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InstitutionsCouncil of EuropeMonument to Latvian legionnaires in Belgium - local authorities want to remove

Monument to Latvian legionnaires in Belgium – local authorities want to remove

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Members of the Historical Remembrance Group of the European Parliament appealed to the self-government of the Belgian city of Zedelgem with a request to preserve the monument “Latvian Hive of Freedom”, dedicated to Latvian soldiers who were drafted into the legion and imprisoned in the Zedelgem prisoner of war camp after World War II.

“When I learned that the monument dedicated to the Latvian soldiers was under threat of demolition, I realized that urgent action was needed. Therefore, I called on colleagues with whom we work in the EP Historical Memory Group to contact the mayor of Zedelgem and the deputies, explaining to them the historical the significance of this monument, refuting the false claims and asking to keep it,” explained the member of the European Parliament, Inese Vaidere.

According to the MP, the proposal to demolish the monument appeared recently and was published in several Belgian media. It reported that representatives of several local political forces put pressure on the local government of Zedelgem in order to dismantle the memorial.

This is based on the argument that the monument to the Latvian legionnaires “glorifies Nazi collaborators”. As a result of pressure, Zedelgem’s self-government decided to rename Freedom Square, on which the monument is located, as well as to change the plaque placed on the monument.

“It is clear that local politicians not only lack understanding of historical facts, but they are also subject to ‘pressure from outside’.

Therefore, in the letter, we explain that the Latvian legionnaires were mobilized into the armed forces of Nazi Germany against their will and it is internationally recognized that the Latvian legion has nothing to do with Nazi crimes against humanity. We also emphasize that it was Soviet propaganda that created the false idea that our legionnaires should be equated with the Nazis, and this disinformation is still actively spread by Russia in order to denigrate Latvia,” the deputy added.

The letter sent to Vaidere was signed by MEPs from various EU countries and political groups, and she hopes that the MEPs in Zedelgem will listen to the arguments and preserve the monument, as “the destruction of this memorial will be directed against all those who fought in the Second World War not at will.”

The monument to 12,000 Latvian prisoners of war “Latvian Hive of Freedom” was opened in Zedelgeme in 2018 by Mayor Annika Vermeulen, then Latvian Ambassador to Belgium Ilze Ruse and Chairman of the Board of the Society of the Latvian Occupation Museum Valters Nollendorfs. The author of the monument, sculptor Kristaps Gulbis, explained that the bees who created the hive are peaceful – they do not attack anyone, but protect their hive and freedom.

The renovated Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and its extension “House of the Future” were put into operation in the summer of 2020, said Kitija Grushkevicha, member of the board of Valsts nekustamie īpašumi (VNI).

She recalled that there had been obstacles to the implementation of this reconstruction project for more than ten years, but last year, thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development and VNI, the project finally moved forward.

The Chairman of the Board of the Association of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Walter Nollendorf, added that the museum had been in temporary premises for seven years already, and this is too long a period.

Nollendorf also emphasized that both the permanent exhibition and museum collections – written and video evidence – are located in the renovated and rebuilt museum premises. Modern study rooms and conference rooms are also available.

In total, the Ministry of Culture raised 8.9 million euros from the state budget for the reconstruction of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and the creation of a memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the Soviet occupation.

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