Paper chain: thousands of Latvians unite to move books to new national library
By George Berridge 21st January 2014. Find Article Here:-
On Saturday 18th January, Riga held the mass event to celebrate its year as a European Capital for Culture
On Saturday, thousands of Latvians marked the start of Riga’s tenure as one of two European Capitals of Culture by forming a human chain and moving 2,000 books by hand to the new national library building.
Around 15,000 people braved freezing temperatures – as low as -14C – to form a chain stretching more than a mile across the capital, deliberately echoing 1989’s Baltic Way when some two million protesters formed a human chain across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to fight for independence from the Soviet Union.
Organiser Aiva Rozenberga said the event had deep symbolic significance for Latvians.
“The people who stood in the Baltic Way remember that feeling of being shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers,” she told AFP.
“The people taking part in the book chain who are prepared to stand here on a cold winter day are taking this seriously too – we are literally standing up for culture.”
The opening of the new library forms parts of a greater move by Latvia to make its presence felt in Europe, having joined the single currency at the start of January.
This year Riga, along with Umeå in Sweden, is a European Capital of Culture.
People in the chain passed along books from the city’s existing 150-year-old national library across the River Daugava to a new national library building which opens in August.
The building, a huge concrete, glass and steel construction which resembles a mountain with a crown on top, was designed by Latvian-born architect Gunnar Birkerts.
Kirsten Petersen, a journalism student from Washington, DC, told the Telegraph: “Seeing this event brought me so much joy.
“I had just visited the Occupation Museum where I learned about how the communist regime had suppressed Latvian culture. Walking out of the museum to see an event organised by the people to celebrate their culture gave me hope for the city as it continues to emerge from the devastation of Soviet times.”
Fireworks over the new national library building in Riga, Latvia. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
But reaction to the event or building has not been wholly positive. Mayor Nils Usakovs has in the past likened the building – which cost of more €166 million – to a giant supermarket.
Speaking to the Telegraph via Twitter, user @StreetGred, posting from Riga, said: “A bunch of idiots hauling books no one will read one by one across a bridge on the coldest day of the year.
“Latvia has no living wage, but a state of the art library, makes you think.”
The first book to be placed on the shelves in the new building was a copy of The Bible.
The remainder of the library’s more than 4 million books and printed items will be moved by motorised transport.