Between Latvias

Niels Strandskov

LDir. Mara Pelece

Life isn’t easy in former Soviet republics. Regimes that ruled by fear and economies, burdened by bureaucracy and graft have been replaced by governments beholden to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and a marketplace dominated by gangsters and former apparatchiks.

Of course, things are better in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) given their proximity to Western Europe and access to Baltic fishing and shipping. But on another level, the level of the soul, the Baltic states may be just as confused as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan.

Filmmaker Mara Pelece, who is of Latvian extraction and lives in the Twin Cities, has documented the crisis of confidence that her ancestral homeland faces in “Between Latvias.”

In dozens of interviews with everyone from her relatives, to a biker in black leather, to the president of Latvia, Pelece examines the sense of nationality (or lack thereof) of today’s Latvians.

One of the common themes in the interviews is work. “Latvians are people who work hard,” a young woman gardener says. Yet good work is hard to come by. The note of anxiety in these answers is made explicit by a group of students from a rural area. They bemoan the fact that at all levels of society, people want to leave Latvia and strike out for greener pastures.

What does it mean to be a worker in a country where 8 percent unemployment is worsened by the acute underemployment of many jobholders? What does it mean to be an independent nation when your destiny is in the hands of multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations?

Pelece’s documentary is more concerned with questions of identity than questions of economy, but the nagging suspicion that Latvia’s liberation might have come at the expense of the citizenry’s welfare tugs at each interviewee.