Network for Reminiscence: an International Conference in Muenster on Various Aspects of the Baltic Diaspora

November 29, 2010

On Friday the 19th of November 2010, Professor Dr Valters Nollendorfs from Riga opened the conference with a lecture on the role of the diaspora in relation to Latvian independence.

Integrating his personal vivid biographical recollections (as a former DP-boy, as a professor at U.S. universities, as a temporary director of the Latvian Gymnasium (High School) in Muenster, and as a director of the Occupation Museum in Riga) with theoretical considerations and scientific discourse, he formulated an impressive and urgent plea for research on the Baltic diaspora, including the culture and reminiscences of still living witnesses.

Nollendorfs identified four pillars of exile communities and their cultural identity – organisations, culture, education and politics. He also underlined the valuable contributions that the exiles make when expressing their more open viewpoints formed by democratic traditions outside of their country of origin. An open and critical mind is very necessary when discussing the traumas of the Holocaust and the Soviet occupation, especially in post-Soviet Latvia and other countries.

Dr. Nollendorf´s statements set the guidelines for the presentations and discussions on Saturday the 20th of November 2010. All of the speakers demonstrated how archives, libraries, museums and doctoral researchers cope with the challenges to preserve the Baltic heritage, emphasising the German and European diasporas. Although each speaker approached the documentation process from a different angle, the common goal was to make the descriptions of exile experiences accessible for the following generations. About 20 participants from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the USA, Great Britain and Germany shared their experiences in the hope of facilitating the development of a European network Baltic Exile in Germany and Western Europe concerning this special Baltic exile topic within the global Baltic Heritage Network (to be coordinated by the Latvian Center in Muenster (LCM).

In the evening the participants were invited to join the ceremony commemorating the occasion of the 92nd Latvian Independence Day at the LCM. The popular Latvian journalist and former graduate of the Muenster Latvian Gymnasium (High school), Dainis Mjartāns, spoke once again about the global network of the Latvian diaspora, specifically emphasising the role of the Latvian Gymnasium (high school) and later the Latvian Centre in Muenster. The evening was rounded off with an impressive framework of music (the Balticoro choir from Hamburg) and Latvian culinary specialties.

On Sunday the 21st of November 2010, Dr Karlis Kangeris – a former inhabitant of the refugee camp on Grevener street in Muenster and an expert on Latvian exile history – led the group on a walking tour of Muenster showing the traces of Latvians throughout the city (from the Hanse days up to the Latvian Centre).

Geert Franzenburg