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Civil Defence Museum

 

Year 2011 brought a worthwhile addition to the north part of Andrejsala in the form of Civil Defence Museum, one of the kind in the entire Baltic region. The non-commercial museum has been set up in one of the few underground bunkers in Andrejsala, originally designed in the Soviet era as bomb shelters in case of military attacks from overseas aggressors.

 

The concept of the museum was devised by Ansis Akots, chemist by occupation, and his cohorts who refer to themselves as lurkers or urban explorers. ‘We visit those abandoned buildings and sites in Rīga and other towns, take photos and collect long forgotten things that no one really needs any more for restoration. It was during a lurkers' meeting that we came up with the idea of combining the rarest and most interesting items we had found and eventually establishing a museum so everyone would be able to see those things, basically all sorts of devices and equipment from the bygone days,’ explains Ansis. He also adds that co-operation with Estonian fellow lurkers is also possible because there are currently no plans to form a similar museum in their country.

 

The museum showcases a variety of devices, gadgets and objects that were used for civil defence purposes in the Soviet era. ‘Much to our surprise, many of the things we have found are still fully functional and a lot of those qualify as rarities, such as certain types of electronic communication devices or gas masks. Since one of us is an electronics engineer, we are looking forward to creating an operational command centre in one of the rooms of the bunker. My knowledge in chemistry serves excellently when it comes to renovating the historic things,’ he says.

 

How did the lurker gang find out about the bunker in Andrejsala? According to Ansis, it happened a few years ago as they were spot-checking the territory: they noticed a grassy knoll amidst the flat terrain which turned out to be something more than that as they also discovered a metal door on either side. The lock on the door appeared to be broken and they could easily get inside the subterranean structure to learn in amazement that the electric lighting, ventilation and air filtration systems were all working! ‘Although the museum idea did not exist at the time, we’d pay a few more visits to the site and take pictures. As the concept of the museum started to take shape, we recalled there was this bunker in Andrejsala and submitted a corresponding proposal to Jaunrīgas attīstības uzņēmums, the company in charge of the territory’s development. They replied that the structure was not intended for further use and allowed us to go ahead with our idea,’ recollects Ansis.

 

The subject of civil defence these days might raise many a peer’s brow. Here is what the young gentleman has to say about that: ‘It’s part of our history that still lingers on and is capable of attracting a lot of people.’ Compared to the situation some thirty years ago when the Soviet government kept sustaining a certain level of nation-wide precaution or even fear of military aggressions likely to strike any moment, civil defence nowadays is no longer taught at school and its social role is close to nil. ‘There is a course in civil defence they are teaching at Rīga Technical University, but that’s about it. Living has become safer since the end of the Cold War,’ comments Ansis. ‘I have no idea whether civil defence is of any practical value these days, although it’s good to have some background knowledge in that. Some time ago I heard a knock at my door, so I opened it and saw that the corridor was all in thick smoke. It was like the house is on fire, run for your life! The first thing I did was grab a gas mask, one from my collection, and leave the building. Later I was told that all the panic had been caused by a smoke stick somebody had thrown in! To sum it up, those who want to take care of themselves will do their best to feel secure, but others are unlikely to be missing a lot if they remain uninstructed in the area of civil defence.’

 

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