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Riga opens doors of infamous KGB prison

By Andra Kunstberga. 17.03.2014

Corner House
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Occupation Museum prepares tours of infamous cells

As part of its European Capital of Culture events this year, soon Riga will open the doors of a ghostly and infamous building on the corner of Brivibas and Stabu streets, for the first time since Latvia’s independence was restored in 1991.

During the Soviet occupation, the building – which the Latvians often referred to as the “corner house” – housed the headquarters of the KGB. But from April 30 to October 31 it will be the venue for a project called The KGB House, File No.1914/2014.

As a part of the project, experts from the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia are preparing an exhibition about the history of the KGB and will offer tours of the basement prison cells.

The Soviet political secret police was founded in December 1917 as the All-Russian Special Commission for combating counterrevolution and sabotage. It quickly established a large and oppressive apparatus that searched for and eliminated opponents and suspected opponents of the Bolshevik regime.

When Soviet forces occupied Latvia in June 1940, the Cheka as it was then known starting working there too, continuing until 1991. It was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Latvian citizens and the exile to Siberia of many thousands more.

Altogether, Soviet political persecutions of 1940-41 alone directly affected around 26,000 Latvian inhabitants. Persecution of opponents of the Soviet regime continued after World War II, directed against Latvian national partisans and members of anti-Soviet movements. Brutal investigations were conducted in the Corner House, but executions usually took place at Riga Central Prison.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, the activities of the Cheka changed. Physical torture was often replaced by psychological pressure. However, the Cheka still controlled society, keeping it in a state of fear. Exile to Siberia was used as a punishment well into the 1980s.

[Thanks to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia for the basis for this article; pictured: The “corner house” in Riga]


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