Protest letters against construction of Pļaviņas HES in 1958
In 1958, a group of 55 Latvian scientists and cultural figures signed a petition against the Pļaviņas Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) project, because it envisaged the flooding of part of the Daugava valley, one of the most beautiful areas in Latvia, which was rich in archaeological and historic monuments. It also had a symbolic value as part of the Latvian nation-building narrative. Due to the efforts of the Soviet authorities to suppress the protest, very few documents are available, some of which are in the Museum of the River Daugava.
Dolesmuiža, Latvia 2121
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Name of collection
- A letter by intelligentsia of Latvia about preservation of the river Daugava valley in course of construction of the Pļaviņas HPP on 14.03.1958 with supplements and other materials.
Provenance and cultural activities
In March 1958, a group of 55 well-known scientists, writers and public figures signed a petition against plans by the Gidroenergoprojekt Institute to build a hydroelectric power plant (HPP) on the Daugava (the Pļaviņas HES), which envisaged the flooding of one of the most beautiful parts of the river's glacial valley, with many natural and historical monuments. This part of the River Daugava was an important part of the Latvian nation-building myth. It was the landscape in which the eponymous hero of the epic poem 'Lāčplēsis' (1888), from the period of National Romanticism, by Andrejs Pumpurs, was born and lived. The petition was signed by people of high social standing in Soviet Latvia, such as the poetess Mirdza Ķempe (1907-1974), the sculptor Teodors Zaļkalns (1876-1972), and the head of the first pro-Soviet government in 1940 Professor Augusts Kirhenšteins (1872-1963). The petition was given to the journalist Vera Kacena (1912-1999), whose support was vital to ensure that it would be handed personally to Vilis Lācis (1904-1966), the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Latvian SSR. The signatories to the petition acknowledged that the construction of the power station was necessary, but they asked that it be built in such a way as to take into account the interests of other branches of the economy (such as fisheries), and the protection of natural and cultural values. The document contained an alternative proposal for the construction of the station, the ‘derivative’ channel. Kacena published an article in the weekly Literatūra un Māksla (Literature and Art), in which, without referring to the existence of the petition, she explained the arguments for the dire ecological, cultural and economic consequences of building the station according to the plan envisaged by Gidroenergoprojekt. The article stirred up great feeling among the general public: it was the first time in Soviet Latvia since the Second World War that a collective mass protest action developed. It was neutralised by the KGB, and the signatories to the petition were careful to keep out of any mass protest actions. In July 1959, liberal-minded communists in the government of the Latvian SSR were defeated at a plenary meeting of the Latvian Communist Party Central Committee, and they were gradually excluded from power. Their opponents presented the protests against the flooding of the Daugava valley as a manifestation of 'bourgeois nationalism', and any discussion of the project was impossible. The construction of the Pļaviņas HPP started in 1961, and finished in 1966. The reservoir of the HPP was constructed according to the initial plan, in a way that was most merciless to historic and natural sites. When the HPP was under construction, there was a sort of mass pilgrimage to the sites that were to vanish (Koknese, Staburags). Later, in 1966-1974, the next big station, the Riga HPP, was built on the Daugava, and its reservoir also flooded many historical and archaeological sites. In general, the case of the Pļaviņas HPP caused a deep wound in the Latvian national consciousness, and a sense of the powerlessness of society against the technocratic arguments of Moscow and the local authorities. As Dainis Īvāns said in an interview, Pļaviņas HPP became a symbol of occupation. In 1986, a mass campaign started against the construction of the Daugavpils HPP, which became the first step in the fight to regain national independence, and grew so large due to the harm caused by ignorance of the protests in the case of the Pļaviņas HPP.
Sources: Mārtiņš Mintaurs (2013). "Ieskats Pļaviņu hidroelektrostacijas tapšanas vēsturē". In: Jānis Ivars Padedzis, Mārtiņš Mintaurs (compilers), Atmiņu Daugava. Biedrība "Koknesei", pp. 50-106;
Interview with Dainis Īvāns, 18.08.2017.
Description of content
The collection consists of five documents. One is a typewritten copy of the Russian translation of the petition signed by 55 well-known public figures, scientists and cultural activists that was submitted to the Council of Ministers on 14 March 1958. The original of the petition is in Latvian, and is now in the files of the Latvian SSR Council of Ministers in the State Archive of Latvia. The petition had three supplements, about the valley of the River Daugava, the natural and cultural monuments that would be lost by the flooding, and about alternative options to the plan. The fifth document is a survey of letters from readers of the weekly Literatūra un Māksla (Literature and Art) in response to an article by Vera Kacena. These documents were kept in the editorial offices of Literatūra un Māksla, and after it closed down, they were given to the Museum of the River Daugava by its photographer Gunārs Janaitis. Very little was known about the campaign against the construction of the Pļaviņas HES after 1959. As Dainis Īvāns admitted in an interview, he did not have any particular knowledge of these events in 1986 when he and Artūrs Snips published an article about the Daugavpils HPP. Only during the protest campaign caused by their article did information emerge, with the memories of participants, local people and others who considered the preservation of memories about the lost River Daugava valley to be their mission. Material from the Museum of the River Daugava about the campaign, as well as interviews with eye-witnesses collected by the museum, was used in the publication by Mārtiņš Mintaurs in the book Atmiņu Daugava (The Daugava of Memories), published in 2013. Material from the collection was also used for the exhibition ‘Let the River Daugava Be' at the National History Museum of Latvia from September to December 2017.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 0-9
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
- Gailis, Zigmārs
- Lasmane, Daina
- Rutka, Daina
Geographical scope of recent operation
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Part of network
Author(s) of this page
- Bleiere, Daina
Janaitis, Gunārs, interview by Bleiere, Daina , August 15, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Lasmane, Daina, interview by Bleiere, Daina , July 24, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Rutka, Daina, interview by Bleiere, Daina , July 20, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Īvāns, Dainis, interview by Bleiere, Daina , August 18, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Gailis, Zigmārs, interview by Bleiere, Daina , July 20, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection