Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Liberation monuments and the passage of time.. number 1

In Riga, on the side of the river away from the Old Town where the stag parties gather, there's a large monument to the victory of the Russians over Nazi Germany in 1945. A slender column and two figures commemorate the millions who died achieving this victory, liberating Latvians and Europeans alike from the murderous insanity of Hitler's henchmen. However, I doubt if all Latvians will have welcomed the return of the Russians after the 'Year of Terror' of 1939-40 and the subsequent deportations to Siberia and effective removal of the intelligentsia.
So I wonder now, in a country with a significant contemporary Russian population, where Russians are significant investors, what resonance this memorial has, almost seventy years after the end of the war?
I'm told that Russian-Latvian weddings pause here with the bride and groom posing for photographs, and that there are gatherings here on April 9, to mark Victory Day.. while Latvians gather at their own Freedom Monument across the river a day earlier, no doubt with their minds on how things might have been had not the West been so focused on Poland. Latvia's a place where the 1938 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (aka the Nazi-Soviet Non Aggression Pact or Ribbentrop-Molotov carve-up of the Baltics) still has a modern resonance, and boy did those Baltic states pay a price for that.
So while Riga Old Town transforms itself into a 'party city',  across the Daugava the ancient trams rattle past a reminder of a violent past that seems to have been sidelined.. a moment of history that certainly needs remembering but which seems strangely at odds with modern Latvia. Has anyone considered removing the machine-gun waving soldiers, to make the monument less militaristic?

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