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What it was like in Riga?

The National Art Museum of Ukraine launches an exhibit of Riga photos “Our Way to Independence”
07 May, 17:39

Everything is the same in these photos: barricades, tires, blocking of state bodies, human chains, seizing of a TV channel, bringing the Lenin statue down, dispersal of peaceful demonstrators, and their happy faces after the desired victory. However, it’s not Kyiv of 2013-14, but Riga of late 1980s – early 1990s.

The exhibit of photos about the independence of Latvia is at the same time a continuation of our own history. The impressions are strengthened by the memory, because here, near the museum, there were fights, tires were burning, and people were dying. Apart from that the employees of the museum emphasize: on the ground floor of the museum there is an exposition of items from Mezhyhiria, so, both floors and surrounding environment create a mutual cultural and historical dialog.

On the whole, the exhibit consists of several parts, “The Baltic Way,” “The Way of the Barricades,” “The August Coup. End of Diarchy, Joining the EU and NATO.” The compilers of the exhibit have gathered not only photos, but documentary videos as well. In particular, Gvido Zvaigzne, a documentary film by Latvian director Dzintra Geka about a journalist who died on Riga barricades in 1991. The photos about parallel events in Lithuania and Estonia are also on display.

Curator of the exhibit Ilmars Znotins emphasizes that the parallels between Kyiv today and Riga of that time are apparent: “When I saw your barricades, it gave me the creeps.” “Our memory is so short. Young people don’t remember the past. And memory has an ability to forget. That is why we have to be regularly reminded of our own history,” Znotins notes. According to him, this exhibit is the past, but today it is Kyiv that creates the “living history.”

“We’re looking at everything that is going on, but you are the ones who make it. You are creating history right now. Not yours, European history. Unfortunately. Therefore we have to keep what we have. If we have freedom, it does not mean we should stop fighting for it,” the curator emphasizes.

“It is hard to win independence. What did we do? From the very beginning we knew where we wanted to go – to the EU. And we worked long on ourselves. This exhibit is about the way everything started, about our dreams. If you work for a long time, your dreams come true. Our work began in the early 1990s and it still continues. This year Riga has won the title of culture capital of Europe, next year it will be the president of the EU in the first half of the year,” said Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia, Dr. Argita Daudze. She says that all of this can happen in Ukraine.

The greatest reminiscence from that time journalist Aleksejs Grigorjevs has is the feeling of freedom. “It was a feeling that we had been going bowed for our whole lives, like an old person, but after all we squared our shoulders,” he comments on the exhibit of the photos. He says that Latvians are excited about the Ukrainian events, because they understand that history repeats itself, and the most important thing is not to lose this possibility to be able to breathe freely. During the presentation of the exhibit Grigorjevs read his essay “Why we love Ukraine.” He says that it must be exactly “why,” not “what for,” because Latvians should follow the events in Kyiv, make correct conclusions, and work on themselves.

Lena has come from Latvia to Ukraine only recently, but she says she has an impression that has been living here for long. “This exhibit is very emotional for me. These photos remind me of my childhood. The strongest impression of that time is when a famous Latvian singer performed in front of the protesters. There is a photo of this (photo by Uldis Briedis: the singing symbol of Third Atmoda, Ieva Akuratere, at a manifestation in Mezaparks) at this exhibit,” the girl says.

An educational program is underway within the framework of the exposition in the museum. In particular, on May 1 a discussion “Latgalia People” took place with the curator of the exhibit Ilmars Znotins. There are also other meetings scheduled:

On May 8 at 4 p.m. there will be a discussion with Anna Zigure, a writer, translator, diplomat, the topic is “Individual movement that provokes changes”; on May 16 at 6 p.m. there will be a discussion with a deputy of Riga Duma, Sarmite Elerte, the topic is “Baltic way – the icon of history and source of political inspiration.”

The exhibit will last till May 18, 2014. The admission is free, but the visitors must register for the events.

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