The aim of my dissertation “Maintaining the Idea of Latvia’s Independence in Exile from the Mid-1940s to the Second Half of the 1980s: Political Activity,” whose completion was generously funded by the Aina Birnitis Dissertation-Completion Fellowship, is to analyze the political activities carried out in exile to uphold the idea of Latvia’s independence in Western countries in the period from the mid-1940s to the second half of the 1980s. To achieve this goal, I have attempted to evaluate the theoretical possibilities of exile actions; describe the formation and organization of émigré community; analyze the methods and activities used to advocate the idea of Latvia’s independence; assess exile activities in the anti-communist movements of the host countries; and evaluate exile activities on the international level.
The phenomenon of maintaining the idea of the state independence of their country of origin through long decades living abroad, is not only appealing from the emotional and psychological viewpoint, but also important as a research subject. First of all, the history of the political activities of the Latvian émigrés is closely connected with the history of the goal of these activities, namely, the restoration of Latvia’s independence and, accordingly, with the history of Latvia’s statehood in itself. Also, the history of the Latvian émigré community is an integral part of the history of the Latvian people in the 20th century. Exile was not only an individual and specific fate of a few Latvians, but instead a significant part (close to one tenth) of the Latvian nation.
My dissertation is the first full length academic study devoted to analyzing political activities of émigré Latvians after World War II. This research can be continued or used as a basis for more in-depth research in many ways and also in other fields of research, beyond the field of history. As to further history research, some related research topics could be, for example, deeper analysis of differences in political activities in different countries of residence; comparison to similar activities of Latvians abroad (though in much lesser extent) during the Latvian War of Independence 1918-1920; broader analysis of political ideas among émigré Latvians and the interdependence between changes of ideas and changes observable in actual political work etc.
The studies of more than 40 years of political experience in exile are also of a practical significance, for example, in contributing conclusions about the diaspora’s potential to promote the interests of Latvia through political lobbying or other advocacy in international organizations and in the Western countries. Latvia’s large diaspora in the countries of the world is an untapped resource that could promote Latvia’s interests abroad. The political activities of the émigrés in the course of history are an excellent example of such advocacy work.
Also, this dissertation is the first time in Latvian historiography, when a consecutive overview of the emergence of the Latvian exile communities and the process of their internal structuring is given, namely, the basic information that is indispensable for research in either political, cultural or any other question related to the émigré Latvians. As such it undoubtedly will be very useful for other researchers in future, allowing them to add in-depth insights to
My dissertation is the first full length academic study devoted to analyzing political activities of émigré Latvians after World War II. This research can be continued or used as a basis for more in-depth research in many ways and also in other fields of research, beyond the field of history.
Of general importance to the future research of Latvians living abroad is also part of the Chapter I, which analyzes the various concepts and terms used to describe the Latvians scattered across the world after the Second World War. These concepts can be general: migration, immigrant or emigrant community, diaspora; or specific: exiles or émigrés, klaida latvieši (approximate translation – wandering Latvians), reactionary bourgeois emigrants. Most of these terms are applicable, depending on the context of the situation. Clarification of their meaning, origin and usage has been necessary because a common research terminology with regard to this issue in Latvia is yet absent and often the usage of one or other term originates in emotional considerations rather than academic clarity of expression and understanding of the differences of meaning of the several words.
The exceptionally broad range of sources used in this dissertation also has to be noted as important. Documents from seventeen document repositories supervised by state or non-governmental organizations in several countries, as well as materials from private archives of two individuals have been used in the dissertation. The most important document repositories are the Latvian State Archives of the Latvian National Archives, the Latvian State Historical Archives of the LNA, the Archives of the Immigration History Research Center (Minnesota, USA), the Hoover Institution Archives (Stanford University, USA), the British Latvian Documentation Centre “Straumēni,” as well as the national archives of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Sweden. With a very few exceptions, not only have the documents used in the current study never been published, but they have also never been used in a scientific research, also some of them have only recently been archived.
Such broad range of documentary sources, mostly (but not only) created by émigré Latvian organizations and individuals, has been essential to enable the wide scope of the dissertation, encompassing activities of Latvians in many countries and over a considerable period of time. The broad range of sources has been an indispensable precondition to formulate the development trends of such multifaceted process as political activity of the émigrés with the aim of safeguarding the idea of an independent, democratic Latvia and promoting the restoration of the country’s independence. I have also paid extra attention to description of the sources and their locations within the dissertation, as the knowledge on what documents are available where is an essential information for future researchers
The political activity of the émigrés, guided by the main trends in different periods, generally can be divided into four (conditional) main phases, of which time in the displaced persons camps forms the first phase – the stage of self-organization and the beginnings of political activity. The second phase encompasses anti-communist activities mainly in the host countries between entering the host countries in the early 1950s approximately until the late 1960s. From the beginning of the 1970s to the beginning of the Awakening, the third phase of the émigrés’ political activity can be distinguished, characterized by the intensification of international activity, the change of generations in political leadership, and the increase of political activity methods and initiative. The fourth and final phase is not considered in the current dissertation, but it covers the period of Awakening and restoration of independence, and is characterized by the growing direct involvement of the émigrés in the events in Latvia and the establishment of cooperation with political forces there.
The question of broadest impact, of course, is an assessment of the success of the émigrés’ efforts, i.e. to what extent the merits in the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia are attributable to the émigrés. My research so far shows that these merits should neither be overestimated nor perceived as non-existent (which is sadly still sometimes the case).
However, the decades-long efforts of the émigrés to keep the idea of Latvia’s statehood alive and to promote the restoration of that statehood must not be underestimated nor repudiated. They certainly achieved their own significant results. Undoubtedly, one of the most important successes of the exile was the maintenance of the policy of non-recognition of the USSR’s incorporation of the Baltic states de jure by the United States and other Western countries. Other of the achievements of the émigrés is the experience of political work accumulated in decades of political work, the understanding of an effective political lobby and the good relations established with the governments and political forces of the United States and Western European countries. These experiences and contacts played a major role in the Awakening period and immediately after the restoration of independence, with the new Baltic governments establishing their first international links and renewing their diplomatic service with the help of the Latvians in exile.
A detailed research on the involvement of Latvian exiles with political processes in the Baltic States during late 1980ies and early 1990s certainly is necessary to more fully evaluate the role that émigrés played in the restoration of the statehood of Latvia.
My ambition and hope with this dissertation, apart from adding knowledge about the important topics noted before, is also to facilitate and inspire further research in the history of the Latvians living abroad. To this end I also intend to publish my research in book form in the future. Work on this research has also brought up a lot of related exciting research problems for future consideration.
I am very grateful to have had the Aina Birnitis Dissertation-Completion Fellowship, as it has allowed me to focus on this research to an extent impossible without such support, and to finish and successfully defend my dissertation.
Recipient of 2019–2020 Aina Birnitis Dissertation-Completion Fellowship in the Humanities for Latvia
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