The imposing Soviet Victory Monument or to give it its full name, the “Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders” is a late, though still fairly classic, example of Soviet Brutalist architecture, located in Victory Park on the left side of the Daugava River.
It was erected in 1985 to commemorate the Soviet Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII and comprises three parts.
Each of the five spires, each crowned with a gold framed red Soviet pentagonal star, on the 79 metres high central obelisk represents one year of the Soviet Union’s direct engagement in WWII (1941-45). The machine gun yielding soldiers, in triumphant stance, represent the might of the Soviet Army while the woman represents liberty and the loving care of Mother Russia. Original plans for the woman to hold a child in her arms were quashed by the authorities on the grounds that any woman with a young child during the war would have been one of easy virtue as her husband would have been at the Front fighting.
To one side of the monument, to the rear of the soldiers, are a number of empty flag poles where the flags of the former Soviet Republics once flew.
Despite this being the largest monument in Riga, almost twice as tall as the Freedom Monument, it is rarely visited by tourists and is scarcely mentioned in official tourist information. Live Riga, refers to Victory Park but while having a picture of the monument does not mention it in the short text, instead referring to the park as “A place for active recreation activities, featuring a cross country ski track with artificial snow in wintertime”. The monument is a very short distance from the Old Town and easy to get to.
The reason for the above state of affairs is that this is an extremely controversial monument.
Soviet veterans and some Latvians visit, in large numbers, the degenerating and unkempt monument annually on 9 May and 13 October to commemorate the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union – the Great Victory – in 1945 at the end of WWII and the 1944 Soviet liberation of Riga, respectively. The Soviet Union, of course, suffered great losses in WWII. Despite this and notwithstanding that Latvians generally are thankful for their liberation from Nazi rule in 1944, the majority of Latvians detest this monument and see it as celebrating the replacement of Nazi tyranny with the much longer tyranny imposed on Latvia by the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991. My reader will recall that prior to WWII Latvia was an independent country having achieved that independence from Russia in 1920-21. There was certainly no outpouring of public desire in Latvia to return to the embrace Soviet Union post WWII, be that embrace loving or otherwise.
It is also not lost on locals that this monument was not erected until 40 years after WWII, in 1985 when the Soviet Union was showing its first outward signs of disintegration through events in Poland. They see the monument, erected where Latvians had determined in 1936 to build their own shrine to the Latvian and allied forces victory over the Major-General Bermnont-Avalov and his West Russian Volunteer Army in 1919, as a clear and calculated demonstration of the Soviet Union’s strength and power aimed at deterring modern day nationalists in the Balkans.
There are ongoing demands to have the monument pulled down and indeed some have attempted to remove it themselves. In 1997 two nationalists blew themselves up in a failed attempt to blow the monument up.
While I can understand why people would want to remove the monument, from a selfish perspective I am happy that this Soviet relic remains for today’s tourist to visit and reflect on how it came to be here. If we remove all visible mementos of history around us, however distasteful some may find them, we run the risk of later generations being unaware of their past.
Take a tram across the Akmens bridge (lines 2,4, 5 or 10) and walk the last 100 or so metres from Slokas Iela stop (second stop across the bridge).
Address: Victory Park, Riga