Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Baltic Conference in Münster Germany

November 19-21, 2010

This was a conference to start the discussion about networking and working together to gather information, documentation on the Baltic exile/émigré experience. Geert Franzenburg had received funding from his Lutheran diocese to call this conference together, as part of his work with the German-Latvian friendship society Draudziba. We were all very grateful to him for organizing this conference and discussion, since no one in the Baltic community has done this recently.

There was an evening presentation in German by Valters Nollendorfs, a former German literature professor from the University of Wisconsin Madison, who spent at least one year as the director of the Latvian high school in Münster in the late 1980's. He has spent the last 10 years working for the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. His task was to present the Baltic exile experience to a German audience and to show the role they played in bringing about the new independence. He started with a very personal story of how he as a young boy stood on a ship leaving Latvia in 1944 and everyone sang the Latvian anthem, which he called one of the most non-military anthems in the world. He went on to explain how the exiles lived in Germany, organized themselves, dispersed to other countries, continued activities both cultural/educational and political, and the role they have played in rebuilding the countries after independence. (I was extremely proud of myself to have understood most of what he said, even though my German is minimal)

The next day we had eight presentations and discussions. Two museums were represented. Marianna Auliciema talked about the Latvians Abroad museum and research center, which is only three years old and has been gathering materials and Latvian stories from even as far as Brazil, but is still finalizing the purchase of a building for the museum in Liepaja. They have produced a few exhibits in other spaces, are trying to define their role in collecting archives and books, and are doing fundraising for the museum.

Valters Nollendorfs talked about the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which was founded soon after the independence in 2003 and is a well established fixture in the center of old Riga. Its mission is to portray the three occupations (Soviet, Nazi, and Soviet again) suffered by Latvia and Latvians from 1940-1991. The exhibit in the former Red Riflemen museum has 100,000 visitors a year, and is visited by statesmen from around the world including the emperor of Japan and Queen of England. The museum collects archival materials – documents, pictures and other unique exile materials. The plan is to expand the building and exhibit, so Nollendorfs shared these plans with us. Since Latvia is still struggling to get out of the economic crisis, funding is always a critical issue. There are plans for creating a virtual exhibit.

Maija Krūmiņa shared information about an oral history project, since life stories are a critical part of our cultural heritage and can be valuable primary sources about the Latvian experience. The Latvian National Oral History project  was established in 1992 within the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the University of Latvia. Māra Zirnīte has been working tirelessly on this for years, as has her partner in the United States – Maija Hinkle. They project has collected about 2000 interviews on tape, most have been transcribed, some published, and they are planning to digitize them in the near future.

Kaja Kumeer-Hauskanomm was the Estonian representative at this conference and is a doctoral student at Tartu University studying Estonian émigrés. Tartu University has a Center for Estonian Diaspora Studies, an interdisciplinary research unit. They organize conferences and publish books. Though they get donations of books and archives, they cannot collect a lot of material themselves and pass them on to other institutions and libraries. Kumeer-Hauskanomm is also part of the Baltic Heritage Network, formed in 2005 to share information on sources of research on Baltic peoples abroad. They organize meetings to discuss research in this area and are working on getting materials on the Web. Kumeer-Hauskanomm’s own research is about Estonian refugees 1945-52. She has found extensive archives and a database on the Estonians that went to Denmark.

Kristina Pecia is a Lithuanian student at the University of Münster, who talked about research on Lithuanian emigration. She defined four waves of emigration: 1860-1920, 1920-40, after WW II, and recent emigration. Life in exile or emigration provides a wide range of fields to study including the problems of leaving home, and the history and development of political, religious, social, professional and educational organizations. The Lithuanians have two centers for researching emigration – the Lithuanian Emigration Institute in Kaunas and the Lithuanian Institute of Culture in Germany.

Geert Franzenburg talked about pulling all of this together, continuing discussions. He is also working with the University of
Münster to catalog online the large collection of Latvian books in the Latvian Center at Muenster.

Inese Auzina Smith was unable to attend, but sent in an overview of Latvians in Britain, read by Nollendorfs. Smith referred to numerous publications about Latvians in Britain, as well as her work in the Latvian Documentation Center, which has compiled extensive archives including complete documentation of the central Latvian organization in Britain. 

I talked about my Baltic research handbook project and how it evolved from various previous projects - a list of libraries with Latvian materials (1989), the Baltic Library Directory (1993) and national bibliographies in the Baltic States (2008-10). in 2002 articles were published by others on Baltic materials in British, German and North American Libraries. Changes are occurring in libraries and archives throughout the US and elsewhere, and numerous Baltic organizations are selling their buildings and downsizing. I was very excited to be part of this conversation, to network with others interested in Baltic research.

On Sunday Karlis Kangars led a tour of Münster, which I was unable to attend, as I had yet to look through the library and archive at the Latvian Center at Münster.

The group gathered in Münster was small, but very interesting. Among the other attendees (and this is in no way a complete list, but basically those I had a chance to talk to, and took pictures of) were:

Mara Daneberga, the head of the Letonica department of the National Library of Latvia


Magdalene Huelmann, Baltic philology professor at the University of Münster 

Zuze Krēsliņa, the office manager of the Latvian Center in Münster

Hauke Siemen, student of Baltic history in Germany