I’ve just published a new story in the Documentary Projects section of my website. Narva: On the edge of Europe looks at the European Union’s most-Russian city at the time of heightened tension in the Eastern Europe and especially in border regions in the Baltics as Russia continues it’s invasion of Ukraine. I spent a few days there in May 2022. Click through to see the full story.
On June 1, 2022, the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, was rededicated 135 years after it was first unveiled in Boston, Massachusetts. The bronze relief sculpture sits opposite the Massachusetts State House at the edge of Boston Common in the heart of downtown Boston and was the first monument to Black soldiers in the Civil War. At the ceremony, Yale historian David Blight called it the “greatest work of public art in the United States,” and said that more poetry and songs have been written about it than any other monument in the country. When Civil War statues were being taken down in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, Blight said this monument has “always been here saying the Confederacy did not win that war.”
This ceremony served as a public unveiling of the sculpture after having undergone a two-year, three-million-dollar restoration, which included repair to the brass section of the monument and rebuilding the concrete foundation. The event was attended by members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Company A, a group of Black Civil War re-enactors who dress up as the 54th Regiment, the first Black regiment from the north to fight in the Civil War, formed after the Emancipation Proclamation, after Frederick Douglass’s work to convince Abraham Lincoln to recruit Black soldiers. The soldiers themselves raised funds for the monument starting shortly after their 1863 attack on Fort Wagner in South Carolina.
The monument is part of Boston’s Black Freedom Trail.
On May 8 and 9, the Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders in Victory Park (Uzvaras parks; Парк Победы) served as a gathering spot for two separate and incompatible commemorations of the end of the second World War. May 8 is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), celebrated through Europe and the US, and May 9 is Victory Day, a Russian holiday marking the victory over the Germans.
The Russian Victory Day gathering has been contentious since Latvia’s independence; most Latvians view it as a celebration of the Soviet occupation of Latvia. Because of this and because of rising tensions throughout Europe over Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, the Riga government banned Russian gatherings on May 9 and forbade any displays of Russian nationalism. In previous years, the Russian holiday saw thousands gathered at the base of the monument, laying flowers on the ground, and displaying Russian patriotic symbols.
This year, the monument, which features a traditional Soviet Motherland figure, soldiers, and a tall tower, were surrounded by police barricades decorated with the Latvian and Ukrainian flags and images of the war in Ukraine were put on display. On May 8, people could approach the monument directly, but on May 9, Russians were held back from the monument by police and could not personally lay flowers at the base of the monument. The mood on May 8 was somber, but tensions were high on May 9 as the Russian arrived but couldn’t commemorate Victory Day as they have for decades.
UPDATE: Starting 22 August 2022, the Riga government began the destruction of this monument, part of a wave of Soviet monument removal throughout the Baltics. The soldiers were removed on Aug. 23, and the 260-foot obelisk tower was toppled on Aug. 25.
South Boston’s raucous Saint Patrick’s Day Parade returned after two years being cancelled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And while the route was shortened this year, the sidewalks were just as full as ever with people. An estimated 1 million people attended the event.