• Slovakia!

    Slovakia: Tatra Mountains. Go Now!

    Slovakia
    The Tatra Mountains (pictured) form the backdrop of this rural country, whose culture is rooted in this beautiful landscape. Go Now!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Serbia!

    Serbia: Houses in the mountains. Go Now!

    Serbia
    Serbia is a historic power now looking internally to re-discovery their identity and future. Explore Serbia!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

  • Finland!

    Finland: Finnish Sauna. Go Now!

    Finland
    Unlike its neighbors, the Finns are unique ethnically & linguistically, but are wholly European in many other ways. Begin Your Journey!

Latvia

Riga, Latvia

Riga

July 12, 2005
Riga

Riga's architecture is fascinating and the history comes alive through it. The city has been occupied by the Swedes, Latvians, Russians, Germans, and Soviets among others. I almost immediately fell in love, but was too hungry to enjoy it. We ate at a Lido restaurant, a chain in the city and the food was excellent. I had pilof and a pork cutlet with two kinds of cheese and tomatoes on top.

July 13, 2005

I started today in the old town, then out east to the Art Nouveau district, which was just as impressive. Riga has more Art Nouveau architecture than any other city in the world and most of it is phenomenal. Every turn was a new surprise and the old moat, now a channel from the river makes an ideal little park, with the old aura of the moat.

There was very little I disliked, the city was great, the people nice, everyone speaks Russian, so I felt comfortable. By the end of the day I made it to the other side of the river to see the modern buildings in the "single-building" financial district. It truly is quite difficult to find flaws, but then I found a glaring one, which I'm struggling to get over. As much as I avoid political discussions, my thoughts on Riga's "Occupation Museum" must be expressed, because it is not about politics so much as it is about overtly encouraging ethnic tensions.

In the afternoon, my friend Derek and I went to the "Occupation Museum" and I walked away disappointed and emotionally sick from the exhibits. I found this building to be one of the most hypocritical buildings I've ever encountered. The building teaches fact and history; facts about the Soviet occupation of Latvia, hence the name. The history is accurate and as far as I'm aware, the facts presented are true; the museum had nothing other than facts, but there was so much it failed to say, so much that it intentionally left out, it was so biased, so one-sided, it leaves the visitor with one side of a two-sided history that continues today and I feel everyone should have the right to see both sides of that history.

The museum's whole purpose (my impression of its purpose at least) was to show how evil the Russians are, to show their disastrous traits and their negative side. But two things struck me immediately and have not left me since. The first is the fact that I couldn't find many people on the staff that spoke Russian. Five people there that I ran into were Latvian-Americans and so spoke both Latvian and English, but spoke no Russian, which was apparent from their name tags, which had flags of the languages that each spoke. The woman in the shop had no visible tag and I only heard her speaking Latvian, however she may have spoken Russian. There was a Latvian soldier in the corner, falling in and out of sleep. My guess would be that he does in fact speak Russian (again he had no nametag), however what Russian in their right mind would approach him in Russian? He was in his Latvian military uniform working in an occupation museum.

If the point of this museum is education, wouldn't it help to have staff that spoke Russian seeing as how over 50% of the city's population is of Russian descent? If the point was education, wouldn't it make sense to present the facts in a way that encouraged the Russians to visit so that they would feel welcomed and want to learn of past mistakes? The museum didn't do this, instead it immediately told the visiting Russians that they were not welcomed: we will not have any staff that speak your language, we will fill the exhibition with quotes of your evilness, we will not show any other side of the story, we will not show how Russian people were also deported, (many times in greater numbers), we will not show that the Russian people may have any positive characteristics or traits, we will only be racist hypocrites who's only purpose is not education, but seek revenge; a display of their hatred and a backlash of this bitterness.

This museum is educating how to hate and how to maintain bitterness, how to use the past as a tool for revenge and an excuse for hatred. This museum is nothing more than a tool for the racists in the Latvian government. This museum is a tool to spark hatred and violence. This museum implied the Russian people were the culprits, not the Soviet government. How is a young society supposed to learn of love and forgiveness if this is what they are fed at a young age? How is a society supposed to mature, grow, and progress if they know only how to hate, if they learn a biased history, if they learn vengeance rather than forgiveness?

This museum taught the people to divide, to use their past and their history as tools and excuses. This building missed the single most important point, as does nearly every person who has entered that building: the Latvian government is now the aggressor.

This museum was free, as if to encourage everyone, both local and foreign to see the evils done to the Latvian people. This act is not an act of kindness or of free education, but rather is an opportunity to spread a biased past and a means of spreading the hatred. How can a government that fails to recognize the rights of nearly a third of their people talk about occupiers? The government in Latvia refuses to grant Russians citizenship, they refuse to recognize their rights, they oppress them. This government sees this as justice, but justice is not getting equal, justice is forgiving and educating. Has this government so blindly walked into this situation and forgotten about their past? This new Latvian government will not give citizenship to these Russians, but this is only a response to how the Soviet government treated their people.

Was it these particular Russians who placed that Soviet government in power, was it these Russians who deported the Latvians, was it these Russians who even asked to be sent to Riga to begin with? These Russians have become the scapegoat for an entire country that no longer exists, and what's worse is that this hatred and injustice begins not with a group of lost youth, it is led by the country's most prestigious politicians, the most respected people in the nation. To me this is a sad indication of the future of Latvia.

How can a people be so blind? Have they failed to realize that this museum is facts, but history shouldn't be about facts, but about answering the question of why, of understanding the motivation. Facts don't matter if you can't figure out why those events occurred so you can prevent them in the future. The answer to the question why is what is needed, and in the case of the Latvian deportation by the Soviets the answer of why was racism and power. A racism in the belief of superiority of the Russians and inferiority of the Latvian people. A power in that by flooding a region of potential rebels (Latvia) with loyal Russians the Soviet government would gain a majority and prevent uprisings. The Latvian government failed to see this why and skipped only to the what. They focus on the deportations and so respond with an act not dissimilar. Do the Latvian politicians really fail to see that they are doing to the Russians in their country just as the Soviets did to them and their ancestors?

This museum teaches true facts that are difficult to debate while it answers the what, but it completely fails to see the why. The why is racism and if the government would look internally and ask themselves why they won't give citizenship to the ethnic Russians, they find the same answer: racism. If the museum addressed the real issue present, racism, then they would perhaps make a positive impact, they could actually educate, they would finally spread the entire truth, and not just a biased hatred-filled museum of garbage.

What the Latvian people suffered under the Soviet government was completely wrong and must never be forgotten, but today's Latvian government must understand that their response to this horrible past is not right; only then can they allow such a museum to flourish... however at that point they would have to add the recent Latvian history to the museum's exhibits: the occupation of the Russian people by the Latvian government.

Continue the above trip to: Finland

Learn more about Latvia Return to Justin's Travel Blog