Copenhagen, Denmark — A concrete obelisk topped with Soviet stars that was the centerpiece of a monument commemorating the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany was knocked down on Thursday in Latvia’s capital — the latest in a series of Soviet monuments torn down after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Shortly before it was felled, heavy machinery was spotted behind a green fence at the base of the nearly 80-meter high obelisk. The column, which had stood like a high-rise in the center of Riga, crashed into a nearby pond, causing a huge splash in Victory Park.
A Latvian media outlet broadcast the event live as spectators, some with Latvian flags around their shoulders, cheered and applauded.
The obelisk, made up of five towers topped with three Soviet stars, stood between two groups of statues – a band of three Red Army soldiers and on the other a woman representing the “Motherland” with her arms raised.
The monument was built in 1985 while Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union. It has caused controversy since Latvia gained independence in 1991 and eventually joined NATO and the European Union.
On Twitter, Latvia’s foreign minister said by tearing down the monument that Latvia “closed another painful page of history and was looking for a better future”.
The country shares a 214 kilometer (133 mi) border with Russia and has a large ethnic Russian population. On Russia’s annual Victory Day, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II, people gathered in front of the Riga monument to lay flowers.
The Latvian parliament voted in May to approve the demolition of the Victory Park monument, and Riga City Council followed suit. Work to clear the monument began three days ago with the removal of statues. The area was then cordoned off and authorities issued a no-fly zone for drones. Police temporarily closed traffic in the vicinity of the park on Thursday for security reasons.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February prompted authorities in several Eastern European countries to remove symbols from their communist era.
The government in Poland – another country that was once part of the Soviet sphere – said on Thursday that a memorial site in neighboring Belarus containing the graves of Polish soldiers killed during World War II had been opened by Belarusian authorities with the ground is leveled.
Lukasz Jasina, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Twitter that the cemetery in Surkonty, where the Polish resistance fought against Soviet troops, “is being destroyed by the services of the Minsk regime”.
The development comes a day after Poland said it was demolishing a monument to Soviet Red Army soldiers in Poland, one of dozens marked for destruction.
Belarus has been an important ally of Moscow, while Poland, which lies on Ukraine’s western border, has supported Ukraine.
Last week, Estonia removed a Soviet World War II memorial from a city on the Russian border as part of a wider effort to dismantle Soviet-era symbols. The tank replica was sent to a war museum north of Tallinn.
In 2007, the relocation of a World War II memorial to a Red Army soldier in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, sparked days of rioting.
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——— Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.
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