Even the most cynical Latvians retain some reverence for the Freedom Monument, one of Riga's central landmarks. Unveiled in 1935 and financed entirely from public donations, the stone and metal structure was originally built in memory of those who fell during Latvia's War of Independence, which lasted from 1918-1920. The monument rapidly became the main symbol of Latvia's statehood, national unity and independence.
The idea of building the monument dates to 1920. Kārlis Zāle's project "Shine like a star" was eventually chosen as the winner over several other entries. At the monument's base, thirteen groups of sculptures and bas-reliefs made of red and grey granite depict Latvia's history and culture. The top of the 19-metre, marble obelisk is crowned by a woman hewed in copper. She is holding up three golden stars, which represent Latvia's historical regions of Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. The motto "For the Fatherland and Freedom" is inscribed upon the base.
The Soviets considered demolishing the monument, but Zāle's famous student, the Russian sculptor Vera Mukhina, is said to have saved it by pointing to its artistic value.
During the Soviet occupation, laying flowers or paying any other form of tribute at the Freedom Monument was strictly forbidden. However, on 14 June 1987, the Helsinki-86 human rights group dared to organize a public remembrance of the Soviet mass deportations that had taken place on that date in 1941.
The monument quickly became a rallying point for the peaceful, Singing Revolution against Soviet rule. After Latvia's independence was restored in 1991, the honour guard that had held vigil prior to 1940 was again deployed at the foot of the monument.
The Freedom Monument is where foreign heads of state now come to lay wreaths, together with the Latvian president, during state visits to the country.
Keywords: freedom monument, Riga, Latvia