COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – A concrete obelisk topped with Soviet stars that was the centerpiece of a monument commemorating the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany was pulled down in the Latvian capital on Thursday – the latest in a series of Soviet monuments demolished after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Heavy machinery was spotted behind a green fence at the base of the nearly 80-meter (260-foot) obelisk shortly before it was pulled down. The column, which looked like a skyscraper in downtown Riga, crashed into a nearby pond, causing a huge splash in Victory Park.
A Latvian media broadcast the event live as onlookers, some with Latvian flags wrapped around their shoulders, cheered and cheered.
The obelisk, consisting of five spiers with three Soviet stars at the top, stood between two groups of statues – a band of three Red Army soldiers and on the other side a woman representing the “Motherland” with arms raised .
The monument was built in 1985 when Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union. It has generated controversy since Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and eventually became a member of NATO and the European Union.
On Twitter, the Latvian Foreign Minister said that by destroying the monument, Latvia was “closing another painful page of history and looking for a better future”.
The country shares a 214 kilometer (133 mile) border with Russia and has a large ethnic Russian population. On the annual Victory of Russia Day, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II, people gathered outside the monument in Riga to lay flowers.
Latvia’s parliament voted to demolish the Victory Park monument in May, and Riga’s city council followed suit. The work of clearing the monument began three days ago with the removal of the statues. The area was then cordoned off and authorities issued a drone flight ban. Police temporarily closed traffic near the park on Thursday, citing security concerns.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February prompted authorities in several Eastern European countries to remove symbols of their communist era.
The Polish government – another country that was once part of the Soviet sphere – said on Thursday that a memorial site in neighboring Belarus containing the graves of Polish soldiers who died in World War II is being razed by Belarusian authorities.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said on Twitter that the Surkonty cemetery, where the Polish resistance fought Soviet forces, is “devastated by Minsk regime services”.
The development comes a day after Poland said it was demolishing a monument to Soviet Red Army soldiers in Poland, one of dozens that have been marked for destruction.
Belarus has been a key ally of Moscow while Poland, which sits on Ukraine’s western border, has backed Ukraine.
Last week Estonia removed a Soviet WWII monument near a town on the Russian border as part of a larger effort to dismantle Soviet-era symbols. The replica tank was sent to a war museum north of Tallinn.
In 2007, the removal of a World War II monument to a Red Army soldier in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, sparked days of riots.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
___ Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.