At a time when Latvia is getting ready for Midsummer’s Eve celebrations, the Russian propaganda medium Sputnik decided to contribute to the celebration by giving the floor to their regular author Armen Gasparyan. Here are his comments that can be heard on Sputnik Radio, while excerpts from it can be read on their website.
Gasparyan: “Midsummer’s Eve is currently being celebrated in Riga. However, it is not the herb market or people’s celebration on the (11th November) Embankment that it is noted for. For some time, this celebration in the Baltics, as well as in Ukraine, has been associated with Neo-Nazis.
“It was not made up in Riga. It comes from Post-German traditions, which received huge attention from Hitler’s party. They spoke about history, speculated about Vikings, and, accordingly, paid great attention to pagan traditions. Afterwards it became a sort of international subculture, especially in the late 70s and early 80s. After the collapse of the USSR, it came to the Baltic States, where it became extremely popular. The pathos of celebrating Midsummer’s Eve in the Baltic states is in no way comparable with the celebrations that are organised in Denmark, Sweden or Norway.”
The author of Sputnik continues with the following question: who is standing behind this “project”? He speculates that Nazi movements in the Baltic States are controlled by the governments and they will not do anything that is not favoured to the ruling elite.
“However, more and more people in the Baltic states come into the orbit of this neo-paganism and pseudo-nationalism. It is based on a wide body of mythology that suits any taste. And all of it is based on the theory that once there was a beautiful country, which later came under the occupation of Russia. This means that the Midsummer’s Eve tradition is being linked with politics. This will not result in anything good,” Gasparyan says, and recommends the residents of the Baltic States study the position of the rulers of the Third Reich before cultivating pagan traditions.
It must be added that Sputnik decided not to publish these fantastic revelations in the Latvian version of their internet website, which only contains neutral information and a dozen photos of the celebration of Midsummer’s Eve in Riga.
“We thought that the lowest point had already been reached, but then someone knocked from below,” say journalists that criticise Putin’s policy when joking about Kremlin propaganda. Armen Gasparyan, through his latest revelations, has managed to reach the next “bottom”. How he came up with his theory of linking Jāņi tradition to Hitler and Nazism is a mystery, because even the Russian media have been silent on this issue to date.
History has several pieces of evidence to show that the celebration, which is called Jāņi nowadays, has been celebrated in the territory of Latvia for a very long time.
"At Jāņi fires they dance, sing and jump throughout the entire large land,” Balthasar Rüssow wrote in his Livonian Chronicle in 1584. “On Jāņi day all Latvian people celebrate their ancient Līgā celebration, swaying, dancing and rejoicing,” Garlieb Merkel (1769-180) records when characterising the Latvian tradition. And, of course, there are countless Latvian folk songs that sing about the traditions of Jāņi, as well as men called Jānis and their relatives.
What kind of delirious nonsense is the statement that Midsummer’s Eve celebrations in Latvia only started after the collapse of the USSR? The residents of Latvia themselves know perfectly well that this was the main celebration before the war, as well as during Soviet times, even despite brief attempts by the LSSR government to prohibit the celebration.
“If I knew that the heart of Mr. Gasparyan had retained a tiny drop of Armenian culture, I would say that linking Latvian Jāņi with Nazism would be equal to attributing Turkish roots to Armenian Surb Sarkis holiday of lovers. Insulting the celebrations of another people is equal to insulting someone’s parents or grandparents.
“Even in the 21st century, when many traditional values have been shattered, we celebrate our Jāņi and we know that this celebration is very old. No particular year can be attributed to the beginning of this celebration, which is definitely more ancient than the entry of Christianity into the Baltic States.
“Midsummer’s Eve is a day, when light fills the maximum possible time period of the day. The seasonal deity Jānis impersonates light, brings warmth, which not only provides favourable growing conditions to everything, but also promotes human fertility and life power. This is our celebration of love and no Gasparyan, however dirty their mouth is, will be able to spoil it,” Janīna Kursīte, the folklore researcher and the deputy of the Parliament of Latvia, says.
Although Germany, emphasised by the Sputnik writer, has several similar rituals, the celebration of Midsummer’s Eve is much more popular in Northern Europe. For instance, in Estonia, Midsummer’s Eve is called "Jaanipäev", which means – the Day of St. John. Like Latvians, Estonians celebrated it before the arrival of Christianity. Estonians also have the tradition of making fires and jumping over them, singing, dancing and drinking beer.
The Finns use the name of their ancient god Ukko to call the celebration Ukon Juhla and, like Latvians, go to the countryside to celebrate it. Instead of the oak, they celebrate birch. In Sweden, the festivity is celebrated between 19 and 25 June and is pronouncedly ethnic. For instance, dancing around a pole decorated with wreaths of flowers, playing of folk music and singing of special festive songs, occurs. Every year during Jāņi, television news shows broadcast stories from England, where thousands of people celebrating Midsummer’s Eve gather around the ancient stone structures at Stonehenge.
Meanwhile in Russia and other East Slavic countries, a tradition similar to Jāņi is the Day of Ivan Kupala, which, according to experts unites pagan and Christian rituals. Many Russians burn fires, collect flowers in the meadows, swim in the lakes and are not even aware that this, according to the “expert” of Sputnik, makes them Neo-Nazis.
Kursīte assesses that: "unfortunately, for some time, the official and semi-official representatives of Russia have been acting in accordance with the principle - the more outrageous the lie, the more people are ready to take the bait. The expression of Gasparjan regarding Nazi influenced Latvian Jāņi is an excellent example of absurdity.
“In order to sharpen the hook, Ukrainians have been linked to Latvians. And here the speaker stops, because otherwise they would have to say that Midsummer’s eve celebrations can be referred not only to Latvians and Ukrainians, but also Russians, Belarusians, Scandinavians and other European people.”
She reminds us that Gasparyan is very fond of different provocations and personal insults. For instance, he called Ksenia Larina, a journalist of Eho Moskvi, scum ("oткровенная Сволочь"). As a journalist who has criticised Kremlin propaganda, eventually she had to leave Russia.
How to react to the impudent lie? J. Kursīte offers an interesting method: “Excellent research must be mentioned here - a book published a couple of years ago by the American psychiatrist Mark Goulston, ‘Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible’, which includes deliberate manipulators in the list of crazy people.
“One of the recommendations of the psychiatrist is not to take offence, but to put yourself in the skin of the crazy person and continue the discussion in the same manner. “Goulston uses the example of an angry dog that has bitten your hand. Your first idea is to attempt to pull your hand away, but in this case the dog will tighten its bite. He gives the advice to push your hand deeper into the mouth of the dog, who will try to swallow it. In order to do that, it will have to release its clenched teeth. This will allow you to release your hand.”
Supported by the Ministry of Culture of Latvia