One of the most dominant structures of the skyline on Riga’s left bank and a poignant reminder to the recent past, the Victory Monument continues to hold a controversial place in the city’s mindset. Opinions are very divided as to what the future of this monument should be.
The Soviet Victory Monument in Riga is a huge structure situated on the Pardaugava side of the River Daugava. Constructed in 1985 it symbolizes the liberation of Europe and the victory over Nazism and commemorates 40 years of since that victory. The large column of 5 stars stands 79 meters tall, and is surround by a group of sculptures, 3 soldiers and a lone female.
The Victory Monument can be reached on foot from the Old City of Riga. Just cross over Akmens Tilts (Stone Bridge) past the National Library and the Railway Museum and keep heading straight. You cannot miss it! It is located in a large piece of parkland called Uzvaras Park, (Victory Park) next to a rollerblading or skiing track, depending on the season. Note the dates on the monument that read 1941 – 1945. These dates represent the years of conflict, often called ‘The Great Patriotic War’, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop had fallen apart. The 5 stars that crown the columns symbolise these years of fighting.
Every year on the 9th of May, Soviet veterans and their supports gather at the Victory Monument and services, memorials and an events program are held. This day is, for many, a day of remembrance. However, for others it is a reminder of the years that followed the liberation of Latvia from Nazi forces. It is certain that if you are in Riga on the 9th of May, you will see many people heading for this monument and it is certainly an event that is worth witnessing. A see of flowers fills the area in front of the monument, there is singing, dancing and the smell of shasliks cooking nearby.
The controversial nature of this monument led to the attempted destruction through bombing which took place on the 6th of June 1997. Latvian Nationalists set off a device intended to bring down the monument but failed, killing 2 of those involved. This is a recent reminder that although there has been freedom in Latvia since 1991, the are quite conflicting strongly held views about the soviet occupation period of 1944 – 1991.
The different feelings that this monument invokes amongst the local population mean that the subject is a delicate one, which should be carefully approached. There is the perspective that, if we remove and destroy the visible history around us, then we run the risk of later generations being unaware of their past. Whatever your point of view, the Victory Monument remains an important part of Latvia’s history symbolising the great suffering undergone by many during the second world war, and the long soviet years that followed. It is also, in its own right, a fascinating example of soviet monumental sculpture.