Latvian parliament votes to remove legal protection for war memorials
Latvian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to scrap part of a treaty with Russia in which Riga pledged to protect and maintain war memorials in the country. Thursday’s decision opens the door to the removal of a monument to Soviet soldiers who liberated Riga from Nazi occupation during World War II. The location serves as a focal point for civil confrontation over the country’s historical relationship with Russia.
A 1994 agreement between Moscow and Riga on the protection of retired Russian servicemen living in Latvia includes an article on the preservation of memorials. The Latvian government is committed to preserving the sites and allowing veterans to be buried in military cemeteries. The Russian side reciprocated by pledging to take care of memorials and burial places of Latvian victims of Soviet government wars and repressions.
In a 68-18 vote on Thursday, the Latvian parliament approved the disavowal of his pledges to lift legal restrictions on the demolition of Soviet-era war memorials in the country. Supporters have one particular site in mind – a memorial complex erected in Riga in 1985 to commemorate Soviet soldiers who liberated the Latvian capital from Nazi occupation. The site includes statues of Soviet soldiers and a female figure representing the motherland.
Latvians celebrating VE Day on May 9 flock to the site each year to lay flowers in honor of their ancestors. This year, the event became a flashpoint after city officials advised people not to attend, and then used a tractor to dispose of flowers left at the memorial. Tuesday’s withdrawal backfired, as dozens of outraged people returned with more flowers.
Latvian nationalists have been calling for the demolition of the memorial for years. In 1997, members of a radical organization planted a bomb in an attempt to damage the memorial, but the IED detonated prematurely and killed two of them.
One of the MPs supporting the demolition called it a symbol of the Soviet occupation – and by extension, Russia’s attack on Ukraine – during the debate in parliament on Thursday.
“This has no place in our country and in the capital. This is what the majority believe. By taking this decision, we will secure the right to determine for ourselves what happens to Soviet monuments in our country,” Krista Baumane from the AP! said the alliance, quoted by local media.
Some opposition lawmakers argued the proposal was a political ploy to drum up voter support ahead of the October general election. The city’s mayor said Thursday that the proposed demolition was highly unlikely to happen before then.
Moscow did not immediately officially react to the news, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented on social media in one word: “ghouls”.
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