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Latvia removes Soviet-era monument in Riga

August 25, 2022

A controversial Soviet-era monument in the Latvian capital was brought down, despite protests from the Baltic state's ethnic Russian minority to keep it.

Dismantling of the Soviet WWII victory monument, in Riga
Police officers and the press watch as the 80-meter high obelisk is torn down in Latvia's capital RigaImage: Ints Kalnins/REUTERS

A concrete obelisk topped with Soviet stars, which was the centerpiece of a monument commemorating the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany, was demolished in Latvia's capital, Riga, on Thursday.

Two diggers with pneumatic hammers brought the 79-meter (261-foot) obelisk down to the applause of numerous onlookers. A number of large-scale bronze statues had already been removed from the monument in the preceding days.

In view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Latvia issued a decree that all objects glorifying totalitarian regimes must be destroyed by November 15. This included the Soviet victory monument erected in 1985.

"This monument was a steady reminder of our occupation and the associated fate of many people: deportation, repression, and so on. We do not need this kind of monument," Latvian President Egils Levits said during a livestream of the demolition.

Mayor Martin Stakis called the demolition a "historic moment for Riga and all of Latvia."

Divisive monument

Some members of Latvia's ethnic Russian community had protested the removal of the monument. Every year on May 9, thousands of ethnic Russians gather at the monument to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Most Latvians see this date as the start of the Soviet occupation, which lasted until 1991. A group of activists attempted to demolish the monument with dynamite in 1997 but the explosives detonated unexpectedly, killing two people.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February has prompted authorities in several Eastern European countries to speed up the removal of Soviet-era symbols. Latvia's parliament voted in May to demolish the victory monument, and Riga's city council followed suit.

In Latvia, songs for peace, against Russian war in Ukraine


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Russian backlash

Riga's monument was dismantled a week after neighboring Estonia took down a Soviet-era memorial of its own in Narva, a city with a large Russian-speaking minority.

Tallinn had accused Russia of using such monuments to stir up tensions. There were concerns that Moscow might try to exploit differences between the Russian-speaking minorities and the national governments in Estonia and Latvia to destabilize the countries.

Estonia's removal of the Soviet monument prompted the Russian hacker group Killnet to hit back with a major wave of cyberattacks on public and private facilities last week

Estonia called the cyberattacks the "most extensive" it has faced since 2007, but said they were "ineffective."

dh/fb (AP, AFP, dpa)

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