Peter the Great splits Riga in two

  • 2001-08-23
  • TBT staff
RIGA - An impressive bronze statue of Russian Czar Peter the Great on horseback, which was secretly displayed in Riga's Kronvalda Park for the Riga 800 anniversary celebrations and removed from the park on the night of Aug. 20, has split the fragile coalition in Riga City Council.

Although the statue is owned by the municipality, no one is claiming responsibility for the decision to place it in the park.

The restored statue showed up in the central Riga park on the night of Aug. 16. No official institutions took responsibility for it, each one blaming the other.

The right-of-center Fatherland and Freedom party decided on Aug. 20 to break the City Council's coalition agreement with the Social Democrats over the issue but to keep their representatives in the municipal posts, party Chairman Maris Grinblats said.

The statue was the last straw for For Fatherland and Freedom. "Countless unacceptable actions by the Social Democrats" also included the mess in the Dome Square during the presentation concert of the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets' Baltic edition on Aug. 8, a Russian youth demonstration in Riga's Mezaparks suburb on Aug. 5 and inviting Moscow City Council representative and former KGB General Alexander Perelygin to the Riga 800 anniversary celebrations, the Fatherland's representatives said.

Perelygin has been banned from entering Latvia for a period of one year for allegedly taking part in an anti-Latvian smear campaign.

Fatherland and Freedom is against both close relations between the Social Democrats and the left-wing alliance For Human Rights in a United Latvia, and the Council's attempts at establishing its own foreign policy.

For Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars to be deposed from his post, as some are already advocating, the move must be supported by two-thirds of the 60-seat council. The Social Democrats together with For Human Rights, their "cooperation" partners according to an agreement signed before the coalition agreement with Fatherland, have 27 seats in the council.

The Peter the Great statue was originally erected in Riga at the beginning of the last century only to be torn down by the Russians during World War I, who intended to melt the statue into bullets. However, the ship it was traveling on was hit and sunk near the coast of Estonia and the recovered statue was sold to Latvia in the 1930s.

It has been renovated by private money and stashed from place to place until a sudden decision by Riga Council last year suggested it be presented to the city of St. Petersburg.

The governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Jakovlev, who saw the statue during his stay in Riga for the city's 800th anniversary on Aug. 18, confirmed that St. Petersburg would take only a copy of the statue as the original may be ruined in the northern city's harsh climate.

Jakovlev was delighted about the statue and said that it is extremely beautiful and deserves to stay in Riga.

In the meantime, the statue of Peter the Great was removed from the park late on Aug. 20. It was lifted by crane and removed from the park almost as quietly and mysteriously as it had appeared.

While leaving the park, the statue got caught up in some branches and the truck that was carrying it was forced to slow down. Four young lads jumped at the opportunity and hitched a ride with the statue, leaving waving onlookers behind.

The statue was transported back to a restoration warehouse for a final touch up.