Arts & Entertainment

Toppling of obelisk completes demolition of Riga’s Soviet Victory Monument

Riga, Aug 25 (EFE).- The last element of Riga’s Soviet-era Victory Monument, a 79-meter obelisk topped by Soviet-style stars, fell down Thursday, completing the demolition of the most visible elements of the controversial structure erected in 1985.

A small crowd of people outside a cordon of police patrols and fences cheered as the 250 ton structure fell down around 4.45pm local time.

Many Latvians saw the memorial, which commemorated the Red Army defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, as a symbol of Soviet occupation rather than “liberation.” The site had also been used for celebrations by Latvia’s ethnic Russian community.

Russian speakers, comprising around 37% of the Latvian population of just under 2 million, gathered every May 9 at the monument to celebrate the Soviet Victory Day.

Before the pandemic, May 9 celebrations involved local choirs singing wartime Soviet songs, speeches by some few surviving veterans and the laying of flowers by tens of thousands of mainly Russian local residents.

The monument, consisting of two statue groups, a memorial plaque with the inscription 1941-1945, the obelisk and a reflecting pool, was built in the mid-1980s by “contributions” drawn from pay packets at many Soviet Latvian enterprises to build the “Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders,” as it was officially called.

The demolition of the monument started on Tuesday, when a work crew took down a statue of three Soviet soldiers, one brandishing a submachine gun in celebration.

The following day, workers using heavy equipment toppled the statue of a large female figure of “the Motherland” symbolically greeting the Red Army soldiers.

The status of the Victory Monument has been discussed on and off in Latvian politics since the country regained its independence in 1991, with nationalists saying the monument would be demolished or at least rebuilt and marked to show that it represented a totalitarian occupation rather than liberation.

Latvian governments took a cautious line, tolerating the May 9 celebrations and hesitant to anger Moscow by touching what Russians saw as a symbol of their victory over Nazi Germany. That changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, and the Latvian parliament, or Saiem, moved quickly during the spring to authorize the demolition of the Riga monument and all other “symbols of Communist and Nazi rule” in Latvia.

Some weeks ago, the government designated 69 Soviet memorial objects, in addition to the Riga monument, for demolition.

As the preliminary work began Monday to prepare for demolishing the monument, a small group of protestors gathered and some five people were arrested for disorderly conduct and defying police orders. On Tuesday, the small protests continued and an additional 14 people were detained by police for refusing to disperse, according to local media.

Riga mayor Martins Stakis recently said that the demolition, including restoration of the area as a park, would cost 2.1 million euros.

The toppled elements of the monument will be completely destroyed and disposed of as rubble, to preclude the theft of parts of statues as souvenirs.EFE


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