Soviet monuments are demolished – Russian speakers are under pressure. Trenches are opening in Riga.
Gratings block access to the vast park so that the excavators can complete their work undisturbed: they are removing a large pile of rubble. This is all that remains of the monumental monument intended to commemorate the Soviet victory over the Nazis. The bronze figures, the 79 meter tall obelisk: all gone.
Demolishing the monument is very stupid.
A wild-haired, pierced-nosed 16-year-old traveling with her Ukrainian boyfriend says she’s not interested in politics. She comes from a Russian-speaking family. “But tearing down the monument is very foolish.” Because this is how the history of the country will be destroyed. It doesn’t matter how you feel about Russia: Latvia used to be part of the Soviet Union.
A load off your shoulders
A 44-year-old man in a suit and tie says the monument should have been torn down a long time ago. It’s a relief that it’s gone now. “I think there is a longing for a Russian empire and the Soviet Union among the Russian minority,” he continues. They still see Latvia as part of Russia.
Political scientist Phillips Rajewskis admits he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. ‘You must know how this monument was erected. Like most people, my mother was forced to finance the building. She had to pay ten percent of her income every month. The monument was built under duress.
The monument represents rapes, murders, exiles – and they celebrate it every year. We had to swallow it.
Rajewskis says that until 2007, no one was interested in the monument. But then the Kremlin increasingly made victory in World War II a central pillar of Russian identity. May 9, the anniversary of the victory, also began to be celebrated at this monument in Riga.
Each time there was a concert, then a live broadcast of a military parade on Red Square in Moscow, and a big drinking session in the evening. Every year it became uglier and more aggressive, with cars flying Russian flags. That’s when many thought: the monument must go.
Russian aggression in Ukraine
But Rajewskis adds: “Without the war against Ukraine, nothing would have happened.” But the monument became a symbol of murder in Ukraine. What happened in Ukraine when the Soviets invaded Latvia in 1940: rapes, murders, deportations. “The memorial is symbolic of everything, and they celebrate it every year. We had to swallow it.”
Russian-speaking people are considered a threat to national security.
Maria Kugel is sitting in a cafe. The journalist and Russian-speaking Latvian is not a supporter of Putin. The demolition of the monument worries her even more. Because it is part of a negative development that started with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “Russian-speaking people are increasingly seen as a threat to national security.” Some even consider emigration.
By the way, the mayor of Riga wants to create a place for young people where the victory monument stood: playgrounds, a skate park – a place for everyone, as he says. Look to the future instead of the past, with the intention of bridging the divide. Hope it succeeds.
“Wannabe pop culture fanatic. Zombie advocate. Entrepreneur. Internet evangelist. Alcohol fanatic. Typical travel buff.”