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2021.08.23 13:00

Under alleged pressure from China, Latvian museum cancels Hong Kong exhibition

Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2021.08.23 13:00

Latvia’s Museum of occupation has cancelled a planned exhibition that drew parallels between the so-called Hong Kong Way of 2019 and the Baltic Way in 1989, where over a million people linked arms from Tallinn to Vilnius to demand independence.

The human chain protest in Hong Kong came at the height of pro-democracy protests in 2019, which sought to preserve autonomy from Beijing’s direct rule.

The exhibition of the two events was due to open simultaneously in three Baltic capitals, and was curated by Iverson Ng, a Hong Kong-born Estonian columnist.

Read more: The Baltic Way to independence: 30 years since the landmark human-chain protest

"The deputy director of the museum unilaterally cancelled the exhibition,” Ng told LSM, Latvia’s public broadcaster.

On Monday, Ng told LRT.lt that he considered the move “censorship”.

“It is very likely not the government of Latvia, but the Chinese Embassy in Riga [that] wants to silence the exhibition,” he added.

“The way they handled this cancellation is a sign they don't know how to explain and to express this kind of pressure, and that's why I think it is Chinese influence in Latvia.”

Read more: Hong Kong turns out in peaceful protest reminiscent of 1989 Baltic Way

The museum said in a letter seen by LSM that the two parties "had not fully agreed on the terms of the exhibition" and "did not really understand each other's intentions and ideas."

The Baltic Way anniversary “is not the time to bring other issues to the fore when using the museum premises”, Taiga Kokneviča, deputy director of the museum, said.

China has previously pressured institutions and state organisations during pro-Tibet and pro-Hong Kong activities and advertisements, according to a 2019 investigation by Re:Baltic and its partners in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Read more: The rough face of China’s soft power in the Baltics – investigation

In 2013, Riga Airport removed a poster advertising Dalai Lama’s public lecture. The same year, Latvia’s National Opera rescinded permission for the Tibetan spiritual leader to use its facilities. In 2015, similar posters disappeared from Tallinn’s airport.

Previously, a rally in support of Hong Kong in Vilnius also attracted a Chinese counter-protest. Due to the involvement of the Chinese embassy staff, Vilnius sent a diplomatic note to Beijing over the incident.

Exhibition to proceed in Tallinn, Vilnius

The exhibition is due to open “in Tallinn at 12:00 outside the former Soviet prison” and “at the Lithuanian Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights at 17:00,” Ng said.

Lithuania’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomėnas and several MPs will take part in the opening of the exhibition, according to the organiser.

LRT.lt has turned to the Chinese embassy in Latvia for comment, but it has not responded in time for publication.

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