After visiting the National Library, I made my way to the Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army. I didn’t know what to expect. Coming from an American context, I find it hard to understand how anyone can leave a monument up to the Soviet Union. So with this in mind, I went trying to gain some understanding and just to take in the monument. Needless to say, this was one of the most unusual parks I have ever been to.
I was struck by several things as I wandered around the park.
1. If the Soviets were good at anything, it was replacing God with the state. When I saw the park, the first impression I had was that this place looked like an outdoor cathedral. It’s large, expansive and forces you to look up. Instead of looking up to seeing a painting of God or angels or saints, you look up to see Soviet stars and other representations of Soviet “greatness.”
2. Continuing the theme of replacing God with the state, I noticed that the monument was designed (either deliberately or unintentionally) to have a trinity effect.
When you look at it, you see a triangle. You have the tall obelisk with the five stars at the top,
then the statue of Mother Russia,
and finally the statue of the soldiers advancing with their weapons raised.
3. This is a site of great controversy – especially since Latvia had its independence restored. I came to find out later that there have been bombing attempts at this site. People are really divided about it. There are those who had relatives who fought in WWII and see the monument as a tribute to them for freeing Latvia from the Nazis. They still lay flowers at the site today.
And there are those who see the monument as symbolic of Soviet occupation and all the horrors that went with it. In a sense, this sounds an awful lot like the controversy in the US over the Confederate flag being flown.
4. Where were all the people? Given how much controversy there is about this monument, I was shocked when I thought back about my visit there – there were people there when I visited it. Not one – just flowers.
It was as if the whole park was being avoided. Who knows, maybe I just hit it at the wrong time.
Regardless, this is an interesting park, with a very interesting past. I’ll be curious to see what happens to it in the future – does it stay? Does it get bombed? If so, will it be rebuilt? Will it be torn down? Can the Latvians even do that – there is talk that they can’t because of some agreement with Russia in 1994. Many questions.