Authorities in Lithuania have started to dismantle six giant Soviet-era statues standing in a cemetery in the capital Vilnius.
Construction workers on Tuesday cordoned off the 6-metre-tall granite effigies of the Red Army soldiers at the city’s Antakalnis Cemetery, ready for their complete removal in the coming weeks.
“We will do it with respect. Of course, the graves will not be destroyed,” Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said, referring to the burial place of 3,000 soldiers who fell in World War II. “We will cleanse ourselves of this Soviet symbol. A happy day, a happy moment.”
In going ahead with the work, the city administration disregarded a ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee, which temporarily halted the project due to a complaint.
However, the Lithuanian Justice Ministry and the city of Vilnius believe the committee had been misled by claims that the monument would be desecrated and the remains of the war dead reburied.
“I have no doubt that this is the only right decision,” Šimašius said, calling the monument “a symbol of Soviet ideology” that has nothing to do with the graves. Therefore, its dismantling is “legitimate and justified.”
All necessary permits had been obtained and the UN committee’s finding did not prevent the statues from being removed, the mayor said.
According to earlier information, the city administration plans to transfer the statues to the Lithuanian National Museumafter they are dismantled. Soviet commemorative plaques and monuments were already removed in several places in Lithuania following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
During World War II, the Baltic republic was alternately occupied by the Soviet Union and Germany. After the end of the war, it remained an involuntary part of the Soviet Union until 1990. ©dpa