Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Russian Market, Riga

The central market of Riga is also known as the Russian market for its location in the Russian part of town and the ethnicity of the majority of its vendors. I visited it a few times, in the morning and evening and spent a long time wandering. I thought in no single other place could the living history of the city be seen.

The twentieth century for Latvia saw some of it's proudest moments with it's independence as a state declared twice. First from Germany in 1918, paving the way for an economic relationship with the west that proved so fruitful that the spoils of it can be seen in the long tree lined boulevards of the north part of the city. Each spectacularly decorated with some of the grandest Art Nouveau architecture of the world, albeit now in somewhat disrepair, giving the city the nickname "Paris of the North". The second time in 1991 with the collapse of the soviet union. Latvia's inclusion into the EU in 2004 show it has been quick to shake off it's history.

But in between these two events the country saw it's worst moments. They were sandwiched by the might of Germany and Russia during WWII and experienced the Holocaust and then the full weight of Soviet oppression. Despite the recent economic growth and optimistic political environment, it's hard to say they have fully recovered. The urban landscape outside the city centre is awash with cold, grey, homogenous apartment buildings and the scattered ruins of mansions from a richer time.

What can be said is Latvia is changing rapidly. 28% of the population is Russian and the outskirts of the city centre where this market is located are worn and old and crumbling. It seems the greatest poverty in a city renowned through the EU for it's economic growth lies in the ethnic community of the once-great nation that had dominated for so many years and held back that very growth. Riga is as diverse and interesting today as it has ever been, how long it will stay as it is is much harder to tell.

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