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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Soviet memorials conjure mixed emotions
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Treptower Park's Soviet Memorial in Berlin
Berlin's monument has become a tourist attraction in its own right
Across much of Central and Eastern Europe the role of the Soviet army in World War II remains highly ambiguous.

On the one hand, it did expel the forces of Nazi Germany from the region - at a staggeringly high cost in lives lost.

On the other, it ushered in several decades of Soviet domination and Communist dictatorship.

The memory of the Soviet army as "liberator" - still cherished in Russia - is matched by another: that of an

often ill-disciplined, looting, raping horde.

Practically every town and city reached by the Soviet army had its Red Army memorial, usually located in a prominent spot and built according to official Soviet taste.

Frowning soldiers, with square jaws and big muscular hands, clutch guns or raise children on to their shoulders. Generously-proportioned personifications of the Motherland urge young men forward against the enemy.

Promise to retain

According to Germany's Goethe Institut, the country's state-funded "cultural ambassador", these monuments - though "alien in their monumentality to today's viewers" - are still of great historical interest, for their "visual language" and their "Stalinist interpretation of the Soviet victory over Hitler's Fascism".

One of the conditions under which Russian troops finally left German soil in 1994 was that these Soviet war memorials should be looked after and preserved by the Germans in perpetuity.

The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn
Tallinn's Bronze Soldier was relocated to a military cemetery
Since then, major monuments like that in Berlin have become significant tourist venues - complete with extensive surviving quotations from Stalin.

Elsewhere, the picture is mixed.

Many Soviet memorials across the region disappeared soon after the fall of Communism - along with statues of Lenin and home-grown Communist heroes.

Often the decision was taken by local authorities and attracted little wider publicity. In some cases, the remains of fallen Soviet soldiers were reburied in local cemeteries.

Vienna and the Slovak capital, Bratislava, are notable, like Berlin, for their large and well-kept Soviet war memorials.

In the Polish capital, Warsaw, a rather neglected monument to the Red Army stands in an eastern working-class suburb. Despite occasional calls for its demolition from nationalist groups, there are no plans to touch it.

Changing face

Then there is the so-called "Peace Monument", perched high on a hill overlooking the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Its main element is a huge figure of a woman with raised arms.

Commissioned by Hungary's right-wing dictator, Admiral Miklos Horthy, to commemorate a son killed in an air crash, she was meant to hold an aircraft propeller.

After the war, she was fitted out with a palm branch, given a Red Army soldier companion, and re-dedicated to the "Soviet liberators of Budapest".

After the fall of Communism, the Soviet soldier was removed; the names of Soviet soldiers killed in fighting for the city were erased - and replaced with the words: "In memory of all those who gave their lives for the independence, liberty and happiness of Hungary."


SEE ALSO
Estonia removes Soviet memorial
27 Apr 07 |  Europe



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