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25 Apr, 2023 21:16

EU capital to demolish monument to poet Pushkin

Latvian MPs reportedly fear the sculpture could become a gathering spot for people celebrating the USSR’s victory over Nazism
EU capital to demolish monument to poet Pushkin

The city council of the Latvian capital, Riga voted on Tuesday to demolish a monument to 19th century Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, Vice Mayor Linda Ozola said on Facebook.

“Pushkin’s days in the Kronvalda Park are numbered,” Ozola wrote on Facebook, referring to the city center park that hosts the statue of the Russian poet, who lived from 1799 to 1837 and is a major figure in European literature.

The vice mayor also called the sculpture – which was given as gift by the Russian Embassy in Latvia in 2009 and placed in the park with the aid of former Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs – an “illegally installed monument.”

The statue “should disappear” from the city landscape and should be “promptly” removed, the vice mayor added. Ozola, a member of the conservative Kods Rigai party, was one of four local MPs behind the initiative to take down the monument.

The Kods Rigai MPs earlier called on the 60-deputy city council to remove the monument before May 4, Delfi reported on Tuesday.

The MPs reportedly argued that it could become a gathering spot for people celebrating the victory over Nazism in World War II on May 9 – the day celebrated as Victory Day in Russia. These people could also bring flowers to the monument, the MPs argued, according to Delfi.

Earlier, Ozola reportedly called the Pushkin monument a “symbol of Russian imperialism” which was used by the Russian Embassy as a “soft power and propaganda tool.”

According to Delfi, the city council has agreed only to move the monument from the central Kronvalda Park to another place. However, neither the new location nor the timing have been determined, Delfi said.

Since gaining independence from the USSR, Latvia has increasingly viewed Soviet-era monuments as symbols of oppression. In May 2022, the Baltic state’s government voted to remove all Soviet-era monuments by a November 15 deadline, citing the conflict in Ukraine.

In August 2022, the authorities in Riga destroyed a Soviet memorial commemorating the liberation of Latvia and its capital from the Nazis in World War II. This came despite a warning from the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) to stop the demolition. Riga claimed that the UN decision came too late, adding that the OHCHR is “not a court” and its opinions are “not legally binding.”

The conflict between Moscow and Kiev has also seen rising tensions between the Latvian authorities and the nation’s sizable Russian minority, which is around a quarter of the total population. Last year, Latvian President Egils Levits said that people of Russian heritage whose loyalty to the government is questionable should be “isolated from society.”

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