Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Riga, day 2

Tiina comes in the morning. We have some Baskin-Robbins ice cream, making me dream of a full-scale Baskin-Robbins invasion in Finland, and go to the apartment.

Later we all head to the Occupation Museum, located in a newish building wildly incongruent with its surroundings in the center of the old city.

The museum is extensive, as is its topic. Latvia has been occupied by Russians in 1940, by Germans in 1941, and by Russians again in 1944, until 1991, and they, like everyone else, describe their grievances in well-deserved gory detail. Their democracy was in quite a bit of a crisis even before the Russians occupied them in 1940, but then the thirties of the last century was not a particularly high point in European democracy and human rights in general. Considering what Russians were doing there in 1940 it is not surprising that many Latvians welcomed Germans as liberators in 1941; they were sorely disappointed, and so were also the people who met Russians as liberators in 1944. A sad story, really.

Most things are in four languages in the museum (Latvian, Russian, German and English), but some documents are left untranslated. Among them is a list of 70-something people shot by Russians on some particular day (26.6.41, IIRC) and their offences, for example "had a fire in his backyard, probably to attract the Germans; joined the army voluntarily in 1919".

They proudly display some German official's complaint that Latvians don't exterminate Jews nearly as enthusiastically as Lithuanians; I cynically note that they nevertheless did just as good a job of it as Lithuanians.

They also state quite clearly the current grievance:

"Of the original two conspirators against international law, who conspired to deprive Latvia of its independence and subject its people to lawlessness, one was defeated in World War II, and its successor state, the Federal Republic of Germany, has gone a long way to make amends to those against whom Nazi Germany committed grievous crimes. The successor state of the other conspirator, Russia, has failed to do so. Furthermore, it continues to adhere to Soviet myths and distortions by refusing to acknowledge the present Republic of Latvia as the continuation of the Republic that declared its independence on 18 November 1918; by refusing to acknowledge the Peace Treaty and its provisions of 11 August 1920 between Soviet Russia and Latvia; by refusing to acknowledge the true nature of the 1939 agreements between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; by refusing to acknowledge the fact of Latvia's occupation on 17 June 1940; by refusing to acknowledge crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet Union on Latvian soil and against the Latvian people."

This made me think, once again, that there should have been Nurmberg trials in Russia. I understand why there wasn't, but I think this is a loss for the world and for Russia. The word communist should have become a swear word similar to nazi, but it hasn't.

This museum is the first place in Riga where I don't hear any Russian spoken. I do hear German.

After the museum Tiina goes to the apartment and we go to the central market with Leena and Ville. Central market is huge, and cheap. One very distinctive feature is the almost-total absence of strawberries, while all the other common fruits and berries are available.

We find some tiny place that sells DVDs and I buy a few Russian ten-in-one DVDs. I am still not sure whether they are pirated or just Russian-quality.

Tiina comes back and we all go have a lunch/dinner in Livonia, a medieval restaurant. The food is good but we are not sure what's medieval about it. Then Tiina and I go for a walk.

They have their own statue of liberty here (not a copy of ours). They have a lot of security cameras everywhere; some of them are static, some move around frantically. They have pretty good ice cream. They have a lot of stands selling cheap amber jewelry. They have a lot of people speaking Russian.

There is a lot of women in tiny shorts and very high-heel shoes, which makes them look a lot like cartoon characters. The shorts are cute; the heels look ridiculous, especially when the women fall off of them. In general there are a lot of women in high and thin heels here in spite of the cobblestone streets.

We go outside of the old city and take a look at the Orthodox cathedral. There are lots of religious people there because the head honcho of the local Orthodox church is giving a sermon. We bugger off in order not to disturb them. The church is pretty, but everything is written in Russian, even stuff that clearly should be directions for tourists, like "women should have their head covered".

Outside we run into a young man in a t-shirt that I at first interpret as a sign "fucking doggie-style is forbidden". It also advertises the site, and I realize that it is some kind of anti-gay message. Tiina says that the picture of the guy on all fours had a tiny dick and makes fun of me for not noticing.

There are a few other guys in such t-shirts.

Bookstores are nice, and so is Stockmann. We buy books and beer and a cake and some food.

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