Young Latvians
Young Latvians is the term most often applied to the intellectuals of the first Latvian National Awakening
Latvian National Awakening
The Latvian National Awakening refers to three distinct but ideologically related National revival movements:* the First Awakening refers to the national revival led by the Young Latvians from the 1850s to the 1880s,...

 , active from the 1850s to the 1880s. "Jaunlatvieši" is also sometimes translated as "New Latvians," but "Young Latvians" is the more accurate term because it was modeled on the Young Germany
Young Germany
Young Germany was a group of German writers which existed from about 1830 to 1850. It was essentially a youth ideology . Its main proponents were Karl Gutzkow, Heinrich Laube, Theodor Mundt and Ludolf Wienbarg; Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Börne and Georg Büchner were also considered part of the movement...

  movement led by Heinrich Heine
Heinrich Heine
Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century. He was also a journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder by composers such as Robert Schumann...

. Originally a derogatory epithet applied to these nationalist intellectuals by their mostly Baltic German
Baltic German
The Baltic Germans were mostly ethnically German inhabitants of the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, which today form the countries of Estonia and Latvia. The Baltic German population never made up more than 10% of the total. They formed the social, commercial, political and cultural élite in...

 opponents, the term "Young Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

" was first used by Gustav Wilhelm Sigmund Brasche, the pastor of Nīca, in a review of Juris Alunāns
Juris Alunāns
Juris Alunāns was a Latvian writer, philologist and one of the first contributors of Latvian language. He was one of the members of the Young Latvia movement....

' Dziesmiņas latviešu valodai pārtulkotas ("Little Songs Translated for the Latvian Language") in the newspaper Das Inland in 1856. Asking who could appreciate such literature in Latvian (Alunāns' book was the first major translation of classic foreign poetry into Latvian), Brasche warned that those daring to dream of "a Young Latvia" would meet the tragic fate of the boatman in Heine's poem "Die Lorelei," a translation of which appeared in Alunāns' anthology. The Young Latvians were also sometimes known as "Lettophiles" or "tautībnieki" ("ethnicists").


Though the Young Latvians can be seen as part of a primarily cultural and literary movement, their cause had significant political ramifications due to the socio-economic conditions then prevailing in Latvia (part of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, it was nonetheless dominated by the Baltic German nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

). 1856 is usually given as the date of the movement's beginning because of the publication of Alunāns' book and the founding of the major Latvian language newspaper Mājas Viesis ("The House-Guest"), which provided a counterpoint to the pro-German newspaper Latviešu Avīzes. Another contemporary and seminal event was the public declaration of nationality by a leader of the movement, Krišjānis Valdemārs
Krišjanis Valdemars
Krišjānis Valdemārs was a writer, editor, educator, politician, lexicographer, folklorist and economist, the spiritual leader of the first Latvian National Awakening and the most prominent member of the Young Latvia...

; a student at the University of Tartu
University of Tartu
The University of Tartu is a classical university in the city of Tartu, Estonia. University of Tartu is the national university of Estonia; it is the biggest and highest-ranked university in Estonia...

 (then Dorpat) from 1854 to 1858, Valdemārs affixed a carte de visite to his door that read "C. Woldemar stud. cam. Latweetis." At the time, it was almost unheard of for an educated person to call himself a Latvian; education meant Germanisation
Germanisation is both the spread of the German language, people and culture either by force or assimilation, and the adaptation of a foreign word to the German language in linguistics, much like the Romanisation of many languages which do not use the Latin alphabet...

, and Valdemārs' act has been compared to Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

's posting of the 95 Theses
95 Theses
The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences , commonly known as , was written by Martin Luther, 1517 and is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation...

 to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

 in its importance for Latvian nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

. Just as some scholars consider the posting of the 95 Theses to be apocryphal, Valdemārs' notice can be seen as less dramatic if taken in context. The historian Arveds Švābe noted that Valdemārs denied being a radical in his own writings; the Young Latvians had no political program threatening the Baltic Germans until the 1860s; according to Švābe, their political opposition to the prevailing order was crystallized under the influence of the Slavophiles in connection to the reforms of Alexander II of Russia
Alexander II of Russia
Alexander II , also known as Alexander the Liberator was the Emperor of the Russian Empire from 3 March 1855 until his assassination in 1881...



Valdemārs is seen as the spiritual father of the Awakening. With Alunāns, he led student gatherings while at Tartu and advocated the study of folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 and the founding of marine academies to turn the Latvians and Estonians into seafaring peoples. Krišjānis Barons
Krišjanis Barons
Krišjānis Barons is known as the "father of the dainas" thanks largely to his systematization of the Latvian folk songs and his labour in preparing their texts for publication in Latvju dainas. His portrait appears on the 100-lat banknote, the only human face of a living person on modern Latvian...

 began collecting dainas under Valdemārs' direct influence, and in 1862 Valdemārs, Alunāns and Barons collaborated in St. Petersburg to publish Pēterburgas Avīzes. The most radical newspaper hitherto published in Latvian, it was closed by the authorities in 1865. From 1867 to 1873, Atis Kronvalds
Atis Kronvalds
Atis Kronvalds or Kronvaldu Atis was Latvian writer, linguist and pedagogue.-Early life:Kronvalds was born to a tailor family, but was raised by priests of Durbe. After studies in Liepāja he became a private teacher. In 1860 he started to study medicine at the University of Berlin; however, he...

 (often known as Kronvaldu Atis) renewed the "Latvian evenings" begun by Valdemārs at Tartu. His Nationale Bestrebungen (1872) can be seen as the manifesto of the Young Latvians. Two of their older colleagues included Kaspars Biezbārdis, the first ethnic Latvian philologist, who helped draft petitions to the tsar on the harsh conditions among the Latvian peasantry (for which he was exiled to Kaluga
Kaluga is a city and the administrative center of Kaluga Oblast, Russia, located on the Oka River southwest of Moscow. Population: It is served by Grabtsevo Airport.-History:...

 in 1863), and Andrejs Spāģis, the first writer to draw western European attention to the Baltic problem. Fricis Brīvzemnieks (Treuland) is considered the father of Latvian folkloristics; Barons later made the collection of dainas his life's work. The poet Auseklis
Auseklis was a Latvian god, and the personification of the celestial body Venus...

 (the nom de plume of Krogzemju Mikus), in the diplomat and scholar Arnolds Spekke
Arnolds Spekke
Arnolds Spekke received a doctorate in philology from the University of Latvia in 1927. In 1932 he received a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship and went studying in Poland and Italy...

's words, represented "the romantic and mystic search for the nation's soul." The Young Latvian Andrejs Pumpurs
Andrejs Pumpurs
Andrejs Pumpurs was a poet who penned the Latvian epic Lāčplēsis and a prominent figure in the Young Latvia movement.Growing up on both banks of the Daugava river, he was one of three children from the civil...

 later penned the national epic Lāčplēsis
Lāčplēsis is an epic poem by Andrejs Pumpurs, a Latvian poet, who wrote it between 1872-1887 based on local legends. Lāčplēsis is regarded as the Latvian national epic.-Synopsis:...

, "The Bear Slayer."

Directions and divisions

Defining the movement in retrospect in 1889, Pumpurs wrote: "Those in the grouping that for twenty-five years fought for freedom were called the Young Latvians. Their fate was almost always the same. Without a homeland, their people devoid of rights, without goods or sustenance, often without lodging and without bread, they were doomed to wandering. All doors were locked before them, and they were prevented from finding residences or jobs. With a heavy heart they left their beloved homeland and went abroad, into the interior of Russia, searching for sustenance and at the same time gathering knowledge."

In fact, close to half of the ethnic Latvians who received a higher education were forced to seek work in Russia. As Švābe saw it: "With their selfish and shortsighted politics, the [Baltic] German aristocracy and bourgeoisie pressured the Young Latvians into Russophilia
Russophilia is the love of Russia and/or Russians. The term is used in two basic contexts: in international politics and in cultural context. "Russophilia" and "Russophilic" are the terms used to denote pro-Russian sentiments, usually in politics and literature...

." Even Baltic German intellectuals devoted to the study of the Latvian culture and language, like August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein
August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein
August Johann Gottfried Bielenstein was a Baltic German linguist, folklorist, ethnographer, and theologian.Bielenstein was born in Mitau , where he also died...

 (the editor of Latviešu Avīzes), opposed the Young Latvians -- whilst the editor of Die Zeitung für Stadt und Land declared that "to be educated and Latvian is impossible -- an educated Latvian is a nothing" ("sei ein Unding"). Pastor Brasche, writing that there is no Latvian nation and that the Latvian people have no past, suggested replacing "Young Latvians" with the term "Young Peasants" ("Jung-Bauernstand"). The foremost Lutheran publication declared that Latvians had been a nation in the 13th century but had since been reduced to a peasant class; did every class require its own language? "The Latvian must die." Ethnic Latvian supporters of the Baltic Germans came to be known as "Old Latvians"; partly because many of the Young Latvians' opponents were associated with the Lutheran church, the movement also had a pronounced anti-clerical character.

Though one stream of the National Awakening was at first centered in Tartu, moved to St. Petersburg, and later shifted to Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, in the late 1860s Lettophiles finally succeeded in establishing themselves in Latvia, by founding a relief fund for victims of the famine in Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

 and Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 in 1867 and receiving permission to establish the Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

 Latvian Association a year later. Similar associations followed in other towns, the Rīga original receiving the hypocorisma "mommy" ("māmuļa"). The Rīga Latvian Association staged the first Latvian play, held the first conference of Latvian teachers, and organized the first Latvian song festival in 1873.

Valdemārs engaged in polemics with Keuchel (the author of "sei ein Unding"), penning Nationale Bestrebungen in German as a response to his critics. A pragmatist and materialist, Valdemārs -- in exile and under police supervision in Moscow -- came further under the influence of the Slavophiles, working for the publisher Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov. To Valdemārs, "the kulak
Kulaks were a category of relatively affluent peasants in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union...

 could never be as dangerous as the German's nails of flint." In reality, the liberalism
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 some of the Young Latvians looked to in the East was soon in full retreat under Alexander III of Russia
Alexander III of Russia
Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov , historically remembered as Alexander III or Alexander the Peacemaker reigned as Emperor of Russia from until his death on .-Disposition:...

, and the Latvian language
Latvian language
Latvian is the official state language of Latvia. It is also sometimes referred to as Lettish. There are about 1.4 million native Latvian speakers in Latvia and about 150,000 abroad. The Latvian language has a relatively large number of non-native speakers, atypical for a small language...

 was to be more severely threatened by Russification
Russification is an adoption of the Russian language or some other Russian attributes by non-Russian communities...

 than by Germanisation
Germanisation is both the spread of the German language, people and culture either by force or assimilation, and the adaptation of a foreign word to the German language in linguistics, much like the Romanisation of many languages which do not use the Latin alphabet...


See also

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