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UNIQUE RECONCILIATION THEME FOR COMMEMORATION IN RIGA

On the evening of Monday 8 May, a group of people - Latvian and Russian - gathered together at St Saviour's Church in Rīga to mark the 42nd Anniversary of the end of World War II. Two people spoke - Dr Deniss Hanovs, an ethnic Russian who is an art historian; and Rita Ruduša, journalist and writer. Revd Pāvils Levuškāns, Pastor of the Russian Lutheran Congregation in Rīga, led prayers, and gave a benediction at the end, together with Rt Revd Jāna Jēruma-Grīnberga, Chaplain at St Saviour's. Music was provided by Jānis Ozoliņš, including a meditative piece by Philip Glass and Latvian songs; and a greeting from the Latvian Minister for Culture, Dace Melbārde, was read. The event was supported and sponsored by the British Council.

This might not seem too remarkable; but in fact the end of WWII, and its commemoration, is one of the greatest sources of disagreement, and even conflict, between ethnic Latvians and Russians (who make up around 25% of those living in Latvia, but over 30% in Rīga and 50% in the second city, Daugavpils) [source for statistics: http://www.csb.gov.lv/sites/default/files/skoleniem/iedzivotaji/etniskais_sastavs.pdf]

Because the end of the war came with German surrender at the end of 8 May, it was already 9 May in Moscow by the time the surrender was effective. For this reason, the Soviet Union, and now Russia and some of its allies, still celebrate 9 May as the end of the war, and the victory of Soviet troops over Nazi armies. In Rīga, the Russian community holds a lavish event on this day, which has become a rallying cry and a source of disharmony.

For this reason, St Saviour's decided to hold an event on the evening of 8 May, described as an evening of reconciliation, memory and repentance, building bridges across this divide. Dr Hanovs and Ms Ruduša spoke movingly of their experiences; Dr Hanovs said that as a young student he came to realise "that Tchaikovsky's Onegin and Tolstoy's Natasha co-exist with betrayals by caretakers, with death and torture in prison cellars, with indescribable work in concentration camps, and with long-lasting, quiet fear towards keeping alive the memories of those whose bodies were discarded from trains en route to Siberia". He sought forgiveness, and understanding as a way towards healing and new life. Ms Ruduša described her own feelings of alienation as a child of a Jewish family in a Latvian environment; and spoke of the need for strengthened interpersonal relationships across divides of religion, ethnicity and gender.

A greeting of peace was exchanged by those present; and at the end, Pastor Levuškāns and the Chaplain exchanged the stones we had all been holding since entering the church for scented daffodils, as a symbol of our hearts of stone giving birth to new growth, and a new spring.

Photos by Kaspars Zellis

 

​Information from Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, Chaplain, St Saviour's Anglican Church, Rīga