Interview with Ainars Bastiks

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Key information

Title: Interview with Ainars Bastiks, AHRC AH/I025883/1/5
Date: 19/07/2013
Interviewer: Nadezhda Beliakova (NB)
Interviewee: Ainars Bastiks (AB)
Duration: hour(s) 40 minutes and 11 seconds
Location: Riga, Latvia


AB But I studied applied arts in a music college, there were two colleges in Soviet times, and there was such a spirit of greater freedom there, there was no compulsory form of attire, you could wear your hair long and the manner of teaching and attitude was also freer
NB What year did you enrol in?
AB I studied from 1976 to 1980 there. The director was a certain Richard Rubens, he was a Communist and even a member of the Executive Committee at that time, but he taught philosophy and some other subjects. He always emphasised that we should think independently. And my sister, who studied in the music college, though we weren’t Komsomol members, of course
NB You never joined the Little Octobrists or Pioneer Youth?
AB No, no, and... and when I didn’t join the Pioneers my class teacher said that I was making the biggest mistake of my life because if I didn’t join the Pioneers I would get no further than Grobiņa, and Grobiņa is 10 kilometres from Leipāja, just a small village with 2 small streets, a backwater before Leipāja. And she said, ‘You won’t go any further than that Grobiņa!’ I remembered that when I travelled for 15 days by train to Sakhalin to serve in the Soviet Army. Even when I went on holiday, I was given 18 days to travel but I travelled for longer. In Soviet times when I was in the State University, the Faculty of History and Philosophy, I was in my third year and there was a possibility of summer field work in the GDR, to visit museums there… I also became part of the group to go but I wasn’t allowed as I wasn’t in the Komsomol. Then someone must have got a real dressing-down, ‘How in an ideological faculty can someone not be in the Komsomol? What will he teach after he graduates?’ I was defended by the Dean back then, but they didn’t allow me to go to the GDR, there was a Komsomol committee there, a Party committee, they asked me certain things. I said something like, ‘If you don’t allow me to go to the GDR I’ll go to a better country.’ They said. ‘How can he say these things?’ But they didn’t let me travel. So it turned out that the first country I visited when I went abroad was the States.
NB Was that after Perestroika or during Perestroika?
AB It was in 1990, yes
NB How did you manage to enrol?
AB If I go back, the Director of Applied Arts was also a teacher in the music college where my sister was studying piano, she was a pianist, a music student. She also wanted to enter the Conservatoire, but there was some Deputy Director there, a local woman I didn’t know, and she said, ‘You’ll never get into the Conservatoire because of the State exam…’ That’s because the exam included philosophy and social studies or some other Marxist-Leninist philosophy. ‘You’ll never pass the State exam!’ And when she did enrol, on the day of the exams there was this same teacher from the music school and the Director of Applied Arts, and when the teacher left the lecture hall this Director Richard Rubens called my sister over and said , ‘Come on then, answer!’ She took the ticket with the question on and didn’t even read it, and he said, ‘Come over here.’ She was a bit worried that she hadn’t prepared properly, and she sits next to him and starts replying and then this teacher comes back in. He says, ‘Thank you, that’s all, you’ve been awarded a mark of 4, you can leave now’. The teacher says, ‘But I wanted to ask her some questions.’ ‘Do you mean she should answer two lots of questions? She’s answered all of them. You can go.’ He knew that we were religious believers, he simply awarded a 4 because the teacher had let out that ‘I am going to be very severe with that girl’. So she enrolled in the Conservatoire, and graduated. So in those days there were I guess all kinds of Communists, but among them also those who probably had some sense of what was real or true. If we return to my parents, I said that my father was a teacher of physics and mathematics, then when he married and he had three children he went to work in the Red Metallurgy as an engineer because they paid more there. But they never taught us in any strict or didactic spirit. I think they taught us these values through their everyday lives and example. I said that in the Applied Arts College I was an active sportsman, and quite a good table tennis player. I travelled to competitions in Petersburg and Moscow, and wherever there were competitions there also drunken parties. All the time this society was quite free and you could quite easily, as it were, become part of this company with its drunkenness and this type of life. And if I look back, my friends were always sort of on the edge, either in school or in higher education, well, they may not have been the best people, but they were active, creative people, but they ended up with that stigma. My mother never told me, ‘Don’t go there, you’re in bad company there, stay at home.’ She always said, ‘You’re a big boy now, you must decide yourself.’ That was more difficult than saying ‘You can’ or ‘You can’t’.
NB Did you go to church with them? Or at that age…?
AB They took me to church with them all the time, there was like an underground Sunday school
NB In an apartment?
AB Yes, we would gather in apartments, there was this woman there, she was the daughter of a pastor at the time, she organized these events. Then the young ones gathered together themselves. If you know something about the history of the Baptists in Latvia after the War, then sometime in the early 1970s, or 1980s, there was this movement called the Youth Movement, sort of rallies, or something like this.
NB Yes, camps
AB Because all of church life was strictly regimented, you couldn't hold an act of worship that hadn’t been permitted. But our bishops at that time began to perform such acts of worship on the Revolution Days in October and on Victory Day or 1 May. They said, ‘We also celebrate these holidays in our own church way’, so the authorities couldn’t really ban them. There were these rallies of young people from all the churches where young people would congregate and then there appeared these ones, well, when I was working on my Masters I also studied a little, there was one of the most popular sort of Christian groups or rock groups. There was Christian radio, which you could hear in Latvia, Taualdes Taluels (?), a director, was the first to create such a Christian rock group in Latvia. Two years before that there was a group called ‘Sela’ in Estonia, in Tallinn, and here we had Taualdes Taluels, there was the group ‘Maranata’, and after them a few more. I think these were very modern tendencies in the church. Young people would congregate there and confess their sins. I think the leaders of the church paid for that, too. My family, as it were, wasn’t totally black-and-white and allowed me to make my own mind up, and that helped me to come to my own decision, that is, not my parents’, but my own.