Lithuania Considers Trading Controversial Soviet Statues With Russia
Lithuania will consider trading the capital’s derelict Soviet-era bronze statues with Russia in return for Lithuanian historical artefacts, the mayor of Vilnius has said.
The four sets of figures, depicting Soviet laborers, soldiers and students, have stood on the corners of the Green Bridge of the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius since 1952, when the country was part of the Soviet Union. However, years of corrosion prompted local authorities to indefinitely remove the statues earlier this month for fear that they could collapse onto passers-by. The decision was preceded by months of debate in Lithuania about the significance of the statues.
The Russian media and organizations representing Lithuania’s Russian-speaking minority have long opposed the statues leaving the Green Bridge. Russia’s main national TV channel, Perviy Kanal, called the removal of the statues a “scandal,” citing several Vilnius locals who objected to the move. Larissa Dimitriyeva, an MP for the Lithuanian party which represents the Russian-speaking minority, has been amongst the most vocal critics, telling Russian news agency Regnum that it was “populist,, “bolshevik” and an attempt to rewrite history.
Vilnius’s mayor Remigijus Šimašius told Newsweek that one of the ideas on the table involves swapping the statues for items of equal historical significance to Lithuania currently held in Russia. “I think if you have an artefact which is in some way valuable to another society and they have artefacts valuable to yours, it is only logical that you consider an exchange.”
Cranes began hauling statues off plinths after midnight on July 20, a quarter century after the Baltic state re-emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, a highly charged demolition job as Lithuania faces fresh tensions with its neighbour Russia.
“This idea is not fully prepared, it is an indication of what we should consider. Since we have spoken about the future of these statues, it has been clear from Russian media, which reflects the official position of the Russian state, that these statues are very important to Russian society.”
According to the mayor, two Russian cities have already expressed an interest in resettling the statues, with a youth organisation in the western city of Pskov and the Mayor of Sovyetsk, a town in the Kaliningrad enclave, both reaching out to him and offering to pay for the cost of moving.
“I indicated to the Russian ambassador in Lithuania that I would consider an exchange of cultural valuables which are very important for Lithuania and are currently in Russia, for these statues which are important to Russia,” he adds.
The Russian ambassador to Lithuania Alexander Udaltsov was not immediately available to comment, however when speaking to Baltic news agency Delfi on Thursday morning he said,”I have not a single doubt that the artistic composition on the Green Bridge ought to remain in Lithuania,” Udaltsov said, explaining that the statues are Lithuanian artefacts in their own right and were designed and built by Lithuanian sculptors.
Šimašius has indicated that he is in no hurry to make the decision. “We will collect ideas until the autumn and probably in October we will look at them again. If there is a positive answer from the Russian side and from the Lithuanian department of cultural heritage then we can proceed.”
The mayor played down the political significance of removing the monuments, explaining that it is not intended to erase remnants of the Soviet regime from Lithuania’s history.
“We have had this discussion in the city and one aspect is about symbolics. I have to admit that, despite some opposition, the statues do not represent the values of the Lithuanian republic. Keep in mind that one of them depicts a soldier of the occupying Soviet army.”
Public signs celebrating the Soviet Union are outlawed in Lithuania and the Soviet Union is largely remembered as an occupying force.
“In the current state of these statues, you never knew when they could collapse,” Šimašius says, adding that moving the statues would be many times cheaper than restoring them. “There are monuments of prime importance in Lithuania which this money could be used to renovate.” Šimašius argued that with or without the statues Lithuania still has “the biggest park in Europe with Soviet art relics” referring to Grūtas Park, situated less than 100 miles outside Vilnius.