August 21, 2018, the documents establishing the University of Latvia Livonian Institute have been signed at the University of Latvia. The Institute has been established within the University of Latvia Innovation Centre and the ceremony marking its establishment will take place on September 21, 2018 at 3 pm in the Great Hall (Lielā aula) at the University of Latvia.
The UL Livonian Institute will be the first scientific institution not only in Latvia but in the world as a whole whose work will be focused entirely on modern and wide-ranging studies into topics relating to the Livonians – a nation indigenous to Latvia and one of the foundational elements of Latvian language and culture. In addition, the UL Livonian Institute will become Latvia’s first research institute devoted to Finno-Ugric studies and, as such, will be a valuable partner for other centres of Finno-Ugric research including the University of Tartu, the University of Helsinki, the University of Turku, Uppsala University, the University of Göttingen, and many others.
Up to this point, research relating to the Livonians, especially research into elements of their intangible culture – their language, folklore, ethnography, recent history, and so on – has been conducted primarily outside of Latvia. Several research institutions in Estonia have been especially significant in this respect; these include the University of Tartu, the Institute of the Estonian Language, the Estonian Literary Museum, and others. With the establishment of the UL Livonian Institute, Latvia will symbolically take the baton from these research institutions and bring these Livonian-related studies and other Finno-Ugric research relating to Latvia back to Latvia along with the experience and knowledge accrued by these institutions over the years.
The extensive work of Līvõ kultūr sidām (The Livonian Culture Centre), which has been – up to now – the leading Livonian research institution in Latvia, will form the foundation of scientific research on which the UL Livonian Institute will stand. This foundation includes the extensive and multi-faceted collection of studies and publications of the Centre (including those found in the Scopus database), the tools and resources it has developed for research into and study of the Livonian language as well as an international cooperative network of researchers, which was formed largely thanks to the significant contributions of researchers of Livonian topics in Estonia.
The core of the Institute is formed by two internationally recognised researchers who are also authors of numerous publications and are members of the Livonian community themselves: linguist and current University of Tartu researcher Dr. phil. Valts Ernštreits and ethnologist, recipient of the Baltic Assembly Prize for Science and member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences Dr. hist. Renāte Blumberga. A number of their colleagues will be joining the UL Livonian Institute in its scientific research work. Within Latvia these include Livonian historian Mg. geogr. Baiba Šuvcāne, Livonian art historian and Livonian language speaker Mg. art. Baiba Damberga, UL doctoral student Mg. philol. Gunta Kļava, and others. Outside of Latvia these include Dr. philol. Uldis Balodis, a researcher of Livonian and Lutsi Estonian based in the United States, Dr. phil. Miina Norvik and Dr. phil. Tuuli Tuisk, both of whom are researchers of the Livonian language at the University of Tartu, and also University of Tartu professor, member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, and researcher of Salaca Livonian, Karl Pajusalu as well as University of Göttingen professor Eberhard Winkler.
The establishment of the UL Livonian Institute is an important event for the University of Latvia as well as for Latvia itself and also Estonia. Through a systematic study of the language, culture, and heritage of a vanishing, though incredibly historically significant foundational element of the Baltic Sea region, the door is opened to a more whole and complete understanding of the formation of this region’s languages and cultures. It is noteworthy that the founding of the UL Livonian Institute coincides with Latvia’s centenary and the beginning of the journey towards the inclusion of the Livonian cultural region into the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Latvia and possibly also that of UNESCO as well as symbolically inaugurating the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019.