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J is for Jaunlatvieši and Jaunā Strāva

So, what are we serving up for J in the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge? Jaunlatvieši and Jaunā Strāva – two related movements in Latvia in the 19th century.

The nineteenth century is when the Latvian nation started to “awaken” and gain a national consciousness. Prior to this time, Latvians who managed to make it into intellectual or political classes (or indeed, any class besides peasant or small craftsman) were expected to give up being Latvians and become Germans or Russians. Latvians were considered a peasant class with no history or identity, and the ruling classes wished to eliminate the Latvian language because “every class did not require its own language”, according to Baltic German Lutheran publications of the day. These social movements fought against these perceptions and were pivotal to beginning the road to eventual independence at the beginning of the 20th century.

The “Jaunlatvieši” (“Young Latvians”) movement started in the 1850s, and was initially literary and cultural in nature. It ended up having broader implications, however. The founders of the movement were Juris Alunāns and Krišjānis Valdemārs, Latvian students at the University of Tartu (then known as Dorpat). Alunāns translated foreign poetry into Latvian and started a Latvian newspaper, “Mājas Viesis”, considered a pro-Latvian paper when compared to the other Latvian newspaper, “Latviešu Avīzes”, considered to be pro-German. Valdemārs, also a writer, made the “radical” movement of listing his ethnicity on the carte de visite on his door – “K. Valdemārs, student. Latvian.” This was considered radical since “education meant Germanization”. Later, he also published a more radical Latvian newspaper, “Pēterburgas Avīzes” in Saint Petersburg. Alunāns, Valdemārs and their contemporaries organized study of folklore, Latvian associations, Latvian publishing and the first Latvian Song Festival in 1873. While they spoke out against the rule of the Baltic Germans, political organizing really got started with the Jaunā Strāva.

The “Jaunā Strāva” (“New Current”) was an openly political movement, drawing on socialist ideas imported from Western Europe in the 1880s and 1890s. One of the big changes in these years, as well as the later years of the Young Latvians, was that Latvians were finally becoming landowners – not on the scale of the German barons, but smallholders nonetheless. Despite the increase in Latvian ownership, there were still many landless peasants in Latvia, and the socialist ideas started to create divisions between Latvian smallholders and the landless Latvian peasants, who were left to be farmhands (and some of whom moved to the cities and became part of the urban proletariat). Writer Rainis was a major force in the New Current, along with Pēteris Stučka, who would later be in charge of the Latvian Bolsheviks. The New Current movement culminated in the 1905 Revolution, after which many of its leaders, including Rainis and his wife Aspāzija (also a writer), were forced into exile.

Do you have ancestors were involved in these movements? Other stories to share from these time periods?

3 comments to J is for Jaunlatvieši and Jaunā Strāva

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