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
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
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
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