War of Moscow over monuments

A local Gauleiter from Prague forgot how Czech grandfathers and great-grandfathers sacrificed their lives in the fight against Nazism”, Vladimir Medinsky, Minister of Culture of Russia told about the Prague district mayor, wh…

A local Gauleiter from Prague forgot how Czech grandfathers and great-grandfathers sacrificed their lives in the fight against Nazism”, Vladimir Medinsky, Minister of Culture of Russia told about the Prague district mayor, who decided to remove the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev. The words of the Russian Minister aroused great indignation in the society and provoked a diplomatic scandal.
The Kremlin’ reaction is always very emotional and sometimes even hysterical to any attempts to remove Soviet symbols in the republics of the former USSR and former socialist countries.
The war over monuments is part of the Kremlin’s information war aimed at consolidating the Kremlin’s interpretation of the history of the USSR in the international community. The very existence of monuments and struggle for their preservation has become an important part of the current Russian hybrid war with many European countries.
The former Baltic States of the USSR, Ukraine, Georgia and Poland are struggling actively with the communist symbols. In other countries of the former socialist camp there are also many opponents of the monuments of the Red Army. However, in these countries the struggle with the monuments is usually limited to inscriptions or dousing in red paint. The monument to Ivan Konev was doused in paint every year. The mayor of Prague, where the monument stands, decided that it was enough and the monument had to be removed. Before that the monument did not bother the Czechs very much. It was enough for them that a new information board was hung on the monument, which explained the role of the Marshal in Czech historical events. The board provoked outrage of the Russian people.
Jan Lacina, an elder of the 6th district of Prague, told reporters that representatives of the Russian Embassy tried in various ways to prevent from making changes in inscriptions on the board. “At first they claimed that this was a place of military cemetry and there could be no changes. Later they came to the Town Hall to talk about this. Later the Russians offered a lot of money for reconstruction of the monument. But they didn’t achieve anything,” Jan Lacin explained.
Another example is the monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was repainted by unknown activists on the night of February 24, 2014 in solidarity with Euromaidan.
Recently, Sergey Andreev, the Russian ambassador in Warsaw, told a Russian newspaper that “an official dialogue with Poland on historical issues is currently impossible.” What is one of the most serious allegations? According to the ambassador, Poland is fighting a “war with the monuments of the Red Army”. However, Poland is not the only one. There are more countries in Central and Eastern Europe that are ultimately trying to shed Soviet or Communist ballast.
There is sufficient evidence that in most cases erection of monuments to Soviet soldiers was not dedicated to their memory. Decisions on erection of monuments were made not by the local population, but by the communist authorities imposed by Moscow. The goal was purely political.
The monuments served the same purposes as the monumental churches in the prestigious places of the great cities in the countries conquered by the tsar. They had to remind of the dominance of Russia.
Another goal of the political and information war over monuments is to harm image of the country in the international arena. The mechanism used by Russia is simple: if Latvians or Estonians destroy the memorial sites of the Red Army fighting Nazi Germany, this means that they are not only ungrateful, but also prove that they collaborated with the Nazis. Oddly enough, such arguments work efficiently, and the Russian propaganda apparatus in the West can convince some target groups that this is true.
Monuments to soldiers of the Red Army in Central and Eastern Europe resemble time bombs left by the Soviet “liberators” decades ago. Now Moscow “blows them up”. How dangerous these weapons are can be demonstrated by the events in Estonia in spring of 2007. Moscow used movement of the monument to Soviet soldiers (known as the Bronze Soldier) from a prestigious place in the capital to a military cemetery as an excuse for destabilization of Estonia. The Kremlin took advantage of disagreements between local Russians and Estonians. The protests ended in street riots not only in Tallinn, but also in other cities.
The Russian Duma reacted very emotionally – through international organizations, such as, for instance, the Council of Europe, it tried to reach denunciation of Estonia. In addition, the Duma adopted a resolution on the revival of Nazism (neo-Nazism) and the growth of revisionist disposition in Estonia.
During the crisis with the Bronze Soldier, Moscow tried out various measures that were widely used in other countries in subsequent years in Estonia. For example, hacker attacks on state strategic institutions. Russian special services with the SWR action showed what great threat is imposed on the country’s security for objections to Soviet symbols.
In the Baltic States, especially in Estonia and Latvia, there are a lot of Russian-speaking minorities (25-30%). With such a possible “fifth columnists”, the municipalities of Riga and Tallinn should be especially careful. Moreover, here in this context another element is important. The historical element today is inconvenient for Latvians and Estonians. It is about the participation of various white military units in the war on the side of Nazi Germany. It doesn’t matter that these units of the Waffen SS fought a war with the Soviets. The Russian propaganda machine uses military collaborators (fighting the Soviet occupiers) and interprets attempts of the Baltic municipalities to move Soviet war memorials to a remote place as the revenge of the “Nazis.”
In Estonia, there are still about a hundred of these potential conflict points – monuments to the soldiers of the Red Army who died in the World War II, as well as the Communists. Many of them are located in places where the Russian-speaking population predominates. For many of these people, these are the last symbols of the period – the period when the Russians ruled Estonia. Therefore, attempts to destroy or remove such monuments can be more easily used by Moscow in order to provoke a conflict between different nations living in Estonia again. In any case, Russia upholds the same motive in its policy regarding monuments in Latvia. It is worth mentioning how Moscow behaved when, in the fall of 2013, Janis Bordans, Minister of Justice, supported campaigners for removing the monument to “Riga Liberators” to another place. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that this was other evidence that “Riga is trying to falsify the history of the outbreak of World War II,” and, of course, the Latvian Legion Waffen-SS was mentioned.
The monument and its ensemble are very popular among Russian-speaking residents of Latvia. Every year, on the day of the end of World War II, more than 100 thousand people gather around it. The authorities of Riga did not dare to liquidate the ensemble of the monument. In a public dispute with the nationalists of Latvia, the Latvian Parliament Commission on Recommendations, Ethics and Reporting stated that, in accordance with the agreement between Latvia and Russia, signed in 1994, the consent of Russia is required for removal or demolishing of the monument.
Lithuanians also do not want Soviet monuments. In 1985, in Alytus region, in the south of the country, a monument was erected in commemoration of the Soviet “soldier-liberator” at the site where one of the first tank battles at the beginning of the war between Germany and the USSR in 1941 took place. In October 2018, the monument was moved to Grutas, where a park of Soviet monuments was created. A false version was circulated in the Russian media that the monument was destroyed, although it was only moved to a new place. It is likely that the Kremlin used earlier events for its propaganda. Previously, the sculpture consisted of two giant heads of Russian soldiers, but during the Restoration of independence the memorial was blown up and head of one soldier was gone. After this event, the author of the sculpture himself proposed to move the remaining part to Grutas Park. However, the decision was made only last year. One more case. In March 2018, a monument in commemoration of Soviet activists killed by Lithuanian partisans in 1946 was dismantled and also moved to Grutas Park. This was done because in the past someone constantly painted a swastika symbol on the monument. The Russian Embassy quickly responded to dismantling and stated that it believed that the excuse “to save it from vandal attacks” could be the beginning of the process of liquidating monuments in Lithuania.
Today, the war over monuments has become an important element of Moscow’s political struggle with countries trying to break out of its sphere of influence. For example, in Ukraine, the law on decommunization, adopted in April 2015, opened the way to removal of communist symbols from public spaces, which to most Ukrainians associate with symbols of the enslavement of the country. Although it should be emphasized that the monuments of World War II were not included in the list established by law, the political climate in Ukraine is such that symbols of this type are destroyed, especially in western Ukraine. One similar case has recently happened in Lviv. The monument “To the Heroes of Glory Who Fell during the Great Patriotic War” was damaged.
Monuments to Soviet soldiers are used to create and consolidate the image of the USSR as a liberator of enslaved “fascists” nations, and this is an important element of the current foreign policy of Moscow. The fight with “forgers of history” helps to create the popularity of power in the country – for an ordinary Russian the Great Patriotic War is the greatest sanctity. There is no doubt that monuments are just a tool used by aggressive Russia in a hybrid war with other countries. A characteristic feature of this tool is falsehood and misinformation

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