Student seeks help researching images of exile

A graduate student from Canada is asking members of the Latvian diaspora to help her research into how Soviet propaganda molded the image of the exile community.

Kristīna Paukšēns, who is pursuing a master’s degree—her second—at the University of Latvia, has been distributing a questionnaire to Latvians outside of the homeland as part of her study.

“My primary goal,” Paukšēns told Latvians Online in an e-mail, “is to examine what sort of negative ‘propaganda’ image the Soviet regime created about the exile community of Latvians; what image the exile community held of Soviet Latvia; and, finally, what image Latvians in Latvia had of their relatives in exile. I am determining if any of these images matched reality, as understood by my questionnaire respondents.”

Paukšēns, who was born in Toronto, has a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in history, both from the University of Toronto. It was there that she was exposed to Latvian history.

“I was especially interested in the dainas, folklore, the 1905 Revolution, and in exile memoirs—both exile in Siberia, and in the West,” Paukšēns said.

Her first trip to Latvia was in 2005, when she traveled there with her grandmother, father and aunt.

“We traveled all across Latvia, met many wonderful relatives, and saw all the places related to the history of my family on this very emotional trip,” Paukšēns said. “I became very interested in Latvia’s history, and I decided that I would like to study it more formally.”

That led her to pursue a master’s degree from the interdisciplinary Baltic Sea Region Studies program at the University of Latvia. Paukšēns lived in Rīga for 1.5 years while studying at the university and working at The Baltic Times newspaper. Because she was not taught Latvian while growing up, Paukšēns said, she also used the time to hone her language skills. She also got involved with a folk dance group and a choir, and sang in last summer’s Latvian Song and Dance Celebration in Rīga.

Now back in Toronto, she has become involved with the folk dance troupe Diždancis and is looking forward to participating in the Latvian Song Festival in Canada, set July 1-5 in Hamilton.

She also is continuing her research, which she said was in part inspired by the 1999 novel The Embrace, by Lithuanian-Canadian writer Irene Guilford. The book is about two Lithuanian brothers separated by World War II, one in the West and one in the homeland.

“And also, I was greatly inspired by my elderly aunt in Limbaži, who is a Siberia survivor, and who I got to know very closely during my time in Latvia,” Paukšēns added. “Her relationship with my grandmother—mostly through letter writing—across the Iron Curtain, was nevertheless very powerful and important to both of them, and it drew me to the idea of studying relationships between the two communities.”

Besides the questionnaire distributed to Latvians in the diaspora, Paukšēns’ research also is relying on surveying Latvians in the homeland; examining several newspapers published in Displaced Persons camps in Germany, in occupied Latvia, and in the West; and reading memoirs, a novel and Soviet-era history books. 

Paukšēns asks that responses to her Latvian-language questionnaire be returned by May 10.

The Embrace

Lithuanian-Canadian writer Irene Guilford’s 1999 novel The Embrace served as inspiration for Kristīna Paukšēns research.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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