DIY in Latvia
By Laura Kenins
North American youth have had a long time to rebel against capitalism, but in countries that used to lie behind the Iron Curtain, DIY culture has by necessity followed a different path, with much of the population extremely wary of anything opposing capitalism. In Latvia, which regained independence in 1991, the underground scene has been slow but enthusiastic in developing.
Self-described ‘DIY culture centre,’ Zabadaks has been organizing concerts, video screenings, workshops and other events to bring art and entertainment culture to Latvian youth.Zabadaks was started by a group of young people in the town of Kuldiga, an historic village in the west of the country popular for weddings, where the punk and hardcore music scene had been active since the early 1990s. In 1999, the city gave them a 30-year lease on a dilapidated house a short walk from the centre. Now repaired and renovated, the building and property have a large room with a stage where Latvian and international bands perform, a jam space used mainly by young musicians from the town, a workshop, basketball court and sleeping space to accommodate out-of-town bands and visitors. The space is managed by two people who live there, with help from volunteers ranging from teenagers to scene veterans who have been involved since the early ’90s.
Edgars Briska has been involved with Zabadaks since its inception and has lived in the building for three years. “Now is the perfect time to reconsider everything,” he says, in regards to Latvia’s financial situation. “We’ve had more visitors [in recent months, since the economic crisis hit last fall] because people have less work and more free time, the community is coming back.”
Another centre, Karosta, in the city of Liepaja, did similar work, but shut down earlier this year after some struggles with the city and the expiration of their lease.
“We’ve been lucky, the city administration here is interested in promoting traditions and culture in Kuldiga and we sort of fit into that,” says Briska.
Comics and zines have a minimal history in Latvia. Zabadaks houses a modest collection of Latvian zines on their bookshelves, but none published since 2004. The older zines are mainly about music and anarchist ideology.
Until recently, the only comics that had been published in Latvia were mainly a few mainstream kids’ translations, with a handful of original publications. David Schilter came to Riga, the capital, from Switzerland three years ago and was surprised by the lack of a comic scene there. He founded the magazine Kush! together with Latvian Zane Zajan kauska in 2007. Originally a compilation of alternative comics by Latvian artists and other European artists translated into Latvian, they now publish an English-language magazine, Š! (pronounced ‘shh!’) with a focus on Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
In two years, Kush! has gone to comic festivals across Europe, organized exhibitions at home and abroad, been featured in international publications like the Romanian comic magazine Stripburger, and brought together young Latvian artists who now meet regularly in the city. This fall, the group behind Kush! are organizing a series of workshops and exhibitions in an empty storefront downtown-easy to find since many businesses have shut down in the past year. Still, with the economic collapse as a help and a hindrance, creative minds in Latvia are determined to pull through.