Кирчанов Максим Валерьевич
Воронежский государственный университет
доктор исторических наук, доцент Кафедры регионоведения и экономики зарубежных стран Факультета международных отношений

Автор анализирует проблемы генезиса и ранней истории латышского ориентализма. Автор полагает что история ориентализма является составной частью интеллектуальной истории и истории идей. Автор анализирует этимологии концепта "ориентализм" в латышском интеллектуальном дискурсе. Особое внимание уделено факторам внешнего интеллектуального и культурного влияния. Автор полагает что работы русский историков, включая Роберт Виппер и Борис Виппер стимулировали интерес латышских интеллектуалов к восточной проблематике. Культурная активность латышских историков, которые начали свою академическую карьеру в Российской Империи и после ее распада вернулись в независимую Латвию также стала важным стимулом в истории латышского ориентализма. Автор полагает что эти внешние и частично национализированные внутренние стимулы и влияния определили основные векторы и траектории развития ориенталистских образов в латышском интеллектуальном дискурсе. Политические события 1940 года и инкорпорация Латвии в СССР маргинализировали эти культурные стимулы и сделали латышский национальный ориентализм невидимым среди других европейских ориентализмов.

Ключевые слова: интеллектуальная история, история идей, Латвия, национализм, ориентализм


Kirchanov Maksym Valerevich
Voronezh State University
DrSc in History, Assistant Professor of Department «Regions and economics of foreign countries» of International Relations Faculty

The author analyzes problems of the genesis and early history of Latvian Orientalism. The author believes that a history of Orientalism is an integral part of intellectual history and a history of ideas. The author analyzes the etymology of the concept of “Orientalism” in Latvian intellectual discourse. The author also paid special attention to factors of external intellectual and cultural influences. The author believes that works of Russian historians, including Robert Wipper and Boris Wipper stimulated interest of Latvian intellectuals in Orientalism. The cultural activity of Latvian historians, who began academic career in Russian Empire and after its collapse returned in independent Latvia also become an important stimulus in the history of Latvian Orientalism. The author presumes that these external stimuli and partially nationalized internal identified the main vectors and trajectories of development of Orientalist images in Latvian intellectual discourse. The political events of 1940 and the incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union marginalized these cultural stimuli and made Latvian national Orientalism invisible among other European Orientalisms.

Keywords: history of ideas, intellectual history, Latvia, nationalism, Orientalism

Рубрика: История

Библиографическая ссылка на статью:
Кирчанов М.В. The external intellectual influences and problems of the genesis of Latvian national Orientalism // Гуманитарные научные исследования. 2017. № 1 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: https://human.snauka.ru/2017/01/18907 (дата обращения: 09.11.2023).

Introductory remarks. Orientalism in the 19th and 20th centuries was among attempts of Western intellectuals to collect facts about Orient, organise them in the scattered information and transform them into one of the chapters of European humanities. Orientalism, informally, formally, objectively, repeatedly was described, invented, imagined, convicted, damned, justified, and revised in the academic literature and political criticism [13, 14, 19; 15; 16]. The dominance of positivist tendencies among Western authors and their careful fixation, systematisation and classification of the facts that were located in history, linguistics, and ethnography formed their collective representations about Orient and transformed them into a single and honourable science with its object and subject. The 19th century in European history was the era of rapid formation, dynamic emergence, and development of national schools in Orientalism. Orientalism as a new science about Orient as the rest of non-Western world developed quickly and confidently. The considerable colonial experience of some European countries including France, Russian Empire and British Empire stimulated the development of national schools of Orientalism as collective Western knowledge about non-West. Collective Western representations about Orient were always subjective because “there are only ‘people of Orient’, ‘Asians’, ‘Semites’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Arabs’, ‘Jews’, only race, types of thinking, the nation for the Orientalists,… Orientalism is the description of the Orient and Islam from a certain point of view in the wider sense of the word, which do not always grasp the true state of affairs and often distorts reality. Orientalism regards Islam and all its derivatives including a culture, a civilisation, a geographical area as something that does not fit in human understandings of the rational, pragmatic style of Western thinking since the Reformation” [17].

These new national Orientalisms simultaneously were histories of its imagination and invention, the conquest and subordination, exploration and colonisation. Unique national academic schools of Oriental Studies gradually emerged in other European countries also, including Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. A history of Orientalist traditions in these countries formed the stable hard-core in a history of European Orientalism, but intellectual history did not limit itself by academised Oriental experiences of leading states only. Other European countries, including small and peripheral states, also made their national impacts in the formation of the invented and imagined Oriental traditions of Europe, but their voices, roles and significances in the adjusted and harmonious choir of the great Orientalist nations were hearing less. The peripheral European countries, which gained state and national independence and sovereignty, only in the first quarter of the 20th century after the collapse and the fall of European continental empires also attempted to form their own national schools of Oriental Studies, and Latvia is among these unknown members of European Orientalist imagined community.

The purpose and tasks of the article. The purpose of this article is the analysis of the main problems and features of the invention of Oriental tradition in a history of Latvian humanitarian community. The author will analyse national intellectual roots and origins, external, predominantly historical German and Russian incentives, and actual American impacts that formed Latvian Orientalist discourse. The author intends to analyse the basic forms, methods, tactics and strategies of formation and development of collective representations about Orient in a history of Latvian intellectual discourse.

Methodological backgrounds. The author presumes that modern constructivist approaches are applicable for studies of Orientalism’s history in Latvia. American and British intellectuals, including Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger [23] in the first half of the 1980s identified and proposed program ideas, principles, terms, and definitions including “imagination”, “invention”, and “tradition” which in the following years formed conceptual apparatus of constructivism in the context of intellectual, a new social and cultural histories. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger defined the invention tradition in the following way: “[…] invented tradition is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition […]” [23, p. 1].

The author presumes that this definition and other methodological principles proposed by Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm, and Terence Ranger are applicable for studies of Orientalism’s intellectual history in Latvia. On the other hand, the author presumes that a history of Orientalism in was a part of social and intellectual history in its cultural [10, 11] forms and dimensions. Therefore, the author insists that the history of collective concepts of East and attempts to imagine and invent Orient, academic desire to localize and map Oriental spaces and contexts in historical memories and national identities are parts of a cultural history, but it stimulates and inspires the historian to abandon the old and archaic methods of histories writing. The post-modernist turn actualised the fact that it is impossible to write a history of Latvian Orientalism in the positivist coordinates; it will be productive to imagine and invent it because every historian is free to write a history of Orientalism in the most applicable and acceptable intellectual coordinates and methodological preferences.

Preliminary orientations in terminology. The Latvian language uses two words for reference of different Eastern meanings and senses, for the actualization of Otherness, for characteristics of non-Europeanness and description of non-Westernness. This situation made Latvian academic discourse closer to English language forms. English language, as Latvian one, also uses two words – East and Orient – the first one for the description of geographical, spatial, and territorial understandings and the second one for the actualisation of political, cultural, religious, and ethnic perceptions. Word “austrums” belongs to a common Baltic lexical fund and it is akin to Lithuanian “rytus”. Lithuanian and Latvian Baltic general designations of the East have common etymologies and genetically rooted from the designation of the dawn and sunrise. “Austrums” and “rytus” fix the fact morning and victory of the light over darkness. Latvian and “rīts” and Lithuanian “rytus” also link with mental mapping of the East in Baltic languages. Word “Orients” in the Latvian language belongs to the academic discourse and number of neologisms. “Orients” represents the East as the cultural, political and economic category. The genesis of words with Orientals meanings and genetically related and linked with it concepts of Orientālisms and Orientālistika belongs to the number of contentious problems. German Orientalismus could encourage the emergence of these concepts in Latvian language, but the author presumes that the later and actual influences of English-speaking American discourse where “Orientalism” is in active academic use encouraged and inspired its integration in Latvian language imagination and symbolic landscape in Latvianised form as “Orientālisms”.

Preliminary orientations in typologies. The dualism in the linguistic imagination of the East in Latvian language influences on genesis, emergence and development of collective ideas and representations about Orient among Latvian intellectuals. The political history of the 20th century, a brief period of state and national independence, and the Soviet (re)occupations in the 1940 and 1944 provided earlier neutral “austrums” with politicisation and ideologisation in Latvian intellectual and linguistic imagination. Latvian romantic poetry mythologized and idealised Austrums and romantic poets provided this concept with collective representations about the revival of nature and man, dawn, sunrise etc. The positive and romantic mythologisations of Austrums ended in 1940 with the beginning of the period of Soviet occupation, which led to the actualisation of negative connotations of “austrums” in Latvian linguistic imagination. The concept of “austrums” politically and ideologically changed and evolved during the Soviet period. Latvian intellectuals began to associate it with organically hostile and alien East. Latvian intellectual invented Russia or Krievija in language imagination as universal geographical, political, cultural, and collective incarnation of “austrums”. The rest of the East in Latvian linguistic and cultural discourses evolved and developed as politically and ideologically neutral and geographically distant “Orients”. Latvian collective Oriental representations have much in common with the same concepts in Polish academic tradition of Orientalism, where Russia become part of non-Western and non-European political and cultural world.

Fragmentation of Oriental locus. The collective representation about “austrums” among Latvian authors and intellectuals never were stable, but they constantly changed and transformed. Historically Latvian intellectual proposed three forms of collective representations about “austrums”. The folk Latvian traditions represent the first perception of “austrums”. Traditional folk culture represented in Latvian dainas and actualized pagan collective representations and ideas about East. These ideas genetically traced back to a common Indo-European mythology in the context of perception of “austrums” as a place where the sun is born. These ideas about “austrums” are archaic and have traditional legitimacy. The second form of collective representations about “austrums” became a result of the nationalist revival and a history of Latvian national movement. Latvian nationalists and romantics assisted to the idealization of “austrums” in the romantic coordinate system, but Oriental motifs and themes never were between the dominant and dominating in Latvian poetic discourse.

Political developments and the negative dynamics of the second half of the 20th century actualized different dimensions of “austrums” in Latvian prose, but the majority of Latvian authors, especially in exile, preferred to develop and cultivate negative connotations of “austrums” as geographical territory where Russia is located, because the interior regions of the USSR, including Siberia as place of exiles and deportations inspired negative trends on imagination of “austrums”. The experience of forced inter-communication of Latvians with Russia, as part of imagined geographical East in the 20th century, was predominantly negative and significantly influences on their collective ideas about “austrums” and determined the main vectors and trajectories of actualization of negative images of “austrums” as predominantly Russian space. The third form of collective representations about “austrums” is academic in its nature, but “austrums” in this context transformed into “Orients” and collective understandings of it became known as “Orientālistika”. The fallowing sections of this paper will be focused on the analysis of these forms of the imagined Oriental mental locus in linguistic, historical and political imaginations of Latvian intellectuals who historically were condemned and forced to fluctuate and manoeuvre between ethnicised, politicised and romanticised “austrums” and ideologised and academised “Orients”.

Religious and secular origins of Orientalism. The development of Latvian Orientalism had bright national characteristics, but the actualization of Oriental experience and collective representations was impossible without external cultural influences and intellectual stimuli. German Baltic activists were among the firsts who tried to import Oriental motives and images in emerging Latvian identity, but these attempts were not successful because German intellectuals preferred to use religious forms of communication. The attempts of German pastors, priests and teachers to translate religious Christian texts in Latvian language were the first attempts to map imagined biblical geographical Middle Eastern motives from New and Old Testaments in Latvian emerging identity. Oriental images became part of the traditional Christian identity of Latvians after translation of religious texts in Latvian language inspired by European Reformation, but traditional knowledge and collective representations about where Oriental territories are located and Biblical events took place did not become impetus for further transformation of these ideas in more complex and standardized collective representations about East.

Latvian Protestantism in the period between 16th and 19th centuries had predominantly traditional and conservative, despite the attempts of its nationalisation and integration into emerging Latvian intellectual, political, and religious canons. Latvian nationalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries emerged and developed as the secular movement and its aims were political and economic. The religious component in a history of Latvian nationalism developed less than the same intellectual trends in neighbouring Poland and Lithuania, where nationalist ideologies rooted in Catholicism. The religious thinkers were among active participants of Enlightenment that preceded political Latvian nationalism that emerged in the 19th century and developed later as the secular political movement. Nationalist modernization, invention and imagination of Latvian nation as a modern political and state nation significantly influenced and determined the main vectors and trajectories of development and intellectual history of Latvian literature.

Latvian writers of the 20th century preferred to construct and imagine their invented traditions in a national and nationalist system of coordinates. Latvian poets as Latvian nationalists preferred to nationalise collective representations about the world as concrete geographical, political and cultural areas and landscapes, including Eastern and Oriental ones. East in Latvian identity appeared primarily as Austrums, and Latvian nationalists were active in its nationalisation, imagination and invention of collective representations about Orient. Latvian nationalists integrated Austrums as invented tradition into Latvian national historical and geographical myth. The genesis of Latvian Orientalism had exclusively Latvian roots and intellectuals in Latvia when they invented collective Orient preferred to solve local problems. Russian orientalist Evgenii Shteiner comments the genesis of collective ideas about Orientalism presumed that “the Middle East for the Europeans of the middle of XIX century developed as a number of purely Western European complexes” [19].

Latvian Orientalists as their German or British colleagues invented and imagined their own Orients, but the similarities of Latvian Orientalism was radically different from Russian one. Russian historian Kirill Kobrin commenting on the features of the development of Russian version of Orientalism emphasises that “the subject and the object of the internal Russian transformed into a schizophrenic. Egyptologist in the colonial helmet, mummy and kid-fellah mixed into one being” [15; 16]. Latvian Orientalism developed differently because Orientalists in Latvia opposed themselves as West and Occident to Orient as non-West. Latvian Orientalism in this intellectual context became a classic case of the invention of Orient for its Western and European cultural objectives. The invention and imagination were key factors in this process and depended on the political and ideological conditions of general cultural and intellectual situation. The strategies of the invention significantly influenced and designated the basic trajectories of the invention of Orient in Latvian national discourse.

The idea that Orientalism is an attempt to privatise “the right to speak for the other” [12] was one of the most influential in the historiography. Latvian Orientalism as Russian or British, Dutch or Italian ones was an attempt to imagine and understand them, national and cultural identities. The imagination of Orient was an element in intellectual practices of the invention of Otherness. Latvian Orientalists as other nationalists preferred to speak in European and Western voices for others, deprived Orient of its voice, a place in a history and the right to write its own history. This situation became possible because Orient in Western historical consciousness and European cultural invented an imagined geography lost its attributes and characteristics of the subject and degenerated into an object for academic descriptions and museumification. Orient could not answer Occident on its attempts to invent, map, locate and organise it in frontiers of Orientalism. Orient in European historical consciousness was dead, and any attempts to its resuscitation or hear the voices of the extinct Egyptians and Babylonians also were achievements of West. Western Orientalists were able to translate ancient Oriental languages and texts into European ones and they made Oriental silent voices audible. Latvian Orientalists were among them in their attempts to imagine and invent Orient.

Egypt as the premonition of Latvian Orientalism’s cosmos. Latvians as Baltic Germans, Georgians, Poles, Finns, Lithuanians and Estonians in Russian Empire by the early 20th century had their own national intellectuals, national culture, literature and were among dynamically developing, the most educated and culturally developed groups. Latvian intellectuals, as representatives of national and religious minorities, were forced to integrate into the social and cultural institutions of the empire in general, including academic science and higher education. The significant number of Latvians got the university education in Russian Empire and their cultural presence in the social life of the republic allowed independent Latvia quickly organise its own system of higher education and establish the national university. The return of a considerable part of representatives of Latvian intellectual community, who in the period of the Empire read lections in Russian universities, radically stimulated and inspired progress of Latvian science. Latvia in the 1920s made its first steps in the development of national traditions of Orientalism but did not have enough historical time to realise this project, despite it had necessary academic potential.

Latvia in the period between the two world wars belonged to one of few European countries where Egyptology dynamically developed. Francis Balodis [21; 22] became the first Latvian professional Egyptologist in particular and Orientalist in general. The circle of academic interests of Francis Balodis was too wide and varies from classical Orientalism [3; 4] to studies of ancient Latvian history. Francis Balodis spent many years in Russia and understood the mixed nature of Russian political culture, where Oriental and Occidental elements co-existed simultaneously. Francis Balodis was also among the first Latvian intellectuals who began to study the internal Orient of Russia. Francis Balodis as representative classical Orientalism studied cultural problems of Egyptian history, including painting, sculpture, and religion of ancient Egypt [7]. Francis Balodis in 1937 visited Egypt, where he participated in a conference focused on studies of Egyptian antiquities. Francis Balodis in interwar period published several books Latvian language on Egyptian history and culture [7] and became the founder of academic studies of Egypt in Latvian academic and intellectual discourse. The works of Francis Balodis were known not only in Latvia. Egyptological works of Latvian historians were translated and published in Germany, Denmark and Sweden [5; 6; 8], and their recognition indicates a significant academic potential and possibilities of Latvian intellectuals to form and develop Oriental Studies, but Latvia was not able to successfully implement Egyptian academic project because the incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union and the political repressions interrupted and stopped development of Latvian Orientalism, which was among the most successful and promising cultural and academic achievements of independent Latvia.

From Robert Wipper to Roberts Vipers: Russian intellectual influence. The external influences determined the main vectors and trajectories of development of collective representation about Austrums in Latvian intellectual discourse and they were extremely different. Russian historian Robert Wipper, who in 1924 emigrated in Latvia, inspired Latvian intellectuals in their attempts to create, imagine, and invent their own Orient. By the time of his emigration to Latvia, Robert Wipper belonged to leading Russian historians, but problems of Oriental history never were central and dominant among his academic interests. Robert Wipper actualized them in his books focused on different periods of world history from antiquity to modern times. Robert Wipper from 1925 to 1928 published in Riga in Russian language three history textbooks [29; 30; 31] where he repeated his pre-revolution lections in ancient, medieval and modern histories. Some other texts of Robert Wipper including short popular essays “Light from the East” (1907) [28] and “The Origins of Christianity” (1918) [32] were focused on Eastern problems. These texts could be known and available for Latvian intellectuals because the great number of them studied in Russian universities. Boris Wipper, Robert Wipper’s son, emigrated in Latvia with his father and successfully integrated into Latvian intellectual community where he became Boriss Vipers [23; 24; 25]. Latvian artist Kārlis Neilis in his memoirs wrote: “the professor sat down beside the projector and began to lecture in the very good Latvian language. It seemed that he during his life never told otherwise. The language flowed easily, without an accent. He uttered every word clearly and only it distinguishes him in contrast to other Latvians. It was so good to hear him! From that day, the number of listeners of his lectures increased twice” [18].

Boriss Vipers, as his father, was not only an expert in a history of the Orient. Boriss Vipers studies a history of Western and Latvian arts, and periodically actualized Oriental and Asian elements in their histories. For example, Boriss Vipers was among the first Latvian historians of art who began to study Chinese cultural heritage. The books [24; 25; 26; 23], formal and informal cultural influences of Robert Wipper hypothetically could become the intellectual and cultural stimulus for the genesis and further development of Latvian Orientalism because historian proposed original ideas and thoughts about Oriental history. Latvian historians recognised the influence of Robert Wipper and integrated his ideas into the context of Latvian national historiography [1; 9; 20]. Robert Wipper had finally become Latvian historian Roberts Vipers, but the Soviet incorporation forced him to return to Moscow, despite the fact that Latvian intellectuals already accepted his ideas [27] and recognised him as the participant of Latvian national historiography and cultural history. One of the late Latvian works of Roberts Vipers “Vēstures lielās problēmas” [26] significantly influenced vectors and trajectories of development of Latvian historiography and its theoretical, methodological, and conceptual backgrounds. Roberts Vipers was among those non-Latvian intellectuals who significantly influenced and inspired Latvian intellectuals in their attempts to write histories of nation-states and regions, histories of long eras and periods, including oriental themes in numerous contexts of world history.

Preliminary conclusions: Austrums and universal temptations of Occidentalism. Latvian poets were among the forerunners of cultural Orientalism in Latvia, but they did not become founding fathers of Latvian national academic Orientalism. Latvian cultural discourse historically developed as part of Western political, intellectual, religious and cultural landscapes. German conquest in the 13th century actualized negative form of Occidentalisation of Latvian cultural and political spaces. Latvian national movement in the 19th century, despite the fact that Latvia was part of Russian Empire, had a much in common with Western nationalisms because the West become political motherland of the universal and social principles and values of nationalism.

The objective political, social and cultural proximity of Latvia with other Central and Eastern European countries, its belongness to the greater European context determined the main vectors, trajectories and directions of cultural Latvian nationalism’s developments and transformations Latvian romantic poets, who simultaneously were nationalists made a considerable and significant impact in imagination nation as invented tradition. Nationalists preferred to idealise and mythologize national past and they became the first inventors of the national history as ambitious attempts to integrate Latvia in a European context and imagine it equal with other regions of Europe. Latvian writers in the 20th century preferred to invent Latvia in their dreams, ambitions, and aspirations in Western contexts: relatively geographically close and culturally understandable Italy and France, Paris and Rome became for them more interesting than exotic and mysterious countries and lands of geographically distant Orient.

Occidentalist perceptions and understandings of the imagined and invented geographic, political and cultural spaces in Latvian intellectual discourse, on the one hand, emerged and developed faster than other collective representations about Orient despite the fact that from the early 13th century until 1918 Latvia had not political independence and grievously existed as part of German political and Russian imperial spaces. On the other hand, Occidentalist paradigm in cultural and historical imaginations had the significant impact on processes of the invention of their own Orient by Latvian intellectuals. Latvian intellectuals invented their own tradition of Orientalism despite the two existential barriers. Firstly, Latvia is located geographically too distant from the classical Orient and secondly, it historically never was a victim of Oriental or Asian aggression and did not take part in the colonisation of Orient. Russian Empire was the main channel for familiarisation of Latvian intellectuals with Orient despite the attempts of this continental empire to be more Westernized and even a bit Europeanized. These intellectual incentives and influences predetermined developments of national forms and versions of Latvian Orientalism in the First Republic, the exile and the contemporary post-Soviet Latvia. The author presumes that the history of these three periods can constitute foundations of still unwritten intellectual and cultural history of Latvian Orientalism.

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