Jordan T. Kuck (University of Tennessee)
One of the hallmarks of the authoritarian regimes that emerged throughout much of Europe during the interwar period was the overt use of government propaganda. In particular, there was often, as was the case in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere, an emphasis on indoctrinating the youth, who were viewed as the foundation of the future. Interwar Latvia was no exception to this norm.
This paper examines a significant case of government propaganda in Kārlis Ulmanis’s Latvia—the 1939 achievement exhibitions which commemorated the five-year anniversary of the May 15, 1934 coup d’état. Jointly organized by the Ministry of Public Affairs and a number of other government ministries and chambers, events were held highlighting the “progress” of “renewed Latvia,” as the government often called post-democratic Latvia. An art show was held at the national museum in Riga, an architectural exposition at the University of Latvia, a general exhibition at the Congress Hall in Riga, and an agricultural exhibition in Jelgava, where the Chamber of Agriculture was located.
My paper focuses on the events in Jelgava, specifically, on the ideological nature of the exhibition, which sought to link the Ulmanis administration with advancements in farming technologies and techniques. Descriptions of what people saw at the Jelgava exhibition helps inform us how Ulmanis sought to legitimize and build support for his non-democratic regime. In my paper I analyze heretofore unexamined essays submitted by Mazpulki (the Latvian version of American 4-H) members on the question, “What did you like best about the Jelgava exhibition, and why?” I argue that while for the most part the youth overlooked Ulmanis’s cult of personality, they did associate his government with progress and hence supported his rule wholeheartedly.