Victory Day flowers stir conflict between authorities and residents in Baltic country
Riga residents ignored official warnings and kept bringing flowers to a Soviet war memorial
Police in Latvia have blocked access to the Liberators of Riga monument as Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins expressed his frustration at city residents twice creating a carpet of flowers, despite authorities’ attempts to prevent and remove it.
Latvian police announced on Wednesday that “in order to prevent endangering public safety” and to avoid “possible provocations” they had decided to close public access to Victory Park where the monument is located. It was explained, that following “the events of May 9 and especially May 10,” when a crowd gathered near the monument. In the opinion of the Latvian authorities, the site “is most directly related to the continuation of Latvia’s occupation after the Second World War and is actually perceived by society as a symbol of the Soviet regime.”
On May 9, when former Soviet republics celebrate Victory Day, flowers brought in by the city’s residents were removed by a tractor.
In response, on May 10, people brought even more flowers to the monument. In the evening the State Police Special Task Battalion was deployed to disperse a 500-strong crowd on the square. In a statement the police said that any gatherings on the square would be considered as an expression of “support for the Russian Federation,” apparently linking events of the Second World War with the current Russian military operation in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins took to social media on Tuesday to say that “disrespect towards Latvian statehood, historical experience and victims of the Russian War in Ukraine is not acceptable.”
“What is happening in Pardaugava (Riga’s area) today is not excusable. I am waiting for responsible services actions and the explanation of the Minister of Interior Marija Golubeva,” he wrote.
It remains to be clarified what exactly caused the prime minister’s displeasure.
Russian Ambassador to Latvia Mikhail Vanin called the actions of the Latvian authorities over the last days an expression of “stupidity.”
“What happened on May 10 early in the morning showed the stupidity, cowardice, and pettiness of the authorities. A tractor raking fresh flowers and burning candles was spotted near the monument, this footage quickly spread on social networks, and the next day, May 10, even more people came to the monument,” the ambassador said in a TV interview on Wednesday.
Commenting on the news about the police blocking access to the square, Vanin claimed that the Latvian authorities “were scared of the scale of support, the scale of gratitude of the inhabitants of Riga to the soldiers-liberators.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, said that the Liberators of Riga is “a monument to which people carried, carry and will carry flowers, no matter what the local authorities come up with.”
In Zakharova’s opinion, the actions of the residents of the Latvian capital, despite all obstacles, demonstrated “true people power.”
“This is a powerful, strong gesture that demonstrates the rejection of the rewriting of history and of the desacralization of the memory of people who gave their lives for our future,” she said.
World War II-related issues have long been a cause of tension between Riga and Moscow.
Latvian authorities have argued that while the Latvian legion, in fact, technically fought on Hitler’s side, most of its members understood their role as fighting to regain independence for Latvia. Being part of the German military forces was the only way of preventing the return of Soviet occupation. Moscow has condemned the commemorations of the Latvian Legionnaires.