Narratives of Landscape in Latvian History and Memory

  • Vieda Skultans


Latvian landscape has played a crucial, albeit changing, role in Latvian conceptions of identity. The nineteenth-century nationalist movement was articulated in terms of the relationship between land and people. During the independence period a uniquely local vision of the landscape was nurtured by art and literature, which encouraged a reverence for the landscape. Simultaneously, government policy encouraged agriculture, which flourished. Thus, the Soviets, following their occupation, entered a 'historically saturated landscape' and adopted as their remit the destruction of that landscape. My paper traces the semantic history of Latvian landscape and examines its role in providing a still point in personal narratives of loss and displacement. I conclude that the Soviets only partially succeeded in their mission of destruction. Although they succeeded in changing the physical face of the landscape and farming they were unable to destroy the pastoral vision which is a component of so many Latvian narratives. Our native hearth, Is burning in the sky, In order to come home, We do not open the door, But the cover of a book. We cannot learn from a snail, because home is not a refuge for us, But we will be a refuge for the homeland. Māra ZālÄ«te