UNESCO honors Latvia's famous poetic duo

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO opened a week-long exhibition in honor of Latvia’s legendary literary figures Rainis and Aspazija at its headquarters in Paris Monday.

Dedicated to their sesquicentennial anniversary, the exhibit tells the life stories of each one of the distinguished couple, featuring excerpts from their plays, poems and essays. It will be on display at the Salle des Pas Perdus hall of UNESCO’s headquarters building until April 24.

Visitors to the show will learn how Rainis (Jānis Pliekšāns, 1865-1929) and Aspazija (Johanna Emīlija Lizete Rozeberga, 1865-1943) decided upon their now immortalized pseudonyms, and also follow their travels and travails through exile from their beloved homeland to distant countries and cities. The exhibit, titled “Aspazija/Rainis: rebel/humanist. The story of two Latvian poets” fills in additional geographical and historical background, including maps of Latvia and a language family tree to help flesh out the times that gave birth to their contemporary ideas.

In an era of collapsing empires and newborn states, their works helped lay important foundations for Latvian self-confidence in a national autonomous culture, as well as the ideals of a united Europe, social equality and women’s liberation, sweeping across the continent in popularity at the time.

Given the seminal social and political roles they held in the emergence of the Latvian nation, UNESCO has included their 150th birthday anniversaries in its calendar of events this year. Even the more than a thousand letters they sent to each other over the years have become part of the Latvian national register of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program.

Sponsored as part of Latvia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU Cultural Program, the exhibit was put together by the Association of Memorial Museums together with writer Pauls Bankovskis, artist Kaspars Perskis and curator Elvīra Bloma.

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