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Saturday, May 14, 2016
The Latvian Problem
Ekaterina Jung did raise one salient point, which is that Russia's Marxism - Leninism - was more Latvian than Jewish. I've known that for almost a decade; anti-Semitic sites like IHR when they quote contemporary literature on "gosh there are a lot of Yids here" often let slip that there were many many more Latvians here.
I haven't mused on why that should have been the case. So, maybe now's a good time.
First, we're (obviously) not dealing here with the Latvian state and are more concerned with the Latvian people. There are several Baltic languages, and last I looked they could be divvied up into three broad groups: Slavic, west Baltic (mainly Prussian, all dead now), and the surviving Baltic languages. The big ones of the latter include Lithuanian, which is spoken by citizens of Lithuania, historically landlocked; and Latvian, which is spoken by about half the people in old Curonia and the Middle Country, oriented around the Gulf of Riga. Latvia has lots of Russians too. Mostly in the southeast.
A glance at the map tells me that there isn't really a "Lithuania" and a "Latvia" at all. There's a common East Baltic nation, where originally "Latvian" was the jargon of the fishermen and the traders, and "Lithuanian" was what you spoke on the farm. No Anglophone would say that "sail" was in a different language from "barn"; they simply cover different fields. It was like that for Old East Baltic too. But now they're different languages. How'd that happen?
Keep in mind here I'm not a linguist. But I have a notion on what happened to Latvian.
The fishermen and the farmers didn't talk to one another. The traders talked to both, and to other nations - like those Prussians (when they were around) and the Slavs whom we just mentioned. They learnt to speak jargon so that the rubes up the farm didn't catch onto all the detail. The fishermen, sharing the same ports as the traders, kept up with the lingo. The farmers didn't. So Latvian diverged where Lithuanian has remained famously conservative.
Yiddish, in exactly the same manner, started as a dialect, became a jargon and ended up a language. The Yiddish-speakers were the traders of the Black Sea, "southern Latvians" if you like.
Latvians and Russian Jews shared the same economic niche in the region, first in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania once they let the post-Khazars in, and then in the Russian Empire which succeeded the Duchy. So whatever forces pulled on Latvians also pulled on Jews. If social-democracy was the going fad for one, the other nation was going to follow it.
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