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Abrene Women's Folk CostumeFold-out, Latvian State Printing House, ca. 1960

This quick reference fold-out on card stock appears to be a Soviet-era work (priced in kopecks, some with references to the Baltic SSRs) reminiscent of Latvju raksti—Ornement Letton, which was offered as a subscription series by the State Printing House from 1924 to 1931 and also published in three volumes. We have assembled our collection from multiple sources. It is worth noting that illustrations of folk costumes in the Concise Encyclopedia of the Latvian SSR (1970) are virtually identical to those presented here.

The cover's background shows a traditional weave pattern; inside are an illustration of a full folk costume and various details: shirt (blouse), shoulder and cuff embroidery, jacket, brooch, headress, and shawl. The flip side provides a brief overview in four languages: French, English, Russian, and Latvian.

A substantial portion of the pre-WWII Abrene region—2% of Latvia's then territory—was annexed to the Russian SFSR during the USSR's occupation of Latvia. This was a sore point of contention between Russia and Latvia upon dissolution of the Soviet Union. Eventually, in view of that territory having been largely Russified during a half century of Soviet occupation and facing mounting external pressure to settle European Union border disputes, the Latvian parliament approved permanently ceding the territory to Russia in order to bring closure to the Latvia-Russia border treaty. The Soviet account is that the territory was "joined" to the Russian SFSR at the behest of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic in August, 1944.[1] Although Soviet documents planning the occupation of Latvia describe the Abrene region border territory as Latvian and use all Latvian place names, the post-Soviet contention is that the Abrene region has always been—and will always be[2]—Russian (Пыта́лово "Pytalovo", or Pitalova in Latvian).

In actuality, historical accounts describe the area's inhabitants as Russified—in language—Latgalians, i.e., Latvians. Hence the Latvian name given to the area upon independence: Jaunlatgale (New Latgale). (Jaunlatgale was subsequently renamed to Abrene in 1938.) There are numerous accounts of Abrene's pre-WWII inhabitants still being closely connected to their Latvian roots—such as the principal of a Russian-language school relating how there were tears of joy among the audience upon hearing Latvian folk song in performance. Historian Carl Stern wrote of a cultural awakening amongst the Pskov[3] Latvians in the 1930's; and as 2,000 area inhabitants gathered and proclaimed in September, 1934: "We are not Russian, but, indeed, Latvians. We are returning to our Latvian heritage. Latvians, lend us your helping hand, to assist us in our return." Their Jaunlatgale song of awakening:

Vēl vecie ozoli nav lūzuši,
Vēl zinām mēs, ka esam latvieši.

Still, the old oaks have not splintered,
Still, we know, that we are Latvians.
[4]

White dress was once used in both daily and festive life. Only in the Abrene folk costume—with its ancient Latgalian roots—is the oldest tradition of white national dress still preserved—ironically, in a region and people the Russian Federation historically and culturally now claims has always been its own.

Below, changes to Latvia's borders after 1944, adapted slightly from its original at zagarins.net[5]. At top, territory around the twin cities of Valga (Estonia) and Valka (Latvia) annexed to Estonia; at right, the Abrene territory annexed to the Russian SFSR. The Abrene boundary was made permanent by treaty between Russia and Latvia in 2007 by the Latvian parliament after ruling out a plebiscite, which would have been required under Latvia's original 1922 Constitution.

For more background on Latvian weaving, we recommend the Anna Apinis: Latvian Migrant Weaver's Collection at Museum Victoria, Melbourne Australia.

Click on a thumbnail to view the picture. Mouse over the either side of the picture
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Fold-out cover

(Woman's full dress, restored image)

(Woman's full dress, original)

Shirt (blouse), shoulder embroidery, cuff embroidery, small brooches

Jacket, border weave, headdress decoration

Shawl, size and border detail

Overview (French)

Overview (English)

Overview (Russian)

Overview (Latvian)

Publisher's imprint


[1]  Pitalova, article from the Concise Encyclopedia of the Latvian SSR, v. 3, p. 37
[2]  viz., Vladimir Putin's comment at the prospect of Latvia pressing demands to have Abrene returned, that Latvia would get "not the Pytalovo district but a dead donkey's ears."
[3]  The Pskov, or (ancient) Pleskov, region lies along the western Estonian and Latvian border. The city of Pskov is situated about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Estonian border.
[4]  V. Krasnais, "Latviskā Jaunlatgale, Apgabala Vēsturiskie Likteņi." 1937., available at latvji.narod.ru in Latvian and Russian
[5]  Original at Latvijas territoriālie zaudējumi—Latvijas republikas robežas pēc 1944. gada., Latvia's territorial losses—borders of the Latvian republic after 1944.
As an unattributed work published under the Latvian SSR and prepared by state enployees, we believe this work entered the public domain in 1991 when the copyright owner, the U.S.S.R., ceased to exist.

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