Above: Literárni Listy masthead
In the summer of 1968 a twenty-two-year old Latvian studying Middle Eastern languages at Leningrad State University went with a Soviet student construction brigade (stroyotryad) to Czechoslovakia. Jānis Sīkstulis was in Bratislava, the second-largest city in Czechoslovakia and capital of Slovakia, when the Warsaw Pact forces invaded and occupied it to stop “counterrevolution” and to make sure that the country remained in the Soviet bloc. The photographs documenting that occupation, taken at considerable risk by Sīkstulis, are now available in the Hoover Archives. The photos are accompanied by a few issues of Literárni Listy, the flagship weekly of the 1968 reformers, and a 2014 Kommersant article by Alexander Dolinin. Now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Dolinin was in the same student group as Sīkstulis. Dolinin’s account provides excellent narrative for the photographs.
Jānis Sīkstulis was born in Riga in 1946. He graduated from the Leningrad State University in 1971 with a degree in Semitic studies. In the mid-70s Sīkstulis taught in an Arabic college in South Yemen, and after defending his doctoral dissertation, he joined the Arabic philology faculty of Leningrad State University. During 1988−89 he helped organize and presided over the Latvian community in Leningrad. Sīkstulis returned to Latvia in 1990 and worked as editor of the Latvian encyclopedia and co-editor of an illustrated guide to Latvia. In 1991 he joined the theological faculty of Latvian University. Later Sīkstulis took on the additional job as the general secretary of the Latvian national commission for UNESCO. Thanks to his efforts Riga’s historic town center was added to the list of world heritage sites. From 1999 until 2003 Sīkstulis served on the Latvian government council for radio and television. He was also a member of the UNESCO commission on the cultural heritage of Iraq. Professor Jānis Sīkstulis died in Riga in 2012. He was the author of over one-hundred-eighty scholarly publications; in addition to Latvian and Russian, he was fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, English, German, and French languages. The Bratislava photographs are but a small episode in this man’s rich and productive life.
Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford [dot] edu