Re-educating Latgale Youth: the Komsomol and schooling in Soviet Latvia, 1944-1959

When President Gorbachev introduced democracy to the Soviet system he unleashed nationalist forces which ultimately destroyed both his presidency and the Soviet Union. Where did these nationalist forces come from? Since the fall of communism, this issue has been addressed in many ways by social scientists working in a variety of disciplines. It is argued here that Latvia’s history from 1944-1959 offers a unique insight into this question by opening up an exploration of the inter-relationship between nationalism and communism and shifting understandings of nationalism itself.

The premise of this project is that, behind the orthodox rhetoric of public Soviet discourse during the last years of Stalin and the first years of Khrushchev, the interrelationship between the Komsomol and young people in the schools, colleges and work places of Latvia resulted not in the destruction of national identity, but its transformation. The nature of that transformation, a shift away from ethnic separateness and towards inter-ethnic inclusion, was most evident in Latvia’s eastern region of Latgale with its large Russian community; hence the decision to focus this project on Latgale. At the macro level, this transformational process is easy to summarise - in the late 1940s the Soviet state ruthlessly repressed Latvian “bourgeois” nationalism, and yet in the 1950s it surfaced again in the different guise of “national communism”. The assumption lying behind this project is that a micro-level study, which combines oral history and conventional history so as to get behind the rhetoric of officialdom, will offer new insights into evolving understandings of nationalism among the first generation of Soviet Latvians.

This exploration of the changing nature of what nationalism meant to Latvian youngsters in the fifteen years after the end of the Second World War will involve an analysis of the work of the Komsomol in schools, colleges, and the work place over the years 1944-59. Its main objective is to explore how understandings of nationalism have changed over time, looking beyond ideologically laden concepts like “bourgeois nationalism” and “national communism” to understand the role played by young Latvians themselves in reshaping their national aspirations through the successive traumas of the Stalin and Khrushchev years. By combining both oral testimony and traditional documentary sources, the project will provide an integrated source base which does not prioritise one type of evidence over another.


  • Professor Geoffrey Swain (leader) (CEES, University of Glasgow)
  • Professor Irena Saleniece (head of the Oral History Centre, Daugavpils University, Latvia)

Research Assistants

  • Zane Stapķeviča 
  • Iveta Bogdanoviča


September 2008 - August 2011


Leverhulme Trust (£60,000)
Ref F/00 179/AV