Latvia tears down a controversial Soviet-era monument in its capital.

The nearly 260-foot-tall memorial, erected during Soviet rule in Latvia, has stood tall in a park in the Baltic nation’s capital for nearly four decades.

This week, it collapsed as part of a broader government effort to show solidarity with Ukraine and remove symbols of what many Latvians see as a traumatic chapter of the country’s history. .

With five spiers and a pentagram, the memorial was built in 1985 in the Latvian capital Riga, as a memorial to Soviet soldiers killed in World War II. Latvia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, initiating the mass killing of Jews, Roma, and others whom the Nazis deemed politically opposed. Soviet forces overthrew Nazi Germany in 1944, and Latvia remained under Soviet rule until independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved.

About a third of Latvia’s two million residents speak only or mainly Russian. Many have come during the decades of Soviet rule, or are their descendants. During those years, tens of thousands of Latvians fled the country or were deported, and Moscow sent an equal number of Russians to Latvia. As one major ethnic minority identified as Russian caused cracks in the water. In recent years, the Latvian government has sought to limit the popularity of the Russian language in Latvia by restricting the teaching of Russian in the country’s schools.

Russian speakers have gathered for years at the memorial on May 9 each year to commemorate the day the Soviet Union overthrew Nazi rule, making it a point of contention in the city.

Officials in Riga approved the demolition of the tower in May, after the Latvian Parliament voted to remove it.

On Wednesday, the Riga City Council noted that the monument had become “an ideological symbol of the Soviet totalitarian regime and the Soviet military.”

“At a time when Russia, as the heir to the Soviet Union, is committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, the existence of the monument risks polarizing society,” it said in a statement. a statement and added that Latvia will not allow symbols that “justify and glorify aggression. “

On Thursday, images of the monument collapsing from its base into a surrounding pool were shared by local media and applauded by Latvian officials.

Edgars Rinkevics, the country’s foreign minister, said: “Close another painful page of history and seek a better future, in a tweet shared a video of the memorial’s overthrow.

“The time has come to completely de-communize Europe and finally free us from the Soviet totalitarian past,” wrote Olena Kondratiuk, deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament. on Telegram.

The The Kremlin has accused European countries rewrote history and belittled Russia’s role in the Second World War, and one Russian official called the destruction of the monument an affront to Soviet soldiers.

The events in Riga “cannot cause anything but a feeling of deep indignation, because a memorial to the fighters for the liberation of Riga was destroyed there,” said Mikhail Shvydkoy, special envoy of the General. President of Russia on international cultural cooperation, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency on Wednesday. .

Latvia is not alone in seeking to remove Soviet-era symbols: Other countries have criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Poland, has said that they will do so. Estonia recently removed a Soviet-era tank from a World War II memorial, causing a wave of cyber attacks from a Russian hacking group.

Anton Troianovski contribution report.

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