Last year, the Latvian National Library moved into the Castle of Light, a gleaming new triangular building designed by Gunnar Birkerts, one of Riga’s most famous emigrés.
A few months later, the secretariat of the Latvian presidency of the EU Council of Ministers moved in – with a steady stream of high profile visitors. Members of the public are excluded from using the main entrance and two of the 14 floors for the country’s six-month tenure at the helm of European decision-making.
Visitors must pass through airport-style security – complete with metal detectors and presentation of photo ID – before they can borrow a book, or peer down on the 28 national flags adorning the floors below.
The bookworms here seem proud of the presidency, in a reserved way. But relations with Russia, including the EU sanctions imposed over Ukraine, remain divisive.
“Yes, we’re proud,” shrugs Angelika Voronova, a 32-year-old research scientist attending a seminar. She adds: “I have nothing against the EU but it needs to change its mind towards Russia as a country.”
Of more concern to Karlis, my guide, are the new entry arrangements. “They built a new library but then almost immediately the entrance was closed to the public,” he says wryly.