Returning to the lost paradise? Exile (Diaspora) Latvian homeland visits

Maija Krūmiņa

When Latvia regained its independence, Latvian exile officially ceased to exist, as exile Latvians finally had the opportunity to return home. However, most often it turned out that the occupation period has been too long and people are too entrenched in their host countries to return. In addition, there arose such questions as: What is the place that these people considered their home? Is it a specific geographical location/country or ideal image that cannot be returned to?

The article is based on the assumption that indirect answers to the above questions can be obtained by looking at the experience of exile Latvian homeland visits as depicted in the biographical sources of Latvian National Oral History archive, as it often highlighted the clash between the imagined Latvia and its reality, but at the same time reflects the fact that for some exiles, despite the long years spent abroad, Latvia still embodied the only and real home. In order to place the experience of these issues in a broader contextual framework, the first part of the article gives an insight into the discussions that surrounded the visits to Soviet Latvia in the exile society and also elaborates on such concepts as place identity, home and sense of home.

The analysis of the biographical sources affirmed that the loss of one’s home and homeland lead to a condition described in the scientific literature as nostalgic disorientation that persisted in many of the exiles for their whole lives. Many stories also confirmed the existence of a feeling of emptiness, as well as the fact that this nostalgia was not focused only on the physical place, but more on people, interpersonal relationships and the environment in general. Taken as a whole, it can be observed that relatively often these stories about visits to Latvia are stories about loss (accordingly – Latvia becomes the lost paradise) and that the life journey of the exile Latvians has led them only in one direction – away from the lost paradise. From both physical and emotional perspectives, the place they once called home had changed and was destined to live only in memories. From this point of view, a true return home (to the homeland) would require not only spatial, but also temporal journey.