SPEECHES OF THE PEOPLES' REPRESENTATIVES
chairman of the Board of the Livonians' Union
A new century and also a new millennium will start after a few
days. People and nations are looking forward to it with hopes
and anxiety. This is true with the small nation of the Livs as
well. It is so small that it cannot be smaller. That is why there
is only one single question - is the time really coming that this
nation will have only the past and no future?
Having never been a numerically large nation, the Livs, however,
have a long and rich history. Five thousand years ago, their ancestors
inhabited the present territory of Latvia. Being one of the seven
Finnish nationalities around the Baltic Sea with its own language,
culture and traditions, the Livs experienced the greatest upsurge
from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries when their loyalty
began to develop. Several centuries ago, a country that occupied
a large part of the territory of the present-day Latvia and Estonia
was named “Livonia” - after the Livs. Eight hundred
years ago, the capital of Latvia - Riga - used to be a Livs' village.
The Livs were also the first who struggled heroically against
the German crusaders' invasion. However, the Livs were not alone
in Latvia during the past few centuries. They lived alongside
with much larger tribes of Baits. That makes us acknowledge that
existence of the Livs was long ago threatened not only by wars,
enemies and strangers, but by a peaceful assimilation as well.
As early as in the 19th century, the Livonian language ceased
to sound in Vidzeme. In another area of Latvia -Kurzeme - only
2374 people knew the Livonian language in 1881. It was a narrow
and about 60-km long coastal zone with 12 fishers' villages in
the North Kurzeme that was most protractedly populated by the
Livs. Both World wars were especially destroying. Between those,
a revival of the Livonian nation and a growth of their culture
had started. The Livonian writing in Latin alphabet had developed
earlier -in the middle of the 19th century, due to the Finnish
and Estonian linguists, who studied and acquired this language
at that time, as well as compiled its dictionary and grammar.
The first book in the Livonian language - Matthew's Gospel - was
published in London in 1863. Six Readers, Livonian - German dictionary,
collections of folk songs, spiritual songs and notes were issued
in the Livonian language during the 20s and 30s. A monthly newspaper
“Livli” (the Livs) started to come out in 1931. It
is the Finnish and Estonian linguists, especially Lauri Kettunen
and Oskar Loorits, whom we thank most for fostering the Livonian
The social organisation of the Livs, “Lîvõd
Ît”, founded in 1923, contributed a lot into maintaining
and development of the Livonian language and culture. The Livs
did not have their own school, but the language could be learned
at Latvian schools of the Livonian villages along the coast of
The construction of a new, big and modern Livonian House in a
little fishers' village Mazirbe in 1939, turned out to be the
largest gain of this small nation. This was completed with the
help of kindred nations -Finns, Estonians, Hungarians, and Latvians
The soviet occupation was the last crush to the strength of the
Livs. The action of the Livonians' Union was forbidden, the Livonian
House was nationalised and, worst of all - the coastal area populated
by the Livs was announced to be a closed frontier zone with soviet
military bases built up. Some of the villages ceased to exist
However, the ethnic self-awareness of the Livs did not die, and
in order to save the Livonian language and culture, folk-song
groups were developed – “Kandla” in Ventspils
and “Livlist” in Riga, in the early 70-ties. Later
a group “Skandinieki” was founded and they also got
involved into this action.
In 1989, the Livonians' Union “Lîvõd Ît”,
was restored. Now it includes four regional sections, which comprise
about 250 members. With the reestablishment of the independence
of Latvian State, a new wake for the Livs started.
Members of the Livonians' Union are represented in the Latvian
Parliament. Their deputy is Ilmars Geige. Before him, Dainis Stalls
was the deputy, but now he has been elected into Riga City Council.
The Livonians' Union holds annual Livonian festival that take
place on the first Saturday of August in the village Mazirbe;
they run exhibitions of the Livonian artists, they also celebrate
jubilees, and promote studies of the Livonian language. The Livonians'
Union has published the “Latvian - Livonian - English Colloquial
Dictionary”, Student's Book of the Livonian language, a
cassette of the song group “Lîvlist”, and a
CD with Livonian songs recorded by the family of Stalts. The Latvian
Radio programme “Walking through the Livland” tells
about the life, culture and history of the Livonians. On the initiative
of the Livonians' Union, one of the most attractive squares in
the centre of Riga has been given the name of Livs this year.
At the beginning of 2000, due to a special law of the Latvian
Parliament the Livonians' Union was given back its real estate
- the Livonians' House in Mazirbe. Great labours will be needed
for renovation and keeping this building. It will also require
big resources. Therefore, just like in the year 1939, we are again
facing the need to ask our kindred nations - Finns, Estonians
and Hungarians - to assist in this work.
The Resolution of the Latvian Republic “About the rights
and free development of the national and ethnic groups in Latvia”
accepted on March 19, 1991, has a very significant role for the
mutual relationships between the Livs and the state, as it recognises,
for the first time, that the Livs are “an ancient native
folk of Latvia”.
The favourable attitude of the state is also demonstrated by
the resolution accepted in 1991, to establish the state-protected
culturally-historical territory “Lîvõd Rânda”
– “The Livonian Coast”, which was formed on
the last area more tightly populated by the Livs, and receives
a substantial funding from the state budget. Its administration
pays the main attention to the research of the Livs' history,
ethnography and culture, as 4 well as the language teaching. Every
year summer camps for the Livonian children and youth are organised.
The Livonian students are assigned certain scholarships.
Since 1992, the monthly newspaper “Lîvli” is
being published again, and what is more, “The Livonian Almanac”
is also periodically issued.
In 1994, a group of enthusiasts created “The Centre of
Livonian Culture”, that holds exhibitions of the Livonian
art, expands the international contacts with Estonia and the Nordic
countries. The Centre has published “Selected Livonian Poetry”
and the “Livonian - Latvian Dictionary” it has developed
the song group of the young Livs – “Vîm”.
For the sake of solving many problems vital for the Livs and
in order to involve public institutions, last year a long-term
target programme “The Livs in Latvia” was advanced
under the commission of the Prime Minister. This is not only a
conceptual plan for solving the main problems, but it also includes
some particular action programmes. Unfortunately, lack of resources
hinders the work started so well.
Although many facts witness about successes in the last growth
of the Livs, the process of assimilation is still going on. According
to the data of the last population census in Latvia, 171 persons
admitted themselves to be the Livs, and not more than 10 of these
know the language. The language has completely lost its opportunity
for practical everyday use. However, a lot depends on motivation
and willingness to save one's ethnic identity and to be proud
of the fact that every second Latvian has a part of Finno-Ugric
blood. It is not only the genetic bond that unites us, but also
the common historical memory - our fights, losses and victories.
Moreover, the awareness that we still exist and that we will be
here in the next millennium is the greatest victory of all.
Source: III World Congress of
the Finno-Ugrian Peoples. Helsinki, 2000 [Joshkar-Ola, 2001],