In the past I have poked gentle fun at the Baltic enthusiasm for flag days, but March 25 is one day I have come to understand really does deserve to have the flags flying.
But on this day the flags have a black ribbon attached in remembrance of the 100,000 Balts who were summarily deported to Siberia in March 1949.
But the problem with preparing features in advance is that they never really capture the feeling of the day. And while this year’s 60th anniversary will see the deportations remembered internationally (at the European parliament) and nationally (at the Freedom Monument), it is always the local and personal acts of remembrance on the day itself that are the most significant.
It was such a beautiful, bright but cold morning today that I decided to walk to work instead of hopping aboard the number 10 tram.
I took a short detour via Tornakalns rail station. This was the scene of deportations in 1941 and I assume must also have played a role in 1949. A cattle truck like the one hundreds of families were herded into is maintained at the station as a memorial.
This morning, fresh flowers were laid on the memorial stone beside it, and a candle guttered but burned in the cold wind whispering along the tracks from the Daugava.
A couple of municipal policemen watched me carefully as I took some pictures and briefly removed my cap as a mark of respect. Last year someone kicked in the door of the cattle truck in an act of vandalism that takes some beating as far as boorish ignorance is concerned.
A woman probably in her late sixties went up to the stone and placed a single white flower of her own on it.
I approached and asked her politely what today meant to her. She didn’t really want to talk to me as she was meeting someone in a nearby street and seemed the sort of bustling, active woman who is the real lifeblood of Latvia.
“The flower is for my best friend. We were young girls and neighbours. One day she was gone and I never saw her again. I come here every year because she’s still my friend,” she said by way of explanation.
Walking alongside the tracks towards Riga, the sky was very blue and the wind was cold enough to make my eyes water.