The first editions of the journal “Latvijas ārsts”: travelling in time and reflections in modern times

Author: Talivaldis Kronbergs

It would seem that you must choose a far and unknown destination, as well as a distant and inviting century for a journey in time. However, it could also be interesting to look at a time, which on the grand scale would seem like it was almost yesterday. 

The year 1989 was a turning point of new initiatives and a renaissance of long forgotten organisations. It was also a time when historical truths and the “white spots” that were left as a result of the ruling communist ideology were newly uncovered. Additionally, new information and surprising connections were made known to the public, citizens of the Soviet Union. Although travelling in time is quite a popular genre, which is widely used in literature, film, and arts, and is attractive for escapism lovers, it is and remains an individual activity. A view at and of the events of the past remains very subjective and depends on the knowledge of the traveller, their worldly view and impression made by that time period. Travelling in time can enrich with new information and lead to discovering new context, as well as provide new emotional surprises – pleasant and stimulating or even traumatic, by discovering unknown and unnoticed correlations.

Possibly, in 2019 it might seem that the Latvian Medical Association publishing the journal “Latvijas ārsts” (“The doctor of Latvia”) in 1989 was obvious. The Latvian Medical Association was founded in 1988 – the same year that the Popular Front of Latvia was founded and the Latvian Olympic committee was renewed. From this perspective, it could seem that publishing the journal “Latvijas ārsts” was not something special or important. Partly, it could be agreed because the year 1989 was important for all areas of life, and was a continuation of the development of the new “reorganisation” and “transparency” ideology of the Soviet Union’s Communist party General Secretary Mihail Gorbachov. In this context, the publishing of the journal “Latvijas ārsts” is nothing special.

However, the imagined traveller in time could consider that in the totalitarian regime, which then existed in the Latvian territory – the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic or LSSR – each initiative had to be accepted by the ruling and the only (!) political force, the Communist Party. And in the totalitarian system – where was the Communist Party, there was also the visibly invisible repressive instrument or the Committee for State Security. Therefore, each initiative required organizing, persuading, “the-right-word” using skills, as well as knowledge of the context and the “bribe” system to get ahead. Additionally, the Soviet Union used planned economy, which means that every initiative, including published works,had to be planned, coordinated and monitored. Therefore, publishing the journal “Latvijas ārsts” was both a special and, simultaneously, obvious event in the overall context of that time.

No.1 – beginning and presentation

30 years ago, as well as today, publishing a new issue in any field was and remains a challenge. First, the content – what to say and to whom, and then – how to fit a frame around it? Technical opportunities, design, the combination of ideas and practical possibilities; finally, and at the same time most importantly – money and logistics. In 2019, the first thing on this list could be the competing journals or niche market. In 1989, it was not yet necessary to think about it this way, because the audience of the journal “Health”, which came out at the time, was “the whole nation.”   

The very name of the journal “Latvijas ārsts” defined the target audience – doctors, medical professionals. Of course, there was an indirect connection to the ideological setting of the time or “reorganisation”. As the doctor and member of the editorial board Ilmars Lazovskis defined in the introduction of the 1st edition (p.5):

“[…] The doctors’ journal has restarted its course at a turning point, at a time of great reevaluation of the values and foundations of life, when the history of the nation and land is being cleaned from the mud. Our journal must be the focal point – a place that shows the path to true restoring, cleansing and perfecting of our health protection, medical education, medical ethics, and our moral standards. When necessary (and it will be quite often), this might require the most radical transformations. It will not be easy to make sure that all transformations are understood by doctors, and it will be even more difficult for our patients because nothing can ever come from nowhere, and each triumph is usually associated with a loss. […].”

If these words were used in the context of the reformation of the health system in 2019, it could be suggested that the year 1989 is not at all far away, and the situation has slightly changed only on the level of the “euro-repairs” in medical establishments.

Thematically, the 1st edition was adapted to both specialists and, despite the clear definition of the audience, all interested parties. In some ways, it was logical because the time of “reorganisation” meant real interdisciplinarity in all areas of life: defining interests, making coalitions and exchanging information. The larger the part of the audience that understands the problem, the higher the chances of achieving the goal. For example, the introduction of the first edition is followed by chapter “Original Research”, which is immediately followed by Alvils Helds’s article titled “Problems of Conservative Treatment of Diffuse Toxic Goitre” (p. 11), and sections “Theory and Practice” and “Stomatology” with articles by field specialists – Georgs Andrejevs (p. 28) and Karlis Barons (p. 42) which would be difficult to understand for the general public even in 2019. Considering that the “reorganisation” in Latvia resulted in a particularly intense interest in the history of the Republic of Latvia from 1918 to 1940, four articles under the title “Medical History” are not at all an exaggerated offer. Furthermore, the articles on medical history are presented in a popular-scientific style and could be interesting in 2019 as well. In 2019, what would certainly be unimaginable without the “Payed Political Advertising” sign, is the “Word of the Deputy” section in which Andrejs Eizans, Uldis Laucis, Leopolds Ozolins and Vilens Tolpeznikovs expressed their views on what was happening, without stating whether they were representatives of the Supreme Council of the LSSR or the Supreme Council of the USSR.

What might seem like “the embodiment of boredom” in 1989, could prove interesting to read in 2019. For example, the sections “Information” (especially, with the publication of the full protocol and resolutions of the Congress of the Latvian Medical Association established on December 18, 1988), “Reorganisation of the Health System” (with a “cocktail” of views even back then, though we are still searching for a solution now), “Ecology and Social Issues”, “Medical Education” (p. 100)., “Philosophy and Ethics”, “Casuistry” (p. 108) and “The Chronicle” would appeal to fans of the parallels of ages (because there is nothing new in this world).

The visual presentation of No.1 as a whole (particularly the presentation of sections with coloured text) must be emphasised, in particular, by mentioning the use of the reproduction of the artwork “Teriaka Gatavosana” by Miervaldis Polis on the cover of the 1st issue. Also, it is interesting that the cover of the 3rd edition supposedly advertises a car manufactured by the van factory “RAF”. The “RAF – 2915” car or “ambulance” as known to the public (by the way, exhibited in the Riga Motor Museum). Who were the targets of the ad (were they really doctors?) is difficult to judge (perhaps Latvian doctors from abroad who already maintained contraltos with their Latvian colleagues?). However, it has to be particularly noted for the reader in 2019 who might not even understand that in the 1st issue, apart from the “ambulance”, there are no articles or images that would remind the reader of some of today’s advertising. Not even ads of the popular companies, such as the manufacturers “Dzintars” or “Rigas modes”, not to mention pharmaceutical company ads.            In general, there is one conclusion – the 1st issue was set-up so skillfully that in 2019, anyone tempted by “time travel” would find their own article for reflection, comparison, or simply for new discovery.

No.2 – though how without sex

With respect to the design and content, No.2 continues the style of No.1, providing a variety of topics for readers of different levels of knowledge. Therefore, attracting the readers to the “world of doctors” but there is a difference as well. A “theme of the edition” has been selected. In this case, two themes at once. One of them – “Paediatrics” – with seven articles. This time, however, the thematic diversity would not be able to make-up for the complexity (perhaps only Ilmars Lazovskis’s article “About Children”), and it would most likely be difficult for “simple” Soviet parents to perceive and understand Petrs Kaltens and Vitauts Baculis’s article on “Tackling the Infections of the Urinary Tract” and Gaida Preimane’s article “Childhood Leucosis”. Ivars Ebels and Vija Svabe’s article “Topical Pulmonary Health Problems of Children in Latvia” and Inara Kalke’s article “The Prenatal Diagnosis of Hereditary Developmental Anomalies of the Fetus” are indeed texts that can be deciphered only by specialists.

The second “theme of No.2” is “Sexually Transmitted Diseases” with four articles, three of which are worth mentioning in 2019. Arturs Socnevs’s article “AIDS – Real Threats” (p. 44) not only describes the potential for HIV prevalence (it should be reminded that in 1989, the USSR and thus the Latvian inhabitants of the USSR traveled little or very little, hence contact with the US – the birthplace of HIV – was limited), but also mentions a number of issues that are still prevalent in Latvian society. Arturs Socnevs writes: “In order to prevent further spread of HIV infection in Latvia, it is necessary to increasingly develop scientific and practical immunology, epidemiology, narcology, sociology. These directions must be taken into account when compiling the new national health programme. […] For now there is no vaccine and no radical AIDS treatment in the world, therefore, social aspects of AIDS are of key importance. We can agree with World Health Organization’s Global Programme on AIDS director Dr.Mannthat the “evolution” of public opinion on AIDS is somewhat reminiscent of the psychological response order of a patient from the very first moment of infection with this terrible disease. In the beginning there are disbelief and anxiety which turn into despair, then follows a strong desire to recover … . “(p. 45). The text clearly defines the to-do list and the expected state/attitude of the society. Furthermore, it shows that according to the current information from The Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it could be published again in 2019.

The following article by Viesturs Liguts: “Are Medical Practitioners Protected from Infection with HTLV-III Virus” (p. 51) informs and warns about the risk of HIV infection while performing work duties or being in contact with patients. The text is particularly interesting because of the situation described. Although decisions and instructions on how to avoid HIV infection have been implemented, the connection to practical working environment is missing. The “game” of words and works is indirectly continued in Alfreds Miltins’s article “The Prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Latvia” (p. 54), which is rich in statistics and avoids moralization. Alfreds Miltins’s text could be interesting for the constructors of context, as the facts about the spread of syphilis and gonorrhea in Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Vitebsk Governorate, which once included Latgale, illustrate that even in “Christian lands” the words (moralization) and works (virtue) do not always walk a common path. 

Also, the 2nd issue offers sections “Medical Problems in the Age of Reconstruction” (p. 63) and “Medical Education” (topics that continue in 2019), “History of Medicine” (for example, the article by Juris Urtans “Galtene’s Sacred Spring”) and “Information” (the texts of which have already become a part of history).

No.3 – a little from everything

No.3 does not have a specific “theme of the edition”, nor is it “tolerant” to “ordinary people” – readers who could flip through the pages and find something interesting before buying the journal. This time, the focus is on “pure” science and the multifaceted specialization of medicine. The diversity of the articles makes you feel like in a “carousel” of medicine – from Vilis Purmelis and Vitalijs Zvirgzdins’ article “Obliterating Diseases of Lower Limb Arteries” (p. 10) and Ella Upmane and Anita Andrejeva’s article “Acute Appendicitis and Pregnancy” (p. 21), continuing with Dainis Gilis’s article “Thoughts on Treatment Options for Complicated Urosepsis Patients” (p. 38) and Janis Gilis’s article “Microsurgical Treatment of Men’s Infertility” (p. 39), concluding with Anna Nicmane’s “Salmonellosis Problem in Industrial Poultry Farming” (P. 97) and the article by Janis Vetra “Problems of Veterinary Pharmacy in Latvia” (p. 99).

Regardless of how unappealing and “elitist” the 3rd edition seemed at the time, it has its “gems”. Namely, the authors of the article “Casuistic Cases of Gastrointestinal Bleeding” (p. 46) are Leodors Juhins and Dzintars Slaucitajs. Is it surprising? Yes, it is – both of the authors are Baltic Military District Hospital’s representatives, as we could say today. It is not specified whether Leodors Juhins and Dzintars Slaucitajs are doctors; however, both are dressed in military uniforms (military rank not stated). It is difficult to judge whether the text was published because of its specific content value. After all, military medicine also deserves attention. However, taking the overall spirit of 1989 into account, the “publicity” of military doctors is a “gem” in 2019 as well.

No. 4 – the harsh reality of socialism

In No.4 the “theme of the edition” has “returned.” Similarly to No.2, in two blocks – “‘Latvijas ārsts’ in Cesis District” and “Stomatology”. As in No.2, articles are categorizedin sections. This time the most powerful is the new section “Theory and Practice” with 11 articles. However, there are “rebuilding” breezes – only two articles in “Medicine and Reconstruction” section, followed by “History of Medicine” with one article (the subject is also in the “ ‘Latvijas ārsts’ in Cesis District” section), and “Information” which in terms of units compensates for its minimal presence in the first three issues.

The section “’Latvijas ‘ārsts‘ in Cesis District” is interesting not only because it looks at medicine and its history in one area in general but also because it is a testimony of an era. Its introduction states:

“[…] We wanted to document the last and the departing age. In only a few years, Latvia will be in Europe. Latvia will work, thrive and prosper. Latvians will reap a rich harvest in the times of their land. There will come a moment when the small rural hospitals will become proud clinics where city dwellers will go for treatment not only becauseof the European equipment, opportunities, and medications just like in Riga but also because of the fresh air and rural peace. Meanwhile, we will be able to flip through the magazines of Latvian Medical Association’s years of rebirth and wonder: how could we work in such conditions and with such means? ” (P. 10)

Indeed, how could people live under such circumstances for years? Illustrative material about hospitals of that time in Ligatne (p. 14), Rauna (p. 16) and Vecpiebalga (p. 18) is harsh because the photographs are black and white, and also because they depict the reality of the years of “building” socialism – the pretense that everything was fine – was over. In a way, the photographs from 1989 are like “lifting the curtains”, revealing the long-known truth that “the king is naked”. But who didn’t know it at the time?

The “theme of the edition” in “Stomatology” section, offers material that’s most likely to capture the interest of specialists – Irena Revele and Rita Kundzina’s article “Pathogenesis and Conservative Treatment of Periodontitis in Children’s Permanent Teeth” (p. 27), Ruta Care’s article “Prevention of Dental Diseases in Early Childhood” (p. 31), as well as the article “Problems of Prevention and Early Treatment of Dental and Jaw Anomalies” by Ilga Urtane and Inguna Hartmane (p. 34). However, the topic “child and dentist” could make even the parents who are quite far from medicine “tense up”.

Regardless of how exciting the travel in time offered by No.4 is, the “key” is the advertisement published on the cover of No.3. As clearly indicated by the text, this time it can truly be perceived as an ad: “If you have decided to buy magnetol this year, buy ‘VEF-290’ “. It seems that after this offer, it is high time to return to 2019.

In conclusion

In 1989, four issues of the magazine “Latvijas ārsts” were published, which sought to be accepted by not only doctors but also a wider audience. The content placement shows that the editorial team has experimented both with article placement and simple seamless publishing with no particular grouping. The quality of the printing was determined by the available paper which definitely influenced the way the content was perceived. At the same time, the four issues of the magazine “Latvijas ārsts” in 1989 confirm the publisher’s (Latvian Medical Association) determination to achieve high quality and modern design. Times have changed the society, but one can be said for sure about the first editions of the journal “Latvijas ārsts” – conscientious work is recognizable even 30 years later.

To see more illustrations, follow this link

The text was created thanks to the cooperativeness of the librarians of Riga Stradins University Library – the opportunity to get acquainted with the copies of the collection. Special thanks to Iveta Berzina for her support in the preparation of illustrative material.

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Editorial board and authors of articles in 2019

Editorial board of No.1:

  1. Ilmars Lazovskis (1931 – 2003) – the name lives on in “Ilmars Lazovskis’s Memorial Scholarship”;
  2. Peteris Apinis – editor-in-chief of the magazine “Latvijas ārsts”, Chairman of the Commission of Ethics of  Latvian Medical Association;
  3. Maris Baltins – Head of the State Language Centre;
  4. Arnis Viksna (1942 – 2018) – a long-time specialist at Pauls Stradins’ Museum for Medical History, the name lives on in books on medical history;
  5. Janis Vetra – former Rector of Riga Stradins University, Professor of Faculty of Medicine, Riga Stradins University, Chairman of Council Of Higher Education.

Articles by:

  1. Jazeps Basko – Member of the Board of the Latvian Medical Association and Chairman of the Trade Council;
  2. Viesturs Liguts – Associate Professor of the Faculty of Medicine, Riga Stradins University;
  3. Inguna Ebela – Associate Professor of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Latvia, author of the book “Ebels’ Family and Pediatrics in Latvia”;
  4. Juris Urtans – Professor of Latvian Academy of Culture, author of books on archeology;
  5. Aris Lacis – Professor of Riga Stradins University;
  6. Dainis Gilis – doctor of several clinics (urologist);
  7. Valdis Gilis – doctor (plastic surgeon, pediatric surgeon), president of Latvian Association of Aesthetic Laser Surgery;
  8. Janis Gilis – doctor (plastic surgeon), founder of “Dr.Gilis’ private clinic”, president of Latvian Plastic Surgeons Association;
  9. Ilga Urtane – former Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry and Professor of Dentistry of Riga Stradins University;
  10. Janis Liepins – publicist, writer;
  11. Viktors Jaksons – President of the Latvian Red Cross.

Photo sources:

  1. Žurnāls “Latvijas ārsts”, 1989.gads, Nr.1, 1./4.vāks.
  2. Žurnāls “Latvijas ārsts”, 1989.gads, Nr.1, 48./49.lpp.
  3. Žurnāls “Latvijas ārsts”, 1989.gads, Nr.1, 100./101.lpp.
  4. Žurnāls “Latvijas ārsts”, 1989.gads, Nr.3, 78./79.lpp.
  5. Žurnāls “Latvijas ārsts”, 1989.gads, Nr.4, 3.vāks.