02 August 2006


Today's Diena writes of the plans for the new museum of contemporary art to be built on Andrejsala, an island in the Daugava that is part of Rīga's old port district. Inspired by amber (Latvia has long been dubbed "amberland"), the architect Rem Koolhaas plans to encase some of the industrial relics in glass, incorporating them into the structure. I like the idea, especially in view of the dearth of interesting modern architecture in Latvia.

We soon hope to see the long-planned National Library by Gunnar Birkerts finally get built, too -- called the "Castle of Light" after the ideals of the Awakening, the project is lately strongly opposed by ZaPCHEL, Latvia's "Russian party," and by the motley crew of populist Russophiles in the "political patriotic association" Dzimtene (striking in view of Rainis' lines), as well as by many Latvians on the right wing. The Minister of Culture, Helēna Demakova, has suggested that the signatures collected in opposition to the library be placed on permanent display when the building is complete ("daddy, why were you against our library?").

A concert hall will also be constructed as part of the "New Three Brothers" project (the old "Three Brothers" still stand on the edge of Medieval Rīga).

Illustration from the Jauno triju brāļu arhīvs.


Blogger Redwine said...

Why do Russophiles and rightwingers oppose the idea of a museum?

02 August, 2006 13:47  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

It is a huge, extremely expensive project that keeps getting more expensive, the firm building it is American, and it is seen by some as the pet project of the party that has been urging the project forward (the People's Party, to which the Minister of Culture belongs).

Those are the ostensible reasons, but the debate has taken on an ethnopolitical character, as many a debate here does -- ZaPCHEL and Dzimtene are as populist and pseudo-leftist as they are geared towards the vote of an easily manipulated Lumpenproletariat, homines sovietici, and retirees(in the last municipal elections, Dzimtene attracted voters by saturation advertising on a radio station owned by their sponsor, the surname of their top candidate [Rubiks -- he is the son of the head of the "National Salvation Commitee" that would have co-ordinated repression had the hardliners' coup suceeded in 1991] and perhaps because the name of their party is identical to that of Rodina, the Soviet/Russian chauvinist [and irredentist] party in Russia).

The National Library project is already dated -- it was designed by the fine Latvian-American architect Gunnar Birkerts some time ago. A nation needs a national library -- in the meantime, many of Latvia's treasures are kept in squalid, damaging conditions. ZaPCHEL and their ilk depends upon the "raise my pension, those Latvians don't need their fancy library" crowd as their core voting base.


02 August, 2006 14:43  
Blogger Redwine said...

Aha, and if no library and museum and such, wages and pensions are doubled? Because here they are not.

02 August, 2006 14:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My not knowing the attitudes in Latvia - I do get the sense that in the former soviet mindset large cultural and/or public works projects are considered to be an avenue for enrichment of both the political parties and the politician sponsors themselves.

Those parties/politicians that are left out - fight until they get a bone tossed their way (if they yell loudly enough). As Redwine points out - these things have nothing to do with pensions or any public good for that matter. If the public benefits later - as it would from a library or arts center - then that is fine but the public good isnt the driving force behind it politically. That tidy 10% skimmed off the top is.


02 August, 2006 18:04  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

But then again, Wahabist -- I suspect one could say something similar about many a major project in any system!


03 August, 2006 02:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True...Maybe my example was too broad.

No politician or political party in the "west" would oppose the building of a library unless the project really isnt about building a library. Politicians in the "west" would consider taking a negative stance as way too risky (the Harold Washington Library my case in point. Butt ugly from day one).

Post soviet politicians seem to suffer from no such phobia as they place themselves in opposition to the public good regularly. They can get away with it as they have no fear of being removed from power by a dissatisfied electorate. The electorate isnt angry - theyre jealous !


03 August, 2006 03:09  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Daddy why are you against a library? Actually you explained it well.

I'm adding a link to this great blog.

03 August, 2006 06:57  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks, Renegade Eye!


But the Harold Washington Library is fabulous! Chacun a son goût, I guess!

While what you wrote applies to Latvian politics much of the time, I am not sure it applies in this case -- no risk is being taken by these parties because their position appeals to their core voters (the only party not supportive of the library that might be taking a risk is New Era, center-right and almost entirely [ethnically and/or culturally] Latvian).

ZaPCHEL/PCTVL and Dzimtene do not get many ethnic Latvian votes, and the minuscule Conservative Party is a very strange beast -- its gensek, Modris Lujans, was previously elected to the Saeima from the Socialist Party (i.e., the rabid Red dinosaurs)... see their site for his opposition to the "glass monster" (the library), opposing which is his latest struggle (he previously opposed NATO and advocated the "null variant," i.e., automatic citizenship for all residents).

Automatic citizenship for those who arrived during the occupation and their descendants is still the central issue, alongside "protecting the Russian language," for ZaPCHEL. The left/pro-Russian parties are making gains as more non-citizens naturalize; this is particularly true in Rīga, where the only reason the left/pro-Russian parties have not come to power municipally is the fact that many non-Latvians do not hold citizenship and cannot vote; ethnic Latvians form only 42,2% of the population, and a majority of those non-Latvians who are not Russian are Russified at least to a degree). Even some rightist politicians have suggested that the current center-right government in the capital will be the last.

For those who can read Latvian, see an analysis by Ritvars Eglājs (N.B. that he is from the far-right TB/LNNK).


03 August, 2006 12:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good library. Ugly building.

2006 being the year we celebrate the 150th birthday of Louis Sullivan he'd spin in his grave if he had to look at this Greekish over-ornamented monster of many colors....


Those are supposed to be "Sullivan" arches at the ground level ? Awful..

Yes, everyone has their own taste. This building then is the Vegemite of Chicago architecture.


03 August, 2006 23:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The correct link to the Library image


03 August, 2006 23:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize for my architecture rant Peteri (your fault). Maybe in some future thread we can discuss the true Miesian "Chicago School" where function is paramount and ornamentation is - well - like draping a beautiful woman with ugly jewels. Whats wrong with focusing attention on the beautiful woman ?

I know of Zdanoka and a little bit about Lujans' group. I've also read abou NSS - a disturbing group that seems to be led by a number of very young individuals. Young as in 2 years out of secondary school. Very odd...

But what is it about building a library that brings the fringe together ? Populism ? Some other abstract ?


04 August, 2006 06:11  

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