Petition to Remove Pro-Soviet Memorial Strains Ties Between Riga and Moscow

Some times, one needs to say nice things about Russia.

A petition is currently making the rounds in Latvia to dismantle a World War II memorial that commemorates the Soviet “liberators” who brutally pushed out the Nazis after brutally occupying the state mere years before. The petition is part of the pre-election populism that Latvia now enjoys, unlike, say, when it was a Soviet Socialist Republic and any attempt at serious discussion or dissent meant consequences that ranged up to torture, execution, and slavery.

Moscow is not tickled by this development, and Russia Today, the Kremlin’s savviest propaganda organ, has been milking the affair for all it’s worth. (It’s backed by billions in petrodollars, so that’s a lot.) According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Latvia’s prime minister has dismissed the petition as nonsense, as treaties made at the end of the Soviet era require Latvia to maintain all standing war monuments and memorials.

Russia is in the midst of fevered suggestions that Latvia is becoming objectively pro-Nazi. This is silly. What is happening instead is many-fold.

First, there is undeniably a small, vocal, and electorally largely insignificant voting bloc who are objectively pro-Nazi. Most are dead, in nursing homes, or so profoundly unserious that they’re only valuable as interview subjects on Russia Today.

Second, a number of Latvians rationally hate Russia for the Soviet era and for its more recent moves to remind its former satellites of its remaining power.

Third, a number of Latvians are still upset that Russia transplanted a number of ethnic Russians into Latvia during the Soviet era as part of its ethnic hegemony program, and would very much like them to leave, thank you, even though they and their ancestors have been there for two and more generations.

Fourth, the Red Army’s re-entry into Latvia was brutal on the Germans, and almost as brutal on the Latvians, whom Stalin was convinced (not wholly without reason) had collaborated with the Nazis as a way of escaping the Soviets, or at the very least had not fought to the last man. When your grandmother can tell you detailed stories about being raped by a Red Army squad at the age of ten during a nominal battle of liberation, your mind tends to focus in certain ways.

Yet the truth is that Russia did indeed win the Second World War, if not single-handedly, then certainly with far less aid on its front than the British enjoyed, to the cost of millions of lives and many more casualties, against one of the greatest evils man has ever managed. (They were the other greatest evil man has ever managed.) To remove the memorial really is to some extent to remove a marker of history.

The memorial will stay, and with it, the tainted memory of one beast slaying another.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons