Riga topples largest Soviet monument in Baltic states

Riga topples largest Soviet monument in Baltic states
Latvian authorities argued that the Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders had become a rallying point for Kremlin supporters. / Wikipedia
By Linas Jegelevicius in Vilnius August 26, 2022

The authorities of the Latvian capital Riga dismantled the largest Soviet-era monument in the Baltic states on August 25, despite protests from the local Russian-speaking community demanding that the monument be preserved, LSM.lv, a Latvian news website, reported on August 26.

According to the AFP news agency, demolition equipment was used to tear down the World War Two memorial. Latvian authorities argued that it had become a rallying point for Kremlin supporters.

The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders, as the edifice is officially known, was erected in 1985 in Riga’s Pardaugava district. It included statues of soldiers and a woman, with a 79-metre obelisk between them.

On August 25, the last element of the memorial, the obelisk, was dismantled. It was taken down amid loud cheers from the people watching the demolition.

After the removal of the obelisk, traffic was allowed to move again in the surrounding streets. However, pedestrians were still not allowed to approach the dismantled monument and police were on duty in the area.

The local authorities had to demolish the monument after the country’s parliament voted in favour of removing all remaining statues, plaques and bas-reliefs commemorating the Soviet era by mid-November.

Latvia’s ethnic Russian community, which makes up a third of the country’s population, protested against the removal of the monument. Thousands of Russian speakers used to gather at the monument every year on May 9 to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

For many ethnic Latvians, however, this date marked the beginning of the Soviet occupation, which lasted until 1991.

The memorial has been controversial from the start. The original idea was to depict a woman with a baby in her arms waiting for her husband to return from war. However, the project did not pass the censors and a theme closer to traditional Soviet WW2 iconography was chosen instead. One of the sculptors, Lev Bukovsky, had also served in a Waffen SS division during the war, LSM.lv said.

In 1997, a group of activists tried to demolish the monument with dynamite, but the explosives detonated prematurely and killed two people. This time, neither explosives nor a wrecking ball were used to dismantle the monument. The work, which took three days, cost around €2.1mn.

The dismantling of the memorial came a week after the removal of a Soviet-era monument Estonia’s city of Narva, which has a large Russian-speaking community. This week Tallinn also removed the Nomme stone monument and is poised to demolish the Maarjamae memorial.

After Estonia took down the monument – a replica of a T-34 tank with a red Soviet star – the Russian hacker group Killnet launched a wave of cyber-attacks against Estonian public institutions and private organisations. Tallinn called the attacks the biggest since 2007, but stressed that they were “ineffective”.

A World War Two memorial has been recently dismantled in the centre of Lithuania’s third biggest city Klaipeda. A memorial for Red Army soldiers in Antakalnis Cemetery in Vilnius is slated for demolition in autumn.