Tome on Latvians in the West is imperfect work

A relatively recent guide to the history of Latvians in the West, Latvieši Rietumzemēs, has been drawing attention on the online mailing list of the diaspora organization ELJA50. Unfortunately for author Ilgvars Veigners, the comments have not been all that positive.

Described in publicity copy as the most comprehensive book to date about Latvian emigration to the West, the 978-page tome is being criticized for its errors and omissions. Released by the Rīga-based publisher Drukātava, Veigners’ book is an extension of his 1993 title, Latvieši ārzemēs.

The first book, weighing in at 400 pages, was published by Rīga-based Latvijas Enciklopēdija and was to be part of a 15-volume series on Latvia and Latvians. That Veigners turned to what essentially is a vanity press for his second book may be indicative of the difficulty in getting anything published in Latvia today.

In 1995, I reviewed Latvieši ārzemēs for the Journal of Baltic Studies. Veigners’ first book, I wrote, “is a notable addition to the all too small base of data we have about Latvians outside Latvia.” But I also pointed out the book’s chief editor’s disclaimer that Latvieši ārzemēs should not be considered an encyclopedia and that Veigners’ “collected reports are neither complete nor precise.”

So it seems with Latvieši Rietumzemēs. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to sneak a peek at Veigners’ manuscript and was shocked by some of the errors (including in the entry about me!).

As with Latvieši ārzemēs, the new Latvieši Rietumzemēs should be considered more as historical evidence rather than historical analysis. Here is the result of one man’s decades of work collecting information about Latvians abroad, using the sources he had available. Given that much of this information was gathered during the years of Soviet occupation, it should not be surprising that data are missing or incorrect. Viewed from that perspective, Latvieši Rietumzemēs could be rather interesting reading.

Latvieši Rietumzemēs

Latvieši Rietumzemēs continues the work of author Ilgvars Veigners, who in 1993 published Latvieši ārzemēs.

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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