Latvia to remove dozens of Soviet-era monuments
Julia Chapman

A committee of experts in Latvia has recommended that dozens of Soviet-era statues be removed or destroyed. The Baltic states are among those who have taken the firmest stand against Russia's actions in Ukraine. 

After the conflict began there, Latvia began to grapple with its own history under Russian rule. 

A long-rumbling debate was renewed about the fate of hundreds of monuments built during the country's 47-year period as a Soviet republic. 

Lawmakers quickly ripped up an agreement with Russia to protect Soviet-era statues, paving the way for them to be dismantled. 

Monuments like this are contorversial in Latvia. /CGTN

Monuments like this are contorversial in Latvia. /CGTN

A new law was introduced in June prohibiting the display of objects praising either the Nazis or the Soviets. 

Lawmaker Rihards Kols said at the time, "The changed geopolitical conditions mean that Latvia won't be bound to preserve monuments to the Soviet occupation."

Dr Gints Apals, Director of Public History at the the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, is more than happy to see the statues go. 

"Half of Latvia's population still have vivid memories of Soviet occupation and terror imposed by Soviet or Nazi occupations," he said. "And of course, people may feel personally threatened by aggressive Soviet monuments, usually depicting Soviet soldiers holding arms or even aiming arms at passers-by."

The panel of cultural experts has presented 69 objects to the government for consideration.

When the list is finalised, statues and plaques will either be destroyed or, if they have artistic value, put into storage.

War graves will remain untouched. Thousands of Latvians fought for either the Wehrmacht or the Red Army, many against their will. 

Dr Apals said: "We respect people who fought with the Soviet armed forces, but certainly glorification of the Soviet system is not acceptable."


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The country's most controversial monument is already targeted for demolition.  A 79-metre obelisk flanked by two brutalist statues marks the Soviet victory over the Nazis. 

In 1997, two Latvian nationalists died trying to blow it up. 

But members of Latvia's sizeable Russian minority leave flowers there every year to remember ancestors lost in the Second World War. Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says destroying the monument will provoke an interethnic conflict. 

In May, several ethnic Russians were arrested protesting the demolition and the site is now surrounded by a barrier and several police cars. 

While most Latvians support the move to remove Soviet symbols, some historians say the process is moving too quickly. 

"It seems to me that we are lacking some kind of understanding of this historical context," says Martins Mintaurs, a historian and researcher at the National Library of Latvia. 

"To understand what Soviet propaganda was about, how it was implemented in artistical objects and so on, you have to have an object you can look at. I'm not crying for each and every monument of this period, but I'm a little bit suspicious about losing more than we actually ought to lose of this heritage," he said.

As Latvia throws itself whole-heartedly into a more western path, it moves further away from its Soviet past. 

There are now calls for the country to build new monuments to honour its post-Soviet independence. 

The old ones will be consigned to history. 

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