On a recent state visit to Latvia, the President of France Emmanuel Macron honoured the “French group” (Latvian intellectuals persecuted by the Soviet regime) in a speech in Riga Castle on 29 September, and during a visit to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia on 30 September.
The “French group” were a small community of people interested in French literature and art, who spent afternoons together in the years immediately after the Second World War in the Riga apartment of Irīna and Arnolds Stubaus at Dzirnavu iela 70. The group’s members were arrested in 1950 and 1951 on charges of “betraying the Motherland.”
During his visit to the museum, President Macron was shown objects commemorating the group’s members, including sewing and embroidery done by poet Elza Stērste during her exile in Tayshet, Russia, poems written down by poet Mirdza Ersa in Riga’s Central Prison, and watercolours made by artist Kurts Fridrihsons during his imprisonment in Omsk Oblast, Siberia. The museum gave a copy of one of Fridrihsons’ paintings to the French president.
On the initiative of the French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise in Latvia, as part of the visit, the museum received a valuable gift from Ieva Andersone, the daughter of “French group” member Ieva Lase. This comprised correspondence with her husband Eižens Lasis, invitations and photographs from the 1993 ceremony in which Lase and Ersa received awards from the Republic of France for their contributions to literature and art, as well as a folk costume from Krustpils District belonging to Ieva Lase which she wore on graduating from Riga’s Secondary School No 2 in the 1930s. She made the blouse for the costume herself. During Lase’s imprisonment, the costume was kept by her mother Marija Ilze Birgere in her Riga apartment, and it was worn by Andersone, when celebrating Summer Solstice and listening to Song Festivals.