Former KGB HQ in Riga to reopen in 2014

In July 2014 I am making a research trip to Estonia and Latvia as part of my preparation for writing a series of crime novels based in the region. I am currently editing a novel I have written based on the riots in Tallinn by Russian emigres during April 2007 and the subsequent cyber attacks on the country.

As part of  the trip I will be visiting Riga. As I wrote in the previous post, Riga is one of the Capitals of Culture for 2014, so this should be an exciting time to make a return visit.

As I have an interest in the KGB, resulting from research into a previous novel, I shall be visiting the exhibitions at the former KGB headquarters in Riga.

The building is situated on the corner of Brivības Street and Stabu Street. After the occupation of Latvia on June 17, 1940, the building became the headquarters of the State Security Committee of the Latvian SSR, commonly known as the “čeka”. It did not take long for part of the basement and the ground floor to be reconstructed as prison cells and a place of torture and execution. The building used to hold a total of 44 prison cells with about 175 places (beds). Later, when the number of prisoners grew rapidly, the cells were packed and up to 36 people were confined in cells with six beds. The State Security Committee remained in the building until 1991, when Latvia regained its independence and the State Police moved in. Since 2008, the building has stood empty. (Source: accessed 06/04/14).

The building is now being reopened as part of the celebrations for Riga 2014, when the city becomes one of the European Capitals of Culture.

There will be exhibitions held here related to the theme of Freedom Street, which will tell the story of the Latvian move towards freedom in 1991.

World War 1 saw the destruction, not only of buildings and people, but the destruction of whole ways of life and culture. Latvia, like the other Baltic States, lost their prestige, their identity and their freedom in the aftermath of the war. Many Latvians were exiled, expelled, killed and impoverished after WW1. Many Latvians left to start a new life elsewhere and, many, never returned.

The exhibition, Latvian Suitcase, aims to demonstrate what was to be found in the luggage of those Latvians who, for different reasons, had to leave their country for ever. It is a multimedia exhibition focusing on memories and asking the individual what they would take in a suitcase if they had to leave their home country for an indeterminate time. The other exhibitions deal with the relationship between people and power, which will be very powerful considering the uses the Corner House were put to for over 50 years.

The exhibitions are free and run from 1st of May to the 19th of October. The opening hours are: Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed on Tuesdays.