Vertimo studijos
Vertimo studijos

Vertimo studijos ISSN 2424-3590 eISSN 2029-7033

2018, vol. 11, pp. 76–99 DOI:

The Translation Scene in Latvia (Latvian SSR) during the Stalinist Years

Andrejs Veisbergs

Department of Contrastive Linguistics,
Translation and Interpreting
Faculty of Humanities
University of Latvia

Abstract. In this paper the author continues to explore the translation scene in 20th century Latvia (Veisbergs 2016a). The period under discussion covers 1945–1953, the years of Stalin’s rule after WWII until his death in 1953. The translation situation is described by discussing nationalisation and centralisation of publishers, book liquidation, censorship, ideologisation and politicisation, russification, Latvian émigré translations and other aspects of importance in an attempt to present the translation scene of the period from different angles. At the end of the article an extensive list of references is provided that can serve as an initial bibliography for more extensive research of translation practices in Latvia and beyond.

Keywords: book liquidation, censorship, Latvian translation, translation during Stalinist years

Latvijos vertimo panorama stalinizmo laikotarpiu

Santrauka. Šiame straipsnyje autorius tęsia ankstesniuose „Vertimo studijų“ numeriuose (Nr. 7 ir Nr. 8) pradėtą nagrinėti XX a. Latvijos vertimo istorijos temą. Aptariamasis laikotarpis – 1945–1953 metai – pirmieji metai po Antrojo pasaulinio karo iki Stalino mirties. Tai pats sudėtingiausias sovietinės ideologijos įtvirtinimo Baltijos šalyse laikotarpis, okupacinei valdžiai visokeriopai stengiantis užgniaužti bet kokią laisvesnę mintį, naikinti ikikarinėje Latvijoje leistas knygas, drausti Vakarų autorių knygų vertimus, visapusiškai kontroliuoti knygų leidybą. Remdamasis gausia istoriografine medžiaga autorius aptaria leidėjų nacionalizavimo ir centralizavimo, nepriimtinų knygų naikinimo, ideologizavimo ir politizavimo bei ideologinės cenzūros aplinką, rusifikavimo apraiškas iš esmės verčiant tik rusų autorių kūrinius arba, kiek vėliau, verčiant ir kitų šalių autorių knygas, bet ne iš originalo, o iš rusų kalbos ir pan. Toks kompleksiškas tyrimas padeda autoriui atskleisti Latvijos vertimo padėties sudėtingumą aptariamuoju laikotarpiu.

Pagrindiniai žodžiai: cenzūra, knygų naikinimas, vertimai į latvių kalbą, vertimas stalinizmo laikotarpiu

Copyright © 2018 Andrejs Veisbergs. Published by Vilnius University Press
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Manipulations in modern translations are usually determined by the market (deletions, abridging) or individual or group interests. In totalitarian societies, by contrast, the rulers attempt to regulate translation policies in order to strengthen the state’s ideology and power (Rundle 2018). Studies of these practices reveal the peculiarities of hegemonistic discourse, the ways and means of totalitarian manipulation and socialist translation practices (Pokorn 2012, 13) as well as the scope and limits of censorship and self-censorship. We should also remember that many translations from the Soviet period are still in use and being republished, with the readers unaware that they have been seriously manipulated. Manipulations encompass not only the basic texts but also paratexts: explanations, introductions, even the names of the translators, often rendering the content different or misleading (Meylaerts 2005, 280).

Attitudes towards “otherness” (Robyns 1994, 406) or the alien were at their most controversial in the Stalinist years, since “internationalism” was the mantra in politics while the reality was incomparably greater isolation from the rest of the world than the relatively liberal approach of German or Italian fascism. Thus an extremely defensive stance was imposed, defending and absorbing through transformation.

The various people involved in this process can be viewed as agents of translation (Milton, Bandia 2009). Agents in the translation process are involved in a complicated relationship between their own dispositions or habitus and the objective structures of the field (Bourdieu 1991), the latter being the institutional practices that they are expected to follow. The whole translation process is thus determined by all agents with their habitus and fields: editors, ideological overseers, censors, the party line and commercial interests, which actively interfere with and manipulate translations.

The early years of the second Soviet occupation of Latvia (known as the Stalin years) have been largely ignored in translation studies, perhaps because they yielded few translations of enduring quality, although translations occupied the very centre (however biased and grotesque) of the Latvian literary polysystem (Even-Zohar 1978) at that time. This neglect is in contrast with the studies of the Soviet and Russian translation scene (Friedberg 1997, Clark 2000; Popa 2010; Witt 2011) that offer serious analysis of censorship mechanisms (Tax Choldin 1989; Sherry 2010; Inggs 2015). The translation scene of former socialist countries has also undergone serious analysis of late (Pokorn 2012; Thomson-Wohlgemuth 2009; Looby 2015). Some aspects of the Latvian situation during this period have been reflected in writings of Blumberga (2008) and Veisbergs (2016a).

Purges and Erasure: Book Liquidation

The Soviet army reconquered Riga, capital of Latvia, in October 1944 and unlimited Sovietisation resumed, enveloping all spheres of life including translation. In contrast to the relatively liberal publishing regime characteristic of the German occupation (1941-1944) (Veisbergs 2016b) a real ice age set in.

Within a short period 16 million books were destroyed (Strods 2010, 180), and 5 million unwelcome books were removed from Riga libraries in 1946 alone. The basic principle was to extinguish anything printed under fascism: “there was neither the time nor the energy to find Goethe or Schiller” (Strods 2010, 145). Long lists of books to be removed from circulation were published regularly (No 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948; Novecojušo 1954; Briedis 1997). The books to be destroyed were euphemistically called dated or unwelcome. Shops, warehouses and libraries were purged. The first list, published as early as November or December 1944, was the longest, with 3,573 titles, and some banned authors and publications were simply listed as “all works”. Ten lists of forbidden books were published between 1944 and 1961, in addition to separate decrees and rulings (Dreimane 2004, 38). The lists include some titles by seemingly innocent authors who were generally accepted by the authorities. They focused mostly on Latvian authors, who were ranked by dangerousness: for some (Mauriņa, Raudive, Unams, Lapiņš, Breikšs) all works were to be removed, for others (Brigadere, Čaks) only some. The lists also include translations, many of which can hardly be characterised as anti-Soviet, e.g. Nyemirovich-Danchenko, Zoshchenko, Gide, ZhabotinskyF.S. Wright, Casson, Hoernes, Wadsley, Hedin, and from pulp literature: Pinkerton, Fantômas. The selection was affected by the political trends of the moment, for example, the 1951 list contained a recently published book by Mintz about the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (Apvienotais 1951). Most likely, the author’s ethnicity was viewed as unacceptable in view of the anti-Zionist campaign then under way.

The books withdrawn were generally burned or pulped, or sometimes the unwelcome pages or introductions were simply torn out. Two or three copies were left in a special archive with access restricted to politically reliable comrades. Thus we see the erasure of a large part of Latvian written culture (a term used by Monticelli (2011, 191)).

Nationalisation and Centralisation of Publishers

The publishers and printing houses were renationalised immediately after the Soviet reoccupation of Riga. The monopoly publisher VAPP was reinstated and renamed LVI (Latvian State Publisher) in 1946. It was only in 1951 that another publisher appeared: the Academy of Sciences of the Latvian SSR.

Books were only published in Riga. As early as November 1944 Jānis Niedre (reappointed as overseer of literature and deputy head of VAPP) reported that the first book after the liberation of Riga had been published: Stalin’s speeches about the Great Patriotic War: “the most distinguished book among all books” (Niedre 1944). Publishing was subject to planning. The plans, however, were not always carried out; for example, plans to publish selected plays of G.B. Shaw were announced in 1946 (Niedre 1946), but they were published only in 1966.

Censorship and Rewriting

The Soviet model of censorship was copied in Latvia, consisting of pre-censorship (Strods 2010, 11) on three levels: manuscript, setting and pre-sale. Apart from military secrets, censorship mostly focused on ideological issues. Its task was to “protect” the Soviet population from dangerous foreign ideologies. Translations of foreign literature were required to serve as a distorting mirror on the Western world: rather than being a window on the West, translations were to portray the West according to the Kremlin’s skewed image. Censorship was carried out by numerous agents of translation: the censors themselves, party decisions and directives, editors and self-censorship by translators. Censorship had to be very alert to constant changes in party line, priorities, taboo issues and unmentionable facts and personalities (Sherry 2015, 77–78).

As a result of such a biased translation policy, the number of Western translations was minimal, with no translations of unacceptable authors or works at all. The texts translated were purged of their dangerous and unwelcome elements without consulting any authors still alive (Friedberg 1997, 139). Items purged might be religious elements (even linguistic items, like references to God in idioms), or critical remarks about socialism or the USSR, or suggestions that life was good under capitalism. Translations were supplied with ideologically tinted introductions or postscripts, where the reader was told how to understand the work correctly. Finally, some well known works were rewritten in Russian and then disseminated further in the Soviet empire and its satellites. Thus, although Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe had been translated into Latvian during the independence period (two volumes)1 the novel was published twice in translation from the Russian translation, in 1946 and 19492. The Russian translation of the first volume was done by Chukovsky in the 1920s in the USSR. Chukovsky was a well known Soviet Russian children’s author and a good translator and translation theoretician. He was criticised by the Communist Party and promised to mend his ways. His translation of Robinson fundamentally changed the tonality of the novel: it is purged of religious references and all elements of Christianity, as well as the hero’s philosophical ponderings, which were deemed unsuitable for the Soviet citizen (Clark 2000, 46). It should be mentioned that Chukovsky’s Robinson became a canonical work of the socialist camp and was retranslated in Eastern Europe (Pokorn 2012,125). The real Robinson was not available to the Latvian reader until 1966 (translated by Ķempe), and even then only the first part, with a truncated ending referring to a second volume. Such rewriting (Lefevere’s term, 1992) was a regular occurrence in the USSR, thus Alexey Tolstoy transformed Collodi’s Pinocchio into Buratino as more acceptable to the Soviet dogmas in 1936 while Volkov reconfigured L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz into a Soviet The Wizard of the Emerald City (Klimovich 2018). These Russian rewrites were translated in turn into Latvian: while Pinocchio had been translated during Latvian independence, Buratīno was published in 1952. Volkov’s rewrite was published in 1962, Baum’s original story appeared only after Latvia regained independence in 1991.

Ideologisation and Politicisation

Ideologisation extended to all walks of life, starting with the renaming of streets, institutions, villages and towns, mandatory youth involvement in various communist organisations and even absurd demands in science and creative activities. This extreme ideologisation pervaded all mass media (Towards 1993, 189). The Writers’ Union of the Latvian SSR (which had a Translators’ Section) issued ideological edicts to the literary world, but the party line was announced for everybody by the few official newspapers: the weekly Literatūra un Māksla of the Creative Unions of the Latvian SSR (starting in 1945), the monthly Karogs of the Writers’ Union (from 1940), Padomju Latvijas Boļševiks, the journal of the Latvian Communist Party Central Committee, and the dailies. The first two manifestly demonstrated the new contents, proportions and style of literature required for published literary works. Karogs published mostly original works and translations from Russian, poetry of the “brotherly nations”, and the occasional foreign pieces in connection with jubilees and anniversaries, for example a few poems by Federico García Lorca translated by Ķempe (Ķempe 1946, 721–723). The small print at the end of the journal contained some skewed reference information about literary life abroad, taken from Russian sources.

Apart from everyday ideologisation, the All-Union Communist Party Central Committee launched several huge campaigns aimed at total ideological and cultural subjugation of the people to the party spirit. These demanded unambiguity and class clarity which took on grotesque forms in poetry. Cultural workers, “engineers of human souls” who did not understand the new system had to be re-educated. The first great campaign which affected the cultural media for a long time was started by the Central Committee decision of 14 August 1946 entitled “On the Journals Zvezda and Leningrad”. It saw the designs of the enemies of Soviet power in any digression from the party line, authorial subjectivity, individualism or formalism and introduced rigid norms for literature. This decision and Zhdanov’s report were hastily republished in Latvian newspapers and the next month’s Karogs (Par 1946, 819–839), followed by an anonymous local counterpart of the same style “About ideologically high-quality Latvian Soviet literature” (Par 1946, 840–849).

Literary and translation criticism were always entangled with the campaigns of the moment: there was an unceasing battle with “bourgeois nationalists”, Orwellian fulmination against Endzelinists (followers of Endzelīns’s linguistic theories), followed a short while later by another against their opponents, the Marrists (followers of Marr) (Ekmanis 1968; Gāters 1981), as well as a campaign against “cosmopolites” (Zionists). Ideologisation was particularly directed towards the young, thus the article “What do you read?” condemns the enduring interest of the youth in the bourgeois crime novels of Wallace or C. Morgan’s books and calls on the readers to read only Soviet writings (Padomju jaunatne 15.11.1945).

Ideological literature constituted about a third of all publications: Marxist-Leninist literature, atheist literature and enthusiastic descriptions of the Soviet way of life were published in huge print runs and at low price. Translations constituted a huge share of political and ideological literature, the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin (and Stalin until the ideological thaw of the mid-1950s) alone constituted around 250 titles. The collected works of Lenin were published in 35 volumes (1948-1951). Next to them there was a multitude of speeches by Soviet and Party leaders, agitation booklets, youth education brochures, etc. with loaded titles: An order from the superior is the law for the subordinate3 ; Pavļiks Morozovs: a long poem4; (Pavlik Morozov was a boy who informed on his own father to the KGB); Titovites – American and English imperialist armbearers5 (when Stalin fell out with Tito’s Yugoslavia, he branded them renegades).

The ideologisation of translation can also be seen at macro level, in the choice of source languages. There was a compulsory translation quota of literature from the “brotherly nations” (Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Tajik, etc.) as well as from the socialist camp. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Chinese leaders’ writings had to be translated since China was building communism too. Mao’s Little Red Book6 was published in Latvian translation in 1949 imitating the Chinese format. Two more booklets followed in 1952.7 Other modern Chinese authors were also translated (through Russian).8 The first of these contains Sorokin’s notes and a postscript explaining the ideological drive of the book, and enumerating the author’s political shortcomings. The beginning of the Korean War (1950-1953) saw the publication of a Korean play9.

An interesting example of macro-ideologisation can be seen in an unusual book of Jewish literature10 published in 1946 with an introduction by a well-known left-leaning Latvian pre-war Jewish activist Šacs-Aņins. He later fell victim to the 1953 anti-Zionist cosmopolitan campaign and was imprisoned by the KGB. It can be presumed that this book reflects the brief Soviet flirtation with Jewish circles in connexion with the foundation of the State of Israel. The romance was very short-lived.

On the microlevel ideologisation can be seen from introductions or postscripts where the foreign authors are usually characterised as progressive while lacking ideological consistency.

Total Russification

Postwar transformations involved blatant Russification in all walks of life (Puisāns, Mežaks 2003, 81; Bleiere 2018, 596). Russian schools were established, as were Russian streams in Latvian schools. Other minorities were completely ignored. Russian was increasingly taught in Latvian schools. Populations from the other republics of the USSR were moved into Latvia by order of Moscow and enjoyed privileged status. Local officials were replaced with reliable Russian stooges, official correspondence and documentation switched into Russian (Riekstiņš 2000; Riekstiņš 2007; Par 2012; Mežmalis 2012). Streets were renamed after Russian military, political and cultural figures. Russia and Russianness were emphasised in every aspect of life and culture (e.g. Riga City Museum of Arts was renamed the Latvian and Russian Art Museum of the Latvian SSR).

Russian as the dominant source language in Latvia was emphasised by the new bosses: in an article about translations Niedre underscored that “in translations, attention should focus on Russian as a source of many-sided and more profound embodiments of new values, great verities and ideological purposefulness in our literature” (Niedre 1945b, 932). Languages and literatures fell into three new categories: Latvian, Russian and others (cittautu). In an article dedicated to translated literature surveying numerous translations M. Rudzītis (1945) mentions only one non-Russian translation, that of Simone (see further).

Russification in the book industry manifested itself both in the overwhelming dominance of Russian as source language in general (more than 90%), and the total dominance of Russian literature, especially from the Soviet period, in fiction translations. For example, the first large collected works were those of Gorky: 23 volumes in the period of 1946 to 1954. By comparison, the greatest Latvian poet Rainis (now proclaimed a proletarian writer) had collected works amounting to 14 volumes and their publication started later (1947–1951). Apart from fiction, most technical literature was also translated from Russian. Finally, the rare foreign translations were very often not done directly from the originals but through Russian. It made sense to use Russian as an intermediary language when translating from Uzbek11, Azerbaijani12, Tajik13 or Hungarian in the name of the friendship of Soviet and brotherly peoples.14 But the role of Russian was not limited to these less-known languages. A translation of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Jimmy15 via Russian was published twice. Before the War, two books by Blyton had been translated from English, including a good translation by Turkina, who was still working after the War but barred from translation. Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been translated twice, the second time by Straume before the War. Nevertheless, the book was redone from Russian.16 The same went for other books.17 There could be no shortage of Lithuanian translators, indeed Cvirka’s works had been translated in the interwar period, but Lithuanian, too, was now translated via Russian.18 Even more strikingly, many individual books were translated not from Russian translations, but from the Russian remakes (see Robinson, above).

Latvian schoolbooks were replaced with translations from Russian. Again, it goes without saying that the new rulers had a different understanding of history,19 but several geography and English coursebooks were translated from Russian as early as 1944. These were followed in 1945 by other history and geography books, as well as algebra, geometry, physics20 and other schoolbooks, thus imposing the standardised Soviet education system in Latvia.

The proportion of Russian translations is clear evidence of the ideological drive; it is not accidental: in neighbouring Estonia 86% of translations were from Russian in the period between 1940 and 1954 (Monticelli 2011, 189). Russian language and literature suddenly occupied the centre of the literary polysystem (Monticelli 2011, 191).

Isolation from the West

In Latvia as well as in Estonia (Livaku 1989, 467), the Soviet regime practised extreme isolationism in the sphere of literature. While in the first postwar years an occasional modern prose translation might be ideologically safe (perhaps because from a wartime ally), policy becomes “more strongly isolationist” (Sherry 2015, 70) over time and the few foreign books translated before the thaw were mostly Western classics. A curiosity is a translation of A.J. Cronin’s The Stars Look Down by Kārkliņš.21 It is identical (the old setting) to the one published by Rudzītis “Grāmatu Draugs” during German rule a few months earlier. What was changed is the printing shop address (street name change) and the name of the publisher. Both the translator and the publisher were in Germany at the time. Such an ideological misstep can be explained by the chaos of war.

The ideological screws were tightened every year. Western and world literature in general, as well as reference or technical works, were translated very rarely. Again, there were a few exceptions. In 1951 a specialised edition of a 19th-century French anatomist was published for art students.22

Apart from works by Marx and Engels, which most likely were translated from Russian (political literature translations in general do not provide translators’ names or languages), the late 1940s and early 1950s saw an average of only ten non-Russian literature books annually, including the mandatory “brotherly nations” translations, reprints of old classics (e.g. Rainis’s translations) and a couple of progressive writers from the socialist camp. Uniformity had set in.

This can be illustrated by some figures: of 79 books published in Riga at the end of 1944 (Karulis mentions only 32 (Karulis 1967, 189)), half were translations, 95% of them from Russian. There was Cronin’s reprinted novel and a book by the Polish writer Wasilewska, translated by E. Niedre (wife of J. Niedre).

In 1945, 335 books were published, half of them translations from Russian. The West is represented by 6 books: 2 novels by J. B. Priestley, the first part of Hašek’s The Good Soldier Šveik, a tale by Heine, Andersen Nexø’s stories, Voltaire’s selected works23 with an introduction acclaiming Voltaire as “a revolutionary genius and a herald in the fight against Hitlerites.”

The next year, 1946, is similar: 527 books, 217 translations (41%), 201 from Russian (94%); 16 Western books were translated, the highest level in postwar years: Feuchtwanger’s Simone, Byron’s Cain (the old Rainis’s translation), Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell (the old Rainis’s translation), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (the republished 1931 translation by Roze without acknowledging the translator, who had fled to the West. The same work was published in a slightly edited form in 1958, again without mentioning the translator). Apart from these there was the above-mentioned work by Blyton and the remake of Robinson, further works by Andersen Nexø, O. Henry’s stories, the German-born Jewish pro-communist Stefan Heym’s novel Hostages; two works by the American socialist Upton Sinclair: Jimmie Higgins in an old translation by Arājs Bērce edited by Bauga, and The Flivver King (translated by Gurvičs), another book by Wasilewska translated by Brutāne; J.B. Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls (translated by J. Ābrama) whose theatre performance in the USSR preceded its staging at home, Colas Breugnon by the friend of the USSR Romain Rolland (translated by Stērste).

The Devil’s Elixirs by E.T.A. Hoffmann24 stands in stark contrast to the rigidity of Soviet translation policy. This work was translated during the German occupation and falls perfectly within the translation paradigm of the period (German, romantic, idealistic, individualistic, religious, decadent, erotic). It was published in 1943 in translation by Kliēne25. Though 5000 copies were said to have been printed, only a few actually appeared in circulation, as the sophisticated illustrations failed to be produced in time. Thus it seems the setting, or the already printed matter, was used for the Soviet edition. However, another translator was added on the title page, a trusted pro-Soviet man of letters. There was a portentous silence from critics. This is a curious case, defying Soviet standards in several ways: the type of book, the issue of translators, the absence of any criticism. All this points to a strange combination of literary agents: no doubt it helped the publishers fulfil the production and sales plans, but was nevertheless a very risky undertaking. Only later did the prominent Soviet Latvian critic Upīts lament in passing that English and American imperialists were pulling “devil’s elixirs” out “of the dust-covered rotten junk” “to poison the masses, crushing their will to live and their future prospects” (Upīts 1957, 152). Neither the translator (Kliene 1979), nor critics (Grēviņš 1965) referred to this book even later, during more liberal times.

Fewer books (480) were published in 1947, more than half of them (270) translations from Russian, only 12 non-Russian translations: Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma translated by Ābrama, Zola’s La Débâcle translated by Kurcijs, Dreiser’s The Financier translated by Bauga, J. B. Priestley’s Three Men in New Suits translated by Darbiņš; Czech communist Fučik’s Notes from the Gallows translated by Kacena, Edgcomb Pinchon’s Zapata the Unconquerable translated by Sakss, another story by Wasilewska translated by Kraujiņš, a Norwegian novel by Grieg translated by Kliene, Jakobson’s Estonian story translated by Varika, the book of another Estonian, Tigane, translated by Mārēns, a long poem by Adam Mickiewicz translated by Aizpurs and a novel by Uzbek writer Oibek, Navoji, translated from Russian by Šūmane.

Western literature translations were usually supplied with long paratexts (introductions or postscripts) by Russian critics or ideologues, explaining the progressivity and ideological limitations of the authors and providing the correct emphasis. James Aldridge’s books can serve as an example of how the system of ideological introductions developed: in 1946, Aldridge’s The Sea Eagle was translated by Bauga.26 At this time the system was not yet fully developed and no introductions were added to the translation of this Australian-British journalist recognised by the Soviets as a friend of the USSR. Two years later, in 1948, Aldridge’s play The Forty-Ninth State27 was translated and was already supplied with Viktorov’s introduction (pp. 3-11), that expounds on the author’s ideological limitations. This applied even to the classics. Apart from the ideological dimension, these Moscow-approved introductions also provided protection in case of unexpected ideological mistakes. The tradition persisted until the collapse of the USSR.


Most of the professional translators and publishers had fled to the West (Kārkliņš, L. Skalbe, Veselis, Švābe, Mauriņa, Raudive, Dziļleja, A. Kroders, V. Rudzītis, Goppers etc.), where some resumed translating and publishing as early as 1945. In Latvia they were replaced by reliable Soviet ones: Bauga, Ķempe, Talcis, Sakse, Lukss, Vanags, Šūmane, who had been in the USSR during the War or otherwise demonstrated their loyalty to the regime: Vīlips, Šmidre, Ozols, Blaus, E. Niedre, Paula, Purviņa, etc. Bauga became the long-term head of the Translators’ Section of the Soviet Writers’ Union. The former left-leaning social democrat Grēviņš, who had translated various works during independence, was now strictly switched to translating from Russian and although he tried hard to adapt to the new regime in the field of translation criticism he was deported to Siberia in 1951. Grēviņa, his wife, dropped translation altogether.

Many new translators had to demonstrate their allegiance by translating from Russian before they were allowed to translate Western literature, e.g. Ābrama who had specialised in French literature since 1938 translated several Russian works. Similarly Grantovska, Lūse and Jarmolinska. Melnbārde had to edit and translate the Russian writer Antonovskaya’s (Антоноoвская) five-volume novel The Grand Mouravi, which portrayed the history of Georgia in a way Stalin approved of. Only afterwards could she specialise in German and English translations. This practice corresponded to the view that translators were workers on the ideological front and had to prove their trustworthiness.

Of the old translators, Egle, Upīts, Kliene and Zālīte continued to translate. Upīts, though, mostly republished former translations; Egle died in 1947; Kliene and Zālīte for a time had to work from Russian, and could only return to their old Nordic menu later. In 1951 a number of enthusiasts for French literature known as the French Group, were arrested, sentenced to 25 years and deported to Siberia as enemies of the people. There were three translators among them: Stērste, who started translating before the War and had translated Balzac’s Le Père Goriot and Rolland’s Cola Breugnon during the second Soviet occupation, as well as Grīnfelde and Lase, who could not publish until they were allowed to return to Latvia after Stalin’s death. Turkina, who had translated English books and compiled English coursebooks during the independence period was allowed to adapt Russian English coursebooks for Latvian youngsters. She could publish translations only after 1956.

During the Soviet occupation, translators’ names often disappeared from the title page or were moved to the technical description at the end of the book. Thus translator visibility was reduced, especially in political and technical literature which did not name the translators at all.

The General Scene

The postwar years witnessed a rapid growth in the proportion of translations. In the prewar years it had fluctuated between 10 and 20% (Veisbergs 2016a, 30), but in the postwar period it averages around 50-60%. Similarly in Estonia: 15% before the war and on average 48.5% in the postwar years (Monticelli 2011, 188). The high proportion of translations is also recognized by the press (Latvijas 1950).

In order to achieve a clearer picture of the basic trends, we carried out a statistical analysis of translations, based on the catalogue of the Latvian National Library (LNB). Precise information on translations from Russian is impossible to find, since the fact of translation is often not mentioned. There is widespread translator invisibility. Although fiction and many other books are clearly marked as translations, there is a relatively high number of frequently authorless instructions, brochures, education literature on upbringing, socialisation, organisational matters and agricultural issues that are very probably translations. The number and percentage of translations from Russian is thus presumably higher than reflected in the chart. The number of translations from other languages is minimal and shows how totally the Latvian people were cut off from the outside word. The situation changed in mid-1950s, after Stalin’s death, when the door to the rest of the world opened a little wider.

Table 1. Translations from Russian and other languages


Total titles published

Total translations

Percentage of translations

Translations from Russian

Translations from other languages

Percentage of non-Russian translations


























































The language used in translations under the Soviet system was often judged not only by precision or style, but also politics. Errors in style and terminology were sometimes viewed as “ideological sabotage” or “crimes against the state” (Lode, Strautnieks 1946). This simplistic approach went hand in hand with the linguistic campaign waged by the Communist Party.

Translation Criticism

Translation criticism in the first postwar years was limited, apart from Niedre’s aggressive party-line statements (Niedre 1948), and relatively regular general articles by Grēviņš and Ozols which emphasised the necessity of criticism but generally just regurgitated ideological dogmas. There was little analysis of specific translations, the aim being more to sustain political tension and demonstrate ideological alertness. The articles dedicated to criticism consist mostly of parroting the party line and Marxist classics or quotations from contemporary Soviet rulers. Moreover, although the Latvian reader is now completely isolated from non-Soviet literature, critics proclaim the opposite: “until the summer of 1940 we could not boast of translations of foreign literature; this shows what spiritual isolation and cultural poverty our people had to live in” (Rudzītis 1945, 261). Some translation criticism is anonymous. Taking into account that the experienced translators had left, and educated people were generally viewed as suspicious, it is no wonder that translations were frequently unprofessional and erratic.

Commentators on translations focus on the content and ideology, only making a few comments on actual translation errors at the very end. For example, in the first issue of the postwar Karogs (Niedre 1945a), an article by Niedre entitled “A Book about the Nation’s Traitors” describes the Latvian translation of Simone’s J’accuse28 still published in Moscow (the Moscow publisher produced five titles altogether):

“Simone’s book cannot be read placidly and without anger. Simone’s book mobilises the reader to fight for the nation’s freedom, against treachery, against the Germans, their own nationalists, the enemies of the working people and the people who proved lukewarm at fateful moments in our people’s history. C. Palkavniece’s Latvian translation of Simone’s book is rather mediocre. Its main shortcoming is that it is a formulaic “transfer” into Latvian, not an artistic translation” (Niedre 1945a).

This type of criticism remained unchanged in the following years and the main concern was that the translations were not alive but bureaucratic, literal and stiff. Of course, the writers did not ask whether the problem may lie in the didactic nature of the original and its ideological clichés that translators could not improve. The battle against literalism was never-ending, despite the apparent fact that a literal understanding of the rules pervaded all life in conditions of terror since by following the original literally “the translator washed his hands in innocence” (Austrumnieks 1948).

Karogs, Literatūra un Māksla and Cīņa regularly condemned the slipshodness and sloppiness of translations as a result of which “ideologically significant Soviet writers’ works were totally distorted, and the reader got a false perception of the reality of Soviet life.” The party must crack down on “dunce translators and slob editors” (Niedre 1945b, 935). “What is needed is a precise, fully correct translation. Otherwise we risk distorting the great truths of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin in the minds of readers” (Brītiņš 1946). There were constant calls for higher quality: editors should work together with translators, translations should be regularly discussed and work coordinated in a socialist manner. These subjects were often linked to the issue of cultivating a new intelligentsia and re-educating the old one. We may wonder whether it was possible to avoid Bolshevik rhetoric and pathos under conditions of Stalinist terror. It seems that to some extent it was. Thus Egle, who focused on classics, managed to escape propagating naked ideology in criticism: he wrote a serious analysis of Shakespeare translations (Egle 1946a) and a review of Upīts’s translation of a Griboyedov play (Egle 1946b). Also Upīts (who was generally vitriolic about “bourgeois” writings) wrote an article on translation practice (Upīts 1945) looking at translation difficulties in a realistic and self-critical manner and even providing examples of his ideas from a translation by Virza that was banned in the Soviet Union. J. Plaudis’s reviews of translations of Lermontov (Plaudis 1946a) and Griboyedov (Plaudis 1946b) were specific and competent without paying homage to the party and the great Russian people, and so is Egle’s response (Egle 1946c).

However, it was the ideologically active critics who ruled the roost and set the tone. In a longer article entitled “The problem of literary translation” Niedre ruminated on the enormous gain that Latvians had enjoyed since joining the USSR. He described the importance of the Russian language and culture in an elevated style and concluded that

“the main task to be accomplished now is to translate Russian and other Soviet writers’ works into good Latvian and Latvian writers’ works into Russian. The main, common language of the USSR nations is the language of the great Russian people, which has been widely recognised as an international language since the days of the Patriotic War” (Niedre 1945b).

He had to concede, though, that the quality of the Soviet translations was doubtful, thus Mentsendorf’s translation of a story by Grigulis added quite a lot of new material, turned the main character into “a conscientious revolutionary” and had him participate in the revolutionary movement, of which there was not a word in the original. Thus, the Russian translation was a confection very far removed from Grigulis’ story” (Niedre 1945b). This was followed by an enumeration of various errors in several translations, condemnations of such sloppiness and editorial negligence, and a conclusion that the problems were huge and “since we are a Soviet people and a Leninist-Stalinist Party generation, a solution must be found”.

Krauliņš analysed translations of Marxist literature and concluded that there were numerous mistakes, adding that “every mistake that appeared in a translation was replicated in tens of thousands of printed copies and thus penetrated into the minds of tens of thousands, and did its pernicious work there” (Krauliņš 1946, 1000). It was not only translators who were to blame, but also other agents of translation, whom he described with the ideologically dangerous term “metaphysicians”: “metaphysical linguists, editors and proof-readers strangle a lively thought with their frozen, dead language rules” (Krauliņš 1946, 1001). Grēviņš, translator, writer and theatre employee, complained that the quality of translations was low. There was widespread amateurism and an army of nonprofessionals were willing to translate anything. Furthermore, there was no modern Russian-Latvian dictionary of any quality, which of course was “the first and most important book, since we are talking about the friendship with the great Russian people and our translation culture” (Grēviņš 1947). A year later in another article, the same author reflected on the situation as follows:

“Marxist-Leninist classics, the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, are published in large numbers, and every day we acquire more and more of the Russian classical literary heritage (Pushkin and Lermontov, Gogol and Saltikov-Shchedrin, Chekhov and Gorky). We must also acquaint ourselves properly with Soviet fiction, and not only in Russian but also in the languages of the other brotherly peoples.” (Grēviņs 1948).

He stated that the Translators’ Section was functioning and analysed the works, but observed that translators did not come to the section meetings. Translations were full of careless mistakes, for example, when Halley’s Comet becomes Galley’s Comet because of Russian interference.

“But there is something more dangerous and more difficult to correct, sometimes altogether impossible to correct: greyness, colourlessness, lack of expression, a dry, bureaucratic style with which the translator flattens the translation out beyond all hope”.

The most interesting fact that the author mentioned was that analysis had revealed it to be the editors who had bureaucratised the language. Most of the article, however, consists of nonstop references to Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin as outstanding experts and connoisseurs of the art of translation. Finally, the author gets entangled in ideological homage and comes to absurd conclusions:

“When talking about translation of Stalin’s works, Comrade Kalnbērziņš has said that translation should read as if Stalin had written in Latvian. That is the ideal that the translator should aspire to, that is the peak that he can reach. If Goethe had written in Latvian, he would have written Faust in the way Rainis translated it. That is why we consider that we have a unique and inimitable translation of Faust” (Grēviņš 1948).

A similar article was published in 1949, echoing an appeal in the Moscow Communist Party newspaper Pravda. The author wrote about the Party’s concern about translators

“who have to work on themselves every day, on their literary and political education. Artistic translation is politically very important, the translator’s work must be based on profound skills and Bolshevik party spirit. Soviet literature is a literature inspired by the Bolshevik party spirit and for this reason it cannot be imitated in another language by a translator who is not himself armed with this Bolshevik party spirit. That is why incessant studies of Marxism-Leninism are the first and foremost task of the Soviet translator” (Grēviņš 1949).

The author mentioned typical mistakes that translators and editors could not eradicate. It was emphasised that the “so-called abridged translation that is practised in bourgeois countries and took deep root in bourgeois Latvia has fully disappeared in the USSR”. The author also mentioned that it was best to translate from the original language, but, where that was not possible, translations should be from Russian. In line with the contemporary trend, there was a reference to the academician Marr: “The founder of Soviet linguistics, the academician Marr […] demands strict precision. This idea should form the basis of all translation work” (Grēviņš 1949).

The reality turned out to be the exact opposite: translations were done from an intermediate language (Russian) even when the original language was well known, works were transformed for political reasons, sometimes remakes and rewrites were translated, as in the case of Robinson Crusoe and Famous Duckling Tim. Vigorous propagation of Soviet dogmas, however, did not save Grēviņš from deportation in 1951.

Escalation against Western literature grew. In 1951, Ozols published his voluminous article “Marx, Engels and Lenin on Translation” (Ozols 1951), which presented an extremely biased view of reality, explaining why the Soviet people had no need of modern Western literature:

“Every day and every month Western Europe is inundated with American bestsellers: legions of detective novels, horror novels, mystery terror novels and pseudo-historical novels full of pornography. Their aim is to stupefy and lull the consciousness of the masses, to foul and defile working-class thinking”.

A year later in a similar article the author stated that translations were “weapons of ideological struggle that with their thematic and artistic effect exterminate the remains of bourgeois ideology in human thinking, educate socialist man, and enhance implementation of the closer and further activities of the building of communism”, while “the translated literature of Latvia’s bourgeois period was a tool of the ruling classes to stupefy and mentally pollute the working people”. It was emphasised that Soviet power “had to find new translation staff and radically re-educate the old translators”. However,
the quality of translations was low and the main obstacles were literalness and Marr’s teachings. Hence, Stalin’s works must be studied. This was done in the Translators’ Section, however, “unfortunately not all translators fulfil their very first duty in this aspect, not all translators attend the meetings of the Translators’ Section” (Ozols 1952).

In 1953, after Stalin’s death, Ozols pointed out in his article “Translation Criticism” that the situation had not improved: in 1950 there were only 2 criticism articles in the press, which compared miserably with the proportion of translations (60%) of all books published (Ozols 1953). A year later, in an article “Let us Activate the Work of the Translators’ Section”, it was stated that there were ten times more translations than new original works. Although the family of translators was broad and varied, Kliene received severe criticism for “standing on the spot for many years” (let us not forget that she had to translate Russian works), so did Tirzmala, Nātrīte, Osmanis and many weak translators who remain unnamed. According to the collectivist attitudes of socialism,

“responsibility lies with the leadership of the Translators’ Section and of the Writers’ Union. Hardly a quarter of translators participate in the activities of the section. The situation in translation criticism is completely intolerable. In the last half-year, not a single article appeared in the press, not a single review touching on translation issues and problems” (Aktivizēt 1954).

Latvian Emigré Translations

It is worth comparing the dismal situation in Latvia with that abroad. The cream of Latvian intellectuals had gone to the West, and translators and publishers there resumed publishing very fast. Publication of small-format booklets started in German displaced-person camps as early as 1945, mostly focusing on original literature and schoolbooks (Ieleja 1954). Once the displaced Latvians had emigrated to various parts of the world, publication spread to the USA, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the UK and elsewhere. Publishers republished old translations, experienced translators translated new books and new translators emerged. Translations in the West include their fair share of descriptions of WWII from both German and British/American points of view. No doubt this was a relevant and emotional issue for people whom the War had driven from their homeland. During the Stalin years the quality of literary translations into Latvian by the émigré publishers far surpassed those done in the Latvian SSR. In the mid-1950s, however, the number of translations abroad fell, while those under a more liberal regime in Latvia began rising. The fall in the West can be accounted for by the growing ability of the émigrés and their new generation to consume literature in the language of their new home country. Some contact with Latvia was also possible, and émigré publishing tended to focus more on original writing by Latvians abroad, both fiction and memoirs.

It seems the first postwar fiction translation was published in Munich in 1946.29 In 1950, the publishing house Grāmatu Draugs renewed its activities in New York and published 623 titles before Latvia regained independence fifty years later, among them many translations (Rudzītis 1997, 11, 201, 228). Kārkliņš resumed translation in 1951 with Orwell’s 1984,30 followed a few years later by Animal Farm.31 J. Andrups translated Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea32. Hašek’s The Good Soldier Šveik was translated in Australia.33 In Sweden, Strēlerte translated Voltaire’s Candide, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Devil’s Elixirs, works by Gide, Flaubert and more. Her husband A. Johansons published Poe’s tales in 1946, republished Byron’s Manfred and translated works by Conrad and Thornton Wilder, as well as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Skalbe translated her usual Scandinavian menu. Sodums translated Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and then took up more challenging translations: works by Hesse34 and Joyce.35 Fragments of Ulysses appeared in the journal Jaunā Gaita in 1959, and the whole novel in 1960. The US-based literary quarterly Jaunā Gaita mostly published original literature, but also criticism and translations. The émigré community actively followed literary and publishing events in occupied Latvia.

The Thaw

After Stalin’s death in 1953 (Sherry 2015, 173) and Khrushchev’s liberalisation (Friedberg 1997), the situation in the USSR changed considerably. The basic tenets of the Soviets remained in effect, but there was some opening up to the world, some modernisation and a certain rehabilitation of Latvia’s pre-Soviet heritage. Rigidity and the situation of open threats of Stalin’s period was mitigated; the iron muzzle was somewhat relaxed (Ekmanis 1978). Special archives at libraries were to some extent liberalised (Zanders 2013, 343). The new policies “encouraged more variety in the assessment of Western culture than the vocabulary of degeneration and decadence used before” (Talvoja 2018, 337). Policy on the translation of non-Soviet literature was to some extent relaxed. Contemporary foreign writers’ works were published if they corresponded to the tenets of progressiveness; books were increasingly translated from the originals; translation criticism became more reasonable. The same thing happened in Estonia: “it was now possible to translate even the classics or “progressive” authors from other languages” (Olesk 2006, 128).

However, many of the old restrictions remained in effect, the books to be translated into Latvian needed to have been translated in Moscow first (and thus to have received the approval of the authorities), the use of ideologically correct introductions in translated books continued. The proportion of translations from Russian fell rapidly from 90% to approximately half, again similarly to Estonia where it went down to 50% in the mid-1950s (Monticelli 2011, 199).

A new phenomenon was the reprinting of prewar translations (Rudzītis 1997: 92) without the permission of the former translators or publishers. These changes were noted by the émigrés:

“A new stage is starting: they are trying to hide the famine and poverty of today by stealing something from the past. Gingerly at first, but then abandoning all their earlier statements and definitions more and more brazenly” (Valters 1957).

It is interesting to see that Cronin’s The Stars Look Down was republished twice,36 naming the translator, Kārkliņš (who was in the USA), and with a reasonable postscript by Andersone. Incidentally the same translation was also published in Denmark in 1952, explicitly stating that the translation was authorised by Cronin.37

Translation criticism dropped its extreme aggressiveness in the thaw period, calling for direct translation, avoiding intermediate languages, urging translators to learn new foreign languages (Kindzulis 1953, 5), to stop distorting the text and to retain the original ideas. Both the content and the tone of criticism became more democratic. For example, there was a democratic discussion of the need to edit Rainis’s republished translation of Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo in 1956. Bauga, who by then was quite experienced, considered Rainis’s language outdated (Bauga 1956), some others opposed her, the editors of the literary newspaper tended to agree with Bauga but both sides of the argument were published (Jansons 1956). Of course, the ideological pieties were observed, the mantra that translation was driven solely by the profit motive under capitalism and that the situation was totally different under socialism was regularly repeated.


The translation scene in postwar Soviet Latvia was extremely defensive, subjecting translations to the absolute dominance of Soviet ideology and Russian, isolating Latvian culture from the Western world. Moreover, with time the isolation grew. Russian sources constitute more than 90% of translations, including rewrites of Western literature. The translation scene, like all cultural life, was forced to become a field of ideological struggle, it was repeatedly ravaged by absurd campaigns of fanatical ideological theory and enforcement. Translator visibility was especially low in nonfiction texts. Translation criticism was ideologically driven: although it condemned poor quality and literalness, it also concocted nonexistent translation theories on the basis of random statements plucked from the Marxist classics. Only after Stalin’s death did some degree of normality return to the Latvian translation scene.


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5 Piradovs A. Titovieši - amerikāņu un angļu imperiālistu ieroču nesēji. Tulkojis A. Rudevics. Rīga: LVI, 1952.

6 Mao Zedong. Par tautas demokrātijas diktatūru. Rīga: LVI. 1949.

7 Mao Cze-Duns. Par praksi. Rīga: LVI. 1952.; Mao Zedong. Par pretrunu. Rīga: LVI 1952.

8 Huan Ai. Vētrainie desmit gadi. No krievu val. tulk. A. Zandersone. Rīga: LVI, 1952. Čžao Šu-li. Pārmaiņas Liczjačžuanā: stāsts. Tulkojusi no krievu valodas A. Ozola-Sakse. Rīga: LVI. 1950.; Cžou Li-bo. Viesulis Tulkojušas D. Avotiņa un Z. Līce. Rīga: LVI. 1954.

9 Se Man Irs. Salas ļaudis. tulkojusi E. Lūse. Rīga: LVI. 1951.

10 Šolom-Aleichems. Stāsti. Rīga: LVI, 1946.

11 Aibeks. Navoji. Tulkojusi Marija Šūmane. Rīga: LVI. 1947.

12 Huseins M. Apšerona. Tulkojusi M. Grantovska. Rīga: LVI. 1950.

13 Aini S. Augļotāja nāve. Tulkots no krievu valodas. Rīga: LVI. 1950.

14 Kalmans M. Dīvainās laulības. No krievu valodas tulkojusi M. Silabriede. Rīga: LVI. 1954.

15 Blaitone E. Slavenais pīlēns Tims. E.Blaitonas teksts. No krievu valodas tulkojusi Ārija Silabriede. Rīga: LVI. 1946, 1949.

16 Bičere-Stova H. Krusttēva Toma būda. No krievu valoda tulkojis A. Mežsēts. Rīga: LVI. 1952.

17 Rīds M. Jūras vilcēns. No krievu valodas tulkojis R. Laciniks un R. Lācis. Rīga: LVI. 1951.; Sakstons A. Lie ā rietumu maģistrāle. No krievu valodas tulkojusi A. Ozola-Sakse. Rīga: LVI. 1951.; Pričarde K. (Prichard) Deviņdesmitie gadi. No krievu valodas tulkojis A. Antons. Rīga: LVI, 1951.

18 Cvirka P. Noslēpums. No krievu valodas tulkojis J. Osmanis. Rīga: LVI. 1954.

19 Īss PSRS vēstures kurss: mācības grāmata pamatskolas 3. un 4. klasei. A.V.Šestakova red.; tulk. E. Rū­ten­tāle. Rīga: VAPP. 1944.

20 Sokolovs I. Fizikas kurss: mācības grāmata vidusskolai. Rīga: VAPP. 1945.

21 Kronins Dž. Zvaigznes raugās lejup. Rīga: VAPP. 1944.

22 Divals Matiass. Anatomija māksliniekiem. Zinātniskais redaktors V. Pampe; tulkojusi K. Skulme. Rīga: LVI. 1951.

23 Voltēra rakstu izlase. Rīga: Grāmatu apgāds. Tulkojums Ābramas redakcijā.1945.

24 Hofmans E.T.A. Velna eliksīri: kapucieša mūka Medarda atstātie raksti /  izdevis Kallota stilā sacerēto fantāziju autors. Tulkotāji Elija Kliēne un Pāvils Vīlips. Rīga: VAPP, 1946.

25 Hofmans E.T.A. Velna eliksīri: kapucieša mūka Medarda atstātie raksti /  izdevis Kallota stilā sacerēto fantāziju autors. Tulkojusi Elija Kliēne. Rīga: Grāmatu draugs, 1943.

26 Oldridžs Dž. Jūras ērglis. Tulkojusi Anna Bauga. Rīga: Latvijas Valsts izdevniecība, 1946.

27 Oldridžs Dž. Četrdesmit devītais štats. Rīga: LVI. 1948.

28 Simone Andrē. Es apsūdzu. Maskava: LPSR grāmatu apgāds. 1944.

29 Oskara Vailda Laimīgais princis un citas pasakas. Kārļa Egles tulkojums. Minhene: Uguns un Nakts 1946.

30 Orvels Dž. 1984. Stokholma: Daugava. 1951.

31 Orvels Dž. Dzīvnieku ferma. Tulk V. Skultāns. Londona: Latpress. 1954.

32 Hemingvejs E. Vecais vīrs un jūra. Ar autora atļauju no angļi valodas tulkojis Jānis Andrups. Londona: Latvju biedrība Lielbritānijā 1953.

33 Hašeks J. Brašā kareivja Šveika piedzīvojumi. Tulkotājs Emīls Apars. Sidneja: Salas apgāds 1954.

34 Hesse Hermanis. Narciss un Zeltamute. Stokholma: Daugava, 1951.

35 Džoiss Džeimss. Uliss. Tulkojis Dzintars Sodums. Apg. Ziemeļblāzma, Vesterosā 1960.

36 Kronins A. Dž. Zvaigznes raugās lejup. Tulkojis. V. Kārkliņš; pēcv. M. Andersone. Rīga: LVI. 1957, 1958.

37 Kronins A. Dž. Zvaigznes raugās lejup. Ar autora atļauju no angļu valodas tulkojis Vald. Kārkliņš. Kopenhāgena: Imanta 1952.