Built in 1888 and unchanged since, Riga Circus is the world’s oldest hard top circus still standing in its original form. Latvia’s first film projections were held here in 1889 and the Circus has never stopped its shows throughout the country’s tumultuous history. During a show two thirds of the 130 people working here are Russian. Occupied by the Soviets from 1940 until independence in 1990, the Russians represent a third of Latvia’s population (800 000 of 2 600 000). The Soviet period was the circus hey day. There were over 40 hard top circuses spread around the Soviet Union. Encouraged, taught in schools and subsidised during Soviet rule, the physical prowess’s of circus performers were emblematic of a socialist brave new world.
Independent and soon to be member of the European Community, Latvia no longer subsidises the Circus. By the end of 2003, the Circus will be returned to the heirs of its previous owners before it was nationalised by the Soviets. Situated in the town centre, the Circus is prime real estate and most believe that it will be pulled down to be replaced by office blocks. Of all those that I met, few were optimistic about the Circus’s future. The young plan to leave and work in other European countries. The elderly don’t know what they will do.