EU member paves way to demolishing Soviet memorial
Latvian lawmakers have overwhelmingly voted to renounce part of a treaty with Russia in which Riga committed to protect and maintain war memorials in the country. Thursday’s move opens the door to the removal of a monument to Soviet soldiers who liberated Riga from Nazi occupation during World War II. The location serves as a focal point for civil confrontation over the country’s historical relations with Russia.
A 1994 agreement between Moscow and Riga on the protection of retired Russian servicemen living in Latvia includes an article on the preservation of memorials. The Latvian government pledged to preserve the sites and to allow war veterans to be buried at military cemeteries. The Russian side reciprocated by pledging to take care of memorials and burial sites of Latvian victims of wars and Soviet government repressions.
In a 68-18 vote on Thursday, the Latvian parliament approved the disavowal of its commitments in order to lift the legal restrictions against demolishing Soviet-era war memorials in the country. Proponents have one particular site in mind – a memorial complex erected in Riga in 1985 to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who liberated the Latvian capital from Nazi occupation. The site includes statues of Soviet soldiers and a female figure representing the Motherland.
Latvians celebrating Victory Day on May 9 flock to the location each year to lay flowers in honor of their ancestors. This year, the event became a flashpoint after the city authorities advised people not to participate, and later used a tractor to dispose of the flowers left at the memorial. The removal on Tuesday backfired, as scores of outraged people returned with more flowers.
Latvian nationalists have been calling for the demolition of the memorial for years. In 1997, members of a radical organization planted a bomb in an attempt to damage the memorial, but the IED went off prematurely and killed two of them.
One of the MPs supporting the demolition called it a symbol of Soviet occupation – and by extension, of Russia’s attack against Ukraine – during the debate in parliament on Thursday.
“It has no place in our nation and the capital. That’s what the majority believes. By taking this decision, we will secure the right to determine for ourselves what happens with Soviet monuments in our country,” Krista Baumane of the AP! alliance said, as cited by local media.
Some opposition legislators argued that the proposal was a political ploy to whip up voter support ahead of the October general election. The city mayor said on Thursday that it was highly unlikely that the proposed demolition would happen before then.
Moscow did not immediately react to the news officially, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented on social media with a single word: “ghouls.”