On the Baltic Coast

Behind the bridge Karosta begins. The bridge opens for river traffic. It doesn't open upwards but sideways, which was state-of-the-art technology at the end of the 19th century.
We are staying in Cathedral Street. The house we are staying at was once the headquarters of the Baltic navy in Karosta. It was a building full of splendid rooms and elegant salons. Karosta was built at the end of the 19th century by Tsar Alexander III as part of the military reinforcement of the national borders. The base was equipped with covered drilling areas for cavalry, an ordinary post office and a post office for pigeon post, an orthodox cathedral and a palace. The palace is now part of the grounds used by the Latvian army to school recruits. The Latvian army can be heard singing and marching from early in the morning till late at night.
The Tsarist navy didn't reside at Karosta for long. The city had hardly been completed when the revolution began in 1905.
The Tsarist army was followed by the Latvian army, the German army, the Soviet army and now once again the Latvian one.
Karosta is part of the city Liepaja. In the Soviet era, the whole of Liepaja was declared a closed city. The relatives of the Soviet military and their families who were summoned here from all over the Soviet Union lived in Karosta. Military construction units built additional residential blocks in the pine forests. Karosta was closed even to the citizens of Liepaja.


Only Russian was spoken here. The entire coast was a special surveillance zone. Huge searchlights swept the coast at night and at 10pm the beach was raked, so that footprints in the night and those who left them could be traced. The supply situation was considerably better in Karosta than in Liepaja. Nowadays some people hark back nostagically to the times when watermelons were so cheap, says Kristina.

Karosta once had 25,000 inhabitants. When the Soviet army withdrew, just 6000 remained. These were military pensioners or civilians who had worked for the army.
Kristina and Carl have rented a few of the old buildings for 20 years and transformed them into a cultural centre for the whole city. There is internet and video recording, kids' clubs, a bicycle hire service, a café and vacation work for the local youth.
After Latvian independence, the Soviet military buildings became very unpopular property, says Kristina. No one looked after the buildings and then the looting began. "The scrap merchant in Karosta was open 24 hours a day. "Some of the buildings look as though they were never completed, as the windows, doors, drainpipes and heating systems have all been so thoroughly dismantled. It was the only way some people were able to survive at the time, says Krsitina, but they haven't yet managed to find a new way of life.

Citizens and Non-Citizens
Vassiliy Boryayev's contribution to the exhibition (more)


Lecture in front of flag, Mayakovsky in Mexico (more)


Map (large file!)



More articles can be found in the german version of this page



Citizens and Non-Citizens
Vassiliy Boryayev's contribution to the exhibition

Vassiliy's story:
His father was a merchant in Gorky Oblast. He died as a young man in the First World War. Many of his sons studied. Two of them became officers, one in the White Army and one in the Red Army. Once they fought against each other on the Krim. The officer in the White Army went to Turkey and Bulgaria. He worked there and he died there. The officer in the Red Army was promoted as far as a general. He was murdered in 1934. His uncle's family owned a mill. They had seven children. They were taken to Siberia in 1929 because of the mill.
This left his grandmother, his parents, his brothers and Vassiliy himself in the two-storey house in Gorky Oblast. They were expropriated and the father was to work on a collective farm. The family went to Leningrad. Here they lived in a wooden shack, the six of them on 23 sqm. Vassiliy draws a sketch of the corridor, the room, the one communal kitchen and the one communal toilet for all the 15 families living in the shack. Everything was taken away from them when they left Gorky Oblast and came to Leningrad. One day, the grandmother opened a newspaper and saw photographs of the six first heroes of the Soviet Union. One of them was her husband who had died in the First World War. Newspaper in hand, she went to complain about


the bad way she, a hero's widow, had been treated and from then on things got better.
Then there was the occupation of Leningrad, at which time he was still at school. Vassiliy describes what they had to eat. As I don't understand the Russian word for glue he shows me a glue stick. A grenade exploded next to him. He has stuttered ever since. When he first met his wife his skin was prickly as a hedgehogs from the splinters of the grenade. He spent a lot of time in hospitals.
He has been working in Karosta since 1952. He was the only photographer in the military base of Karosta. He took photographs of parties, passport photos and portraits. The camera with which he works is over 100 years old. He seems to set the shutter speed by hand and from experience.

And now, says Vassiliy, he has not been granted Latvian citizenship. He is a non-citizen. He is now an occupant. What makes him an occupant! He will be 80 years old in three months time. He says he can't learn Lettish, he can hardly speak his own language.
The passports for non-citizens are a different colour than those for citizens.
That is his story, he says, and I am to include it in the exhibition.

An inhabitant of Karosta has her picture taken.


One Third of the Latvian population is of Russian origin. Most of the Russians came into the country as Soviet citizens. The Russians that had already lived in Latvia before 1940 were granted the Latvian citizenship automatically when the country got independent. The others got passports that identifed them as Non-Citizens. Non-Citizens have no permission vote and they need a visa to travel into countries of the EU. Every Non-Citizen can apply for the Latvian citizenship. If he has a job it will cost him 31 Euro, as an unemployed he has to pay 5. He has to do an exam in the Latvian language, answer some simple questions on the history of Latvia and prove basic knowledge of the constitution.

Some of the younger men wouldn't apply since they don't want to be called up for military service, says Kristine.





Lecture in front of flag, Mayakovsky in Mexico

As the weather is fine, I give an open air lecture in the ruins of one of the wonderful old buildings of the Tsarist Baltic naval command. Carl improvises a German flag which looks more like a Belgian one. Aivis quickly builds some benches. The girls from the café bring their biggest pot of tea wrapped up in a glowing blanket. Oleg hands out cake baked by his mother. Oleg is seventeen and has been our constant companion since day one. Kristine says he comes from a difficult family, which drinks a lot. Oleg is delighted that everyone likes the cake. After my lecture I am given a bunch of flowers from the dunes.
The local papers and TV have turned up in great numbers, assuming me to be a member of the diplomatic corps.

In the evening, the conversation turns to Mexico, Mayakovsky and Eisenstein. While Eisenstein was particularly fond of Mexico, Mayakovsky didn't like it at all. He described it as mild and soft. For someone like Mayakovsky, the conquest of Siberia was much more appealing.


Mohammed is to have said: "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will come to the mountain". Mayakovsky is to have said: "If the mountain doesn't come to Mayakovsky, it can get lost."
Kristine says she'd like to travel to Mexico to find out if she is more of a Majakovsky or more of an Eisenstein type.

We finally get to bottom of the origin of the word yes in Lettish. It really does seem to be the case that the Germans introduced the word yes to the country. There was previously no such thing as yes in the Lettish language, there was only no. If someone asks in Lettish, "How are you?", the Latvian reply is "Nothing", which is short for "Nothing bad happened today". If a beautiful woman goes by, Latvian men say, "Nothing", short for, "Could be worse". Apparently, it is possible to construct sentences with six negatives to express an affirmative. Kristine is embarrassed that the logical conclusion of this is that they are a negative nation. Not to mention the fact that this is true.