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Head of Latvian Academy of Sciences joins protests against dismantling WWII monument

October 22, 2013, 14:23 UTC+3
Earlier, Latvians petitioned war memorial demolition
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Archive photo ITAR-TASS/ Vladimir Starkov

Archive photo ITAR-TASS/ Vladimir Starkov

RIGA, October 22 (Itar-Tass) - President of the Latvian Academy of Sciences Ojars Sparitis has joined protests against dismantling a WWII memorial to Soviet soldiers who liberated Riga. Sparitis highly praised the architectural value of the memorial which is comparable to the Statue of Liberty and an architectural ensemble of the Brothers' Cemetery.

The memorial has no precedents built in the previous regime in terms of size and territory it occupies. Its overall territory is ten hectares, where an obelisk, a water pool, benches, a drive leading to the obelisk and other architectural elements are located. The obelisk and the sculptural ensemble on the premises withstood the criticism of many critics from the former Soviet Union of Artists, the Culture Ministry and many politicians of the previous regime, Sparitis said in an interview to Latvian radio on Tuesday.

Earlier, more than 10,000 people in Latvia had contributed their signatures to one of the Internet portals in support of the campaign launched by supporters of the liquidation of the monument. The Latvian law envisages that if a public initiative draws the support of no fewer than 10,000 adolescent citizens in Latvia the initiative is granted the status of a collective appeal and should be discussed by the Latvian Seim.

In retaliation, a signature campaign was launched against dismantling of the WWII memorial to which more than 5,000 people in Latvia have joined already.

The Riga memorial is the chief monument of the Russian-speaking community in Latvia which accounts for approximately 40 percent of the overall population.

Every year around 200,000 people come to the memorial on Victory Day on May 9 to lay flowers to the monument and congratulate WWII veterans. The memorial had been vandalized many times since it was built in the 1980s, and in 1997 an attempt was made to explode it.

Citizen petition

Widespread gathering of signatures against demolition of Riga's memorial to the World War II Soviet Liberators is now underway in Latvia. The petition, titled "Preserve Memorial to the Soviet Liberators" is found on the website and has already won more than 5,000 supporters.

“We, the undersigned, demand to preserve the memorial to liberators as this is a tribute to our World War II veterans,” the petition says. “If you approve of this demand, please sign my petition," urged initiator Alexander Prokopenko. "Our past is an integral part of our life, it should be respected and remembered! Everybody has the right to the memory of forebears so if you are proud of them like we are, sign this petition!”

A Latvian web portal has gathered more than 10,000 signatures in favour of the memorial's demolition. According to Latvian law, an initiative that has gathered no less than 10,000 signatures of full-aged citizens of the republic is deemed a “collective statement” and is to be considered by Latvia’s parliament, the Sejm.

Riga memorial is the main monument for a local Russian-speaking community comprising about 40 percent of Latvia’s population. About 200,000 people gather near the memorial every year to lay flowers and congratulate war veterans. Local nationalists have repeatedly called for demolition of the edifice, erected in the 1980s, though parliament rejected the initiative. The monument has been desecrated several times and even suffered an attempt to blow it up in 1997.

Riga Monument Agency

Earlier this week,  head of The Riga Monument Agency Guntis Gailitis, said that his organization objected to pulling down the Memorial to Soviet Liberators.

He said the decision to demolish the memorial can only be made after consultations with those who created it, with historians and with Riga residents. “This is a matter of state importance,” Gailitis said.

He also said that memorials are usually not torn down. “Whatever can be said emotionally, this is not done anywhere. We cannot erase the Second World War from our history,” Gailitis stressed.

Latvian Foreign Ministry press secretary Karlis Eihenbaums said, in his turn, that it would be impossible to get the memorial pulled down. He said Latvia and Russia concluded an agreement in the 1990s on mutual obligations for monuments, memorials and military cemeteries protection. Under the agreement, the demolition of the monument to Soviet soldiers is impossible.

The Riga Memorial is the main memorial for the Russian-speaking community that makes up about 40 percent of Latvia’s population. Some 200,000 Latvian citizens gather at the memorial on May 9 every year to lay flowers at its basement and to congratulate war veterans. Local nationalists made calls more than once to dismantle the memorial built in the 1980s, but the parliamentarians objected to that. The monument was desecrated many times and an attempt to blow it up was made in 1997.

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