Russian culture problems in the Almanac ‘Russian world and Latvia’ by SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS society

S. Mazur, A. Romanov, Riga, Latvia


Russian culture problems in the Almanac ‘Russian world and Latvia’ by SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS society



In Latvian media SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS is known as a humanitarian seminar of the Russian intelligentsia in Latvia. The Humanitarian seminar reports and discussions about the situation of the Russian culture in Latvia are told on the Almanac ‘Russian world and Latvia’ quarterly pages. From 2004 till 2010 the society SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS have published 23 issues of the Almanac.

The publishing programme developed by a research group namely Alexey Romanov, who works for a doctor degree in the Russian State Humanitarian University and edits the Almanac and Sergey Mazur, consists of five subtitles.

The first one is dedicated to a distinguished folklore researcher, historian of the Russian culture in Latvia Boris Fedorovich Infantyev’s legacy studies. In the last XXIII isssue of the Almanac ‘Russian World and Latvia: Interpretation problems in a dialogue of sociocultural paradigms’ S. Mazur’s article ‘B. Infantyev’s manuscript ‘Peter the Great in Russian folklore’’ is actually the first generalised work looking into some B. Infantyev’s materials in the spheres of folklore, study of literature, mythology, philology and linguistics as parts of his unified culturological conception. XXI issue of the Almanac ‘Russian World and Latvia: Russian intelligentsia’ presents an article by S. Mazur ‘B. Infantyev ’s biography essey’ that ends the cycle of biography esseys on the life and fate of the Russian intelligentsia in Latvia in the XX century. In the coming issues of the Almanac it is planned to publish a critical essey about the unpublished book by B. Infantyev ‘Latvian literature myth about Russians’.

The second direction is on the Russian intelligentsia in Latvia phenomenon phylosophic reflexy. This discussion division is led by Alexey Romanov. Different views in understanding interrelations of culture and humans in the light of humanitarian situation in Latvia are opposed in articles ‘Who is intelligentsia’, ‘Petty hooliganism philosophy’ (XXI issue), ‘Why a sociologist is not a humanitarian. Reply to article on the Russian culture in Latvia by A. Bikbov’, etc.

The third direction is managed by the Latvian University profesor, Ph.D. Yury Sidyakov. The Almanac has been publishing the archives of archbishop John (Pommer) for six years. Those archives is an authentic encyclopedia of the Russian church, cultural, social, political life in Latvia in the 20-s and 30-s in XX century.

In the frames of the fourth direction managed by Alexey Romanov leading Russian phylosophers talk about the contemporary humanitarian culture issues discussing on SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS seminars in Riga. XXIII issue of the Almanac dedicated to the interpretation problems in a dialogue of sociocultural paradigm publishes an article by a famous researcher-interpreter V. Bakusev ‘Tongue touches flesh. Artistic translation in the culture dialogue’.

The fifth direction is dedicated to the research of contemporary Russian culture in Latvia. Up to 2010 the first phase of the research is completed, the results of that can be seen in XI issue of the Almanac ‘Russian World and Latvia. Russian culture outside metropoly’ (Riga 2007). In their articles 32 experts explain why the Russain humanitarian culture in Latvia marginalise. The final report presented by SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS society at the World Phylosophic Congress in Moscow last year is published on the site of Humanitarian Seminar – . The second phase of the research ‘Who makes the Russian culture in Latvia’ started in April 2010. On April 10 in the Baltic International Academy ‘Russian Centre’ a musicologist Boris Avramets, a writer Irina Tsygalskaya, a poet Yury Kasyanich, a phylosopher Alexey Romanov presenred their reports on subjectivity of the Russian culture published in issue XXIII of the Almanac.

The researchers make their conclusions that the Russian culture outside Russia create its own world running through the modern national borders.

The Russian culture irrespective of the place where it manifest itself – in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia or in Russia does not lose its isomorphism. But the first efforts of self-description of the culture outside Russia (we mean the Russian culture in Latvia mainly) definetely show that the criteria used to describe the Russian culture in Russia might not suit to describe the Russian culture abroad.

So what is the Russian culture in Latvia, how authentic social pnenomena is it? This question as well as some others were considered in the research taken by SEMINARIUM HORTUS HUMANITATIS society in summer-autumn 2007. The initiative of the Russian intelligentsia from Latvia, Russia and other countries gave the start to the research ‘Russian culture outside Russia – Latvain experience’.

The most important questions that lead the discussion are divided into the following groups:

Mother country – colony:

  • Why the Russian culture in Latvia as it relates to the ‘mainland’ culture is seen as the provincial, marginal, but not as its part? (Garry Gaylit – theatre critic, Latvia).
  • If you consider the subject of studies ‘the culture situation outside the mother country’, I might be interested in discussion the opposition ‘mother country – colony’. The basic difference between them is the notion of ‘creating impulse’. ‘Mother country creates a ‘colony’ bringing into it the patterns of behaviour and lifestyles, the cultural models and the stereotypes of institutional activity (what else should be brought to a new place to make a ‘mother country’ itself in relation to it?) (Mark Meyerovich – International Academy of Architecture professor, Ph.D. Jerusalem).
  • Russian culture in XX century is basically metropolitan culture. In diasporas (Latvia, Germany, France) as a rule only users need it. What circumstances should be there to give a diaspora a chance to equalise its culture up to a capital? (Boris Ravdin – historian, Latvia)

Preservation of the Russian language

  • How would you assess the role, the place and the fate of the Russian language in nowadays Latvia? (Igor Koshkin – Ph.D. The Latvian University).
  • I am, of course, interested in the state of the Russian language in Latvian culture. Up to the certain time I was sure that a culture preserves thanks to its language. But recently I have learned about Ireland, where, as it reported, the English banned the Irish language and hampered its development. Only the English was developed. But the Irish culture was preserved. Although they lived in their land. The soil and blood and kin, that was the thing that assisted the development of the Irish culture. The examples are Joyce, Swift, Conan Doyle, Lennon, Rourke (actor), etc. So I ask the general questions: what is the state of the Russian language in modern Latvia? Are there any other means to reproduce the Russian culture and how well do they work? (Leonid Chernov – Ph.D., The Urals Academy of Public Service, Yekaterinburg).

Russian culture and the Ortodoxy:

  • Are there any grounds to look at the Russian culture as at a phantom of the Orthodox (Christian) culture that has been lost (being lost), as a ‘nostalgie’ that feels like a kind of phantom pains of an amputated limb? (Pavel Tyurin, academician, Ph.D. the Baltic International Academy, Riga).

Russian culture and Latvian culture:

  • Is the Russian culture a reflection to the Latvian culture? (Vladimir Sokolov – public worker, Latvia).

Russian culture as a national culture:

  • What are the prospects and the borders of any national culture? How important is it today to keep these borders and to be inside them? May the essence of the modern cultural situation be an overcoming of national limits and a returning of the culture to itself, especially after the nationalistic intoxication that created the blood bath of the XX century? (Dmitry Matsnev – entrepreneur, Latvia)
  • What is the Russian culture today? Does anyone know it at all? As our subject puts down the relation of the Russian culture here, in Latvia and over there, in mother country, so we may need to clear out what relates what, e.g. what the Russian culture is over there and what it is here. (Harijs Tumans – a historian, Ph.D., Latvia)
  • To talk about the problems of the Russian culture in Latvia, it would be good to understand what KIND of Russians live here and what they want apart from good health, prosperity and happiness in personal life. (Andrey Petrov – a journalist, Latvia)
  • Could Russia do without the cultural input of foreign ‘compatriots’? (Nikolay Gudanets – a poet, Latvia)

‘Russian’ and ‘Soviet’ in Latvian culture:

  • Do we need to differ the Russian culture in Latvia from the Soviet culture? What is this difference?

The research programme was divided into two phases. The results of the first phase were published in the Almanac ‘Russian world and Latvia’. Respondents (32 people) can be divided into three groups:

  • The first group is made up by the researchers of the Russian culture and language in Latvia (Boris Infantyev (1921-2009) – a historian, Ph.D.), Alexander Gavrilin – professor, Ph.D., Latvian Orthodoxy researchers), Igor Koshkin – professor, Ph.D., etc.);
  • The second group is made up by the specialists, competent in various spheres of culture (Boris Avramets – Ph.D., musicologist, Stanislav Buka – professor, the Baltic International Academy Senate chairman, Sergey Kruk – Ph.D., Sylvia Pavidis, associated professor of the Latvian University, Ph.D., etc.);
  • The third group is presented by experts able to deliver an expanded assessment to the tendencies in the Russian culture in Latvia (Yuris Rozenvalds – politologist, the Latvian University professor, Ph.D., Irina Markina – the Baltic International Academy director of culture management programme, Michail Gruzdov – theatre ‘Dailes’ artistic director, a poet Vladimir Frenkel (Israel), etc.);

The second phase of the research programme named ‘Three centuries of Russian culture in Latvia’ was supported by the ‘Russian World’ foundation. The programmed resulted by the subject discussion on seminars in 2009 and publications in the Almanac (issues 17-20).

Let us try to tell shortly about the main subjects of these discussions.

Mother country – colony.

The 2007 research ‘Russian culture outside Russia – the Latvian experience’ did not touch this subject, that is why we made the main conclusions on the basis of a Russian culture historian B. F. Infantyev’s works.

The methodology of territory division into a mother country and colonies, transfer of values from the centre to the colonies is hardly applicable to the Russian culture in Latvia.

If we pick out two types of Russian culture, the traditional culture and the modern Russian culture, we could not apply the opposition mother country – colony to any of them. B.F. Infantyev explored the traditional Russian culture, mainly folklore, comparing it to the traditional Latvian culture. In his works he preferred to use a term balto-slavic culture, including into it elements of Russian, Belarussian, Polish, etc. traditional cultures. It is obvious that nobody could transfer metropolitan values to the traditional cultures of this region, because the time when Russian Empire came here is the time of Peter the Great, that is XVII century, but the traditional balto-slavic culture is more than one thousand years old.

Modern Russian culture in the time of the First Republic (1918-1940) was opposed to the soviet culture, which was mentioned by B. Infantyev in his complete autobiography.

The question at what circumstances a province could get a chance to be equal in culture with a capital can also, in our mind, be applied to the modern realities, but not to 20-s and 30-s of XX century, that is the time when the modern Russian culture was formed in Latvia. B. F. Infantyev was born and raised in a provincial Latvian town Rezekne (Rezhitsa). Rezekne became one of the centres of the Russian culture in Latvia, the town is famous with such personalities as a writer Tynyanov, a historian and folklorist B. Infantyev, a distinguished ‘old Orthodoxy’ agent I. N. Zavoloko.

Preservation of the Russian language.

The problem of preservation of the Russian language in Latvia was presented on the Almanac pages with several discussions.

The question ‘How would you assess a place and future of the Russian language in modern Latvia’ was answered differently by the discussion participants. So I. Koshkin, the Latvian University professor showed out a linguistic optimism and stated that ‘from the sociolinguistic point of view we deal with the variant of the Russian language on the Latvian territory, by several motivation aspects analogous to the time of the First Republic of Latvia, taking into account the fact that there was different social structure, different level of interaction, linked to the different contact experience. Sociolinguistic variant of the Russian language is a good sign, because the Russian language apart from the metropolitan form in Russia has got various forms in diasporas’.

The different assessment to the modern role and future of the Russian language in Latvia was given by Irina Dimante, the Baltic International Academy professor in her article published in issues VIII and IX of the Almanac (2007) – ‘Linguistic contacts: bi- and trilingualism on the Latvian territory in XVIII – XXI centuries’. For Irina Dimante the situation with the Russian language is conditional historically. Growing number of variations of the Russian speech in Latvia in comparison to the speech of the people living in Russia is assisted, as Irina Dimante thinks, by a political process connected with the introduction of the State Language Act and the transition of schools and higher educational establishments to the Latvian language, that inevitably leads to the loss of the knowledge of literature forms and forces the Russian language out into the lower sphere with its dialectal and popular language forms. ‘The written literature Russian language in Latvia will be downgraded to a passive usage’.

The modern and future state of the Russian language in Latvia has been widely presented in the Almanac ‘Russian world and Latvia’ and here we can mention a survey article by S. Mazur ‘On the question of the language situation forming in Latvia’ reflecting the polemics around Russian and Latvian languages, and firstly in the article by a research assistant of the Ethnology and Anthropology Institute at the Russian Academy of Science Svetlana Ryzhakova ‘Latvian language: historic transformation and sociocultural aspects of being’ and in Pavel Tyurin publication ‘Latvian laconism of the Russians or ‘my tongue is my enemy’. S. Ryzhakova’s and P. Tyurin’s attitudes critics in an article ‘On the question of the language situation forming in Latvia’ led to negation of hypertrophic role of the politics in the fate of the Russian language.

Russian culture and the Orthodoxy.

The question “are there any grounds to look at the Russian culture as a phantom of the lost (being lost) Orthodox (Christian) culture?” was discussed in the Almanac articles and on discussion seminars in Riga.

In the research programme of 2007 the leading specialist of the Latvian Orthodoxy history, professor Alexander Gavrilin in his article “Russian culture and the Orthodox church in Latvia” answered to the formulated question negatively. A. Gavrilin thinks it is not rightful to correlate the Orthodox values only with the culture of the Russian population in Latvia. “Apart from this there have always been representatives of other churches – Catholics, Baptists, etc.”

Before the World War I the Russian Orthodox parishes in the territory of Latvia were only urban parishes. First – these were parishes formed mainly by the officials, merchants and the military, starting from the second half of XIX century, with the beginning of industrialisation, the urban parishes were increased by the factory workers. Representatives of the Russian humanitarian intelligentsia in XIX century, with the rare exceptions, would not choose to live in Latvia permanently. Of course, one can remember Eugraph Cheshihin who sacrifice his life to the publishing of the first Russian newspaper “Riga Messenger”, to the translations and publications of the Baltics history sources, to the writing of his “History of Livonia”. One can name representatives of the Orthodox priesthood who were sent over here from the Empire centre: the vicar bishop of Riga Filaret (Gumilevsky), the author of the first history of the Russian Orthodox church, the first volumes of which were first published in Riga; a theologian, the archbishop of Riga and Mitava Filaret (Filaretov); the archbishop Arseny (Bryantsev) – a wonderful preacher and lover of history; the archbishop Agafangel (Preobrazhensky) and many others. Everyone of them was first of all a missionary sent to preach to the local native population e.g. Latvians and Estonians. That is why it is hard to speak about some proper Russian culture in the Latvian territory up till the beginning of the independent Republic of Latvia.

It is believed that the Orthodoxy played its role in making the Russian humanitarian culture in Latvia in the 20-s and 30-s of XX century. Almost every Russian public organisations in the time of the First Republic of Latvia were more or less based on the Orthodox values, they had the task of preservation of the Russian culture in their Statutes. In fact every their activity was started with a prayer. As a rule their organisational committees had a representative of the Orthodox clergy. But those were the people of absolutely different culture having little in common with the culture of the modern Latvian society.

Firstly, the modern Russian community in Latvia is mainly secular, having only vague notion of the Orthodox values. Secondly, the Russian humanitarian intelligentsia in Latvia in 20-30-s of XX century (predominantly emigrant) were orientated on the high mission of being the last keeper of the Russian culture, the keeper of the Holy Orthodoxy, and the moment the Bolshevism (Communism) fall they would come back, bringing those sacred keepings back to the ruins of devastated Russia. Hence those efforts of the Russian intelligentsia to preserve their national culture as well as the Faith of their forefathers, despite the fact that they could hardly find the common language with the principal number of Russian people in Latvia – the peasants of Latgale and Jaunlatgale (Abrene).

Nowadays Russian intelligentsia do not have that kind of mission. Today it is not a problem to cross the Russian border, but little of the Russians in Latvia dream to return to their “historic fatherland”. As a conclusion they feel more comfort over here. It is not a secret that the humanitarian culture in Russia is developing fast now, and the part of it outside Russia – the culture of the diaspora is not the cause of its developing and, of course, it does not aim to preserve the culture of multimillion Russia. And we can’t forget that most of the Orthodox in Latvia are neophytes, having been baptised only recently – in the 90-s of the last century. That is why we leave the question of Orthodox values in the lives of the Russian population of Latvia open.

The final part of XLVIII archbishop John (Pommer) memory readings on November 12, 2009 was dedicated to this question. Archbishop John (Pommer) is the first Latvian saint canonised by the Orthodox church in 2001. To some amount he is key figure in understanding 20-30-s period in the history of Latvia, especially its Russian part. Nevertheless the thesis of the Orthodoxy as the principal cause of the Russian culture was criticised on XLVIII memory readings, because several phenomena in the Russian life in Latvia were outside the Orthodoxy. For example, Old Belief in 20-30-s was as well one of the sources of the formation of the Russian culture. Russian literature and language are another source of the Russian culture of those times.

Russian culture and Latvian culture.

The only researcher interested in interrelations of the traditional and modern Russian and Latvian cultures was, in fact, up to 2009, the time of his death B.F. Infantyev. The Almanac “Russian world and Latvia” has since 2009 started to publish his book “The myth about Russians in Latvian literature”. The book by B. Infantyev is a unique source of understanding how the Latvian culture of XVIII-XXI centuries perceived the Russians. This book allows us to trace through the changes in the attitudes of Latvian writers towards the Russian world in Latvia.

An interesting B. Infantyev’s discovery is also the fact that the disagreement among the Latvian writers in their attitude towards the Russian issue happened, in fact, in 1944 (but not in 1940 as it normally presented in the media). Another B. Infantyev’s merit is the detaching of the factors assisting the deviation from the prior respectful attitude towards the Russians in the pre-revolution Latvia.

Understanding the peculiarities in attitudes towards the Russians might change the so called national self-consciousness of the Russians in Latvia. It is actually ignorance of their own and Latvian culture that leads to the present disintegration of Latvian society, to the manifestation of alienation and intolerance both in politics and domestic life.

Russian culture as a national culture. Conclusions

One of the results of 2007 research “Russian culture outside Russia – Latvian experience” is the question of subjectivity of the Russian culture in Latvia and of its discretionary in historic continuity.

The problem of discretionary in continuity of the Russian culture is best seen in comparison of the 20-30-s period and modern Latvia. With the death of B. Infantyev was torn the last thread that united the Russians of the first Republic with the Russians living now.

The same problem of discretionary is important for the interrelation of modern Russian cultures outside Russia internally and with Russia. The cultures outside Russia (I mean Latvia first of all) exist in a situation excluding the participation of the State education system in its reproduction. That is why the peculiarity of the present phase (since 1991) is, apart from interpretation of the connexion of culture and “ethnic authenticity”, the intensification of cultural connexion with Russia.


In 2007 a director of the Minority Department of the Social Integration Secretariat Irina Vinnik commenting on an article “On the question of the Humanitarian seminar self-determination” expressed an opinion about insecurity of the future Russian culture in Latvia. The reason for such an assessment was the fact that the Humanitarian Seminar was unique. “We have long known that the situation with the Russian intelligentsia is not well. But the success of the seminar is undoubtedly your efforts to attract in the seminar work and the philosophic problems discussions the Latvian intelligentsia, experts from Russia and all the spectrum of Russian diaspora” // I. Vinnik, On the question of the Humanitarian seminar self-determination//Almanac Russian world and Latvia. Nr 8, Riga 2007, pp. 4-6.

“The Humanitarian seminar has become an important phenomenon in the Latvian culture. I dare to say there is not a happening that could for years keep an attention of such an assorted thinking public that may be on absolutely opposing grounds at times”.//V. Avotins, Russian world awaiting for leaders//”7 secrets” weekly. October 9, 2008. pp. 6-7. also see Almanac Russian world and Latvia. Nr 17, Riga 2008. pp. 8-11.

Sociologist Alexander Bikbov thinks that the Humanitarian seminar in Riga act as a kind of machine that processes cultural differencies of various intellectual stratas in Latvia and Russia. The makers “…invite to participate in the seminar a certain fraction of internationally motivated intellectual producers, …that go up to the international discussion and reflection level and demonstrate that the Russian culture belongs to international culture space”//A. Bikbov, Attitude towards the Russian question differs principally in Russia and Latvia//Almanac Russian world and Latvia. Nr.23, Riga 2010.

Questions to the Internet conference –

Russian world and Latvia: Russian culture outside mother country. Nr.11, Riga 2007, pp. 3-59.

We understand the traditional culture as an autochthonous traditional society culture and a folk culture.

Modern Russian culture in Latvia was formed 100-150 years ago.

Complete B. F. Infantyev biography is planned to be published in XXI issue of the Almanac “Russian World and Latvia” in the beginning of 2010.

I. Koshkin, Language fate and culture//Russian World and Latvia: Russian culture outside mother country. Nr.11, Riga 2007, p.24.

I. Dimante, Language contacts: bi- and trilingualism in the Latvian territory in XVIII-XXI centuries//Almanac “Russian World and Latvia: A language phenomenon and the law” Nr.9, Riga 2007, pp.18-19.

A. Gavrilin, Russian culture and the Orthodox church in Latvia//Russian World and Latvia: Russian culture outside mother country. Nr. 11, Riga 2007, pp. 28-29.



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