Funding Allocated to Make KGB Building Exhibition Permanent

Funding Allocated to Make KGB Building Exhibition Permanent
Mārtiņš Otto, Riga2014
This week’s Cabinet meeting, one of the last for the current government, granted contingency funding of EUR 22,225 in response to a proposal by the “Riga 2014” foundation and the Ministry of Culture to maintain public access to the ground floor and basement of Riga’s former KGB building (also known as “Stūra māja”* or Corner House).

Initiated by the “Riga 2014” foundation, the reopening of the central Riga building proved to be one of the resounding successes of the European Capital of Culture year, with more than 44,000 people attending the free exhibition and over 27,000 paying for the guided tour of the KGB cellars. There was no shortage of senior government officials, foreign ambassadors and dignitaries either. Baltic Prime Ministers Algirdas Butkevičius of Lithuania and Taavi Rõivas of Estonia took part in events marking the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way while Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden visited on the 17th of September. Unfortunately, the building’s most recent history, namely standing empty since 2009, meant that public access had to cease on 19 October.

The six-storey building at Brīvības iela 61, at the corner of Stabu iela, was built in 1912 to a design by architect Aleksandrs Vanags. Outwardly no different to Riga’s many stylish Art Nouveau edifices, the Corner House has had a chequered history. The building’s design lead to it being declared an architectural monument (apartment building with shops) in 1998, but it is its history that gave it the status of a “Site of events of national historic significance” in 2009.

The listing specifies the building’s ground floor and cellars as the “Operating location of the Communist regime’s repressive institutions” as the Corner House housed the Latvian SSR State Security Committee from 1944 to 1991. The building is indeed unique, holding extensive evidence of political repression and crimes against humanity, inextricably linked to imprisonment, harassment, murder and moral humiliation in the consciousness of the Latvian people.

The reopening of the Corner House and the lively, continuing debate about its future can be considered a major achievement of the European Capital of Culture year, confirmed by the support of the Ministry of Culture and now this positive government decision. The concept for the reopening, “Corner House. Case No. 1914/2014”, featured six art and history exhibitions. The ultimate aim of the Corner House project was to find the answers to questions posed by 20th century European history, including launching wider public debate on many yet-unanswered questions about the legacy of totalitarianism, and commemorating its victims, also, putting the future of the Corner House on the agenda. It was the guides from the Occupation Museum Association of Latvia, the organiser for one of the exhibitions, who initially called for funding to be found to enable the historically significant building to continue to be open to the public. This is particularly significant when Latvia takes on the Presidency of the European Union Council in 2015, when the Corner House should play a key role in educating visitors about Latvia’s recent history.

The Ministry of Culture took up this call, proposing that at least the ground floor and cellars should be maintained. Maintaining the Occupation Museum’s exhibition and resuming the guided tours offered a straightforward solution, requiring initial funding of EUR 22,047. Of that, EUR 16,707 was required for a temporary heating system and an additional visitor’s toilet while the museum needed EUR 5,340 to supplement exhibition content and obtain uniforms for the guides.

As far as additional funding in the future is concerned, the government agreed it should be considered a new policy initiative in next year’s budget proposal by the Ministry of Culture. The ministry has proposed that base spending be increased by EUR 92,884 next year, but by EUR 87,544 in the subsequent two years. The use of other parts of the building remains an open question, to be resolved by its manager, government property agency “Valsts nekustamie īpašumi”.

The exhibitions at the Corner House were prepared by the “Riga 2014” foundation in collaboration with the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the association “Art Space”, the Exile Museum, Latvian Naïve Art Museum, culture and art project “NOASS”, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, and SIA “Kinolats”.

The European Capital of Culture Programme of Riga is prepared and run by the foundation “Riga 2014” in collaboration with state, municipal and non-governmental cultural organisations and creative associations. The Programme is financed by the Riga City Council, Ministry of Culture and the European Commission, and offered to the public in partnership with “Lattelecom”, which also provides technical support for the Programme – a high-speed Internet connection was installed at the Corner House for live internet broadcasts and “Lattelecom” WiFi was free for all exhibition visitors. Insurance company ERGO is the official insurer of the events and exhibitions at the Corner House.

* “Stūra māja” means Building on the corner – the innocuous name was a way for the people to show that they knew what was really going on in the secretive building. If you went in via the entrance on the corner, there was at least a chance that you would come out a free person; not so for the anonymous back gate.

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