Local Latvian-language papers fill in gaps in official Soviet press

Corruption, God, and vodka seem to make the most headlines in the Latvian provincial press. Twenty-three Latvian-language provincial newspapers with an official circulation totaling 290,000 provide information about such issues that is normally unavailable to outsiders. They show details of social problems in Latvia that are too sensitive or embarrassing to publish in the newspapers that are officially available in the West. Since they are not available abroad, censors allow local papers to print more details.

A haphazard sampling of newspapers that has reached the West shows that, like local newspapers anywhere else, the Latvian provincial press likes to report in detail about local crimes and scandals.

Some examples:

* Komunisma Rits (Communist Morning), published in Tukums, Latvia, reported in June some 25 cases of illegal procurement of gasoline from Tukums's two filling stations in the first four months of 1984.

* Lenina Cels (Lenin's Path), published in the port city and naval base of Liepaja, ran a story June 21 on ''vagrancy - a weed that must be rooted out.'' It named several local citizens sentenced by a people's court for alcohol-related violations, and implied that one woman may have been a prostitute as well as a drunk.

* Darba Balss (Voice of Labor), which devotes space to the suburbs of Riga, the Latvian capital, reported May 17 that there had been one death and 13 injuries in a recent spate of auto accidents, mostly caused by drinking.

A great many articles in recent years have also been devoted to anti-religious themes.

Padomju Karogs (Soviet Flag), published in Talsi, ran a long article in the spring of 1981 criticizing creation theories. It spoke of the crisis faced by religion in the face of scientific atheism. Other local newspapers reprinted articles by Russian journalists from the Moscow-based Novosti news agency pointing out that research on near-death experiences should not be taken as proof of the existence of God or an afterlife.

Publication of such articles is a sign that Latvians living outside Riga are well informed about religious and scientific ideas that aren't widely publicized in the rest of the Soviet Union.

The local papers also give extensive coverage of the performance of individual collective farms and enterprises within the state planning framework. These statistics, good or bad, are something the Soviet authorities want to keep from the eyes of outside researchers and intelligence agencies.

A good part of each issue is often taken up by reports or directives from the local communist authorities. But even these are more revealing than what is published in the rest of the press in this Baltic republic.

A sampling of the newspapers, from Ludza in eastern Latvia to Liepaja in the west, has been assembled by Julijs Kadelis, who single-handedly runs an information center for the World Federation of Free Latvians an emigre group in Munster, West Germany. It includes many, but not all, of the 23 Latvian papers.

Until 1959, there were 48 Latvian-language local newspapers, but the number was cut sharply in the early 1960s, perhaps as a result of a purge of so-called ''national communists'' in which many editors lost their jobs.

The purge came on the heels of a local campaign favoring use of the Latvian language and placement of Latvians in Communist Party posts as a means of reducing the Kremlin's push toward Russification of what had once been an independent nation.

Still, Latvian-language papers greatly outnumber the five Russian-language provincial dailies, and stand in contrast to book and pamphlet publishing in Latvia, where in 1981 only 48.6 percent of the total number of publications were in Latvian.

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