Riga, Latvia

Thirty years ago this month some two million people joined hands forming a human chain across all 676 kilometers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The cinematic stunt was the Baltic cri de coeur for freedom. We visited KGB museums in both Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, and I’ll have a piece on the progress the Baltic states have made away from Communism in my next Three Quarks Daily column.

We’ve moved on to Ukraine now. I’ll leave you with these three photos from Riga for now:

These are hangars down along the Daugava River built by Nazi Germany for zeppelins. Since the whole zeppelin thing didn’t take off, they now house the central market.

A portion of the iconostasis at the Riga Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral, dating from the late 1800s, on the lovely Esplanade park. The Soviets used it as a planetarium and restaurant.

Riga’s town planners were generous with their green space. Here are flowers in Kronvalda Park.

This slow trip around the world began in April and has comprised Vietnam, Thailand, Finland, Russia, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and, currently, Ukraine. Collected photos are here.

While We’ve Been Away

Just in to Riga for the weekend. Here’s a clock on the Dom Square with Riga’s name on it.

Just time to put our things down and walk down to a random terrace in the old town for “gray beans and streaky bacon with sour cream.” A bowl of goodness.

There’s no comparison, Estonia to Latvia. They look the same (same as Finland, birch, spruce and pine forests, sea and lake grass, same vegetation, all close to the sea), and we bulled right through the old pre-Schengen/EU border and the closed up pass control and customs posts without slowing down, but these are different lands.

Finno-Ugric gives way to the Baltic Indo-European Latvian, which is phonetically spelled and looks and sounds much more Russian, although I understand that Finno-Urgic Finnish and Estonian have left their mark in one way, by the stress on all Latvian words being on the first syllable, as in Finnish.

Riga, historically a much larger trading port, is much more polyglot and much more Russian than Finland’s modest projection of power across to clean-swept Tallinn, Estonia. Which was just lovely by the way, and by far this was the most fun of my three visits.

March 1992 was desperate and poor, August 2010 middling, and now, Estonia clearly has a little prosperity of its own going on, and kudos to Estonians. The road with fine houses outside Tallinn toward Riga stretches on for miles.

Here, looking back from the old town, you can see back there that Tallinn’s new town now has a center of its own:

Now here in Riga we have a bigger, grittier, more working city to explore, perhaps twice Tallinn’s size. Last trip here was also August 2010 (photos). Let’s go out and see how it has changed.

Meanwhile, while we’ve been holed up in our Lake Saimaa, Finland cabin, the world seems to have gone on without us. Let’s leave Donald Trump’s United States for later.

So just a couple of things as we come out of hiding:

A new Boris Johnson government has come to the increasingly tenuously United Kingdom. Let’s see (among a hundred other things let’s see about the new government) how much confidence and supply the Northern Irish Tories can offer up as their party back in London leads Ireland into peril.

Politics is being remade across the board in Ulster right now, isn’t it? Here is a thought on the increasing irrelevance of Sinn Fein: The concern is no longer a banner reading “England get out of Ireland”. It’s that nationalism is finding a credible face.

And Ruth Mottram, of the Danish Meteorological Institute, told CNN this week that an estimated 180 billion tons of Greenland’s ice had melted into the ocean since 1 July, raising sea levels by about 0.5mm. Can this possibly be right? 0.5mm in a month seems incredible to me.

In an article about plant-based meat in Ouside magazine, Rowan Jacobsen is surely right when he notes,

“Most Baby Boomers are going to stick with their beef, right up to the point where their dentures can’t take it anymore. But Gen Z will find the stuff as embarrassing as Def Leppard and dad jeans. “

And then there’s this:

FLIGHT ATTENDANT FOUND HIDING IN OVERHEAD LUGGAGE BIN

As you may know by now, collected photos from this long, slow trip around the world that started in April post here.

Cheers for now, back in a bit. Good weekend to you from Latvia.

Basic Geography for Politicians


The Three Baltic States


The Balkans

Le Monde reported last week (here’s an English report) that when Baltic leaders Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania, Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia and Raimonds Vējonis of Latvia met at the White House with Donald Trump on April 3rd of this year, the president chastised the leaders “for starting wars in the 1990s that lead to the break-up of Yugoslavia.”

It’s not unreasonable for lay people to confuse the Baltics and Balkans. Both regions are made up of small countries at the periphery of Europe. But one might hope that the American president had been briefed (forget about his reading on his own) a little more closely. Especially since one of his potential briefers, his wife, was born in Yugoslavia.

Maps from Wikimedia Commons.

To George Will: Anytime. Happy to Help.

George Will is starting to follow me around. He wrote Wednesday that

“The Islamic State is a nasty problem that can be remedied if its neighbors, assisted by the United States, decide to do so. Vladimir Putin’s fascist revival is a crisis that tests the West’s capacity to decide.”

He’s right. I wrote here on CS&W on August 13th that

“at bottom ISIS is a band of thugs with an archaic worldview that a willful president and his or her allies, if they had a mind to, could clobber using Colin Powell’s overwhelming force commensurate with ISIS’s brutality. The challenge to Ukraine, on the other hand, is an assault on the world’s organizing principles, with the potential to collaterally undermine both NATO and the Obama administration.”

I had no idea, George, that you were a Common Sense and Whiskey fan, but I welcome you to follow me on Twitter @BMurrayWriter. Would have saved you three weeks on Wednesday’s column. I’ll help you with today’s huge Baltic news in a couple of days.

 

Happy to help, George. Cheers!