Conflicts & War

Soviet monument controversy triggers Latvian government crisis

Riga, Latvia, May 12 (EFE).- Two days of gatherings by Russian-speakers in the Latvian capital at a controversial Soviet war monument, with some openly supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have culminated in a government crisis and a decision by lawmakers that paves the way for the memorial to be demolished.

With prime minister Krisjanis Karins visiting Canada while Russian-speakers in Riga defied police requests to stay away from the monument, his four-party coalition government is facing a crisis as the center-right National Alliance (NA) Thursday threatened to leave the coalition unless Minister of Interior Marija Golubeva is fired.

The NA has accused Golubeva, who represents the liberal For Development/For (APar) alliance, of dereliction of her duties by allowing people commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany to lay flowers at the monument on May 9 despite a ban on gathering near the site.

The May 9 event then spilled over into the following day, with symbols of Russia being displayed and Soviet songs being sung while some at the event engaged in shouting matches with counter-demonstrators carrying Ukrainian flags or emblems of support for Ukraine.

“What every person loyal to Latvia was forced to experience in their country on May 9 and 10 is unacceptable. We cannot regard this as an everyday mishap for which political responsibility is limited to symbolic criticism and a promise to make amends,” Raivis Dzintars, NA chairman, wrote in a statement.

The departure of NA from the coalition would mean the resignation of the ministers of economy, culture and agriculture and leave the remaining parties loyal to Prime Minister Karins with only 35 votes in the 100-seat parliament.

At the same time as the NA demanded the Interior Minister’s resignation, all MPs from the coalition parties voted 68 to 17 to suspend parts of a treaty with Russia that called for protection of so-called memorial sites in both countries. This allows Latvia to demolish the Victory Monument in Riga and other Soviet monuments around the country.

On social media, a call was issued for opponents of the Soviet monument, seen by many Latvians as glorifying the Soviet occupation of Latvia rather than the defeat of Nazism, for a march on May 20 to the site to demand its demolition.

The events on May 10 were apparently triggered by videos on social media showing a small bulldozer gathering the flowers laid the previous day and dumping them in a large container.

City officials said this was normal procedure after similar memorial events but this incident led to hundreds showing up to replace the flower display and stage a pro-Russia demonstration until riot police arrived at night to disperse the crowd. EFE


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