Autumn in Riga, Latvia

In the autumn of 2019, I spent an extended weekend in Latvia, one of Sweden’s neighbors across the Baltic Sea. However, when I grew up during the Cold War, we regarded Latvia as “beyond the event horizon”, one of many nearby countries enslaved by communist tyrants and off-limits to people from democratic Europe.

When I walked through Riga’s central park, I spotted several memorial stones — listing a name, a date, a profession — at the exact locations where civilian Latvians in early 1991 had been killed by Soviet soldiers that the Kremlin had dispatched to reassert its rule. Next to the the city’s grocery market, I encountered a museum dedicated to the sufferings in the Riga Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

In many places in Europe, such memorials and museums are a part of everyday life. Here in Sweden, they are not. Is Sweden therefore an abnormal European country? Probably. Our ability to dodge out of the way of 20th-century tyrants spared us much misery, but it also made us partially incapable of sensing the price of liberty and the horrors coming from losing it.

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