Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Occupied Mind

Day 196
After breakfast I decided that it was finally time to explore Riga.

I started at Bastion Hill. This is a really pretty park that used to have a castle in it. When the castle was torn down the moat was turned into a scenic canal. Next up was the freedom monument. I don’t remember what this was freedom for though. For some reason there were two soldiers marching back and forth in front of it.

At this point it was nearing lunch time but I thought I could fit one museum in before then. I went to the Occupation Museum. I had thought that the museum in Tallinn had been detailed. This was was just out of this world. I spent almost three hours here. A lot of Latvia's story is quite similar to Estonia’s, so I will try to skip those parts.

Prior to WWI Latvia had been occupied by both Germanic forces and Russia. After the war both countries were unable to take control and Latvia gained freedom. This lasted for 20 years. Just like Estonia, Latvia was affected by the 1939 Non Aggression Treaty between Germany and Russia. Almost over night more Russian soldiers were in Latvia than the entire number of soldiers in the Latvian army.

Just like in Estonia Stalin tried to stamp out Latvian history. Latvia’s first president was sent to a Gulag in Siberia, never to return. The Soviet Union even held a fake vote, there was only one candidate to vote for. When people voted they would receive a stamp in their passport. If they didn’t have this stamp they could not be employed.

In June of 1941 Stalin had 1% of the entire Latvian population arrested and deported to Siberia in one night. Most of these people never returned and were never given a reason for why they were arrested.

About two weeks later the Nazi army arrived. At first they were looked on as liberators. The Nazis did their best to strengthen this idea. They dug up the mass graves of those that Stalin had had killed. People were able to identify and rebury their loved ones. Soon, however, the people began to realize that the Nazi’s were just as bad as the Soviets had been. Latvia lost 70 thousand Jews to the Holocaust. One hundred thousand Latvian men were conscripted into the Nazi army, half never returned home.

During all of this there was a resistance movement. When the tide changed and the front once again crossed Latvia people began to flee.

In 1945 Germany surrendered and the Soviet Union returned. In 1953 Stalin died and Khrushchev took over. This brought on a bit of a thaw and an end to most deportations. Some of the people that Stalin had sent to Siberia were able to return home. This is much like what was going on in Estonia. People were not allowed to talk about the atrocities that had happened under Stalins rule.

In the 1980’s glasnost began and resistance grew. The largest group was called Helsinki 86. In 1990 Latvia declared independence. One year later Russia tried to take control but the people protected the government buildings from being taken over.

When I had finished here I was definitely ready for a break from serious stuff. It was also that weird time of day when the museums were closing and it wasn’t quite time for dinner. I went to see the Accidental Husband. It was cute.

After making myself dinner at the hostel I went to the bar to be social. I ended up meeting some nice Brits and going to a nearby pub with them and the rest of the group from the hostel.

No comments: