Soviet Victory Monument, Riga
A typical Soviet-style monumental memorial ensemble in Riga
, celebrating the victory of the USSR
against Nazi Germany
, in what is known in the former Soviet sphere as the Great Patriotic/Fatherland War (aka WWII
in the West).
More background info:
What gives this specimen extra poignancy is the fact that for Latvians it is rather seen as a symbol of Soviet
oppression! Many would like to see it torn down – and apparently some Latvian ultra-nationalists had a go at blowing it up in 1997 but failed.
But fortunately for those dark tourists who are into such monumental sculpture works it is still standing and proudly piercing the Riga sky. Its survival is probably thanks partly to the presence of a still large Russian population in Riga
, and partly thanks to the monument's location a bit out of the city centre.
The timing of the construction of the monument is also unusual and significant in this context: it's a comparatively young such monument, built only in 1985! Most other war monuments in the Soviet Union
were built either very shortly after the end of the war or during the 1960s and into the 1970s.
The construction as late as 1985 of Riga
's Victory Memorial (40 years after the end of WWII
!) was of course meant to send a signal. It was at a time when the Eastern Bloc
was beginning to show cracks, mainly due to the political developments in Poland
. And there were already stirrings of more vocal dissent in the Baltics too. The fact that Moscow had such a grand monument erected at that time was of course intended to show the Latvians who's the boss!
So in that sense it is quite understandable that these days in Latvia
it is a very unloved monument, except by those nostalgic for the Soviet Union
(does exist in the Baltics too!) … and of course us dark tourists who get a kick out of such grand-scale weirdness of Soviet relics.
Within the overall Riga
picture, this monument does indeed feel very odd and misplaced. But that only adds a certain spooky extra element.
What there is to see:
You can see the top of the monument from far away, even from the other side of the river, lurking some way behind the National Library (see under Riga
) beyond the southern end of Akmens Bridge.
As you approach it on the ground more elements of the whole ensemble become visible. The tallest feature is the obelisk-like cluster of five concrete needles featuring angled red stars topping the needles at different heights. The stars are gold-framed and when the sun is right they can catch the light in such a way that the stars become very noticeable even from a great distance.
This needle-cluster bit is quite modern and unusual compared to other Soviet war memorials. At the base of the towering needles, however, you encounter much more familiar designs:
To the left of the central needle, a huge statue of Mother Russia (presumably) stands on one foot, leaning forward eagerly, holding her left arm up in the air and with an oversized concrete cape flapping in the wind behind her. Well, not literally, obviously. It's all static. But the clothes-waving-in-the-wind stylistic element is a classic in socialist realist
statuary, even if it isn't really particularly realistic.
To the right of the central needle is another group of statues, this time soldiers triumphantly walking into Riga in victorious poses. One stretches his machine gun up high in the air, another appears to point somewhere non-specific. It's as if they are a bit unsure about which direction to head. But they all look rather pleased with themselves. Even though they are a little too chunky in design to look convincingly realistic.
Behind the group of soldiers stands a row of 16 flagpoles, these days bare and devoid of any flags. Presumably these were intended to fly the flags of the 15 Soviet republics plus that of the Soviet Union
In front of the whole ensemble is a row of big grey concrete blocks with the legend “1941 - 1945” on them, i.e. the years of WWII
from a Soviet perspective. 1939 and 1940 are usually not counted because that was before the USSR
's territory was attacked by Germany
, even though diplomatically the Soviets were already involved, not least in the form of the annexation of the Baltic States in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The whole plaza that the monument takes up is framed at the back by a low wall of red marble – another favourite of Soviet monuments. The central section of the square is reached by very wide low steps. Behind is a geometrically-shaped artificial lake.
The scale of the whole thing is quite stunning – as was the desertedness of the location when I visited (in late April 2014). There was just one other person there during the time of my visit (good for providing a sense of scale in the photographs!).
On special days of significance to Soviet/Russian history, however, the square can fill up with people, especially those still waving red flags … But when I was there it felt like a completely forgotten place.
As if to add further to that impression I found one lonely book left on top of a foot of one of the soldier statues. Maybe a token left in lieu of a wreath or bunch of flowers? The book was certainly a Russian volume and its title was fitting too – it translates as “return to the stars” ...
While certainly not a prime dark destination in Riga
, the detour to see this monument is absolutely worth it for those who are in pursuit of Soviet
relics in the region. In that category it is one of the grandest in the whole country (probably topped only by the monument next to the 9th Fort
a bit out from Riga
city centre, just over a mile (1.8 km) from the Old Town, on the other side of the Daugava River. The monument is set within a park area that is wedged in by the triangle formed by Bāriņu iela heading west and Uzvaras boulevard bending off south.
Access and costs: a short tram ride and/or walk from the city centre; free.
Details: You can get to the monument on foot by crossing the Daugava River on the Akmens (Stone) Bridge and continuing straight on Uzvaras boulevard.
To cut the hike shorter you could also take a tram across the bridge (lines 2,4, 5 or 10, e.g. from 11 Novembra south of Riga
Old Town), get out at Slokas iela (2nd stop after the bridge) and just walk the last 150 yards or so.
The monument is freely accessible at all times.
normally just a few moments to marvel at the size of it all from a few angles. However, if you're there when it's some sort of Soviet
anniversary, then you might well spot groups of old communists
, or others who still have nostalgic feelings for the Soviet days, waving red flags, laying flowers and perhaps even parading in medal-studded uniforms …
Combinations with other dark destinations: When you've made it down here to this side of the river to see the Soviet Victory Monument you could just as well continue a bit further south still and counterbalance the glorification of the Red Army with the Tornakalns memorial
that commemorates the mass deportation of Latvians to Siberian gulags
in the Stalin
era. Little wonder Latvians aren't so keen on any Soviet
For more see under Riga
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Riga
- Soviet Victory Monument 1 - large scale
- Soviet Victory Monument 2 - big mama
- Soviet Victory Monument 3 - big soldiers
- Soviet Victory Monument 4 - book donation by the soldiers feet
- Soviet Victory Monument 5 - that way - no, THAT way
- Soviet Victory Monument 6 -bird in hand
- Soviet Victory Monument 7 - seen from the stone bridge