"The competition between the US and the USSR in space exploration was very fierce. And the USSR succeeded first [...] Yuri Gagarin became a symbol of space research, of humankind's victory over nature, of the victory of the Soviet regime and its successes," said Irina Zeibārte of the Latvian National History Museum.
"This caused a number of changes related to place names and other names [..]. For example, I have heard that Arvīds Pelše, Secretary of the Latvian Communist Party, had suggested changing Rīga's name to Gagarin," said Zeibārte.
"We know that thankfully Rīga wasn't renamed Gagarin, but [Gagarin's] home town in Russia - Gzhatsk - was. However Rīga wasn't entirely unaffected by the enthusiasm for space exploration. Two streets were named after things related to space: Gagarin street and Cosmonautics avenue," Zeibārte said.
"The latter is now Dudayev's avenue, and the former regained its historical title of Ropažu street," the historian told Latvian Television.
Yuri Gagarin has visited Rīga, however the idea to rename the Latvian capital came to Pelše before the visit took place. Zeibārte claimed the idea was related to Pelše's bid to build up his credentials within the Communist Party.