Red monument in Riga is coming down despite opposition of some aggressive men

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
The provocateur taking flowers to the monument last night.
The provocateur taking flowers to the monument last night. Photo: Eero Vabamägi
  • The Latvian police use tactics similar to their Estonian counterparts to maintain order.
  • Seven lawbreakers have been detained, one of them subdued by force.
  • Unlicensed flying of drones in the prohibited area can also result in court case.

The demolition of the massive Soviet-era column and its accompanying sculptures, which have been spending their final days in Victory Park in the center of Riga, began almost as suddenly as the recent relocation of the T-34 tank and other Red monuments in Narva.

The surprise of many Riga residents was boundless. A middle-aged woman asked the Postimees photographer, firsts addressing him in Latvian, whether all three soldiers in the sculpture group by the column would be taken down, and added earnestly that at least one statue could still be left standing. However, the heavy machinery involved in the demolition did not spare any of the soldier statues, and by yesterday afternoon only rubble remained.

Another older man thought that disagreements should be resolved through discussions. “Who was suddenly disturbed by this monument?” he asked. “It used to stand there and should have stayed. After all, this is the memory of our ancestors.”

The police are ready to react

The perimeter of the work area is surrounded by low metal fences, in front of which there are yellow tapes marking the zone restricted for movement of ​​pedestrians and cyclists. A number of curious onlookers had gathered behind the tapes. Several people took the opportunity to make final selfies with their smartphones against the background of the soon-to-be-falling pillar. Dozens of police cars with flashing beacons could be seen nearby.

The law enforcement officers keep a close eye on the events. Accordingly, the reporters of Postimees also had to explain their presence to a plainclothes police officer sitting in an unmarked car, who politely introduced himself and showed his ID. After receiving a satisfactory answer and taking a look at the journalists' IDs, he did not obstruct their work.

Simona Grāvīte, a representative of the Latvian police, told Postimees that the law enforcement officers, together with their partners, carefully monitor the movement of people in the area next to the monument, and also keep an eye on what is happening on the Internet. “The police are ready to react in any situation. All necessary forces are involved to ensure public order and security,” she assured.

Grāvīte added that all citizens have been asked not to gather or stay in the Victory Park area and thereby create an unnecessary security risk. “The police have the right to check individuals in any suspicious situation or in cases when they believe that public order and security are threatened. In such cases, the police will intervene immediately,” she said.

Yesterday, the police in Riga had detained seven persons, against whom proceedings were initiated for violating a total of ten sections of the law. According to Grāvīte, the violations concern prohibited assembly, petty hooliganism in aggravating circumstances, which is inciting hatred, as well as disregarding the lawful orders of the police. In the latter case, an individual tried to demonstrate his mood to the police by using his fists; therefore the officers had to use force to lower his blood pressure.

The completion date of the work is not known

“Seven proceedings have been initiated over the violation of drone flying regulations and two cases are being investigated,” Grāvīte continued. “The airspace surrounding the Victory Park is closed to unmanned aerial vehicles. The police will respond immediately to all attempts to fly a drone, and those who ignore the ban will be prosecuted.”

The police representative did not say how long the demolition work at Victory Park might last. She only stated that the police, together with other security agencies, will control the situation in the area as long as necessary.

According to the law adopted by the Latvian parliament, all monuments glorifying the Red authorities must be dismantled in the country by November 15 of this year.

Demolition of the Red monument in Riga

The Victory Park monument or officially the monument of the liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga of German Fascist invaders was erected in the Pārdaugava district of Latvia’s capital in 1985. The authors of the monument comprising a 79-meter obelisk and two groups of sculptures – a figure representing Motherland and three soldiers – are Ļevs Bukovskis and Aivars Gulbis.

The nationalist group Pērkoņkrusts organized a failed bombing of the monument in 1997. Two members of the group were killed in the explosion and six others were sentenced to prison for up to three years.

Several appeals were made in favor or removing the monument; an online petition in 2013, for instance, collected over 11,000 signatures. A petition initiated in 2019 also received more than 10,000 signatures.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Saeima tasked the Ministry of Justice this March with compiling a report on possible legal grounds for the demolition of the monument. The ministry submitted its proposals in mid-April and on May 12 the Saeima approved the law amendments clearing the way for the removal of the monument. The Riga City Council supported the demolition of the monument a day later.

Preparations for the demolition of the Victory park monument began on Monday and the work should be completed in November. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic around the monument will be restricted until mid-September.