May 9 and the Soviet Victory Monument: Gaļina's and Jurijs' views

In the first piece in this short series we looked at the history of the controversial Soviet Victory Monument in Rīga, presented some survey research and heard from Armands, a member of the public very much in favor of the monument's demolition – which is already under way.

In the second piece translated from the Latvian language service's original feature we heard from Artjoms and Ināra, two more members of the public who participated in the opinion survey. Now we present the final two takes on the subject of May 9 and the monument, on the day after it finally came down.

We should stress that these are purely personal opinions. By the nature of such surveys there is no guarantee that respondents are well-informed on the subject about which they are being questioned, nor that they have ever given much thought to it before.

Anything connected with the Soviet occupation period in Latvia, and Russia's aggression in Ukraine, is likely to be a sensitive topic, and we should also advise that some people may find some of the opinions expressed to be insensitive, ignorant or offensive. Nevertheless, we present them here as they do appear to represent the views of some sections of society.

The views expressed do not represent the views of Latvian Public Media.

 

Gaļina: "Let the Liberation Monument be removed"

Gaļina (80) is an ethnic Russian pensioner from Ziepniekkalns in Riga, born in Latvia, with both Russian and Latvian spoken in the family

I have nothing to do with 9 May, I have never celebrated it. Yes, a few years ago, sometimes the neighbours would invite me along, but I never went. I celebrate 4 May as the White Tablecloth Celebration [of restored Latvian independence], remembering my loved ones. And in my family there are repressed people to remember. I remember - in 1949, pupils disappeared from the classroom benches, including Guntis, the boy next door. When I was in evening school, I met him again.

When Stalin died in 1953, I was about 11 years old - I already knew the politics because my relatives had been deported. I sort of laughed a little bit at the school mourning, and I was blamed for it. And I squeezed out a tear and told the person next to me to watch me cry!

All I remember about the monument is that they raised money - they built the monument with the people's money. In our family, such things were not talked about or cared about. The monument itself? Well, I didn't like it, what was there to like - machine guns? That's not Latvian style! Latvian style has soft lines. I also don't like the Occupation Museum building, for example - it spoils the whole panorama of the Old Town.

Let the Liberation Monument be removed! I agree with one Russian businessman who said that the monument should be taken down sooner - we should not wait for November. Those who don't want it demolished are Interfrontists [a former organization of staunch Communists] : they invented the idea of commemorating their ancestors there, so they go there because they have nowhere else to go.

When they started coming there in droves, I was stiff with surprise - all from Pļavnieki, Imanta - it was madness, just like the Black Hundreds [reactionary nationalist movement of late Tsarist Russia]. I was stiff... These are the people who all got apartments in the past, which Latvians did not get - my mother-in-law said that new houses were being built, there would be new apartments in Purvciems, Pļavnieki, Imanta, Zolitūde, but meanwhile I was waiting for one as usual. I didn't get an apartment.

When the monument is demolished, the Interfrontists will no longer gather there - let them build a children's palace or something, because there is nothing for children in Pārdaugava. 9 May is basically the main event in Pārdaugava! And then there were the poor fellows who wanted to blow up the monument, but failed. They were not talked about, only now someone remembers. The State thinks that now is the right time to take down the monument, when Russia has attacked an independent country. It's been a long time coming - 20 years...

24 February. I heard about it on TV - I was shocked. How can one foreign country be attacked in the 21st century? A Russian attacks another country and says "We are liberating you"! Russians living in Ukraine say "We didn't call for them, we all lived in peace". They come and shoot.

Yes, I watched Russian channels when they were on - but that was pure propaganda. Putin also said recently - our economy is growing, but the West is deteriorating. I watch the news from Ukraine and cry every morning and pray for God’s help!

I think war is also imminent for Latvia, yes. If the Ukrainians lose, the Baltics, Poland are threatened, and everything goes up in smoke. What will I do? The cemetery is not far for me: I will wrap myself in a white sheet and crawl to the cemetery. I have already lived my life, so that the young can save themselves, although there is no cellar to hide the children, that worries me.

My friend is Belarusian - I don't understand, what does she believe? She says she doesn't know what to believe. She watches Belarusian channels. She will go to Belarus to visit the cemetery, because now people can go there without a visa. All the Russians I know in my stairwell and my neighbours that I know are all for Putin. When I tell them that Putin attacked Ukraine and not the other way around, they reply - Putin doesn't need anything! They think Putin has Siberia, why else would he need Ukraine? As if Putin is not guilty of anything. Well, I still speak to them, what should I do? Well, if someone said something to me in a sharper tone, I would speak my mind. But they are also reluctant to talk to Latvians, especially about the war.

My closest friend is a Tatar - she doesn't know who to support, because now it turns out that the Tatars were also a very strong people and fought. She also has relatives in Ukraine. But she doesn't talk to me about it - she also tells me not to. There are those who are scared and do not talk about war at all.

But this is not normal - the person who beat the young man with the Ukrainian flag was not punished properly. Or the second case - when a Russian got into a taxi and told the driver to remove the "rag" referring to the Ukrainian flag, and the taxi driver threw him out. But the full of bravado one said: “I know all the policemen!" In the end, the driver is the culprit!

That's why we don't talk politics.

Jurijs: "It sickens me to see symbols of terror"

Jurijs (29) is a composer from Daugavpils, studied in a Russian school, and speaks Russian at home. His questions were answered in Russian.

9 May is the day when one fascism took the place of another. This is a terrible date for the indigenous peoples of Latvia, and I am fully on the side of the Latvian people, on the side of my fellow citizens. Every year on 9 May, I try to either leave the country or just sit at home and go nowhere. It sickens me to the core to see a certain group of people wriggle symbols of terror in front of the indigenous population of Latvia. I bow my head in respect to Latvian patience, because I really couldn't do it myself.

I was lucky enough to meet my great-grandmother. She was born in 1919 and lived through the Second World War. I loved her very much and always listened very carefully to her stories about those events. I cannot recall a single time when she behaved on 9 May as we see it today. On 9 May, just like any other day, Grandma just quietly went on with her usual routine, preferring to be alone with her thoughts. She was an extremely kind and wise person.

Our family knows Latvian history very well. When I say "our family", I mean just me, my mum and her partner. We also have repressed relatives and there is much to commemorate and remember. My mother and I are in complete agreement on this matter, and we respect our country's history. We are well aware of the extent of the damage that the occupation has brought to our country.

As for 4 May, I deeply respect and honour this celebration. It is a great day for our country and I shudder to think where would we be now if history had taken a different turn.

The Monument. I remember very well when I was a little kid and the whole school was driven to the monument and, of course, I understand the motivation of the teachers. Each of them acted with what they thought were the best of intentions, but as we all know: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". The same nonsense that we now hear on Russian propaganda channels came from the mouths of our teachers. I can understand people who have lost loved ones in war. But I refuse to participate in the collective madness that has led to the deaths of millions of people.

Of course, as a child, it is very difficult to resist ideological processing. Especially when the "ideological zombies" are all around you! However, as you get older, it often happens that the lie you have been fed for years eventually finds its last hour and dies.

These monuments [glorifying Soviet power] are nothing but symbols of terror. Yes, I understand perfectly well that these monuments, memorials, commemorate the death of people. The question is, for what cause were these deaths and what were the consequences? And the consequences are well known. The local population was exterminated on a grand scale, tortured in gulag camps. This begs the question: is this the future our grandfathers died for?

I understand very well why they want to tear down the symbols of terror. There is one more thing I do not understand. Why were they not demolished when Latvia finally regained its independence? Why has this issue escalated only now? Was it really necessary to start a war in Ukraine for this to happen? Well... better late than never, of course.

I also understand those who oppose the demolition of the Monument. Let me put it this way: indifference and propaganda must not be the reasons why, after so long, the symbols of terror are still standing in Latvia. Once and for all, this issue must be closed. The Soviet legacy must be drowned in the past for the sake of future generations.

24 February. It is a day that will forever be a day of mourning. I found out that the Kremlin had started a war with independent Ukraine in the first hours of this nightmare. I was working the night shift and decided to watch YouTube before going to sleep, and from that moment on, sound sleep disappeared from my life. I have no Ukrainians in my family, I have no relatives in Ukraine. But I don't need any of that to take the side of the one in trouble. Together with friends, we have sent a lot of money and humanitarian aid to support Ukraine, and I am convinced to the bottom of my heart that Ukraine's victory is only a matter of time.

Today it is important to speak out and understand that this is not just a war. This is genocide against the Ukrainian people. The Kremlin is back to its old ways, and now the civilised world is simply forced to put a stop to it once and for all. Right now, one Ukrainian life is equivalent to one second of calm skies above our heads. The Ukrainians are now dying for each one of us, and if Kyiv falls, Rīga will soon fall, too. My hair stands on end when I say these words. This must never be allowed, there is no option but to prevent it.

I consider myself lucky because my mother, her partner and I have no disagreements on this matter - we are in complete agreement. My parents keep up to date with the latest information and, like me, have spent many a sleepless night in the first weeks of this madness.

Sometimes we talk about what we will do if - God forbid - war comes to Latvia. We thought and talked through many ideas, but the one thing that united us was that under no circumstances do we want to live under the "Russian world" - NO and NEVER! Russia is a completely foreign country to us, with which neither my mother nor I have anything in common.

Obviously, like many, I have distant relatives who have completely different views on this. Fortunately, the only thing that binds me to them is legal formalities, we have never been close in reality. The last really close relative on that side of the family died in 2009, and since then all contact between us has been lost. My mother and I have decided to protect our nerves and simply stop contacting these people. It is their choice and their responsibility.

Does the monument have anything to do with the war in Ukraine? I don't think that matters at all. With or without Ukraine - it is a symbol of terror that has no place on Latvian soil.

 

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