Contributed by Ciarán Wallace
The Berlin wall was inscribed across the history of twentieth century Europe. Appropriately, the Baltic States’ struggle for freedom was written on that same wall. On 12 November the Latvian Embassy launched an exhibition of photographs in Dublin’s Pearse Street Library. Taken between 1987 and 1989 the collection of twenty pictures portrayed murals and graffiti painted on the Berlin wall by activists for Latvian independence. In the first shot a bearded student in a Latvian t-shirt stood beside a mural of the Soviet-dominated map of the Baltic States with ‘SOS’ emblazoned across it. The student was a young Pēteris Elferts, current ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to Ireland – these were his personal photographs. The personal resonance of the wall was underscored by Ambassador Elferts in his speech at the launch. The audience nodded as he commented simply that ‘if the Berlin wall hadn’t fallen many of us would not be standing here today’. In a room full of diplomats from across the new Europe this was a striking thought. Murals of the Latvian flag defiled by Soviet tank-tracks, and calls for the repeal of the Hitler-Stalin pact (effectively in force until 1989), show how the wall became a noticeboard for nations campaigning against Soviet occupation. Clearly the Berlin wall had a symbolic importance far beyond Germany. This exhibition was a small but valuable contribution to a broader understanding of its role elsewhere in Europe during the Cold War. It was accompanied by photographs taken by the Latvian community in Ireland, whose pictures of Irish suburbs and countryside fit in well with the historical and political flavour of the main exhibition. After all, had the wall not fallen these photographers would not be here either.