Eastern Europe takes out anger of Ukraine invasion on symbols of Soviet occupation

·3-min read
The Red Army statue in Siedlce, Poland - Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Red Army statue in Siedlce, Poland - Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Few, if anybody, mourned the demise of the statue of a Red Army soldier in the Polish town of Siedlce. Already neglected and vandalised, it was pulled down last month, ingloriously nosediving into the rain-sodden turf and breaking in two before being carted away.

Horrified by what Russia is now inflicting on Ukraine, Polish authorities have ramped up a drive to rid the country of the tangible legacies of its years spent under a brutal regime imposed on it by Moscow.

Nor is it just Poland that wants to rid itself of unwanted monuments, memorials and street names. Scattered across central and eastern Europe, they are seen in many countries as unwelcome reminders of Soviet imperialism and occupation.

Some street names had already been changed and statues and monuments uprooted, but since Vladimir Putin’s troops marched into Ukraine the pace and the scale of de-Russification has increased.

Karol Nawrocki, the director of Poland’s Institute for National Remembrance, the body charged with investigating crimes committed during the communist era, said that it has drawn up a hit list of 60 Red Army monuments that it wants either destroyed or moved to a museum.

Speaking in Siedlce, he drew parallels with the past and what is happening in Ukraine, saying it was wrong to honour people who are now “models for those today who want to commit genocide”.

Mr Nawrocki said that the Red Army symbols found on the monuments – such as red banners and stars – have been used by the Russian army in Ukraine, and that although they wear the uniforms of the Russian Federation, the soldiers have “Lenin and Stalin in their hearts”.

The Soviet war memorial in Riga, Latvia - Radowitz/Shutterstock
The Soviet war memorial in Riga, Latvia - Radowitz/Shutterstock

Over in the Latvian capital of Riga, lawmakers there recently voted to remove a massive Soviet war memorial, consisting of a lofty obelisk and three giant bronze statues of Red Army soldiers, from a central park. The Latvian public has banded together to raise 200,000 euros to pay for its destruction and removal.

Protesters have also taken to the streets in Riga. Marching under the banner “Liberation from Soviet Legacy”, they called for the dismantling of all Soviet memorials and the renaming of any street or square linked to the Soviet past.

Meanwhile, local authorities in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, have started planning the removal of the massive Soviet Army Monument. A long-time source of controversy for the city, the Ukraine war has provided the final impetus.

Soviet Army Monument, Sofia - Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo
Soviet Army Monument, Sofia - Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo

Beyond legacy monuments of the Second World War, some countries are also targeting wider symbols of Russia.

That includes Ukraine, of course, where MP Lesia Vasylenko says “de-Russification is spreading fast” and that all the streets named Moscow and Pushkin “are getting new names”.

“A town in the Odesa region will soon get a Boris Johnson Street, for example,” she added, in recognition of the UK’s support for Ukraine.

Yevhen Perebyinis, Ukrainian ambassador to the Czech Republic - SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Stock Photo
Yevhen Perebyinis, Ukrainian ambassador to the Czech Republic - SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Stock Photo

The southern Czech town of Ceske Budejovice has even decided to rescind the honorary citizenship of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, who is currently a member of the Russian parliament.

“Although Valentina Tereshkova has a positive role as an international symbol of gender equality, in recent years she has been a strong supporter of Putin’s totalitarian regime,” said Jan Hosek, a town councillor.

“The matter [of withdrawing her citizenship] was discussed even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But following the events there, the proposal received overwhelming support.”

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