Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, the war time leader of the Soviet Union.
Joseph Stalin (Source)
A powerful leader, and a state dictator who polarised popular opinion. Depending on who you ask, he was either a crazed fearful coward who destroyed his opponents out of paranoia or a strong leader who held together a diverse state in the harshest of conditions.
In a nation with no god, Stalin was god. He was worshipped as the great leader of the people – a divine mortal created to replace the illusory Christian God.
Absolute power, a large consequential country, bold strong leadership. These were the ingredients that led to the cult of Stalin.
Stalin goes down in history as one of those who does not need his first name to be known. His family name has become synonymous with him and movies are made with his family name as the headline.
Stalin had began consolidating his power in the Communist power after the death of Vladimir Lenin, ruthlessly eliminating his political opponents until 1941 when he officially became the premier of the country. The height of the Stalin’s power came in 1953 when his control was absolute and his status almost divine. Buildings of his era where known as Stalinist architecture, influenced by a style called socialist realism.
But what has this to do with Latvia and Riga?
Latvia was part of the USSR at this time and a decision was made to build a Stalinist style building to commemorate the birthday of the leader, and was meant to house the Latvian Academy of Sciences.It was known as Stalin’s cake, and had the same design as a number of other “Stalin highrises” including the Warsaw Science and Culture Palace as well as the Hotel Ukrania and main building of the Moscow State University.
The structure is decorated with sickles and hammers as well as Latvian motifs.
In an ironic twist, science gave the atheist country a way to build a future. By destroying God and worshipping the god of the scientific method Latvian science ended up more robust than its economy.
Latvian Science has a list of luminaries including Nobel Laureate Wilhelm Ostwald, economist/statistician/financist/mathematician Karlis Balodis, founder of Magnetohydrodynamics Herman Branover and Aina Muceniece the developer of RIGVIR and anti-cancer drug.
This building is a symbol of that Soviet originating heritage.
The building is surrounded by Latvian style wooden houses of the 1900s. A stark contrast between the haves and the have nots. The opulence of the leadership and the harsh poverty of the era.
While the cake is no more Stalin’s it continues to be a present for the people of Riga, in science, tourism and now culture. According to our guide the building no longer belongs to the Latvian government and has since been privatised, although word on the street is that a large culture or arts plan could be underway in the place.
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