Monthly Archives: June 2014

Skroderdienas Silmačos – The Most Popular Latvian Theater Play

Decorations of the Latvian National Theater during Skroderdienas Silmačos staging

Decorations of the Latvian National Theater during Skroderdienas Silmačos staging

Roughly translated as a the Tailors Days in the House of Silmachi written by Latvian famous playwright Rūdolfs Blaumanis the Skroderdienas Silmačos always appears at the Latvian theaters every June before Jāņi celebrations on June 23 -24. Why? Because the plot of the play happens before, during and after the Jāņi celebrations. A play with comedy, drama and songs this play has been the most popular Latvian Theater play since the beginning of the XX century. Today it’s mostly played on the Latvian National Theater, but it has been played on other theaters, open air theaters, Russian Drama Theater and even Doll Theater.

Rūdolfs Blaumanis

Rūdolfs Blaumanis

The play resolves around the house of Silmači and surrounding houses. The mistress of the house a wealthy widow Antonija is getting married to much younger Aleksis, who is not too exited about it. To tailor the wedding dress for Antonija and wedding suit for Aleksis the tailors are invited. Tailor Dūdars a Antonija’s love in younger days arrives with his craft student Rūdis and Jewish sewer Zāra (Sarah). And us usual the old Jewish cloth salesman Ābrams comes along to sell cloth for the wedding clothes.  He then by his surprise meets his son Joske who he immediately suspects of him of hanging around Zāra who he forbids Joske to marry. At the same three old servant women Pindacīša, Tomuļmāte and Bebene resolves around the tailors and Jews to get cheaper goods using gossip and blackmail. The tailor student Rūdis makes friends with Aleksis brother Kārlēns and Ieviņa the Pindacīša’s daughter. And then there is young servant Elīna who is unhappy for some reason especially around Aleksis.

Ābrams, Joske and Zāra

As the story goes many unexpected things happen, Rūdis accidentally releases bees from their stocks. Joske is both blackmailed by Rūdis and Pindacīša, who saw him kissing with Zāra and threaten to tell it to Ābrams. Joske is forced to give dynamite to Kārlēns and scarf to Pindacīša. Rūdis placed dynamite in stove to dry it out. However, Ābrams finds that Pindacīša has one of his scarfs and accuses her of stealing it and telling it to her angry husband. She then tells Ābrams about Joske and Zāra and convinces him to get on the stove and spy on Joske and Zāra. Ābrams gets on the top of the stove, but instead the old Bebene comes to have a secret smoke with her pipe. As everyone comes in, Bebene in panic drops the pipe in the stove with the dynamite blowing it up with Ābrams on top of it. With that the first part of the play ends.

Story continues and reveals the true story behind Aleksis sadness about the marriage.  He never really wanted to marry Antonija, instead he loves Elīna. He proposed Antonija after too much wine. After the Jāņi night he finally convinces to Antonija that he cannot marry her. Dūdars then steps in and old love between him Antonija is reborn. Meanwhile with the help of others, Ābrams gets even with Joske and allows him to marry Zāra. A play ends with three marriages – Dūdars with Antonija, Aleksis with Elīna and Joske with Zāra. And so this is a rough summary of this play – what makes it so special in Latvian history?

It all begun in 1901 when Rūdolfs Blaumanis born on 1862 wrote the play and issued it first in a book on 1902. The other intended name for the play was the “The Lost hearts”. Music was composed by Aleksandrs Būmanis a student who Blaumanis met on 1899. The idea for the play was made by other Latvian famous novelist Jānis Poruks, who wanted to write stories about people in the village of Silmači near Druviena in Gulbene district. Poruks lived near the village in Vidzeme region and wanted to write stories about the life’s of the village people. Poruks never wrote any story about Silmači, but he told his idea to Blaumanis who took the inspiration for his own play. He wrote the play in three weeks and in next thee or four weeks made reviewed it.

The play was first held at the Riga Latvian Theater on January 30 1902. While the general public loved the good humor, the realistic characters and natural rural setting. Some of the characters were based on real life- Kārlēns the young rascal was one of the Blaumanis  nephews. Old Jew Ābrams was based on local Jew Ulpītis at Ērģļi and re appeared in other plays. However, the critics were harsh calling it “conglomerate”, a “verbiage of most vivid unfitting scenes”. Blaumanis died on 1908 and the play was yet to witness its fame. Play returned to stage on 1921. Famous attempt to make play according 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte style was made by famous Latvian play director Eduards Smiļģis. It was called a revolution in the Latvian theater. On 1935 another grand director  Alfreds Artmanis-Biedrītis chose the charming Lilija Štengele that some critics considered too elegant to country house mistress. In this play more song words were added like the famous Kārlēns and Ieviņa song “There will be birching after all”.

The 1955 version of Skroderdienas Silmačos

On 1940 when Latvia was occupied it was required to show this play in the Moscow delegation. The final dress rehearsal was done but the German invasion halted it. After the second soviet occupation, the new power was skeptical about  the play. The friendly relations between Antonija and her servants was against the communist ideology of class warfare, after Holocaust it was no longer safe to portray Jews in satiric manner. On 1955 the Riga Drama Theater received rights to held play again under the lead by Alfreds Artmanis-Biedrītis. It was a state-wide success with legendary actors Anta Klints, Žaņa Katlaps, Emma Ezeriņa, Mirdza Šmithene, Alfrēds Jaunušān, Velta Līne and others. Since then it was considered as tradition to show this play every year before Jāņi festival.

Since then in every decade at least two times in a decade a new director and cast is shown. A much know cast was from 1975 with Astrīda Kairiša as Antonija and Ģirts Jakovļevs as Dūdars. Uldis Dumpis played Ābrams making it the most recognized portrayal of Ābrams of all.

Crowds watching Skroderdienas Silmačos at Druviena

On 1986 the play was held at Druviena open air hall gathering 16 000 viewers. A museum dedicated to the play was made there. A year later the Latvian National revival started making this play based on old times even more popular. After Latvia regained independence the play was revived by Edmunds Freibergs on 1994. He begun the tradition to add more younger actors making the characters making more younger. He directed the next cast on 2002. On 2004 Olģerts Kroders the famous director of Valmiera Theater made his own version. The 1994 Latvia National Theater version featured Rolands Zagorskis as Dūdars, Zane Jančevska as Antonija and Ivars Puga as Aleksis. The 2002 version featured new call of actors who are now well known. Dita Lūriņa as Ieviņa, Mārcis Manjakovs – Aleksis, Karīna Tatarinova as Zāra and others. As Eduards Smiļgis on 1924, Edmunds Freibergs also used  commedia dell’arte style.

The play was taken  on other theaters. Viesturs Kairišš in Riga New Theater on 1998 attempted to show play in the most unusual way giving old woman roles to young and beautiful actresses Elita Kļaviņa, Aurēlja Anužīte featuring erotic references. Play was held also in Druviena at Jāņi day. The Riga Russian Drama Theater made their own version. Also Riga Doll Theater made their own version for kids.

Dita Lūriņa as Antonija and Ainārs Ančevskis as Dūdars

On 2010 a latest cast was played and is on the stage now. Director Indra Roga added a new element house spirits watching the charters and sometimes affecting their actions. Also a brave choice was made for the role of Antonija. For the character stereotyped to be in her forties, Antonija was played by younger Dita Lūriņa. As in contrast to example set by Astrīda Kairiša, the younger and more energetic Dita Lūriņa proved her to be worthy of her new role.

The play never made it to cinema adaption, but on 2010 Jānis Streičs made movie “Rūdolfa Mantojums” (The Will of Rūdolfs) that was a prequel to the Skroderdienas Silmačos although the names of the characters were changed.

The play was so successful in the soviet times because it showed the old way of the Latvian country life – destroyed by the soviet collectivization. Also the Jāņi festival in the play was a crucial element as the Soviets tried to forbid Latvians from celebrating Jāņi festival. 23 and 24 June was a working day in Soviet times, although it was never really banned to celebrate  it was urged not to celebrate. But Jāņi were still celebrated and the Skroderdienas Silmačos helped to keep the Jāņi traditions alive. Soviets were unable to erase the Latvian traditional culture, instead they tried to adapt it to their needs. Rūdolfs Blaumanis wrote many other plays as Indrāni, Ugunī and others that were played on theater. Latvian folklore and traditional culture was kept alive during the soviet times and made stunning comeback after the regaining independence. And now every new Latvian generation still likes Skroderdienas Silmačos making this play an everlasting value.

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Latvians in the Soviet Political Elite 1920-1937

Latvian nation has suffered from the soviet repressions like no other. However, among ranks of communist supporters and top officials Latvians took a high position. It happened because of the nature of the times before the Russian revolution and after. On the beginning of the 20th century the New Current (Jaunā Strāva) was most strongest Latvian leftist movement from whom many Latvian future social democrats and communists emerged. The revolution of 1905 was directed by Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. Before World War I some Latvians moved to Russia to look for new farmland, while intellectuals like Krišjānis Valdemārs, Krišjānis Barons, Baumaņu Kārlis and others established carriers in Petersburg and Moscow. The German invasion in 1915 made hundreds of thousand Latvians go on refuge to Russia. Locals in Moscow begun to notice that city is full with Latvians and Jews, who were forced to leave Lithuania and Latvia. The fall of Russian invasion made many previously mistreated minorities including Latvians to believe  its their time to take power for themselves. And since Bolshevism an international movement in its roots seemed the most popular and strongest choice many Latvians chose the soviet way. In future it turned out an ill fated tragic choice, but in 1917 the perspective of independent Latvian state seemed far from reality.

The story about the Red Latvian Rifleman is told here.  This is story about top Latvian communist members during first twenty years of the Soviet Union. After peace agreement with Latvia on August 11 1920 more than 200 Latvians refugees moved back to Latvia. But many stayed either because of problems making impossible to return or because of ideological convictions. According to Soviet census of 1926 151 410 Latvians lived in Soviet Union along with them 9707 Latgalians who were counted separately. 12 thousand lived in Leningrad and 10 thousand in Moscow.  The census of 1939 counted 128 345 Latvians and  13 869 Latgalians. Official data showed the loss of 23 065 Latvians that was just blank reminder of repressions made towards people once loyal to the Soviet system.

After the end of the Russian Civil War, the percentage of Latvians within communist party was rather high. Latvians were second to Russians in numbers of pre revolutionary members. Some Latvians moved back to Latvia and continued to work as communist party members in underground. On 1927 there was 11  680 Latvian communist party members and 1656 party member candidates. From Latvia either being  deported or emigrated 1301 Latvian communists. Latvians were in better situation than other party members especially Russians because of their education already acquired before World war, while there was 5% or non reading members. Readability among Latvians were 79% in Soviet Union. Latvians also knew more than one foreign language mostly German. So it was no wonder that Latvians took posts in many soviet ministries and state enterprises.

Pēteris Stučka

Pēteris Stučka

The patriarch of Latvian   communists was Pēteris Stučka the veteran of the Latvian Social democrats and leader of the Latvian Soviet government on 1918-1920. After 1920 he no longer took any important post, but was regarded as a symbol for Latvian communists. From 1923 he was a chairman of the Supreme Court of Russian Soviet Federal Soviet Republic. He also lead the Latvian Communist Party and its Central Committee Foreign Bureau. Stučka was a a gifted jurist and academician. Stučka often questioned the legal side of the actions of the Emergency Commission (Cheka), however allowed red terror in Latvia during his rule on 1919-1920. Stučka was genuine follower of Lenin and his ideas and after his death his influence started to crumble. On 1925-1927 he edited the first Soviet Encyclopedia of State and Law. On 1927 after reforming the court system he became deputy of the RSFSR Commissar of Justice. On 1929 he was elected as professor of  the civil rights in Moscow 1st University. 1930 was the last good year for Stučka as his 65 anniversary was celebrated in party Moscow committee Red Hall and awarded with Order of Red Banner of Labor. Stučka still hopped that Latvia will be one day again with Soviets.

On 1931 he became director of the Soviet faculty of justice. He was not found of Stalinist brutal policies against farmers and peasants during collectivization campaign. He was known for his radical agricultural reforms that lead to breakdown of the communist order on 1918-1919 in Latvia. Stučka was aware of coming Stalin’s repressions against his party members. The criticism on his past actions and academic views grew stronger on 1931 and 1932. On January 24 1932 the Latvian Communist party made plenum insisting on  investigating the mistakes of old social democratic elite and its inability to follow Bolshevik way. It was also hint on Stučka himself. He died next day from natural causes, escaping the fate of his comrades. Stučka was taken out of history after Stalin’s purge, but later was taken out of the closet a city was named after him known today as Aizkraukle.  His monuments were installed in Rīga and Aizkraukle. Some Russian tourists mistaken his monument for Stalin were delighted that “Latvians still honor Stalin”.

Jānis Rudzutaks

Jānis Rudzutaks

Most prominent Latvian within party ranks was Jānis Rudzutaks.  Born in August 15 1887 Rudzutaks started as member of the Latvian Social democrats in Ventspils. He was arrested in 1907 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was sent to Butirki prison in Moscow and released on 1917. Together with Felix Dzerzhinsky he was released by the revolting workers. Soon he was elected as the chairman of the Moscow Textile trade union and organized resistance against the Provisional government.  After the coup of October he was elected in All-Russia Trade Union Central Soviet Executive Committee and after that in presidium. He took over important posts in economical sector  in All Russia National Economy soviet, Moscow Economical Soviet and Workers and peasant defense soviet. On 1918 he became personally involved with Lenin who regarded him as his right hand man. He was responsible for supply routes trough Volga river after the main railroads were cut.

On 1919 he was sent to install soviet power in Turkestan (Turkmenistan) where he took hostile action against the will of the local Turkmenian communists to create a united Turkic Soviet republic. Rudzutaks was respected for his work helping Bolsheviks taking over all Central Asia. On 1920 Lenin made him a member of National economy Supreme Soviet council. On 1921 in  Russian Communist Party IX congress he was elected for the first time as the member of the Central Committee. Rudzutaks established a trade union policy that was approved by Lenin. Trade Unions with his help were brought under the state control.

Rudzutaks prominence grew as he was sent to soviet diplomatic delegation at Genoa  where he staunchly defended the Soviet foreign claims and backed down any western calls to return the old tsarists debts. Rudzutaks continued to work on fulfilling the  soviet power in Central Asia and took part in making the new borders of the Central Asian republics. The borders still used today by the independent Central Asian countries. On 1923 he was elected as secretary of the Communist Party and worked along with Stalin and Molotov. At 1923 Rudzutaks grew ill and Lenin had ordered him to take time of for recovery, however Rudzutaks fanatically resisted and continued his work.

There were rumors than in his last days Lenin had wanted Rudzutaks to replace Stalin as the General Secretary. Rudzutaks took important role in his funeral, carried is coffin to Red Square making him one of the closest man next to deceased leader. However, despite postmortem Lenin call to replace Stalin as General Secretary, Stalin kept his place. Lenin did not name the replacement for  Stalin. Rudzutaks was criticized among his members for indecision. Also in line for power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin Rudzutaks was caught in the middle. Rudzutaks was Central Committee candidate. Rudzutaks played between Stalin, Trotsky, Buharin making historians struggling on which side he was cause he also praised Stalin. However, Stalin on 1925 suspected him together with Zinoyev and Kamenev in plot to replace him as General Secretary. On 1927 Rudzutaks insisted that Stalin should be re-elected as General Secretary.

On 1931 Rudzutaks became the head  of the Central control commission and Worker-peasant inspection commissariat that was responsible for enforcing stalinist collectivization policies . On 1932 Rudzutaks sided with Stalin on his campaign against Zinoyev and Kamenev. Stalin entrusted Rudzutaks to lead the “party cleansing” within his lead Central Control Commission. On 1934 the commission was liquidated to empower Stalin Rudzutaks was elected as candidate of the Politburo. Rudzutaks was also responsible for restoring railroad tracks as commissar of the roads. By his lead the railroads were restored, new locomotives were built . Also river and sea routes were improved his economic management skills were recognized the most.

Amateur film maker Rudzutaks stayed in power until 1937. Stalin has recognized him as rival and part of old “October guard” that he wanted to replace with his loyal Stalinist nomenklatura. Stalin required a loyal party that would fulfill his  every order without questioning. On May 18 Stalin sent poll letter to Central Committee where he asked to exclude the Rudzutaks from the party together with marchall Mikhail Tukhachevsky for taking part in trotskyst conspiracy and espionage on behalf of the Nazi Germany. With Stalin abstaining the vote was “for”. On May 24 Rudzutaks was arrested along with his brother Voldemārs. After trial which received low publicity Rudzutaks was executed on July 29 1938. Rudzutaks was convinced communist, a potential Stalin’s rival for power but if not executed would follow Stalin until the end. He had lost his connection with Latvia  since 1907 and despite contacts with Latvians in Russia never displayed any sign of national affection, always stayed true to his internationalist convictions.

Kārlis Baumanis who graduated the Kiev commercial institute and took part in Civil War in Ukraine on 1923 made it to Communist Party Central Committee. He was assigned as the head of the Moscow organizational and cadre assignment committee.  On 1928 he became the its first secretary and then on 1929 as secretary of CK and candidate of the politburo. His success however was short-lived next year he was discharged from Moscow committee for difficulties during collectivization. He was chosen as a scapegoat for Stalin’s fallacies during collectivization. He however kept the CK secretary and was sent to Central Asia as the first secretary of Central Asian bureau. As others he ended his life shot in 1937.

Ivars Smilga  on the right side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga on the left side of the Leon Trotsky

Ivars Smilga was a revolutionary old-timer from 1905. He was in prison in Russia before 1917 and after revolution was member of Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic War Soviet. He took part in the organizing the October coup on 1917 and moved the Bolshevik forces from Finland to Petrograd. From 1919 to 1921 he was the head of the Red Army Political Department. Along with Mikhail Tukhachevsky, he led the Seventh Army during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920. After the end of the war he moved to economical work in National Economical Supreme Soviet and in State Plan Commission. A friend of Stalin at first who lived with his family for a while Smilga on 1927 became convinced anti-Stalinist. On October 7 the day of October revolution Smilga openly displayed large banner from his flat with slogan”Without Lenin, along the Leninist way” with portraits of Lenin and Trotsky. Soviet militsiya stormed his apartment to remove it. Smilga lead the opposition rallies against Stalin, but was deported to Siberia. His deportation was followed by opposition protest at the train station. On 1929 his party membership was restored, but he kept his anti-Stalinist beliefs even when meeting Stalin face to face. After Kirov was assassinated on 1935 Smilga was again arrested and on 1938 shot.

Vilhelms Knoriņš took many posts. He was head of the Central Committee Agitation and Propaganda, and was member of editorial board of the newspaper Pravda and journal Bolshevik. Also lead the Party History Institute. He was convinced Stalinist who followed Stalin’s view that historians who research history in archives are the “archive rats”. History and science as whole should only be according to Marxist – Leninist principles.  That means history could be faked. As others he was erased from history on 1938.

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe

Roberts Eihe born in Dobele on 1890 begun his carrier at the age of 15 during 1905 revolution. He was arrested many times, and then went to England. He returned on 1911 and while doing work in factory he became top member of the Latvian Social democrats. Eihe was moved towards Bolsheviks and supported Lenin. On 1914 he was arrested again and sent to Siberia. He escaped his imprisonment and returned to Latvia on 1917 took part in the Bolshevik took over of the Latvian Social democrats. After Germans captured Riga he stayed there underground was arrested, but escaped again and later moved to Moscow. During the Soviet Rule in Latvia on 1919 he was the Commissar of Provisions and imposed heavy food rations. After Soviets were forced to leave Riga he moved to Russia and took care of provisions on other front sectors.

On 1922 he arrived at Novosibirsk. As man known for his fierce loyalty to the party orders and ruthless way of carrying out them he was the man needed for the job of the chief deputy of the Siberian Revolutionary Committee. In Siberia Eihe to keep low food prices made heavy repressions against the local farmers and dealers. Following the shift from the Lenins New Economic Policy to Stalin’s Gulag Economy Eihe showed how it should be done. Repressions against so-called Kulaks were the Eihe’s preoperative and used “troijka” type tribunals were  three party officials in fast pace made trials and sentences. On 1929 Stalin visited Siberia and was impressed with Eihe’s work. He became the first Secretary of the Western Siberian district. With full power over Siberia Eihe reported to Stalin that he will turn Siberia into industrial and collectivized Siberia. He was fully dependent on Moscow  and had to fulfill every Stalin’s order. But he did them all with ruthless precision. Eihes camps for kulaks were regarded as the best in the Soviet Union by the party leaders. Eihe started to develop concentration camp system in far Northern Siberia that later turned out in Gulag system. 17 525 kulak families were repressed on 1931 39 788 families. Local party functionaries stood against the harsh methods of Eihe and sent letter to Stalin asking to replace him. Instead Stalin punished those who accused his most trusted comrade.

After that Eihe was unquestioned “ruler of Siberia”. Eihe provided camps for deported kulaks and forced peasants to join collective farms. Last great deportation in Western Siberia took place on 1936. He also managed the deportation of the ethnic Germans from European part of Russia.  Eihe was awarded with the Order of Lenin and promoted as candidate of the  Central Committee member of Politburo.

The “Old Guard” of the October coup did all the best for Stalin to reach absolute power. He no longer needed them. Eihe, Rudzutaks and other Latvians were driven to same fanaticism as Stalin. But megalomaniac Stalin after consolidating his  power now was preparing for the next step. Despite the slogan “socialism in one state”, Stalin wanted Worldwide Socialist Revolution to happen and now was preparing for future war. In so he needed the most loyal party cadres who would follow his plan. And he distrusted many of his most loyal old guard comrades like Eihe. In the war where the Baltic States should be annexed, Poland attacked and Germany fought with, Latvian, German, Polish communists were considered as foreign spies a dangerous national element that had to be dealt with. Eihe was arrested on April 1938 and was accused of state treason. On October 1 1939 Eihe wrote the letter to Stalin and denied the accusations: “There is no greater torment, than siting in prison of a country that I had fought for all my life”. Eihe stood strong against all accusations wrote another long strong worded letter to Stalin. He was tortured and   lost his eye from beating but still denied of being a foreign spy. On February 2 1940 Eihe was executed after three years of prison and constant torture.

That was the end of the Latvian communist political elite. These are just few of the many persons who served the Soviet power that turned against them and their homeland in quest for global supremacy. A separate articles about Latvians in Cheka, the Red Army and Latvian Soviet cultural elite that also was doomed by Stalin will follow in the future.

Sources:

Goldmanis,Juris (Editor) 2013 Latvieši PSRS varas virsotnēs : ilūzijas un traģēdija: 20. gadsimta 20.-30. gadi.  Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC.

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