On May 8 and 9, the Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders in Victory Park (Uzvaras parks; Парк Победы) served as a gathering spot for two separate commemorations of the end of the second World War. May 8 is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), celebrated through Europe and the US, and May 9 is Victory Day, a Russian holiday marking the victory over the Germans. 

The Russian Victory Day gathering has been contentious since Latvia’s independence; many Latvians view it as a celebration of the Soviet occupation of Latvia. Because of this and because of rising tensions throughout Europe over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Riga government banned Russian gatherings on May 9 and forbade any displays of Russian nationalism. In previous years, the Russian holiday saw thousands gathered at the base of the monument, laying flowers on the ground, and displaying Russian patriotic symbols.

This year, the monument, which features a traditional Soviet Motherland figure, soldiers, and a tall tower,  were surrounded by police barricades decorated with the Latvian and Ukrainian flags and images of the war in Ukraine were put on display. On May 8, people could approach the monument directly, but on May 9, Russians were held back from the monument by police and could not personally lay flowers at the base of the monument. The mood on May 8 was somber, but tensions were high on May 9 as elderly Russians argued with police about why they couldn’t commemorate Victory Day as they have for decades. 

UPDATE: Starting 22 Augusut 2022, the Riga government began the destruction of this monument. The soldiers were removed on Aug. 23, and the 260-foot obelisk tower was toppled on Aug. 25. 

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