Ear­ly His­to­ry

The Livo­ni­ans speak a lan­guage close­ly relat­ed to Finnish and Esto­ni­an, and more dis­tant­ly to Hun­gar­i­an. It is a mem­ber of the Finno-Ugri­an fam­i­ly of lan­guages, which along with the Samoyedic lan­guages forms the Ural­ic lan­guage fam­i­ly that stretch­es from Scan­di­navia east across north­ern Siberia and south to cen­tral Europe where Hun­gar­i­an is spo­ken.

Ini­tial­ly, the name “Livo­nia” specif­i­cal­ly referred to the land inhab­it­ed by the Livo­ni­an peo­ple. It first appears as such in an 11th Cen­tu­ry Runic inscrip­tion in Swe­den. In the 12th Cen­tu­ry the Livo­ni­an peo­ple are men­tioned in the Chron­i­cle of Nestor, where they are referred to as lib’ or lyub’, and are given as a nation pay­ing trib­ute to Rus­sia. By the turn of the 13th Cen­tu­ry, the arrival of Ger­man traders and mis­sion­ar­ies in the Livo­ni­an lands, also marked the begin­ning of the ear­ly record­ed his­to­ry of the Livo­ni­an peo­ple (Kar­ma 1995:76). The most famous record would become the Livo­ni­an Chron­i­cle of Hen­ry. Cov­er­ing the time peri­od from the eighth decade of the 11th Cen­tu­ry till the year 1227, it records the con­quest of the Baltic and Livo­ni­an lands by the Ger­mans and Teu­ton­ic Knights.

Fig­ure 1: The ruins of the 12th Cen­tu­ry Ikšķile Church (Pho­to: Uld­is Balodis, 2000)

As inhab­i­tants of the coast, the Livo­ni­ans were among the first to encoun­ter any for­eign­ers arriv­ing by sea. By the end of the 12th Cen­tu­ry Ger­man mis­sion­ar­ies and traders had begun flow­ing into the Livo­ni­an lands. Around 1164 the monk Mein­hard arrived with a group of traders. He worked as both the con­fes­sor and accoun­tant of this group, and soon after his arrival learned Livo­ni­an and began seek­ing con­verts among the Livo­ni­ans he encoun­tered. Mein­hard had the first church built in Livo­nia, in the town of Üksküla (Lat­vian Ikšķile; mod­ern Livo­ni­an Ikš kilā, mean­ing „one town“), and in 1186 he was made the first bish­op of Livo­nia. (See Fig­ures 1 and 2)

Fig­ure 2: Ter­ri­to­ry inhab­it­ed by Baltic tribes and the Livo­ni­ans (green) in the 10th-12th cen­turies (Kar­ma 1995:77)

By the time he died in 1196, Mein­hard had made only lim­it­ed pro­gress in his mis­sion­ary work. Few Livo­ni­ans had been con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty, and it became clear to Rome that oth­er means would be nec­es­sary to accel­er­ate their con­ver­sion. In 1199, Pope Inno­cent III announced a North­ern Cru­sade in Livo­nia to con­vert the Livo­ni­ans, Balts, and Esto­ni­ans to Chris­tian­i­ty. In 1202, Inno­cent cre­at­ed the Order of the Teu­ton­ic Knights (Fratres mil­i­tie Chris­ti de Livo­nia) that would be respon­si­ble for much of the forced con­ver­sion, and ulti­mate­ly, sub­ju­ga­tion, of the indige­nous tribes of the region (Balodis 1991:29–30).

By the mid­dle of the 13th Cen­tu­ry, a new Livo­nia was being cre­at­ed. This would become the sec­ond geo­graph­ic enti­ty that would be known under this name. This Livo­nia, how­ev­er, came to include land not inhab­it­ed by the Livo­ni­ans them­selves. By the end of the 13th Cen­tu­ry it had become a con­fed­er­a­tion of what effec­tive­ly were five feu­dal states (four bish­oprics and the land admin­is­tered by the Teu­ton­ic Knights). Declared by Pope Inno­cent III to be St. Mary’s Land (Ter­ra Mar­i­ana, Ter­ra Matris, or Ter­ra beate Vir­gin­is), this Livo­nia cov­ered much the same ter­ri­to­ry as present-day Latvia and Esto­nia (Balodis 1991:32). (See Fig­ure 3)

Fig­ure 3: Map of Ter­ra Mar­i­ana

As the pri­mar­i­ly Ger­man rul­ing class con­tin­ued to con­sol­i­date its pow­er and con­trol over Livo­nia, the Baltic and Finnic tribes, and espe­cial­ly their lan­guages, were left increas­ing­ly mar­gin­al­ized. Not only Livo­ni­an, but also the oth­er indige­nous Baltic lan­guages, came to be exclud­ed from mean­ing­ful con­texts out­side of dai­ly inter­ac­tion among speak­ers them­selves. It was also at this time that the Livo­ni­ans began to be pushed back, and their lands began to decrease in area. A trend that, once begun, would con­tin­ue well into the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Final­ly, with the con­sol­i­da­tion of for­eign pow­er and estab­lish­ment of at least the out­ward trap­pings of the Chris­tian reli­gion in the Baltic area, the Livo­ni­ans them­selves would dis­ap­pear from the his­tor­i­cal record for the next three cen­turies. Lit­tle is known about the specifics of their sit­u­a­tion, but it is known that they did not take eas­i­ly to the impo­si­tion of for­eign reli­gion and pow­er in their land. (Vääri 1994:228) They would strug­gle again­st both, and thus come to expe­ri­ence fur­ther repres­sion and attempts to weak­en their will by the for­eign rul­ing class.


One Livo­nia falls, anoth­er is cre­at­ed

The Livo­ni­an Con­fed­er­a­tion last­ed until the mid­dle of six­teen­th cen­tu­ry, when feud­ing among the statelets of the Con­fed­er­a­tion was uti­lized by the Rus­sian Empire to its advan­tage. In 1558, the Rus­sians crossed the Livo­ni­an bor­der in the north and took Nar­va and Tar­tu (locat­ed in the east­ern part of present-day Esto­nia). The Con­fed­er­a­tion was caught com­plete­ly off guard by this inva­sion. The states scram­bled to mobi­lize forces they did not have and to arm the Livo­ni­an and Lat­vian peas­ants. The peas­ants had long since become sub­jects, no bet­ter than inden­tured ser­vants or serfs to the pri­mar­i­ly Ger­man landown­ers. They had not been allowed weapons for quite some time, and many had no knowl­edge of how to use them. In oth­er cas­es, the landown­ers balked at the thought of arm­ing their peas­ant sub­jects, for the fear that the non-Ger­man peas­ants would turn again­st the landown­ers them­selves.

As a result, the Rus­sian forces swept through Livo­nia, and after a final bat­tle in 1560, many towns and for­ti­fi­ca­tions were sur­ren­dered to the Rus­sians with­out a fight. Though the Con­fed­er­a­tion was fin­ished, in 1559 its lead­ers had made a defense agree­ment with Poland-Lithua­nia. The Pol­ish-Lithua­ni­an forces rout­ed the Rus­sians in Livo­nia and took the entire region, with the excep­tion of Tar­tu. In 1561, the lands con­sti­tut­ing what had been the Livo­ni­an Con­fed­er­a­tion, large­ly came under the con­trol of Poland-Lithua­nia. The north­ern­most part of the ter­ri­to­ry, the north­ern half of mod­ern-day Esto­nia, ulti­mate­ly came under Swedish rule, while the large Esto­ni­an island of Saare­maa came under Dan­ish con­trol. Kurze­me and Zem­gale were formed into a duchy that became a sub­ject state of Poland-Lithua­nia. (Balodis 1991:70–2)

Fig­ure 4: The his­tor­i­cal regions of Latvia

Along with the­se changes, the term Livo­nia too took on a new mean­ing, with the for­ma­tion of a ter­ri­to­ry con­sist­ing of Vidze­me, Lat­gale, and the south­ern half of present-day Esto­nia (See Fig­ure 4 for a map of the his­tor­i­cal regions of Latvia referred to in this sec­tion). This ter­ri­to­ry was to be admin­is­tered joint­ly by Poland and Lithua­nia. As with the Livo­ni­an con­fed­er­a­tion, this Livo­nia was also not con­nect­ed in any par­tic­u­lar way with the Livo­ni­an peo­ple. Now the Livo­ni­ans were divid­ed between two dif­fer­ent juris­dic­tions. The Livo­ni­ans liv­ing in Vidze­me on the east­ern shore of the Gulf of Rīga were liv­ing in the province of Livo­nia, while those liv­ing on the west­ern shore of the gulf, in Kurze­me, had come under the juris­dic­tion of the Duchy of Cour­land (Kurze­me). How­ev­er, prac­ti­cal­ly speak­ing not much had changed for the Livo­ni­ans or the Baltic tribes that had by this time begun to coa­lesce into the Lat­vian peo­ple. Those in pow­er were still large­ly the unas­sim­i­lat­ed descen­dants of the orig­i­nal Ger­man landown­ers and mis­sion­ar­ies of cen­turies past, and Ger­man was still the lan­guage used for offi­cial func­tions.


Wars and chang­ing hands

The 16th Cen­tu­ry was a com­pli­cat­ed time for what had been the Livo­ni­an Con­fed­er­a­tion. On one hand, the estab­lish­ment of Pol­ish-Lithua­ni­an con­trol over the area saw some improve­ment in the sta­tus of the Lat­vian lan­guage, though not the Livo­ni­an lan­guage. Jesuit monks in Vil­nius had trans­lat­ed and pub­lished the Catholic Cat­e­chism in Lat­vian, and had increased the edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties of non-Ger­man chil­dren in Rīga, by open­ing a board­ing school pro­vid­ing free edu­ca­tion. On the oth­er hand, the divi­sion of Livo­nia would come to fos­ter insta­bil­i­ty in the region (Balodis 1991:76).

After failed attempts to uni­fy the King­doms of Swe­den and Poland-Lithua­nia, war erupt­ed between the two states in 1600. This war, last­ing until 1629, was large­ly fought in Livo­nia, dec­i­mat­ing the ter­ri­to­ry. As a result, the Livo­ni­an and Lat­vian peas­ant pop­u­la­tion decreased dra­mat­i­cal­ly. In 1629, the bor­ders and def­i­n­i­tion of Livo­nia would change one last time, with the ces­sion of Vidze­me and the south­ern part of present-day Esto­nia to Swe­den. Lat­gale was left to the Poles, who would come to call it Inflan­tia, the Pol­ish term for Livo­nia. (Balodis 1991:79, 82) (See Fig­ure 5)

Fig­ure 5: Bor­ders of Livo­nia under Swedish and Rus­sian rule (1629–1918) (FEEFHS)

Dur­ing the Swedish peri­od, the lives of peas­ants would not become sig­nif­i­cant­ly eas­ier. Though they had been given a cer­tain amount of legal recourse and rights, by this time the move­ment and free­dom of peas­ants had been severe­ly restrict­ed as they had come to be legal­ly bound to the manor and land they worked. The sit­u­a­tion was not bet­ter in the Duchy of Cour­land (Kurze­me), where the peas­ants effec­tive­ly had no rights at all, and were bound not only to the land that they worked, but also were entire­ly under the juris­dic­tion and con­trol of their landown­ers (Balodis 83–87, 102–3).

The same time peri­od also saw the reemer­gence of the Livo­ni­ans in the his­tor­i­cal record. In the Chron­i­ca der Prouintz Lyf­flandt of Balthasar Rusow, we read only that by the begin­ning of the six­teen­th cen­tu­ry there remained only very few Livo­ni­ans in their tra­di­tion­al lands. Sim­i­lar­ly, in the Ehst-, Lyf-, und Let­t­laendis­che Geschichte of Thomas Hiärne, we read that dur­ing the same time peri­od, the few Livo­ni­ans still remain­ing in Vidze­me, were locat­ed pri­mar­i­ly near Sala­ca, Lim­baži, and Liepu­pe. Hiärne, also writes that there were more Livo­ni­ans remain­ing in Kurze­me than in Vidze­me. Already three cen­turies pri­or to their dis­ap­pear­ance, we can see the dif­fer­ences devel­op­ing between the the­se two com­mu­ni­ties. While Hiärne says that the Livo­ni­an com­mu­ni­ties in Kurze­me were still on the whole exclu­sive­ly Livo­ni­an, the Vidze­me Livo­ni­ans were already liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ties mixed with Lat­vians. A fact that would cer­tain­ly con­tribute to their even­tu­al assim­i­la­tion by the end of the nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry. (Vääri 1994:228–9)


Rus­sian Rule

With the Swedish vic­to­ry in its war again­st Poland-Lithua­nia, the oth­er great pow­ers of Europe felt threat­ened. War erupt­ed once more in the Baltics, this time between Swe­den and Rus­sia. Rus­sia would be the vic­tor in this con­flict, and in 1710 took the province of Livo­nia as its prize. By the end of the eigh­teen­th cen­tu­ry the lands of the Duchy of Cour­land (Kurze­me) too had been absorbed by Rus­sia. The sit­u­a­tion of the peas­antry reached its low­est lev­el yet. Under the new order, the rights and priv­i­leges of the Ger­man landown­ing class were pro­tect­ed, while the rights of the Lat­vian and Livo­ni­an peas­ants were ren­dered effec­tive­ly non-exis­tent. Laws bind­ing peas­ants to the manors and adjoin­ing lands that they worked, also lim­it­ing their right to free move­ment, were harsh­ly enforced. With­out any fear of legal reper­cus­sions, the Ger­man landown­ers could resort to pun­ish­ments includ­ing maim­ing and exe­cu­tion of peas­ants that would attempt escape from their bondage. The non-Ger­man peas­ant class­es had effec­tive­ly become slaves in their own land. Restric­tions on the free move­ment of peas­ants would con­tin­ue to stay in effect for near­ly anoth­er cen­tu­ry, being lift­ed only in 1804. (Balodis 1991:110–3, 117)

Dur­ing the course of the eigh­teen­th and nine­teen­th cen­turies, the Livo­ni­an pop­u­la­tion in both Kurze­me and Vidze­me con­tin­ued to dwindle. This was aid­ed by an epi­demic of bubon­ic plague that rav­aged the towns and coun­tryside. In north­ern Kurze­me, the Livo­ni­ans were ren­dered prac­ti­cal­ly extinct, with a pop­u­la­tion of 1600 on the coast being reduced to 10. Mirac­u­lous­ly, by the mid­dle of the nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry the num­ber of Livo­ni­ans liv­ing in north­ern Kurze­me had returned to about 2000.

Fig­ure 6: Map of the West­ern (red) and East­ern (blue) Kurze­me Livo­ni­an dialects

The Livo­ni­ans liv­ing on the north­ern coast of Kurze­me were divid­ed between two dif­fer­ent tracts of manor land. This fact led to the emer­gence of the west­ern and east­ern dialects of Kurze­me Livo­ni­an (See Fig­ure 6). Due to the fact that laws lim­it­ing the free move­ment of peas­ants pre­vent­ed the peas­ants from the two manors inter­act­ing as much as they would per­haps oth­er­wise, the Livo­ni­an spo­ken in each area began to take on unique char­ac­ter­is­tics. The west­ern dialect of Kurze­me Livo­ni­an would come to be spo­ken in Pizā (Miķeļ­tor­nis) and Lūž (Lūžņa), with a tran­si­tion­al dialect being spo­ken in Īra (Lielir­be), and the east­ern dialect being spo­ken in the remain­ing towns to the east (Kar­ma 1995:77). Both dialects would remain mutu­al­ly intel­li­gi­ble, though the east­ern dialect would even­tu­al­ly come to form the basis of the Livo­ni­an lit­er­ary lan­guage in the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

In Vidze­me, the sit­u­a­tion of the lan­guage was arguably worse than in Kurze­me. Tra­di­tion­al beliefs had per­sist­ed among both the Lat­vians and Livo­ni­ans. Though both nations had been offi­cial­ly Chris­tian­ized, in many ways Chris­tian­i­ty was still a for­eign reli­gion. Much of the cler­gy did not speak Lat­vian or Livo­ni­an, and were large­ly moti­vat­ed by world­ly pur­suits rather than spir­i­tu­al ones. In addi­tion, the cler­gy were often in league with the landown­ers, aid­ing in the oppres­sion of the peas­ants. (Balodis 1991:113)

Well into the eigh­teen­th cen­tu­ry, there are reports of the Chris­tian cler­gy in Vidze­me not only con­demn­ing tra­di­tion­al spir­i­tu­al prac­tices, which per­haps would not be that sur­pris­ing, but also active­ly work­ing to erad­i­cate tra­di­tion­al prac­tices with actions such as cut­ting down trees in Livo­ni­an sacred groves. To fur­ther break the will of the Vidze­me Livo­ni­ans, the cler­gy also advo­cat­ed a pol­i­cy of for­bid­ding the Livo­ni­ans from speak­ing to each oth­er or teach­ing their chil­dren Livo­ni­an. The main­ly Ger­man landown­ers broke up com­mu­ni­ties of Livo­ni­an speak­ers, by mov­ing Livo­ni­an fam­i­lies and scat­ter­ing them among the far more numer­ous Lat­vian-speak­ing peas­ants. This did much to accel­er­ate the assim­i­la­tion of the Vidze­me Livo­ni­ans. So much so that by the begin­ning of the sec­ond half of the nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry, the Livo­ni­an lan­guage in the region was mori­bund and on the verge of extinc­tion (Kar­ma 1995:77).


The First Nation­al Awak­en­ing

The arrival of for­eign invaders in the Livo­ni­an lands six cen­turies ear­lier, had brought the Livo­ni­an peo­ple noth­ing but destruc­tion and humil­i­a­tion. Where they still lived, they had been made ser­vants in their own land, and their lan­guage, once one of the major lan­guages of the Baltic area, had been elim­i­nat­ed from all spheres of pub­lic life, lead­ing to what appeared as an accel­er­at­ing march towards extinc­tion. So it is some­what of a his­tor­i­cal irony that a new breed of out­sider would plant the seed for the rebirth of the nation’s self-aware­ness.

In the case of the Livo­ni­ans, Lat­vians, and oth­er Euro­pean nations that had not known the exis­tence of their own mod­ern state or had been mar­gin­al­ized from influ­en­tial posi­tions in their soci­ety by a for­eign pow­er, a nation­al awak­en­ing could mean many things. It usu­al­ly would involve a real­iza­tion that the cul­ture and lan­guage of the group was not in any way infe­ri­or or less inter­est­ing than that of an out­side cul­ture or lan­guage present in the same soci­ety. After often being told of the inher­ent infe­ri­or­i­ty of their lan­guage and way of life, the­se nations could take pride in what was their own. In some cas­es the result was the cre­ation of a nation­al lit­er­a­ture, or in the case of many North­ern Euro­pean nations, nation­al epics (Finnish Kale­vala, Lat­vian Lāč­plē­sis, etc.) that in some way also extolled the hero­ic past of the peo­ple. Often this would lead to the estab­lish­ment of a nation­al­is­ti­cal­ly-mind­ed intel­li­gentsia and the for­ma­tion of an inde­pen­dent state, as it did for the Lat­vians, Lithua­ni­ans, and Esto­ni­ans, at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

For the Livo­ni­ans, their first great nation­al awak­en­ing began as a result of the lin­guis­tic work that was done on their lan­guage in the mid­dle of the nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry. Already at the end of the eigh­teen­th cen­tu­ry, the sim­i­lar­i­ties and like­ly rela­tion­ship between Esto­ni­an, Finnish, and Livo­ni­an, had been not­ed by A.V. Hupel in his Topografis­che Nachricht­en. (Vääri 1994:230) In 1846, Finnish lin­guist Andreas Johan Sjö­gren vis­it­ed the Livo­ni­an com­mu­ni­ties in both Vidze­me and Kurze­me. He would return to Kurze­me in 1852 to con­tin­ue his research. At the time he record­ed the pres­ence of 724 speak­ers of the west­ern dialect and 1600 speak­ers of the east­ern dialect, for a total of a 2324 speak­ers of Livo­ni­an in Kurze­me. (Vääri 1994:233) After his death, his work was con­tin­ued by Fer­di­nand Johann Wiede­mann, an Esto­ni­an researcher from Tallinn, cap­i­tal of present-day Esto­nia. Wiede­mann vis­it­ed the Kurze­me Livo­ni­ans in 1858, pub­lish­ing Livis­che Gram­matik neb­st Sprach­proben under both lin­guists’ names in 1861 (Kar­ma 1995: 78).

Wiede­mann and Sjögren’s work would become the first great lin­guis­tic work on Livo­ni­an. Even today, a cen­tu­ry and a half after it was first pub­lished, the depth of the schol­ar­ship pro­vides a tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing resource for those inter­est­ed in Livo­ni­an. While Sjö­gren pri­mar­i­ly lists exam­ples of Livo­ni­an col­lect­ed on his jour­neys to Kurze­me and Vidze­me, Wiede­mann adds a fas­ci­nat­ing hun­dred page long intro­duc­tion that dis­cuss­es the his­to­ry of the Livo­ni­an peo­ple, as well as, their cul­ture and tra­di­tions, along with a detailed analy­sis of the gram­mar of Kurze­me Livo­ni­an. Due to the fact that by this time Vidze­me Livo­ni­an was near­ly extinct, Sjö­gren and Wiedemann’s col­lab­o­ra­tion pro­vides one of the very few records of the Vidze­me dialect of Livo­ni­an.

The arrival of the lin­guists on the Livo­ni­an coast in North­ern Kurze­me ulti­mate­ly led to the pub­lish­ing of the first non-lin­guis­tic texts in Livo­ni­an. Com­pared to the oth­er major lan­guages of Europe, the lan­guages of the Baltic area came to be writ­ten rel­a­tive­ly late. The first texts in Lat­vian appeared only in the six­teen­th cen­tu­ry, with texts in Livo­ni­an only appear­ing in the mid­dle of the nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry. Ear­lier small col­lec­tions of record­ed words had appeared, pri­mar­i­ly col­lect­ed by trav­el­ers and authors of the ear­lier chron­i­cles. The­se col­lec­tions stretch back to the afore­men­tioned Chron­i­cle of Hen­ry, with the phrase maga mag­a­mas (dif­fi­cult to trans­late, lit­er­al­ly “sleep sleep­ing”) appear­ing as the first exam­ple of Livo­ni­an men­tioned in the his­tor­i­cal record. How­ev­er, all of the­se col­lec­tions of words did noth­ing to ele­vate the lit­er­ary lev­el of the speak­ers of Livo­ni­an them­selves, more so they were seen as curiosi­ties and items of inter­est intend­ed for out­siders.

In their work with the Livo­ni­ans of North­ern Kurze­me, the lin­guists encour­aged and assist­ed their main infor­mants in trans­lat­ing the Gospel of Matthew into Livo­ni­an. The gospel was trans­lat­ed into the east­ern dialect by Nika Pol­man­is (1823–1903), and into the west­ern dialect by Jāņ Prints Sr. (1796–1868) and his sons Jāņ Prints Jr. (1821–1904) and Pētõr Prints (1831–1889). To this day, the Prints or Prince fam­i­ly is known as one of the more famous Livo­ni­an fam­i­lies that helped lay the ground­work for the future evo­lu­tion of lit­er­ary Livo­ni­an.

Pol­man­is, as well as, Prints Sr. and his sons, were pri­mar­i­ly of a reli­gious or edu­ca­tion­al voca­tion. Pol­man­is had been a teacher in Kuoštrõg (Košrags) and a sac­ristan in Kūolka (Kolka). Sim­i­lar­ly, Prints Sr. was a sac­ristan in Pizā (Miķeļ­tor­nis). His sons Pētõr and Jāņ Jr. were a local teacher and town elder, respec­tive­ly. The pub­li­ca­tion of the trans­la­tions was com­pli­cat­ed by a peas­ant upris­ing among the Livo­ni­ans in 1859 and 1860 in the town of Dunda­ga in North­ern Kurze­me. As a result, the landown­ers would evict many of the Livo­ni­ans from their homes and rent out their land to more obe­di­ent non-Livo­ni­an peas­ants from fur­ther inland. (Kar­ma 1995:78)

Fig­ure 7: Title page of the Gospel of Matthew in the East­ern dialect of Livo­ni­an (Kar­ma 1994:124)

In 1863, two years fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of Livis­che Gram­matik, Wiede­mann had found a will­ing pub­lish­er, a British Bible pub­lish­ing house in Lon­don. The books were pub­lished the same year. Pol­man­is’ trans­la­tion into the east­ern dialect appeared as Das Evan­geli­um Matthäi in den östlichen Dialect des Livis­chen zum ersten Male über­set­zt von dem Liven N. Poll­mann. The trans­la­tion by the Prints’ fam­i­ly into the west­ern dialect appeared as Das Evan­geli­um Matthäi in den west­lichen Dialect des Livis­chen über­set­zt von dem Liven J. Prinz und dessen Söh­nen P. Prinz und J.P. Prinz. (Vääri 1994:234) (See Fig­ure 7)

In the fol­low­ing decades, there would be a lim­it­ed out­put of writ­ten Livo­ni­an. Still, out­side cir­cum­stances once again came to inter­vene in the Livo­ni­ans’ attempts to build their own nation and cul­ti­vate their nation­al sense of self. With the arrival of the first decades of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry along with the tumul­tuous years of World War I, the Livo­ni­ans once again were scat­tered, their home­land rav­aged by anoth­er con­flict. But this time the ground­work had been laid, and in the years fol­low­ing this war, more would be accom­plished than ever before to cre­ate a mod­ern Livo­ni­an nation.


The Sec­ond Nation­al Awak­en­ing

With the end of World War I and the estab­lish­ment of the Repub­lic of Latvia in 1918, the stage was set for a dra­mat­ic improve­ment in the con­di­tions and use of the Livo­ni­an lan­guage in its tra­di­tion­al home on the north­ern coast of Kurze­me. At the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry there still remained a fair­ly con­cen­trat­ed pop­u­la­tion of Livo­ni­an speak­ers inhab­it­ing 12 small towns in North­ern Kurze­me. The towns were some­what iso­lat­ed from the rest of Kurze­me by a belt of unin­hab­it­ed forests and swamps, which allowed the Livo­ni­an iden­ti­ty of the area to be pre­served. Soon after the end of the war, in the ear­ly 1920s, a new gen­er­a­tion of lin­guists began arriv­ing on the Livo­ni­an Coast. The two most notable researchers of this group were Finnish lin­guist Lau­ri Ket­tunen (1885–1963) and Esto­ni­an ethno­g­ra­pher Oskar Loorits (1900–1961). (Kar­ma 1995:78) As Sjö­gren and Wiede­mann before them, Ket­tunen and Loorits were inter­est­ed in the Livo­ni­ans not just as research sub­jects and lin­guis­tic infor­mants, they also were con­cerned with improv­ing the sta­tus and use of the Livo­ni­an lan­guage.

Soon after the estab­lish­ment of the inde­pen­dent Lat­vian state a land reform enact­ed by the gov­ern­ment between 1920 and 1924. Most of the Ger­man landown­ers were per­mit­ted to keep their fam­i­ly res­i­dence and approx­i­mate­ly 50 ha of land. About 52% of the expro­pri­at­ed land became the prop­er­ty of the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment, while the rest was divid­ed among 144,681 farm­ers and land­less peas­ants (Balodis 1991:209–210).

In truth, this applied most to the Lat­vians, who now had the chance to build their own state with their own lan­guage as its medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Dur­ing the first inde­pen­dence peri­od between 1918–1940, the Lat­vians com­posed approx­i­mate­ly 75% of the pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try. At about the same time, accord­ing to the 1935 state cen­sus, the Livo­ni­ans com­posed 32% of the pop­u­la­tion of their coastal home­land (944 indi­vid­u­als out of 2746 total res­i­dents), stretch­ing from Lūž to Mustānum. 29% of the pop­u­la­tion in the­se towns (790 indi­vid­u­als) still spoke Livo­ni­an, but only 215 indi­vid­u­als report­ed using their lan­guage at home. (Šuvcāne 2003:9)

There were pro­vi­sions for minor­i­ty lan­guage edu­ca­tion in Latvia, extend­ing main­ly to the Rus­sian, Ger­man, Pol­ish, and oth­er larg­er eth­nic minori­ties in the coun­try. But with the estab­lish­ment of Lat­vian inde­pen­dence, no imme­di­ate move was made to set up Livo­ni­an lan­guage edu­ca­tion in the towns where the lan­guage was still spo­ken. How­ev­er, it is also true that there did not real­ly exist any Livo­ni­an speak­ers who had been trained as pri­ma­ry or sec­ondary school teach­ers, and cer­tain­ly not any Lat­vian speak­ers who had been trained as school­teach­ers and also spoke Livo­ni­an.

This and oth­er issues need­ed to be resolved, and would lead to the estab­lish­ment of Līvõd Īt (the Livo­ni­an Union, hence­forth LĪ) on April 2, 1923. Ini­tial­ly, Līvõd Īt sought to not only provide Livo­ni­an lan­guage edu­ca­tion for the schools in the coast towns, but also to unite all the Livo­ni­an towns with­in the bound­aries of a sin­gle dis­trict (pagasts, in Lat­vian). In both cas­es the LĪ had dif­fi­cul­ty work­ing with the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment to achieve its aims. Sad­ly, it seemed that though the Lat­vians them­selves had only recent­ly thrown off the yoke of for­eign dom­i­na­tion, this did not mean that the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment was nec­es­sar­i­ly any more under­stand­ing or sym­pa­thet­ic to the yearn­ing of the Livo­ni­an peo­ple to express and pro­mote their own cul­ture and lan­guage in their home­land. The idea for the cre­ation of a Livo­ni­an nation­al dis­trict was dis­cussed by Lat­vian law­mak­ers in the Inte­ri­or Min­istry, but ulti­mate­ly was refused. This refusal seemed to stem from a fear that the con­sol­i­da­tion of the entire Livo­ni­an nation into a sin­gle dis­trict could ulti­mate­ly lead to demands for some form of local sov­er­eign­ty. (Vääri 1994:241)

Though unsuc­cess­ful in lob­by­ing for the cre­ation of a sin­gle Livo­ni­an dis­trict, the LĪ would have more luck in con­vinc­ing the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment to per­mit Livo­ni­an lan­guage class­es in the coast schools. The gov­ern­ment ulti­mate­ly would give its per­mis­sion to allow Livo­ni­an to be taught as an elec­tive sub­ject once a week. Hav­ing received per­mis­sion to teach the lan­guage in the schools in their home­land, the Livo­ni­ans were faced with anoth­er prob­lem, name­ly that there were no trained teach­ers of Livo­ni­an, and no books for teach­ing the lan­guage. This sit­u­a­tion and the unprece­dent­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty to have their own lan­guage taught in their own schools, called for an unusu­al solu­tion. The teach­ing of Livo­ni­an in the coast schools was under­tak­en by the Livo­ni­an sailor Maŗt Lep­st, who end­ed up rid­ing on horse­back from town to town, teach­ing at each school one day a week. (Kar­ma 1995:78–9) Though the lan­guage instruc­tion was still not of a lev­el to where non-Livo­ni­an-speak­ing chil­dren could hope to learn Livo­ni­an at school, the teach­ing of the lan­guage in the coast schools raised the sta­tus of the lan­guage and also led to the pro­duc­tion of teach­ing mate­ri­als that helped estab­lish and strength­en what would become the basis of the mod­ern Livo­ni­an lit­er­ary lan­guage and orthog­ra­phy.

Still, the Livo­ni­an Union knew that only one thing would ensure that the lan­guage could be taught at the­se schools on a con­sis­tent basis, and that would be actu­al Livo­ni­an speak­ers trained as teach­ers. With this thought in mind, the LĪ helped three Livo­ni­an young peo­ple, Pētõr Damberg (1909–1987), Hilda Grī­va (lat­er Cer­ba­ha, 1910–1984), and Alīse Gūt­mane, enroll in the Jel­gava Teach­ers’ Insti­tute, locat­ed in the south­ern Lat­vian city of Jel­gava. Already before com­plet­ing his course of study at the Insti­tute, Damberg was invit­ed to Fin­land in 1933 to pre­pare what would become his mag­num opus and one of his most mem­o­rable con­tri­bu­tion to the fur­ther­ing of writ­ing and edu­ca­tion of Livo­ni­an, his Jemakīel Lugdõbrān­tõz Skūol ja Kuod pierast (Moth­er tongue read­ing book for school and home, hence­forth JLSK). The book, a col­lec­tion of 91 short sto­ries writ­ten in Livo­ni­an, was intend­ed by Damberg not only as a read­er for chil­dren study­ing Livo­ni­an at school, but also for home use (Kar­ma 1994:127).

After com­plet­ing their course of study, almost unbe­liev­ably, none of the three young teach­ers received teach­ing posi­tions in their home dis­trict on the coast. Soon there­after Pētõr Damberg would be required to report for his manda­to­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice in the Lat­vian mil­i­tary, while the oth­er two stu­dents were sent to teach else­where (Kar­ma 1994:127–8).

When Damberg’s book, JLSK, was pub­lished in 1935, it was received with great acclaim. How­ev­er, in order for it to be used in schools, it had to gain the approval of the Lat­vian Edu­ca­tion Min­istry. After many delays and much hes­i­ta­tion, the min­istry denied approval to the book, as its con­tent was said to “con­flict with the life and idea of the Lat­vian state.” (Kar­ma 1994:128) Fol­low­ing diplo­mat­ic appeals from Fin­land, a com­pro­mise was reached. The book could be used in schools, as long as it includ­ed a page at the end with a Lat­vian folk song, a short text on Lat­vian his­to­ry, and the Lat­vian nation­al anthem. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, approval of the book came only short­ly before the out­break of World War II, so the use­ful life of the book in the Livo­ni­an schools was quite short (Kar­ma 1994:128).

Still, any edu­ca­tion at all in Livo­ni­an, remained one of the great achieve­ments of the LĪ. In addi­tion to send­ing the three Livo­ni­an young peo­ple to the Teach­ers’ Insti­tute in Jel­gava, the LĪ also spon­sored oth­er young Livo­ni­ans who wished to study abroad in Esto­nia and Fin­land. It also did much to build ties between the Livo­ni­ans and their lin­guis­tic rel­a­tives, the Esto­ni­ans, Finns, and Hun­gar­i­ans. The 1920s and 1930s also saw a size­able increase in pub­li­ca­tions in the Livo­ni­an lan­guage. Among the­se was a col­lec­tion of Livo­ni­an poet­ry called Līvõd Lōlõd (Livo­ni­an Songs) by Kōr­li Stal­te, anoth­er Livo­ni­an cul­tur­al lumi­nary of the time. Dur­ing his life, Stal­te was the edi­tor of sev­er­al Livo­ni­an pub­li­ca­tions, the author of a num­ber of Livo­ni­an books. He taught Livo­ni­an in the vil­lage school in Īra (Lielir­be), and between 1937 and 1942, along with Livo­ni­an Edgar Vol­gan­ski-Val­gamā, trans­lat­ed the New Tes­ta­ment into Livo­ni­an. (Kar­ma 1995:79) Stal­te and his fam­i­ly would come to form anoth­er of the most impor­tant Livo­ni­an fam­i­lies, with his rel­a­tives con­tin­u­ing to be an active and influ­en­tial force in Livo­ni­an cul­tur­al life to this day .

In 1931, the Livo­ni­an stu­dents from the Jel­gava Teach­ers’ Insti­tute, aid­ed by Finnish finan­cial sup­port, began pub­lish­ing “Līvli” (the Livo­ni­an), a month­ly news­pa­per in Livo­ni­an. (Kar­ma 1995:79) Dur­ing the same year, Finnish pas­tor Helle Kaler­vo Erviö began to jour­ney to the Livo­ni­an Coast sev­er­al times a year to hold mass in Livo­ni­an. To have Livo­ni­an as the lan­guage of the church on the coast had long been a dream of Livo­ni­ans work­ing to raise the sta­tus of their lan­guage in their home­land. In time, Erviö learned Livo­ni­an, and came to the coast on a fair­ly reg­u­lar basis until 1938 (Vääri 1994:241). Church ser­vices in Livo­ni­an, just as Livo­ni­an lan­guage instruc­tion in the coast vil­lage schools, were to remain a rel­a­tive­ly infre­quent phe­nom­e­non. Still, they too could be viewed as a great achieve­ment. At the close of the 1930s, the sta­tus of the Livo­ni­an lan­guage had reached unprece­dent­ed heights, achiev­ing roles in the dynam­ic of the lan­guages used by the res­i­dents of the Livo­ni­an Coast, that had not been seen in over sev­en cen­turies.

One final dream would be real­ized pri­or to the abrupt end to Lat­vian inde­pen­dence at the onset of World War II. Con­struc­tion began on what would come to be known as the Livo­ni­an Nation­al Hall (Līvlist Rovkuo­da), a cen­ter in the largest Livo­ni­an town, Irē (Mazir­be), that would serve as a focus for the Livo­ni­an peo­ple, their work and ambi­tions. It was hoped that it would come to be seen as a sym­bol of their nation, a nation that had come to be more clear­ly defined than ever before in the pre­vi­ous two decades, its sta­tus secured in ways not pos­si­ble for the pre­vi­ous eight cen­turies. The Hall was offi­cial­ly opened on August 6, 1939.

But the­se achieve­ments were to be short-lived. With­in three weeks of the unveil­ing of the new Livo­ni­an Hall, unbe­known­st to the Livo­ni­ans or any­body else, the Sovi­et and Nazi gov­ern­ments had signed the secret Molo­tov-Ribben­trop Pact divid­ing Europe between the two pow­ers. After some final nego­ti­a­tion between the Sovi­ets and Ger­mans, it was agreed that all of the Baltic coun­tries were to come under the Sovi­et sphere of influ­ence (Kar­ma 1995: 79).

That same year the Baltic States were each forced to sign coop­er­a­tion agree­ments with the Sovi­et Union, giv­ing the Sovi­ets the right to estab­lish mil­i­tary bases on the ter­ri­to­ry of the three coun­tries. (Balodis 1991:277–8) There was lit­tle the three small states could do, fac­ing such an over­whelm­ing pow­er. The hope among the Baltic gov­ern­ments was that by lying low, hope­ful­ly the con­flict would pass over them. The Finns who had been given a sim­i­lar ulti­ma­tum by the Sovi­ets, refused to sign the pact. As a result, they would be attacked by the Sovi­ets any­way. How­ev­er, because they did not suc­cumb to the ini­tial Sovi­et demands, the Finns had the chance to defend them­selves before the Sovi­ets had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­arm the pop­u­lace and over­throw their gov­ern­ment, as they would do in each of the Baltic States. At the end of World War II, the Finns kept their inde­pen­dence, while the Baltics would lose theirs.


The Years of Sovi­et Dom­i­na­tion

The arrival of World War II brought with it great destruc­tion to the coast that had by now become the only home­land remain­ing for the Livo­ni­an peo­ple. By the sum­mer of 1940, Lat­vian pres­i­dent Kārlis Ulman­is had been forced to appoint a gov­ern­ment hand-picked by the Sovi­et author­i­ties. One of the first orders of busi­ness for the new gov­ern­ment was to orga­nize and stage elec­tions for a new “People’s Par­lia­ment” (Tau­tas Saeima, in Lat­vian). Only one polit­i­cal par­ty was allowed to com­pete in the­se elec­tions and it was com­posed sole­ly of per­sons approved of by the pup­pet regime imposed on Latvia by the Sovi­et author­i­ties. Short­ly after the pre­dictable out­come of the­se elec­tions, the new par­lia­ment request­ed the admit­tance of Latvia to the Sovi­et Union as a con­stituent union repub­lic. (Balodis 1991:281–5)

The new par­lia­ment was hard­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the true will or opin­ions of the cit­i­zens of Latvia, and its deci­sion to peti­tion and ulti­mate­ly join the Sovi­et Union vio­lat­ed the Lat­vian con­sti­tu­tion. The con­sti­tu­tion stat­ed that any inter­na­tion­al agree­ment or law adopt­ed by par­lia­ment that alters the nature of the sov­er­eign­ty of the Lat­vian state could only be enact­ed with the approval of a major­i­ty of the nation’s cit­i­zens through a nation­al ref­er­en­dum. No poll was held, but nev­er­the­less the request by the pup­pet par­lia­ment was glad­ly accept­ed by the Sovi­et gov­ern­ment. As a result, the Repub­lic of Latvia became the Lat­vian Sovi­et Social­ist Repub­lic on August 5, 1940. (Balodis 1991:286–7)

Ini­tial­ly, the new Sovi­et gov­ern­ment tried to assure the res­i­dents of the Baltics that lit­tle would change. But the­se assur­ances soon showed them­selves to be false. By the end of 1940, polit­i­cal repres­sions were well under­way. Oppo­nents of the Sovi­et regime who had fought for Lat­vian inde­pen­dence two decades ear­lier were being arrest­ed and sent to labor camps in Rus­sia. (Balodis 1991:293–5)

As for the Livo­ni­ans, soon after the incor­po­ra­tion of Latvia into the Sovi­et Union, the Nation­al Hall in Irē (Mazir­be) was seized by the new Sovi­et gov­ern­ment, the Livo­ni­an Union and oth­er Livo­ni­an orga­ni­za­tions were banned, pub­li­ca­tion of Livo­ni­an books was for­bid­den, as was the teach­ing of Livo­ni­an in schools. (Kar­ma 1995:79) All that had been achieved in the pre­vi­ous decades was uproot­ed in a few short months, and sad to say this would only be the begin­ning.

In the fol­low­ing year, on the night of June 14, 1941, thou­sands of men, wom­en, and chil­dren all over Latvia were arrest­ed by Sovi­et author­i­ties, load­ed onto cat­tle cars, and deport­ed to slave labor camps in Siberia (Balodis 1991:297–300). This was the begin­ning of a pol­i­cy of eth­nic cleans­ing that the Sovi­et gov­ern­ment would con­tin­ue to car­ry out in the Baltic States over the course of the next decade. The depor­ta­tions affect­ed the Livo­ni­ans as much as the Lat­vians. Many of the inno­cent peo­ple tak­en from their homes on their ances­tral coast that night would nev­er return (Kar­ma 1995: 79). Seen in the light of the cen­turies of Ger­man and Rus­sian dom­i­na­tion of the Baltics, as well as, the poli­cies of the Sovi­et Union again­st oth­er non-Rus­sian nation­al­i­ties in the pre­vi­ous decades, the­se repres­sions were hard­ly sur­pris­ing. The ulti­mate goal, as it had been ear­lier, was the fur­ther weak­en­ing and assim­i­la­tion of the nation­al­i­ties indige­nous to the Baltic area, in the process con­sol­i­dat­ing the pow­er of the colo­nial regime in the ter­ri­to­ry. This pol­i­cy would prove to be espe­cial­ly dis­as­trous for nations, such as the Livo­ni­ans, who were not strong in num­ber, and thus proved to be easy tar­gets for erad­i­ca­tion by the Sovi­ets.

With­in weeks the forces of Nazi Ger­many would come to push the Sovi­ets out of Latvia. The Nazi occu­pa­tion did not bring any real change for the sit­u­a­tion of the Livo­ni­ans. Begin­ning in 1944, as the tide of the war turned, the Sovi­ets began to force the Ger­mans out of Latvia.. Towards the end of the war, some of the fiercest bat­tles came to be fought in Kurze­me, where the Ger­mans held out until the fall of Berlin in 1945.

As the war drew to a close, the future of their home­land filled with uncer­tain­ty, many Livo­ni­ans saw a clos­ing win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty to flee their land for the rel­a­tive safe­ty of the west. In the Spring of 1945, with access to the sea still open to them, the same sea that had nur­tured and sus­tained them and their ances­tors for cen­turies past, the­se sailors and fish­er­folk returned to it one last time, to flee their home­land and its tur­moil for Swe­den. Ful­ly one half of the Livo­ni­an nation left their coastal home that spring, most nev­er to return. Some would come to stay in Swe­den, while oth­ers would emi­grate fur­ther, along with the Lat­vians, to the four cor­ners of the earth. (Vääri 1994:243–4)

With the reestab­lish­ment of Sovi­et pow­er, came new repres­sions again­st the Livo­ni­ans. Many had fought again­st the Sovi­ets in the wan­ing days of the war, and now those that remained were sent along with many Lat­vians from Kurze­me to what were called fil­tra­tion camps. The intent of the­se camps was to root out poten­tial­ly sub­ver­sive ele­ments, as well as, deep­en the feel­ings of help­less­ness and ter­ror among the local pop­u­lace. Soon there­after on March 25, 1949, came the sec­ond wave of mass depor­ta­tions. In some cas­es peo­ple that had been tak­en in the first round eight years ear­lier had made their way back to their homes, only to be tak­en away again. (Kar­ma 1995:79)

By the 1950s, the guer­ril­la war that had raged in the Baltic States had been large­ly quelled, and the Sovi­et author­i­ties began to take the final step in clear­ing the coast of its ancient inhab­i­tants. The coastal strip where the Livo­ni­ans had lived for mil­len­nia was declared a sen­si­tive mil­i­tary zone and large­ly off-lim­its to non-mil­i­tary per­son­nel. After the waves of depor­ta­tions and eth­nic cleans­ing, there were already far few­er peo­ple liv­ing there than before. A 1948 expe­di­tion by Tar­tu Uni­ver­si­ty Prof. Paul Aris­te (1905–1990) had record­ed the pres­ence of only about 500–800 Livo­ni­ans in the area. Per­haps as lit­tle as a quar­ter of the num­ber that had lived there pri­or to the war and the sub­se­quent Sovi­et occu­pa­tion. The Sovi­et author­i­ties began to elim­i­nate any sort of civil­ian infra­struc­ture in the area. Stores, schools, and hos­pi­tals were closed, and with access to the sea being com­plete­ly restrict­ed, the fish­er­men who knew no oth­er way of life, were denied their liveli­hood. The result would be that in rel­a­tive­ly short order the coastal vil­lages emp­tied of their inhab­i­tants, as peo­ple were forced to seek employ­ment and homes else­where. (Kar­ma 1995:79)

The point had been reached in the 1950s where there no longer was a Livo­ni­an home­land. Aside from some elder­ly Livo­ni­ans that had stayed in their homes on the coast, the Livo­ni­ans were now com­plete­ly scat­tered. Half the nation had fled dur­ing the war and now was liv­ing inter­mixed with the Lat­vian refugee com­mu­ni­ty around the world. The oth­er half had been forced from its ances­tral home, and those who had not been sent to labor camps in Siberia, were now scat­tered across Latvia. The Sovi­et author­i­ties refused to rec­og­nize the exis­tence of the Livo­ni­an nation, and for­bade it from being list­ed as an offi­cial nation­al­i­ty in pass­ports and oth­er doc­u­ments. Livo­ni­ans who spoke their lan­guage open­ly or tried to teach it to their chil­dren were per­se­cut­ed.


The Third Nation­al Awak­en­ing

In the Livo­ni­an com­mu­ni­ty, its third nation­al awak­en­ing seems most mem­o­rable for what would occur in the 1990s. Lat­vian inde­pen­dence was restored and in this new polit­i­cal con­text the Livo­ni­ans received more recog­ni­tion on the nation­al lev­el than they ever had ear­lier. Still, when con­sid­er­ing the his­to­ry of the nation and this epoch in its his­to­ry lead­ing up to the present, it is impor­tant to note that this revival in Livo­ni­an cul­tur­al activ­i­ty began many years ear­lier, decades before the end of the Sovi­et occu­pa­tion of Latvia.

It could be said that the third nation­al awak­en­ing began on Jan­u­ary 29, 1969. That day in Vil­jandi, Esto­nia, the city would mark Livo­ni­an Cul­ture Day, which became the first open recog­ni­tion of the Livo­ni­ans and their cul­ture in sev­er­al decades. In August of the fol­low­ing year, dur­ing the unveil­ing of a new muse­um com­mem­o­rat­ing the his­to­ry and cul­ture of Baltic fish­er­men, sev­er­al songs were sung with words writ­ten by the Livo­ni­an poet, Kōr­li Stal­te. This would ulti­mate­ly lead to the found­ing of two Livo­ni­an folk music ensem­bles in 1972. Līvlist (Livo­ni­ans) and Kānd­la (zither) were not only respon­si­ble for bring­ing new life to the folk music tra­di­tions of the Livo­ni­ans, but were also instru­men­tal in paving the way for many sim­i­lar Lat­vian folk music ensem­bles in years to come. (Kar­ma 1995:79)

Through the course of the 1970s till the end of the 1980s, the­se folk music ensem­bles would form the back­bone of Livo­ni­an cul­tur­al activ­i­ty. Though the Sovi­et regime had per­mit­ted this small revival, the sit­u­a­tion was still com­pli­cat­ed and Livo­ni­ans seek­ing to active­ly pro­mote their cul­ture and lan­guage had to tread care­ful­ly. By the end of the 1970s some work was being done in pub­lish­ing small amounts of writ­ten Livo­ni­an. In 1980, the Lat­vian lan­guage divi­sion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Latvia pub­lished a small col­lec­tion of Livo­ni­an folk songs with Lat­vian trans­la­tions and a short descrip­tion of the writ­ten lan­guage. Livo­ni­an seemed to be gain­ing some mod­icum of accep­tance, despite decades of per­se­cu­tion by the Sovi­et regime. How­ev­er, when sev­er­al Livo­ni­ans went to the Sovi­et gov­ern­ment and the Com­mu­nist par­ty with a request to be able to give Livo­ni­an as their nation­al­i­ty in offi­cial doc­u­ments, they and many mem­bers of the Lat­vian intel­li­gentsia that had sup­port­ed them in this move were severe­ly rebuked by the par­ty lead­er­ship and gov­ern­ment. Real pro­gress would have to wait a few more years. (Kar­ma 1995:80)


The End of the Sovi­et Occu­pa­tion

Per­e­stroika and glas­nost, the poli­cies pio­neered by Mikhail Gor­bachev, would ulti­mate­ly bring the oppor­tu­ni­ty for great changes across the Sovi­et Union. In time, the­se changes would reach as far as the shore of the Gulf of Rīga, where the Livo­ni­ans had made their home for cen­turies. The mid-1980s were still a dif­fi­cult time for the Livo­ni­ans. Indi­vid­u­als teach­ing or pro­mot­ing Livo­ni­an still lived under the threat of per­se­cu­tion or pres­sure from the Sovi­et author­i­ties for under­tak­ing such actions.

Change would come to both the Lat­vians and the Livo­ni­ans in the late 1980s, large­ly inau­gu­rat­ed by the first large scale pub­lic demon­stra­tion protest­ing the occu­pa­tion. On Novem­ber 26, 1988 the Livo­ni­ans offi­cial­ly restored the Livo­ni­an Asso­ci­a­tion under the name the Livo­ni­an Cul­tur­al Union (Līvõd Kultūr Īt), which in time would be renamed Līvõd Īt. The fol­low­ing year the LCU marked the 50th Anniver­sary of the con­struc­tion of the Livo­ni­an Nation­al Hall in Irē (Mazir­be). The same year in Rīga, the LCU began to orga­nize a pro­gram of Sun­day school class­es for study­ing Livo­ni­an. (Kar­ma 1995: 80) After five decades of silence, Livo­ni­an could once again be stud­ied and spo­ken with­out fear of per­se­cu­tion.

Fig­ure 8: Līvõd Rān­da (the Livo­ni­an Coast)

The peri­od from 1990 to 1991 marks the tran­si­tion from Sovi­et occu­pa­tion to inde­pen­dence for all three Baltic coun­tries. On May 4, 1990, the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment adopt­ed a res­o­lu­tion restor­ing the inde­pen­dence of the coun­try. At the time few nations rec­og­nized this dec­la­ra­tion. Wide­spread accep­tance and recog­ni­tion of Baltic inde­pen­dence would only come in late August and Sep­tem­ber of 1991 after the col­lapse of the failed coup in Moscow and the effec­tive dis­so­lu­tion of the Sovi­et Union soon there­after.

In the inter­ven­ing year and a half, the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment adopt­ed a res­o­lu­tion, on Feb­ru­ary 4, 1991, cre­at­ing a spe­cial region for the Livo­ni­ans in the area of their tra­di­tion­al vil­lages in north­ern Kurze­me. This region, given the Livo­ni­an name Līvõd Rān­da (the Livo­ni­an Coast), was des­ig­nat­ed as a “nation­al pro­tect­ed ter­ri­to­ry of Livo­ni­an cul­ture and his­to­ry” (val­sts īpaši aizsargā­jamā lībiešu kultūrvēs­turiskā ter­i­tori­ja, in Lat­vian). Lat­er that year on March 19, 1991, the Livo­ni­ans, along with the Lat­vians, were iden­ti­fied as the two nations indige­nous to the ter­ri­to­ry of Latvia in a piece of leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with the sup­port for the cul­ti­va­tion of the cul­tur­al auton­o­my of the nations of the Repub­lic of Latvia. (Kar­ma 1995: 80) (See Fig­ure 8)

Both of the­se deci­sions were a great vic­to­ry for the Livo­ni­ans. At long last not only were they rec­og­nized as being part­ners with the Lat­vians in the new­ly restored inde­pen­dent Latvia, but also a region had been cre­at­ed for them in their tra­di­tion­al home­land where, ide­al­ly, a tru­ly Livo­ni­an sense of place could be main­tained and encour­aged. How­ev­er, in prac­tice the true effec­tive­ness of this region in pro­mot­ing Livo­ni­an issues was lim­it­ed. The main prob­lem has remained the same as always, which is that the tra­di­tion­al Livo­ni­an vil­lages are divid­ed between two dif­fer­ent nation­al dis­tricts (rajons, in Lat­vian).

Fig­ure 9: The admin­is­tra­tive divi­sion of the Livo­ni­an Coast in 2017 (Image Source.)

The Līvõd Rān­da region ceased to exist in 2003. In the 2000s, Latvia under­took a reform of its admin­is­tra­tive divi­sions. The pre­vi­ous two-tier sys­tem (small­er pagasts divi­sions with­in larg­er rajons divi­sions) was abol­ished in favor of a sin­gle-tier sys­tem in which Latvia was divid­ed into 110 munic­i­pal­i­ties (novads, in Lat­vian). The ear­lier divi­sion of the Livo­ni­an Coast per­sists into the present day (See Fig­ure 9). In the present-day admin­is­tra­tive divi­sion of Latvia, it is still divid­ed between two admin­is­tra­tive divi­sions just as in the past. As of 2017, there is talk of fur­ther con­sol­i­da­tion of Latvia’s admin­is­tra­tive divi­sions; how­ev­er, it is hard to say whether that will mean that the Livo­ni­an Coast will final­ly be uni­fied as one region.

In 1992, the Livo­ni­ans restart­ed pub­li­ca­tion of Līvli (The Livo­ni­an), the nation­al news­pa­per that had been pub­lished in Livo­ni­an in Latvia dur­ing the 1930s. Also dur­ing 1992, the Livo­ni­an com­mu­ni­ty began to orga­nize its annu­al sum­mer camp, intend­ed pri­mar­i­ly for chil­dren of Livo­ni­an descent. Held every year in Irē (Mazir­be), orig­i­nal­ly called Tšitšor­linkist (chirp­ing birds, in Livo­ni­an), since the late 1990s it has been known as Piški Tēḑ (lit­tle star, in Livo­ni­an) (Kar­ma 1995: 80). Piški Tēḑ refers to a poem writ­ten by Kōr­li Stal­te liken­ing the Livo­ni­ans to a star, remain­ing dis­tinct as it shi­nes among the myr­i­ad stars in the sky. The camp is like any sum­mer camp, with sports and crafts activ­i­ties for the chil­dren. How­ev­er, in addi­tion to this there is an hour of Livo­ni­an lan­guage instruc­tion every day. The­se activ­i­ties have been great­ly aid­ed by the work of mod­ern Livo­ni­an cul­tur­al activists such as Zoja Sīle, who has admin­is­tered the camp for many years, in addi­tion to teach­ing Livo­ni­an at the camp and author­ing learn­ing mate­ri­als for use by the chil­dren. In 2000, lin­guist Ker­sti Boiko pub­lished her book Līvõ Kēļ (Livo­ni­an lan­guage) which is a col­lec­tion of Livo­ni­an lan­guage lessons for speak­ers of Lat­vian. This user-friend­ly and easy to under­stand book has been a great asset to the chil­dren at the camp and oth­ers who wish to gain a work­ing knowl­edge of Livo­ni­an. In more recent years the Livo­ni­an sum­mer camp has been called Mier­linkizt.

The 1990s also saw the elec­tion of two Livo­ni­ans to the Lat­vian par­lia­ment, which was the first time in the nation’s his­to­ry that any Livo­ni­an had held a nation­al polit­i­cal office. (Kar­ma 1995: 80) As the num­ber of native speak­ers con­tin­ues to dwindle, there has been a con­tin­u­ing and dili­gent effort by lin­guists and cul­tur­al activists to con­tin­ue to per­fect the orthog­ra­phy and pub­lish books in Livo­ni­an. In 1998, a long held dream was real­ized with the pub­li­ca­tion of a bilin­gual Livo­ni­an-Lat­vian anthol­o­gy of Livo­ni­an poet­ry, Ma Akūb Sīn­da Viz­zõ Tūrska! (I’m craftier than you are, cod! [the title refers to a Livo­ni­an folk song in which a fish­er­man is utter­ing this dec­la­ra­tion to the fish he is try­ing to catch])

Still the 1990s lead­ing up to the present day have also seen a con­tin­u­ing and pre­dictable decline in the num­ber of native speak­ers of the lan­guage, the great pro­por­tion of whom are now over 70. One rare excep­tion is Jul­gī Stal­te, born in the late 1970s, who in addi­tion to being a mem­ber of the proud Stal­te fam­i­ly, learned Livo­ni­an as a child from her grand­fa­ther. She con­tin­ues to do much to pop­u­lar­ize Livo­ni­an, not only singing in her family’s folk music ensem­ble (Skan­dinieki), but also in form­ing her own group, Tuļļi Lum, that released an album of con­tem­po­rary Livo­ni­an music in the ear­ly 2000s. In addi­tion to Stal­te, there are also a num­ber of flu­ent sec­ond-lan­guage speak­ers of Livo­ni­an and an enthu­si­as­tic group of learn­ers. In 2012, the exten­sive Livo­ni­an-Esto­ni­an-Lat­vian Dic­tio­nary was pub­lished, which is also avail­able online and con­tains the full descrip­tion of Livo­ni­an declen­sion and con­ju­ga­tion types mak­ing it an extreme­ly use­ful resource for study­ing Livo­ni­an. As of 2017, there is also an effort by Livo­ni­an lan­guage activists on face­book to teach Livo­ni­an on the Līvõ kēļ face­book group, which shares a Livo­ni­an word each day and also pro­vides addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion on Livo­ni­an gram­mar and sug­ges­tions for using Livo­ni­an in every­day life.

With the death of the last native speak­er of Livo­ni­an, Grizel­da Kris­tiņa, in 2013, Livo­ni­an encoun­tered a turn­ing point in its life. How­ev­er, in 2017, while cur­rent­ly not a lan­guage of dai­ly inter­ac­tion, Livo­ni­an con­tin­ues to be enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly stud­ied by Livo­ni­an descen­dants and oth­ers. For that rea­son, Livo­ni­an remains very much alive and its future is hope­ful.


(This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten by Uld­is Balodis and pub­lished on this site in 2004, with some slight changes made to it in 2017.)


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