Monday, December 19, 2005

The Baltic States, an unlikely tour

I found myself needing this information today to acknowledge some research for a magazine bio, so I thought to post these links here. You may not be in the area to visit, but you can at least have a click and see. It's important that everyone does, I'd say. The lessons of history and all that, don't know them they repeat today; you know the routine. Anyways:

Two summers ago, I visited Moscow with my girlfriend, who was kind enough to take me, with my interest in the Cold War and 20th century history, to the Lubyanka Building, in the heart of the Russian capital. Here, in a beautiful yellow building, the KGB used to do not so beautiful things in the basement. Isaac Babel is believed to have been killed here, caught up in one of Stalin's purges. His last words: "Let me finish my work!"

From there, I left alone by train for a tour of the Baltic states, and a tour, I'm sure, few travel agents would book. The Museums were located in each of the capitals: Tallinn, Latvia, Vilnius. By the end, I thought to get a faux-rock concert shirt printed: Stephan Clark's Tour of Oppression and Repression, Summer 2004.

In Tallinn, I visited the Occupation Museum, which tells Estonia's history from 1940 until the end of Communist rule in 1991. Located in a modern building on the edge of the city's beautiful Old Town, you'll find lots of video here documenting the period, from the initial Nazi occupation to the take-over by the Red Army and the subsequent authority of the KGB. The website offers Russian, English and Estonian versions.

Riga also has an Occupation Museum, and it too is housed in a beautiful building in the Old Town. No video that I recall, but plenty of personal items are on display here, including many, like this facemask used to fight the cold, that detail the gulag system in ways that were invaluable to my research of "Kamkov the Astronomer," a short story forthcoming in the Cincinnati Review. This website, while beautifully designed and offering a great virtual tour, does not offer a Russian version, like the following website, something I find a little peculiar. The above image was borrowed from this site.

Finally, I visited The Genocide Victims' Museum in Vilnius, which is housed in the basement of the city's former KGB headquarters. You enter it as a prisoner would, moving from the registration desk to those more chilling rooms in back, such as the Room of Inquiry and the Room of Execution. All the while, if you listen to the voice of the poncey Brit on the supplied Walkman, you learn about the many horrors that took place here. It is chilling. An experience best taken alone, on a slow day, when, if you're lucky, you might not bump into anyone with a camera swinging from their neck.