Latvia objects to planned removal of war memorial in Belgium

On Monday, May 30, the Ambassador of Latvia to the Kingdom of Belgium, Andris Razāns, presented the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a diplomatic note protesting against the intention to remove a controversial monument dedicated to Latvian prisoners of war.

The monument called "Latvia's hive for freedom" is located in the Belgian city of Zedelgem and is dedicated to Latvian Legionnaires who were imprisoned in a camp near Zedelgem after the Second World War. It was unveiled in September 2018.

"The decision just announced by the municipality of Zedelgem to remove the monument without the coordination of the Latvian Occupation Museum is not acceptable to Latvia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia also expects accurate information from Belgium on the future fate of the monument, as well as repeatedly calls on the municipality of Zedelgem to directly address all issues related to the monument in cooperation with the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia," said a statement by the Latvian Foreign Ministry.

As previously reported by LSM, the monument by Latvian sculptor Kristaps Gulbis "is dedicated to the Latvian Legionnaires, who did not lose faith in freedom for the Latvian State, during the winter of 1945 to 1946 when they were held in Zedelgem prisoner of war camp," a PoW camp run by the British on Belgian soil.

Between September 1945 and May 1946, the Zedelgem prisoner-of-war camp in Belgium housed about 11,700 of the 25,000 Latvian soldiers who had served in German military units and had been captured by the Western Allied armies at the end of World War II. Almost 90% of these prisoners of war belonged to the Latvian Legion, founded in 1943 during the German occupation of Latvia.

The monument has caused controversy in Belgium as the Latvian Legion was structurally part of the Waffen SS. Belgium suffered greatly during the period of Nazi occupation, though no units of the Latvian Legion were involved in Belgium.

Following protests about the monument last summer, an international panel of historians deemed the monument inappropriate. More about the historians and their findings is available on this website

The monument unveiled in 2018 was privately donated by the Latvian Occupation Museum Society, and it is not the subject of an interstate agreement.

On May 26, the Latvian Foreign Minister met with representatives of the Latvian Occupation Museum and agreed that the monument to Latvian prisoners of war in Zedelgem municipality was a monument to Latvian soldiers and Latvian patriots. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will continue to monitor developments closely and work with the Belgian authorities.

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