Riga – A home of ideas? A historical study

  • Author
    Pēteris Bankovskis
“Over the past two hundred years the influence of intellectuals has grown steadily [..] For the first time in human history, and with growing confidence and audacity, men arose to assert that they could diagnose the ills of society and cure them with their own unaided intellects; more, that they could devise formulae whereby not merely the structure of society but the fundamental habits of human beings could be transformed for the better. Unlike their sacerdotal predecessors, they (intellectuals) were not servants of the gods but substitutes. Their hero was Prometheus, who stole the celestial fire and brought it to earth.”1 Thus Paul Johnson. The prominent Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy gives the following “definition” for the bringer of the Promethean fire of truth, the intellectual: “(it is) anyone who takes a committed interest in the validity and truth of ideas for their own sake independently of their causal relationships to whatever other ends.”2 We can discuss the place and role of the intellectual, the essence and mission of intellectualism at great length (and intellectuals themselves are more than willing to do just that). In the so-called developed world post-intellectualism has also been debated for quite some time, emphasizing that intellectualism’s characteristic personal interest, erudition in research, the search for meaning (truth) and social criticism has now been replaced by specialisation, ignorance (a lack of genuine knowledge created by information overflow), stupidity (Steve Allen’s term “dumbth” referring to people’s growing inability to think and act meaningfully), as well as the mass subservience to “official” values called for by technological determinism, lack of individuality. This can be read about in, for example, Donald Wood’s Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy3.

My aim on this occasion however, is not to submit to the pressure of globalisation and generalise, theorise or classify. My aim is far more modest: to examine, quite subjectively, the situation with intellectualism and intellectuals in Riga – a medium sized city on the shores of the Baltic Sea, the capital of Latvia. I think there is no basis for speaking of such a “formation” as intellectual life – this combination of words is meaningless. We can only speak of the “atmosphere of intellectualism” and its elements. It would be useful first of all to look in the dictionaries. In English speaking countries there tend to be dictionaries that also indicate the first recorded usage of the relevant word. For instance, if we take the Meriam-Webster dictionary, the adjective “intellectual” was already in use in the 14th century and is defined as something that is connected with the intellect or its use, something that is a result of intellectual activity as opposed to emotions or experience. In the same dictionary we find that in 1615 the noun “intellectual” appears referring to a person whose interpretation of the world is based on study, reflection and speculative reasoning. However odd it may seem, the noun “intellectual” has still not appeared in the most serious Latvian dictionary4 in the 1920s. It is true though, the linguist Jānis Endzelīns wrote in the preface that he had rejected little used derivations and foreign words as their proper place is only in a dictionary intended for professional use. (? – P.B.) A strange approach on the whole. The Dictionary of the Latvian Literary Language, a monumental work of eight volumes begun during the heaviest years of Soviet occupation, on the other hand, does contain “foreign words”. In this work the word “intellect” means “the ability to disclose and investigate the properties and interrelationships of objects and phenomena; the ability, using the results of this investigation, to function in a new situation”5. That is not too bad. An “intellectual” here is someone who does intellectual work (for example, a scientist, a designer). Hmm… On the other hand, “intellectualism” is given two meanings. The first – the predominance of rational conclusions and theoretical ideas, expression (usually in a work of art). The second – a branch of idealistic philosophy where the intellect is more important in investigating the world, ignoring metaphysical practice. If we discard “a branch of philosophy” as a curiosity, then the one–sidedness of the rest of the interpretations and explanations is obviously related to the situation where, under the influence of the Russian language, the noun “intelligent” (inteliģents) has been functioning in Latvian for at least one hundred years. The separate semantic elements of this word correspond with the Western notion of “an intellectual”. Only some elements though. It is a pity that the examples in this voluminous dictionary have been taken mainly from the literature of the Soviet period, and there are no usages given at all for the noun I am interested in – “intellectual”. In any sense, it is clear that right up to the 1980s the word and notion of “intellectual” as a person who reflects on reality and truth, who comes to conclusions and takes responsibility, at least formally, is encountered in the Latvian language only in passing. And not only in the language, but also in conscience and in individual and social practice.

Riga is mentioned in written source for the first time in 1198 when, as we can read in the Chronicle of Henricus, the bishop of Ikšķile Bertold (Schulte) returns with his forces to a place near Riga before the approaching battle with the local tribe – the Livs6. The battle turned out to be fateful for the bishop. Reading further in the same page, the bishop “because of his own inability to control his wilful horse, strayed into the fleeing crowd. Two of them (Livs – P.B.) grabbed him and a third, Imauts by name, drove a spear through him from behind and others proceeded to tear him limb from limb”7 As we can see, the history of Riga begins with a bloody conflict, with a savage murder really.

Of course, this notion of “begins” is only fictional because both the murderer Imauts and his kin and tribe had been living here before the event described above; before any described events relating to Riga in prehistory. However, we can make judgements on prehistory by examining arrowheads and shards of pottery, but nothing else. Shards tell of vessels being smashed, arrows and spears tell of pierced flesh but of the possible conflicts of ideas and world views in prehistory, there is no evidence at all.

So, the history of Riga begins in 1198 and much has been recorded after that; texts, these tutors and nourishers of the intellect, accumulate in scrolls, manuscripts, incunabulae and books. Riga texts are practically legal, practically dogmatic or simply practical. It is appropriate here to recall the often quoted lines from the Cosmographia (1544) of the traveller Sebastian Münster; he writes about Livonia in general and obviously about Riga too: “Only merchants and the wealthy are held in high esteem there, but they have no regard for scholars whatsoever.”8

Books (texts) began to be written and published in the local, Latvian, language (as in many other European languages too) after the Reformation. For some two hundred years they were mainly texts for liturgical needs and their crowning glory was, of course, the Bible translated by Ernst Glück and published around 1690. Prior to the Reformation the written word in Latvia appeared in the international language of Latin and in a localised middle-lower German dialect. The Reformation may be seen as the intellectual reply to the traditionalism and emotionality of Catholicism. Of course, in Riga, just as elsewhere in Europe, the Reformation is associated with iconoclasm that destroyed countless treasures whose value it would now be impossible to estimate. These treasures would otherwise have formed the main body of Livonian (and later Latvian) medieval art. During these transformations there was no lack of sharp verbal confrontation or physical violence in Riga. This was made up by the lack of intellectualism. The fathers of the Reformation, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, were well aware of the significance of Riga and the Eastern Baltic (obviously as the Western frontier of Christian Europe). For evidence one need only examine the surviving correspondence between Luther and Andreas Knopke, one of the Riga Reformation leaders and a reasonably moderate epigone, and the Riga Rat (council) secretary Johann Lomiller; there is also Luther’s message to the councils of Riga, Tallinn and Dorpat (now Tartu in Estonia – transl.) of 1523 as well as other documents. However, this exchange of letters does not seem to have given rise to any serious theoretical theological, moral ethical or any other debates. This and other evidence shows only that the people, around whom the centres of intellectual energy were then forming, had a clear idea of the configuration of geopolitical influences and Riga’s significant place within it.

However, this place was not intellectual, neither in the 16th century, nor in the centuries that followed. One comes across the evidence for this time and time again. Riga was and remained an advantageous market place, a transit station. We can read about this in Basilius Plinius’ Song of Praise to Riga, published in 1595 in Leipzig:

But it would be a sin not to sing of the market,
that sets our city apart from her sisters.
Fair Corinth could boast a great market in ancient times,
as today proud Lisbon and far Calcutta,
Nuremberg and mighty Hanseatic Luebeck,
the bub of Europe and pearl of the Baltic.
But if many towns have earned high praise for their markets,
Riga must be first among them, and most deserving.9

The lines above may contain the explanation for the often-mentioned anti-intellectualism of Riga, namely the reference to the Northern German city of Lubeck as the “pearl of Europe”. Without wishing to disparage Lubeck, I will, nevertheless, mention that this city, along with Hamburg, were among the very first members of the Hanseatic League. And the Hanseatic League was nothing other than a political formation to protect the interests and rights of merchants. Perhaps it is coincidence, perhaps not, but the cities of the League were in no way important centres of learning, science or universities. And “Riga was a loyal member of the Hanseatic League from 1282 till the League’s decline in the 17th century”.10

On the one hand mercantilism, on the other, the many wars and epidemics. Here is a fragment of a letter written on 1st January 1610, sent from Riga by the Catholic bishop Schenking to the Pope: “The situation in Livonia is so miserable that the amount of destruction is beyond all tears, creating in the observers, and even more so in the valuers, an unhappy amazement of surprise. Whole castles and even large estates now lie in ruins and are overgrown with thick bush and have become the homes of the wild beasts of the forest. Of the many inhabitants only a few are still alive, and they are even worse off than those who are dead, as the latter are free from all fear and care, but those who are still alive run like hares into the woods at the very rustling of a leaf, and with trembling bodies avoid all contact with their fellow creatures, fearing for their life, alike from friend or foe”11. And so it went on. Riga was struck by another plague in 1657 when “among the dead was half of the city council and all the priests, three teachers, 53 pupils of the Dom school and 18 grammar school pupils”12. In any case, the results of all this led to the founding of the university in Dorpat in 1632 instead of Riga which would have been the logical choice. Riga was then the centre of Sweden’s overseas provinces and the largest city. Regardless even of the numerous pleadings of the governors of Dorpat University and the superintendent J. Fischer to transfer the university to Riga, on every occasion (1687, 1693 and 1703 ), our city council refused the offer. And so Riga only became a university town after the proclamation of independent Latvia in 1918.13 It comes as no surprise then to read the description by G. F. Parrot, a physicist arrived in Riga at the end of the 18th century, of the city’s “academic atmosphere”: “One can’t imagine more unfavourable working conditions for a physicist. Separated from learned Europe, l lived then in a trading city with all the charms of a significant, wealthy and well-appointed city, but with no love whatsoever for physics”14. And physics was not alone. Significantly, in Riga there was neither the interest nor the preconditions for the existence of either the social sciences, including philosophy, or the natural sciences. Again, it is no surprise that as late as 1784, three years after the first publication of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (not through some deep interest, but through personal acquaintance), the director of the Riga Customs House (Sic!), Benken, published a book arguing that the stationary earth was the centre of the Universe. Oddly enough, the first serious explanation that the earth does, in fact, revolve around the sun did not appear in the culturally dominant German language but in the then generally marginal Latvian language – in J. G. Stender’s Augstas gudrības grāmata (Book of Great Wisdom – transl.) published in 177415.

The influence of the Age of Enlightenment led to some characteristic elements appearing in the territory of Latvia too. One such element certainly worth of notice was the so-called Berens group. Apart from the councillor J. K. Berens and his brother G. Berens, other members included J. G. Herder, the lawyer F. K. Schwartz, the rector of the lyceum J. G. Lindner, J. G. Hamann, the publisher J. F. Hartknoch, the doctor N. Himsel and the most prominent figure in enlightenment in Latvia’s history, Christof Harder16. Among the later “enlighteners” we should mention Garlieb Merkel whose activity and lifestyle certainly correspond with our ideas of an intellectual. It is true though that his work, to a great extent concerned with unmasking the lack of a class society in Latvia, and, with Russoistic zeal, the search for ideal natural man in ancient times, nevertheless found greater resonance in the German lands. As it was later to prove, and not just on the single occasion, for Merkel and his endeavours the atmosphere of Riga was too thin, those that understood too few and support negligible. Of course, 19th century Riga saw the appearance of serious and less serious associations of scientists, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers and so on, whose meetings were certainly not without their intellectual content. Finally, in 1862, the Riga Polytechnic was founded – a generally respectable higher educational establishment with a slant towards the natural sciences that later, in the 20th century, was to become the basis for the University of Latvia. Many serious scientists are associated with the Polytechnic, including the later Nobel Prize winner Wilhelm Ostwald.

Institutions of learning, the existence of an academic environment are, of course, a serious pre-condition for an intellectual atmosphere. But by no means the only one. It is true that the presence of a university in a city undeniably encourages it; an old university overflowing with all kinds of traditions, some of them often quite quirky, influences some part of that city’s inhabitants’ customs and ways of behaviour and judgement. Therefore the fact alone, that the university in Riga was only founded on 28th September 1919 has had some “negative consequences” – there are no influences based in strong traditions and routines. However, as Juris Zaķis, recently rector of the University of Latvia, said, the history of the University “reaches across all the contradictory ages. The common thread is more or less open, more or less conscious duty of service to Latvia and its people; it assumed this character while still in the cradle when it was assigned the task of being the first classical type Latvian speaking university. This it has been all the time and is so today as the only university of its kind in the world”17. The claim that has been quoted is ideologised, but so is the University of Latvia since it was founded. And this circumstance should not become a barrier to the emergence of intellectualism. We do not have to look far for examples: most of modern-day European intellectuals’ discursive clichés and subjects come from the 1960s radically ideologised university environment with all its pseudo-revolutionarism. It doesn’t matter if the widely differing “ideologies” were taken from various shelves. The basis of intellectualism is the functioning of the mind in defined contexts. Therefore, we firstly need texts; secondly, we need real reflection on these texts. Thirdly and mainly – intellectual activity is impossible without ideas which may be (and also are!) both spontaneous and text generating, and formulated as a result of reflecting on these texts (and subsequent text generating). Here, my thoughts concur with those of Alexander Pyatigorsky, the philosopher working in London. In a lecture a few years ago in Riga on Buddhism, he suggested that the “unit” (the basic element) of European philosophising was an idea: “In (European) philosophy ideas are not just the components of a descriptive philosophical system, the bricks with which the building of philosophical teaching is built but, and this is much more important, they form the very space of philosophising itself…”18 I will continue this thought and return at the same time to the “definition” of an intellectual given at the beginning of this article – being very interested in the credibility and truth of ideas, because of these very ideas, independently of their causal relationship with anything else – I have to admit that, like it or not, an intellectual is possible where there are ideas, i.e. in the space of philosophising. Therefore it is important to ask whether in the specific city’s geometric, geographic and social space there is (happens, goes on) also a philosophical space – ideas?

Looking at it in this way, perhaps the most important intellectual to be connected with Riga is the aforementioned Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788), often known as the magus of the North, the protégé of the educated Riga merchants, the brothers Berens. In his well known essay19, Isaiah Berlin gives a detailed account of the life and works of Hamann and therefore I shall not linger on it here. Berlin writes: “Hamann is the pioneer of anti – rationalism in every sphere. [..] Wherever the hydra of reason, theory, generalisation rears one of its many hideous heads, he strikes. He provided an arsenal from which more moderate romantics – Herder, even such cool heads as the young Goethe, even Hegel, who wrote a long and not too friendly review of his works, even the levelheaded Humboldt and his fellow liberals – drew some of their most effective weapons. He is the forgotten source of a movement that in the end engulfed the whole of European culture.”20 Thanks to Berlin, Hamann is not destined for oblivion but has been given his rightful “position” as one of the cornerstones of the European intellectual discourse and this is despite the obvious that his passion was based rather on irrationalism, the denial of the conclusions of intellectual reason. This strange figure who saw the light during an unsuccessful “business trip” to London, read the Bible from cover to cover making notes of his spiritual journey. He subsequently battled skilfully and with conviction against one of the paradigms of European culture, creating the preconditions for another. Unfortunately, neither during his lifetime nor later, Riga, the most important city in Hamann’s physical life, did not become a significant battleground of enlightenment and romanticism – this battle took place in another place entirely.

Hamann’s pupil at Konigsberg university, another generator of European ideas with strong ties to Riga, was Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803). It has been said that he was the central figure of the German intellectual renaissance of the late 18th century. Herder’s influence really was immense. In Latvia he is traditionally praised for his recognition of the Latvian folk songs and in a certain way, for his defence of the feudally oppressed Latvian nation. Taking a broader perspective, from Herder came the notions of modern nationalism in general and his serious philosophical works were an essential source of impulse for the likes of Goethe, Schelling and Hegel. As far as nationalism is concerned, it has to be said that left-leaning contemporary Western intellectuals see something quite the opposite in Herder’s legacy: “Herder, this European spirit, cared for national cultures, desiring to see their variety and not desiring nationalism”21. Whatever, of the important thinkers from the European philosophical tradition, it was Herder who resided in Riga the longest – for the first five years of practical work after finishing university. Nine years after leaving Riga, he was writing about his time there to his fellow student and friend, the publisher Hartknoch: “They were your and my best years. [..] In Vidzeme I lived, studied and acted so freely and without ties, that I very much doubt if I will ever be able to live, study and act like that again”22. However, if we read his reflections on leaving Riga in “The diary of my journey in 1769”, we see that his initial enthusiasm has waned: “And so I arrived in Riga, so attained my spiritual occupation and so escaped from it; thus I set off on my journey. I didn’t like myself as a society person neither in the circle I belonged to, nor the isolation I had myself chosen. I didn’t like myself as a teacher [..] I didn’t like myself as a citizen [..] Lastly, least as an author[..] I was fed up with everything. I lacked the courage and strength to end all these unpleasant situations and set out on a quite different path. Therefore I had to leave”23. In a way, Herder may be regarded as a 21st century thinker. We find some almost prophetic lines in his “Letters for the promotion of humanity”: “The answer to your questions on the future development of our species that in truth requires a whole book, lies in one, single word: humanity. Were the question to be: can man become and should he become something greater than man, superman, man from outside, then any line I wrote on the matter would be superfluous”24. There really are many lines on what Nietzsche was later to postulate – the 21st century would see a kind of renaissance of “spirituality”, a time of gathering stones following the death of God in the 20th century. This is all the more sad because Herder, who would perhaps be quite useful to this century, was unknown to Latvian reading society until 1995 (Sic!) and, oddly enough, even unnecessary. Again and again, we have to return to the anti-intellectual atmosphere of Riga experienced by not only the 18th century thinkers, but also the following generations. Richard Wagner was not only an outstanding musician, composer and conductor, he was also a man of deep thought. He lived and worked in Riga from 1837 to 1839 and wrote the following after his departure: “I was indifferent and calm when I left Riga, thus with the same feelings Riga had shown towards me”25. There is a noteworthy description of Riga in a book of memoirs by Sergei Filipov “Under Summer Skies” (1894): …the permanent seriousness that finds expression in every detail of life, endows Riga, just as everywhere else in this province, with a boredom that you will feel quite soon, as soon as you have stayed in this city for a while and looked around you. Riga does not know how to enjoy itself and it seems that it does not know what a smile or laughter is. Whether you are in a park or in the theatre, in the street or in an apartment, everything is serious, everyone is so dutiful. Everything is done slowly and diligently; one can sense the complete lack of temperament in a crowd or in its individual members. Understandably that is why there is no social life, not even street life although the city itself is made for an abundance of such. In Riga there is only business life. It is a commercial city with a negligible intellectual presence and the local Polytechnic is only noticed through corporate differences and nothing else. As a seat of higher learning it has no influence over the town although the students dazzle the eyes with their coloured caps. Among other things, a national aloofness prevails in the Polytechnic itself, preventing the development of a common life, just as in the city and for this same reason, it hinders the development of social life”26.

Since the beginning of the 13th century the complicated nature of national relations have been a significant social factor in the territory of today’s Latvia generally and in Riga particularly. It is possible that to a great extent, they (along with the commercial practices dictated by the geopolitical circumstances) have served as a catalyst for the generally recognised thickening of the anti-intellectual atmosphere. In his monumental work of research, Andrejs Johansons writes: “If it has been established that in the 18th century, there were undeniable scientific interests among the Baltic Germans, albeit in quite small circles, then for the Latvians, and it could not be imagined differently given the circumstances of the time, the only possibility of working in the sciences was to become Germanised; even then, only for those individuals of outstanding ability in advantageous circumstances27. There is no room here for a more detailed discussion of the dynamics of Latvian–German relations over the centuries. I should just add that in that same 18th century, immediately after the Great Northern War in which Sweden suffered defeat, a third player joined the “game” – Russia. Riga became a guberniya (Russian province – transl.) city. The 19th century saw a sweeping policy of Russification that, at least in the beginning, did not lack for support even among the more educated Latvians and those at least desirous of education in apparent protest against the hitherto Germanification. However, as we can read in the Russian sources: “It was only considerably later, some ten years after the beginning of Russification, that the most progressive part of the Latvian intelligentsia understood that the Russification of the Baltic province ran counter to their own vital interests; insurmountable obstacles for the national and political development [of the Latvian nation] were being raised as a result”28.

It is no wonder that the national relations issue in the Republic of Latvia today is not only an object of theoretical and intellectual discussion, it is also an everyday political hot spot. Historian Aivars Stranga goes as far as to say that, “this question has never been so sharp and fateful”29, pointing out that in Latvia the so-called minorities (except the Jews) have always lived as lord nations (Germans, Russians) with the “mothers” of their nations existing next door. The direct ethnic threat in whose shadow Latvians have actually been living for hundreds of years now has both led to escapism and, perhaps, served as another stimulus for anti-intellectualism as an answer to intellectualism that is generally regarded as cosmopolitanism. For example, Raitis Vilciņš, a late 20th century intellectual and quite original thinker who died before his time, wrote: “In many ways the Latvian is more lonely than the Englishman-Island and more capable of resisting outside influences than the Chinese-Wall. Nevertheless he strives to cross borders; he wants to live among the community of all mankind. Although heavily traumatised by the aggressors and colonisers of medieval Europe, already in the First Awakening (in the mid-19th century when the first handful of Latvian speaking intellectuals began to appear – P.B.), the Latvian essentially chose the Eurocentric orientation in the Russian Empire. This was neither wholly Europe nor wholly Asia; it was rather an assimilation of the ambiguous basic characteristics of Asiope. The Latvian must learn to regulate and adjust the human mechanisms of viewing and evaluating intercultural and international contacts critically and with reflection.”30 To regulate and adjust the human mechanisms – a strange expression that Vilciņš may have let slip unwittingly. This may also be read in the sense that, in an intellectual discourse, the Latvian is not just satisfied with the role of doorman, he consciously even strives to achieve it. This is as if to demonstrate that ideas, the source and basis of the practice of discourse, come from somewhere outside, behind the doors, which, the Latvian, having become the object of this practice, now swings back and forth. Of course, one can see much by swinging doors, but by falling into a routine much remains unnoticed. Perhaps this is the very reason why thinkers of other nationalities who have demonstrated their quite original philosophical systems in Riga, have left no impression whatsoever in wider Latvian society. Here we may mention Kalistrat Zhakov, whose postulated philosophy of limitism attempted to encompass everything in a unified theory; starting from the theory of investigation and the methodology of teaching philosophy and ending with the ethical problems of a world view, and sociological and economic problems. Of course Zhakov may be regarded as a marginal oddity who did not clothe his postulations in a theoretically worked out metascience. However, in the 1920s when he was working in Riga, this thinker’s ideas could have provoked sufficiently interesting and, possibly, fruitful discussions had only there been a demand for this type of discussion. The same may be said of another original thinker – Aleksandr Veideman, whose investigations in the direction of panentheism found no resonance in Riga society and were later to sink into total oblivion. Thanks to the efforts of contemporary philosopher Svetlana Kovalchuk, these and the names and works of other Riga intellectuals who wrote in Russian have at least been noted as the phenomena of a certain age31. They did not, however, and probably never will become a component of the intellectual life of Riga because they did not do so at the time. In just the same way, only cultural history will have use for the knowledge that, prior to the 2nd World War, there was a lively discourse on psychoanalysis in Riga (among the Russian speaking community, it was hardly touched upon in the Latvian language). The contemporary Latvian philosopher Igors Šuvajevs is currently preparing his research into this very subject for publication. Apparently someone (some) found those occasions important when Riga was visited, not just the once, by outstanding Russian philosophers – Berdyayev, Frank, Bulgakov, Zenkovsky, Florovsky – the entire elite of emigre Russian religious philosophy, when Spengler, Heidegger and other European stars gave their lectures. Unfortunately this all had little influence on what was happening in the Latvian language whose high point seems to have been the activities of the phenomenologist Teodors Celms. (He would probably be placed among the second or third rank of Husserlians, which, of course, is an honourable position in itself.)

With the restoration of the independent Latvian Republic in 1991, Latvian society in general and its dormant latent intellectuals took the worst of whatever could be taken from the Soviet legacy – the dream of “security of tomorrow”, instilled by a half century (therefore over several generations) of Soviet conditions – the peaceful, inert conviction that tomorrow, however stupid, poor and subject to censorship it may be, will come just the same as today: with a meagre, perhaps absurd, job, meagre earnings, meagre fun and a meagre reflection of the largely mythologised “free world” on the other side of the iron curtain. As the totalitarian regime collapsed and finding themselves in a situation of responsibility, the subjects of their own tomorrow, people quickly developed a traction, characteristic throughout Central and Eastern Europe, between the “security of tomorrow” that now already belonged to the past and the present that was happening in real time. This made many people stay down to earth for the sake of keeping their identity (their “I”). It creates the normal preconditions for discourses on nationalism and even fascism in a certain sense, in the so called transition societies. The disappearance of borders and prejudices created just as normal preconditions in the most active and carefree circles for various, often epigonic or even plagiaristic, discourses on multiculturalism, globalism (anti-globalism) etc. The latter are encouraged by the avalanche of hitherto unknown modernist and post-modernist theoretical texts into the local language (in this case Latvian) environment, and consequently – a hurried, chaotic and superficial breaking into thinking.

The radical existence of the new states and their declared intent of accession to the European Union is an undeniable challenge to the existing Europeanism and the narrow, snobbish and unflaunted nationalistic Eurocentrism of the “old” states. It is also a challenge to these new states’ illusory preconceptions and their traditionally possible models of thinking and discussion.

Riga, this city saturated with the petit bourgeois German spirit and provincial Russian imperialism, that after a half century of lethargy has once again become a Latvian declared and internationally recognised capital, is geopolitically the dynamic centre of some larger region on the shores of the Baltic Sea. In a way it is a city of cooks and shopkeepers, just as it was in the early 19th century (before the industrial revolution) – a centre of trade, transit and so on. However, it is now the beginning of the 21st century and the cooks and shopkeepers have integrated into the international division of labour. Either for political or some other reasons, trading places, like the sitting and sleeping places in Riga are expensive. This provides interesting material for observation, consideration and discussion. In the beginning, naturally, on a rather primitive level. But one should recall the words of Raitis Vilciņš: “The Latvian must learn to regulate and adjust the human mechanisms of viewing and evaluating intercultural and international contacts critically and with reflection”. The imperative mood of this sentence is decisive. It is a challenge in itself. An invitation to intellectualism that is possible with all its negative consequences.


1 Johnson, P. Intellectuals.– New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.– P. 1–2.
2 Montefiore, A. Responsibilities of Scientists and Intellectuals // Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. General Editor E. Craig. – London and New York: Routledge, 1998.– Vol. 8.– P. 288.
3 Wood, D. N., Postman, N. (preface). Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy. – New York: Praeger Publishing, 1997.
4 K. Mīlenbacha Latviešu valodas vārdnīca / Rediģējis, papildinājis, turpinājis J. Endzelīns. – Rīga: Izglītības ministrija, 1923–1925. (Miilenbach, K. Dictionary of the Latvian language. Edited, supplemented, continued by J. Endzelins – transl.)
5 Latviešu literārās valodas vārdnīca 8 sēj. – Rīga: Zinātne, 1975. – Vol. 3. – P. 466.
6 “Ergo cum exercitu ad locum Rige revertitur et cum suis quid agat consiliatur”. – Indriķa hronika. Tulk. A. Feldhūns, E. Mugurēviča priekšv. un koment. – Rīga: Zinātne, 1993. – II, 4. – P. 54.
7 Ibid.– P. 55.
8 “Es seind allein die kauffleut und reichen bey jnen in grossen achtung aber die gelerten do nihtsz”. – Citēts no: Stradiņš, J. Etīdes par Latvijas zinātņu pagātni. – Rīga: Zinātne, 1982. – P. 16–17. (Etudes on the history of the sciences in Latvia – transl.)
9 Basilius Plinius. The Encomium to Riga. Translated by Pēteris Cedriņš. – Rīga: Latvijas Kultūras fonds; Jumava, 1997. – P. 386.
10 Zanders O. Senās Rīgas grāmatniecība un kultūra Hanzas pilsētu kopsakarā ( 13.–17.gs). – Rīga: Zinātne, 2000. – P. 89. (Publishing and cu/cure in ancient Riga in the general context of Hanseatic cities (13th –17th centuries) – transl.)
11 Quoted from: Spekke A. Latvieši un Livonija 16. gs. – Rīga: Zinātne, 1995. – P. 137. (Latvians and Livonia in the 16th century – transl.)
12 Staris A. Skolas un izglītība Rīgā no sendienām līdz 1944. gadam. Lielvārde: Lielvārds, 2000. – P. 19. (Schools and education in Riga from olden days to 1944 – transl.)
13 Stradiņš J. Etīdes par Latvijas zinātņu pagātni. – P. I 7.
14 Ibid.
15 Stradiņš J. Lielā zinātnes pasaule un mēs. – Rīga: Zinātne, 1980.– P. 36. (The great world of science and ourselves – transl.)
16 Apinis A. Soļi senākās latviešu grāmatniecības un kultūras takās. Rīga: Preses nams, 2000. – P. 76. (Steps on the oldest paths of Latvian book publishing and culture – transl.)
17 Latvijas Universitātei – 80. – Rīga: Latvijas Universitāte, 1999.– P. 9. (80 years of the University of Latvia – transl.)
18 Pyatigorsky, A. Lekcii po budisstskoi filosofii // Filosofija na troih: Rižskije čtenija I. Rīga: RaKa, 2000. – P. 314–315.
19 Berlin, I. The Magus of the North. J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism. – London: Fontana Press, 1994.
20 Berlin, I. Op. cit. – P. 4.
21 Šmids V. Dzīves māksla – izaicinājums tagadnei. – Aizkraukle: Krauklītis, 1996. – P. 19. (The art of life – a challenge for today – transl.)
22 Herders, J. G. Darbu izlase. – Rīga: Zvaigzne ABC, 1995.– P. 15. (Selected works – transl.)
23 Op. cit. – P. 51.
24 Op. cit. – P. 131.
25 Quoted from: “Ot Liflandii – k Latvii. Pribaltika russkimy glazamy”. Compiled by Y. Abizov.– Moscow: Arkayur, 1993.– P. 258. (From Livland to Latvia. The Baltic in Russian eyes – transl.)
26 Op. cit. – P. 285.
27 Johansons, A. Latvijas kultūras vēsture 1710–1800.– Stockholm: Daugava, 1975.– P. 234-235. (The history of culture in Latvia 1710–1800 – transl.)
28 Ern F. A. 40 let zhizni russkogo intelligenta // Ot Liflandii – k Latvii. Pribaltika russkimi glazami. – P. 223. (40 years of the Russian intellectual – transl.)
29 Stranga A. Latvija 20. gadsimtā // Sarunas. Compiled by Helena Demakova. – Rīga: Jaunā akadēmija, 2000. – P. 23. (Latvia in the 20th century – transl.)
30 Vilciņš R. Uzņēmīga latviešu cilvēka kultūrantropoloģiskais veidols // Acta Universitatis Latviensis. Rīgas kultūrvide 19. gadsimtā. A. Deglava romans “Rīga”. Compiled by leva Kalniņa. – Rīga: Pētergailis, 1999.– P. 138. (The cultural-anthropological make-up of the enterprising Latvian – transl.)
31 Kovalchuk, S. “Vziskuja istinu…”. Iz istorii russkoi religioznoi, filosofskoi i obščestvenno-politiceskoi misli v Latvii: J. F. Samarin, J. B. Cheshikhin, K. F. Zhakov, A. V. Veideman. Seredina XIX v. – seredina XX v. – Rīga: Institute of philosophy and sociology of the University of Latvia, 1998.