period from
      1816 until 1819 and the land reform in 1849, the peasantry was able to rent land and later
      to buy it. This provided a basis for the emergence of a relatively well-to-do peasantry that
      traditionally did not have large families. The children of these peasants were able to con-
      tinue their studies to tertiary level, and went to university, either in Tartu or in St.
      Petersburg. The first generation of educated Latvians, which appeared in the 1860s,
      intended to create a national culture, which could serve as an alternative to the foreign,
      German cultural influence 19. Among the tools at the disposal of this nationally orientat-
      ed group of Latvians was folklore, and the production of the national mythology. This in
      fact, because of the lack of written artefacts from the ethnic past, was a creation of the
      group which led creation of the national discourse and moulded the main forms of the
      national past: each period in the past is better 20 than that which came after it, and that is
      why the desire to return to the past was developed as the way to find the lost national cul-
      ture. To advance meant to go back. On the basis of these specific features of the national
      ideology can one agree to answer affirmatively the question whether at the origins of the
      Latvian national movement, “the awakening is merely a renewed, re-established mytholo-
      gy?” 21. Similar ideas about creating the past for current political or social purposes can be
      found in the works of the national activists who established the first national Latvian
      newspaper, “Peterburgas Avizes” [Petersburg News] which for three years (1862-1865) pro-
      moted the ideas of the national awakening in the Imperial capital. there Among the endur-
      ing elements of the national awakening were the interest in the cultural background and
      in the origins of the language. The problem of the existence of the national language
      reflected the combination of the linguistic nationalism of the Enlightenment with nation-
      alistic romanticism. National constructs appeared in the press. In 1869 “Baltijas Vestnesis”
      published an article by Waldemårs Silinš entitled ”Brief Remarks on the Latvians and the
      Latvian Language” 22. This article was the first to make interpretative use of Merkel’s
      Letten. The comparison between the Latvians and German tribes, in favour of the Latvians,
      shows the first reception of the content of Merkel’s book. Waldemårs Silinš’s article shows
      the reception as a direct transfer of text. Silinš created his Latvian history on the basis of
      the concept of Wiederkehr [historical return] which is one of Merkel’s essential theses 23.
      Silinš’s conception of history needed no proof, no critical approach. Considering that the

136                                                                                        Deniss Hanovs
Latvians had always lived in the region, he excluded every basis for discussion and created
a fixed structure of social mythology. Eternity as something which allows no other version
or interpretation was followed by the idea that the Latvians were close relatives of the bar-
barian tribes of Odoacre who destroyed the Western Roman Empire. At the same time the
Latvians’ past was associated not only with their role in the destructive processes of world
history, but also with the purity of the language. Silinš presented it as an unique and inte-
gral element of the past, comparable with Latin and Greek as one of the ”few languages in
the world which had preserved their natural beauty” and a feature which integrated the
Latvians into the cultural past of Europe 24. Merkel`s view of the spiritual potency of the
Latvians was transformed by the newspaper into the idea of a true and a false history, the
latter written by the local Germans to control the indigenous people 25. Silinš’s article, if
viewed not simply as literary fantasy and pseudo-historic research, can demonstrate the
utilitarian approach adopted by the national movement towards the past and the interpre-
tation of its fixed literary forms. The article shows the beginning of the construction of
enemies, which demonstrates the existence in Latvia of a form of the ethnic nationalism
which spread all over Europe in the second half of the 19th century 26.
The articles in the “Baltijas Vestnesis” illustrate one of these tasks – to free the collective
memory from its inferiority complex and to fill it with a collective past able to awaken the
sleepers, to overcome their dreams 27.
Another example of national identity as a construct viewed as something to be awoken
or activated is the term national spirit, which was accepted in the Latvian national ide-
ology and corresponds to the German term Volksgeist, developed by the German
Romantics 28.
The “Baltijas Vestnesis” formulated the spirit as a collective noun, which made it possible
to stress qualitative differences between the national cultures that were destined to inter-
act in such a multinational area as the Baltic provinces, and especially in Riga, with its four
different mentalities and cultural traditions: German, Latvian, Russian and Jewish. The
task of the spirit was to build an identity based on primary sources of cultural difference in
everyday life – the language and the forms of its existence such as folk songs, the press and
theatre, books, and schools. Comparison of the two texts or sets of texts, Merkel’s Letten
and the above mentioned articles in the “Baltijas Vestnesis” shows the direct transition of
Merkel`s text into a new period and a new medium of national ideology, the newspaper.
Merkel stresses the necessity of believing in the capacity of the spirit to recover after so
many centuries. The newspaper turns Merkel into the first protagonist of the national
awakening (the term belongs to the lexical specifics of the language spoken by the repre-
sentatives of the national movement, and that is why it should be used, although with cau-
tion): “The situation in which the Latvians had disappeared from history lasted for a long
time, until Merkel drew the attention of the rest of the world to the existence of the
Latvians” 29. The articles in the “Baltijas Vestnesis” are so close to the content of Merkel’s
book that the reader almost begins to feel that he or she is reading a direct quotation, not
requiring references: “The folk spirit, which was strong and gigantic, was kept imprisoned
for six hundred years. Despite all that, the spirit cannot be completely destroyed.
Nowadays, as humanism is established, the spirit wakes up and rules all over the Latvian
territory and people” 30.

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century                Religion, Citizenship and Empire   137
      Fig. 4
      The opening ceremony of the first Latvian Song Festival in Riga, in front of the Riga Latvian Society building,

      Elucidation of the presence of the past in current political issues was one of the tasks of the
      national ideology. Where can the spirit be identified ? What forms of existence does it take?
      Merkel saw the existence of the spirit in peasant folk festivals 31. The editor of the “Baltijas
      Vestnesis”, Bernhard Dirik, who belonged to the elite of the national movement through his
      membership and leading position in the Riga Latvian Association, was one of the main ide-
      ologists of the first mass song festivals in Riga in 1873 (the tradition of the song festivals is a
      unique tradition in modern Europe and is still being continued in the re-established Latvian
      Republic). The aim of the festival was clearly explained in the newspaper. It was important
      to produce a visual symbol of the masses of peasants gathered in the city and dominated by
      other cultures, so that the geographic location could help to create an imaginary communi-
      ty, a nation, to which those gathered at the festival should have expressed their highest loy-
      alty. The nation was symbolically presented in the form of the old Ligo flag (mythological fig-
      ure from the folklore) that was transferred through the City of Riga and can be described as
      a quasi-religious symbol. The function of the religious elements in the national movement
      was to unite the Latvian population of the Baltic provinces and to create a homogeneous
      national community. Religion as a part of the national ideology was integrated into the
      national festivals in order to distinguish the ethnic community and to draw symbolical lines
      between the suppressed and the suppressors. Such elements of the religious ritual as hymns,
      sacred symbols moved from their traditional place to manifest their mystical power upon the
      community and “priests” of the nation (the national elite that staged the festival and acted
      as the organizers) allow us to define a nation as a quasi-religion, a political ideology that uses
      religious symbols to create a loyalty of supranatural origin. The ethnic group is turned to the
      religious parish and the national elite into the high priests. At the same time the rational ele-
      ment of the national identity disappear. As a result many European national ideologies still
      are facing the problem of closed communities that only slowly are opening their borders and
      the sacred cathedrals of their national ideology.

138                                                                                                     Deniss Hanovs
The categories included in the national identity which had to be formed and visualised
during the festivals were mainly those of the middle class which was the progenitor of the
national movement: the essential question for a conceptualisation of the Latvian national
movement is: what elements of middle-class culture were transferred and integrated into
the vision of the Latvian nation?
A systematic process of creating objectives and elements of the nation can be seen in the
comments of the “Baltijas Vestnesis” on the festival dedicated to the House of the Riga
Latvian Association in 1871. The nationalist rhetoric found expression in the idea of one
integrated Latvian family. The standard middle-class virtues were combined with the task
of creating the feeling of belonging to a community 32. This became a vital tradition which
lasted until the early 1890s: in 1893 the “Baltijas Vestnesis” stressed that 25 years before
no one had believed that the development of the Latvians was possible. The development
of the nation had become reality, but the success of the national movement also meant the
personal success of the representatives of the middle class and literati: “Latvians too can be
good lawyers, clergymen, doctors and even professors” 33.

Another important area was the folk song. Through folk songs the middle class discovered
additional opportunities to stress its authority in the national movement. In this respect
the Latvian middle class no doubt played the same role as its counterparts in other Western
countries, combining the traditions of the Enlightenment and Romanticism 34. Folk songs
were turned into a natural habitat of the national spirit. In 1891 Matiss Arons pointed out
that the process of collecting folk songs and fairy tales created the content of the national
awakening. He described the popular cultural heritage as the only possible form of exis-
tence of the national spirit 35. The temporal division – the past, the present, and the future
of the Latvians – is another point which gives us useful information about the patterns of
the national movement and its attempts to give a nation quasi-religious attributes. The
past, which was needed to prove the capacity of the national spirit, served as a mediator
between the present and the future, which was based on the idea of a long and slow evo-
lutionary development, reflected in Merkel’s Die Letten and accepted as the only possible
path of development for the Latvians 36.
At the same time the need to stress a new identity depends on the regular ”updating” of its
symbols. The sacred object of the Latvian national movement manifested itself not only in
the elements of Die Letten but took form in the person of its author as well. Merkel became
an example of the community and at the same time personal connection was established
between the national hero – whose German nationality was never stressed (one can say
that Merkel here was not a human being with specific national predicates, but an abstract
protagonist of the Enlightenment) 37 – and the nation which was first mentioned as such
in his work. Thus the national ideology could stress that the national awakening derived
its legitimacy from its authors. Richard Tomsons, who organized the commemoration of
Merkel in 1869, remembered :“I received the picture of Merkel and I placed it in the hall
of the Riga Latvian Association. People started asking each other who the man in the pic-
ture was. Someone mentioned Merkel`s name and everyone wished to have his picture” 38.

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century               Religion, Citizenship and Empire   139
      Fig. 5
      The “Baltic Herald”.

      The ceremony at Merkel’s grave in 1869, dedicated to the hundredth anniversary of his birth,
      shows another significant feature of the national ideology, which might be called double
      thinking. There existed two different types of thinking, the official one and the internal, the
      latter intended for the small group of the national elite. The ceremony was held as a mani-
      festation of national gratitude to the nation’s hero 39, but later it was depicted as a purely func-
      tional action, in the national movement project, in order to stress its role as a way of giving
      the masses the feeling of being united. In an article of 1877 MatÆss KaudzÆte, one of the lead-
      ing Latvian national journalists and writers, recalled that the Riga Latvian Association which
      had been created was the basis and the object of national pride, but that Merkel`s monument
      was even more important. He stressed that the leaders of the Association, such as R.
      Tomsons, knew how to ”warm up people for national activities” 40. It would be possible to say
      that Merkel`s grave became a visually perceived element of the national cultural memory,
      which uses monuments, ceremonies, including death and burial rituals, as important ele-
      ments. The function of such memories is to actuate the feeling of belonging to one and the
      same history through similar experience. This explains the meaning of monument in nation-
      al constructions of the past; the “Baltijas Vestnesis” described monuments as cultural phe-
      nomena that had to serve as symbols of identification with the higher level of culture. This

140                                                                                         Deniss Hanovs
means that established forms of cultural memory can help to carry out the process of identi-
ty-building which takes place within a certain symbol-filled space. Merkel`s death and the
monument on his grave are two examples of the process. In 1890 the “Baltijas Vestnesis”  ¯
expressed its concept of a cultural unity of the nation based on consensus with respect to
common artefacts of cultural identity: “If the people sets up monuments which are dedicated
to its greatest dead men, it shows that the people has reached a true level of culture [“the level
of a Kulturvolk”] because it also honours itself and its awareness of being a people” 41.
To sum up our discussion of the activities of the Latvian national movement, staged in
Riga during the 1870s and 1890s by its Latvian middle-class representatives, it is neces-
sary to stress the following points: the national movement was one of many European
national movements, which used different tools to create the abstract construct known
as a nation. Intellectual and written support for the ideology was found above all in the
work of Garlieb Merkel and other representatives of the German Enlightenment. Over
a relatively short period of time (1869-1890), the national press created a system of a
national past which was revived in the activities of the middle class such as festivals and
Religious elements of the national ideology were mainly applied to create a new political
body – a Latvian nation. Religious elements combined pre Christian elements which were
proclaimed to be the treasure of the nation, its cultural and memorial basis. Religion in the
form of Chrisitanity was a minor element in the Latvian national movement, mainly
because of the ethnic identity of the missionaries. Pre-Christian mythology was an exclu-
sive and effective element of the new national identity, being created and defined during
the mass actions. One of the clearest connections with the religious practices was the ide-
ology of the exodus and liberation of the Latvians after a long period of serfdom. Liberation
and a prosperous future for the whole community depended on the acceptance of the new
ideology and motivation to serve the nation and to view it as a highest priority for person-
al and collective development. Garlieb Helwig Merkel was taken as the intellectual
spokesman of the Latvian past and his long posthumous life depended on the functionali-
ty of his ideas as they were accepted by the newspaper the “Baltijas Vestnesis”. At the same
time, middle-class culture supplied the form for the content of the national culture, anoth-
er possible way to provide unity: “Whatever happens, we should concentrate our ideas and
thoughts on one or two main centres. Riga is one of these centres and in Riga the Riga
Latvian Association is the most important centre” 42.


The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century                  Religion, Citizenship and Empire   141
142   Deniss Hanovs

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century   Religion, Citizenship and Empire   143
      Beginning of the fifth chapter of Merkel’s Die Letten.

      Fünfter Abschnitt
      Rechte der lettischen Bauern in Liefland

      Dès qu’une seule Classe de Citoyens est condamnée à servir, sans é[s]poir de commander, le
      gouvernement est aristocratique. – La plus vicieuse Aristocratie est celle, ou les Grands sont des-
      potes et le peuples ésclaves. Si les Nobles sont des tyrans, le mal est sans rémède: un Sénat ne
      meurt point.

144                                                                                         Deniss Hanovs
  Man hat gesehen, dass der Adel alles thun darf, was er will oder einigermaassen zu beschöni-
  gen weiss 1. Die Rechte der Bauren, sind also Undinge; auch habe ich schon oben gesagt, was
  ich darunter verstehe. Nicht die Vortheile, deren die Letten geniessen, sondern die sie, nach
  dem Willen der Regierung geniessen sollten, werde ich hier aufstellen. Er ist nicht meine
  Schuld, wenn dieser Abschnitt mehr einem Sün?denregister als einem Codex ähnlich sehen
  wird. Warum macht man es in Liefland den Gutsbesitzern so leicht, den Mantel des Rechts
  über jede Blösse des Herzens zu werfen? – Zur Sache!
  1. Der Bauer kann Eigenthum haben. Das heisst nicht: so lange er seine Pflichten treu erfüllt,
  ist er sicher in dem Besitz des Feldes, das sein Urältervater schon bearbeitete; oder er kann es
  käuflich an sich bringen; oder wenigstens, aus der Hütte, die er selbst erbaute, darf ihn nie-
  mand ohne Entschädigung abziehen heissen. Nein! Es sagt weiter nichts als: das Getraide, das
  er im Schweise seines Angesichtes erbaute, das Vieh, das Kleid etc. das er erzog, oder erbte,
  oder erkaufte, darf ihm nicht ohne Vorwand unbezahlt genommen werden.

    Den Todtschlag oder offenbaren Raub ausgenommen, wie sich der Gerichte gezwungen sehn, einige
  Ungelegenheit zu verursachen,

  Fifth Chapter
  Rights of Latvian Peasants in Livland

  Since a single class of citizens is condemned to serve, with no hope of commanding, the gov-
  ernment is aristocratic. The most vicious aristocracy is that where the great are despots and the
  people slaves. If the nobles are tyrants, the evil is without remedy: a Senate does not die.

  We have seen that the noble can do what he wants or in a certain way knows how to enjoy
  himself 1. The rights of the peasants are hence nonexistent; I have already said above what I
  understand in this regard. Here I will not describe the advantages that Latvians have, but the
  ones that they should have according to the desires of the government. It is not my fault if this
  chapter will seem more like a list of sins than a law code. Why is it that in Latvia it is so easy
  for the landowners to throw the cloak of law over every weakness of the heart? To the point!
  1. The peasant can have property. This means nothing: as long as he absolves his duties faith-
  fully, he is secure, in possession of the field that his ancestor worked, or he can acquire one,
  or, at least, no one can drive him away from the hut that he himself has built without com-
  pensation. No! Further on it does not say anything such as that the grain that he has grown
  with the sweat of his brow, the cattle, the clothes etc. that he has raised or inherited may not
  be taken from him, unpaid, for no reason.

      Except for murder or outright stealing, which the law is forced to sanction with some inconveniences.

The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century                                 Religion, Citizenship and Empire   145
147   Deniss Hanovs
The National Movement in Latvia in the 19th Century   Religion, Citizenship and Empire   148
149   Deniss Hanovs