Riga protesters, politicians arrested as lawmakers consider demolition of Soviet war memorial

Riga protesters, politicians arrested as lawmakers consider demolition of Soviet war memorial

Multiple protesters and opposition politicians were arrested in Latvia.

Several hundred people attempted to gather outside Riga's town hall on Friday as the legislature in the Latvian capital convened for an extraordinary meeting to consider demolishing a monument to Soviet soldiers who liberated the city from Nazi occupation. An overwhelming majority of lawmakers supported the move.

Three members of the Latvian Russian Union party, including the party's co-chair and member of the European Parliament Tatiana Zhdanok, were briefly arrested during the protest outside the town hall. The politicians were not protesting, as they were seen holding placards warning citizens that the gathering had not been authorized by the authorities.

During the demonstrations, seven people were arrested for a variety of offenses, including petty hooliganism. Some wore black- and orange St. George s ribbons, which were used on Soviet WWII victory medals, and were detained for displaying unspecified symbols of military aggression in public.

More protesters showed up in the city center after the decision to demolish it was approved by 38 legislators, with only eight voting against it. The supporters of the move, Latvian nationalists and pro-Ukrainian activists, were confronted with the demolition of the monument. While opposing protesters engaged in verbal spats, no physical confrontations were reported from the heavily policed city center.

Some counter-protesters tried to distribute insulting leaflets, fashioned as a ticket out of the country. The passenger was referred to as a vatnik a cotton-wool padded jacket, a derogatory term commonly used to insult supporters of the Russian government and Russians in general.

The monument to the Soviet liberators of Riga has been targeted by Latvian nationalists who have been calling for its destruction for decades. The site was the subject of a bitter spat between local residents and the authorities during the recent Victory Day celebrations.

Latvian authorities declared on May 9 when V-Day is celebrated in Russia and some other countries as a day of mourning for those who died or were wounded during the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

Numerous people still attended the monument to lay flowers, which were swept away the next day. The move sparked a public outcry, with people returning to the site with even more flowers on May 10.

The central government in Latvia took action after the Riga monument was raised by the back- and- forth surrounding it. On Thursday, the country s parliament voted to renegotiate part of a treaty with Russia, in which Latvia pledged to protect and maintain war memorials in the country. The move led to the demolition of the memorial, as well as the possible destruction of other Soviet-era monuments in the country, a quarter of which are predominantly Russian-speaking.