Brīvības Piemineklis (Freedom Monument)Jānis Siliņš, published by the Brīvības Pieminekļa Komiteja, 1935

Brīvības Piemineklis, newly unveiled after its restoration, July 2001

Latvia's Brīvības Piemineklis (Freedom Monument) is perhaps the most familiar of Latvian symbols after the Latvian flag itself. Designed by the sculptor Kārlis Zāle, who also designed Brāļu Kapi (Breathren Cemetery), it pays homage to Latvian culture and history—its figures and bas-reliefs depicting heroes, heroines, and the common Latvian people. Atop, the Liberty statue, known more familiarly as Milda, holds three stars atop her head for the three major regions of Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale. (It was erected where Riga's prior central monument, that of Peter the Great, had stood at the entrance into the old town—thus reinforcing its symbolism of freedom.)

The monument was erected using funds gathered from private donations—Peters' mother recalls their own family answering the call “Ja ikviens tik vienu latu...” (If there were just one lat from each of us...)—and so was truly a monument erected by the people.

The Soviet Union co-oopted and perverted its symbolism: now, the three stars stood for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and the monument had been erected as a thanks to Stalin for his “liberation” of the Baltics. As with most of Soviet propaganda and fiction, this story took on a cloak of veracity through its endless repetition—even ten years after Latvian independence a British tourism brochure retold the “Stalinist” version, verbatim!

The monument was cleaned and restored following the restoration of independence, again, through donations. Peters made a donation while in Latvia on vacation, carrying on the family tradition—and adjusted for inflation—and had the good timing and fortune to attend its rededication.

As for the deeper and detailed symbolisms of the monument, we have to admit that we've been more admirers of form than scholars of metaphors. However, the monument's meaning took on much more clarity for us when we came across the book Brīvības Piemineklis, written by Jānis Siliņš and published in 1935 by the Brīvības Pieminekļa Komiteja (Freedom Monument Committee). Siliņš himself began as a professional artist before embarking on a career as a respected art historian and critic. The Latvian love of purple prose is clearly evident in Siliņš text—still, his narrative as informative now as it was 82 since it was first published.

Updated: July, 2016

...Timeline...Devastated Latvia, 1921Latvijas Izpostīto Apgabalu Kongresa Padomes izdevums uzņemts u. izdots 1921 g. (Devastated Latvia, 1921.) Photo album issued by the Latvia's Devastated Regions Congress Council in 1921 documenting the destruction left in the wake of WWI and Latvia's War of Independence. Jānis Čakste In MemoriumJānis Čakste Memorial Album, 1927.Photo album dedicated to Latvia's first President upon his death in office. The Four New Baltic States"Estonia", "Finland", "Lithuania", "Latvia." The New Human Interest Library. Vol. V. Midland Press, Chicago. 1928. Articles about the four new Baltic states, a decade after independence. Illustrations and photographs. Latvian Butter ExportsLettische Butter, National Butter Export Control of Latvia, 1929. Between the wars, Germany grew to become the largest customer for Latvia's prized butter exports. By 1928, the year prior to publication, Latvia was the 10th largest butter exporter in the world with 85% of its butter export going to Germany. Benenson's "Russia Today"Russia Today The Ottawa Citizen, 1931. Canadian émigré A. Benenson expresses alarm over Polish armaments and sorrow over Latvia's post-WWI de-industrialization in a letter to the editior from his new homeland. Freedom MonumentBrīvības Piemineklis (Freedom Monument), Jānis Siliņš. Brīvības Pieminekļa Komiteja, 1935. Art critic Jānis Siliņš' detailed discussion of the Freedom Monument, published by the Freedom Monument Committee. Stalin–Howard InterviewThe Stalin—Howard Interview. Friends of the Soviet Union, 1936. Roy W. Howard's interview of Joseph Stalin, March 1st, 1936, originally carried in U.S. and Soviet news media and subsequently published by the Friends of the Soviet Union under the provocative title J. Stalin—Is War Inevitable?. Reading between the lines and redaction by the Chief Censor of the Soviet Union, Stalin admits to not achieving Communism and resorts to memory lapses and protestations of absurdity when confronted with the USSR's failure to comply with its commitment to respect the U.S. First Arts & Crafts ExhibitionPirmās Latvijas Daiļamatniecības Izstādes Katalogs [The First Latvian Arts and Crafts Exhibition Catalog]. Valstspapīru Spiestuve, Riga. 1937.Essays on the exhibition and on aspects of traditional arts and crafts. In Latvian. B&W and color plates of exhibit objects. Latvia For TouristsLettland für Reisende, Latvian government tourist brochure, ca. 1937. Latvia sought to regain its pre-WWI stature as a tourist destination—its Gauja river valley having been known as the "Livonian Switzerland." The brochure features sights, activities, a brief history of Latvia, and information for German tourists. An ABC of Latvian OrnamentsLatvju Rakstu Ābecīte [An ABC of Latvian Ornaments]. Latviešu Bērnu Draudzības Savienība. 1939.A child's primer on the basics of Latvian ornaments and examples of how more complex forms are then constructed. In Latvian. Facsimile. Molotov–Ribbentrop PactMolotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939. Text of the secret protocol carving up Eastern Europe between Stalin and Hitler.

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