Lawyer Renārs Briedis has taken the Museum of Occupation to court because he believes that the museum's exposition contains lies. Briedis is also demanding that the museum refund him five euros he spent on an entrance ticket.
The Occupation Museum considers Briedis' claim to be absurd and hopes that the court will reject it. The Association of Museums of Latvia thinks that if a precedent is set it could open the floodgates to innumerable similar claims.
Lawyer Renārs Briedis visited the Museum of Occupation on April 3 of this year. Seven months later, on November 9, the Riga City Court heard the case brought by him against the museum.
"With the specific exhibition, the Latvian Occupation Museum lied to me, concealing an essential fact about the coup d'état carried out by Kārļis Ulmanis on May 15, 1934," according to Briedis.
In his application, the lawyer states that concealment or omission of the fact that Ulmanis' takeover was an anti-democratic coup is tantamount to lying, and therefore malicious deception of the public. In his opinion, it should be clearly stated that Ulmanis' takeover was an authoritarian coup.
The director of the Latvian Occupation Museum, Solvita Vība, says that while there is no explicit statement in the exhibition about the nature of the power shift in 1934, guided tours of the museum do include this information.
"We are also ready to discuss with any visitor, to provide additional information, so here, in my opinion, there is no dispute that we do not recognize this fact or are in other positions," said Vība.
"Since there is no court decision yet, I really hope that this will not be a precedent for such actions, that any visitor, entering the museum, will be able to set his wishes, claims, and the museum will then have to go to court to spend not only museum funds, but also taxpayers' funds," said Solvita Vība.
Rūta Šmite, board member of the Association of Latvian Museums, said this is an unprecedented case in the history of the organization, when one of its members is taken to court for the content – or rather the absent content – of an exhibition: "We are not really completely clear as to the true motivation of this private person for such behavior, and we must take into account in this matter, that we are currently living in an information war," she said.
For his part, Renārs Briedis does not hide his motivation. For years, he has been fighting with the Riga City Council to place information about the May 15, 1934 coup near the Kārļs Ulmanis monument. In connection with the Museum of Occupation, Briedis believes that highlighting the coup would change the way it is treated in Latvian history. While the coup was completely contrary to Latvia's democratic constitution and ushered in a period of authoritarianism as a prequel to lengthier periods of occupation, some people still celebrate Ulmanis' seizure of power to this day and argue that it was justified.
Historian Kaspars Zellis believes that the court, if it ruled in favor of the claimant, could turn the whole notion of a museum into a nonsense: "This is not a question of historical facts, this is not a question of memory, this is not even a question of some kind of memory group, because it is simply, sorry to say, a circus."
A verdict is expected in December.