A museum in Latvia has pulled an exhibition on the parallels between the 2019 Hong Kong protests and the 1989 Baltic Way, six days before it was set to take place this week.

The Museum of Occupation of Latvia in Riga informed organisers of the unilateral decision to cancel the “Hong Kong Way” exhibition via email last Tuesday, its curator Iverson Ng told Latvia’s public broadcaster.

“The Hong Kong Way” in 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The exhibition was set to open in the Baltic states’ three capital cities on Monday, on the 32nd anniversary of the Baltic Way, when an estimated two million people formed a human chain that stretched over 650 kilometres across the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — to peacefully demand independence from the Soviet Union.

During Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests, up to 210,000 people created a 50 kilometre human chain across the city to mark the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way and to demand the government cede to its five protest demands, including greater democracy.

Human chains were also created by students from over 100 schools to show support for the pro-democracy cause.

Baltic Way. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Kusurija.

The “Hong Kong Way” exhibition is currently underway in Estonia and Lithuania, at sites in Tallinn and Vilnius.

‘Censorship’

Ng, the exhibition’s curator, accused the Latvian museum of “censorship” and of bowing to Chinese influence. “It is very likely not the government of Latvia, but the Chinese Embassy in Riga [that] wants to silence the exhibition,” he told Latvia’s public broadcaster LSM.

“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.”

The museum, meanwhile, cited differences and other priorities for the cancellation. It’s deputy director told Latvian media 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,” LSM reported.

Hong Kong students stage a human chain protest on September 26, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

He added that August 23 marked the anniversary of the 1939 German-Soviet nonaggression pact that divided Eastern Europe between the two powers prior to World War II.

“The [museum] considers it its task to remind the public about the tragic consequences of the Hitler-Stalin Pact concluded in 1939 for the land and people of Latvia. This is not the time to bring other issues to the fore when using the museum premises,” the deputy director was quoted as saying in an email.

The sudden cancellation of the exhibition in Riga comes as some China observers have raised the alarm on China’s growing international influence through foreign investment, which provides incentives for governments to follow Beijing’s narrative on topics it deems contentious, including reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the erosion of freedoms in Tibet and Hong Kong, and the status of Taiwan.

A report by the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism from September 2019 found evidence of China using its soft power in the Baltic states to remove adverts and cancel events by political dissidents, including Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and spreading Beijing’s worldview through its language and cultural “Confucius Institutes.”

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.