Lithuania Removes Remaining Soviet-Era Statues in Capital

July 20, 2015 Updated: July 20, 2015

VILNIUS, Lithuania—Workers in Lithuania on Monday, July 20, began dismantling the last Soviet statues in the capital, following calls prompted by the Ukraine crisis that symbols of the Soviet occupation be removed.

The statues, which depict Soviet-era heroes including Red Army soldiers with machine guns, have commanded a prominent position on the four corners of the historic Green Bridge in central Vilnius since 1952.

It seems that Vilnius began breathing more freely today as these gloomy idols are leaving town one after another.
— Giedrius Petrauskas

Lithuania, like countries across Eastern Europe that were controlled by the Soviet Union through the communist era, began removing Soviet-era symbols when Moscow lost its control over the region a quarter century ago.

Many of the monuments celebrate Red Army soldiers who helped defeat Nazi Germany, and their removal has often been met with outrage in Russia.

Workers prepare to dismantle Soviet era statues from the Green Bridge over the Neris river in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sunday July 19, 2015.  (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
Workers prepare to dismantle Soviet-era statues from the Green Bridge over the Neris River in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sunday, July 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

Earlier this year, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius pledged to remove the remaining statues despite opposition from several politicians and historians who argued that they should be preserved for historical reasons.

Workmen encountered no protests Monday as they began dismantling the statues, work expected to take several days. But a handful of Russian tourists expressed dismay.

“It was not Stalin or Brezhnev who brought these statues to Vilnius,” Tayana Boyko from Moscow said. “Lithuanians put them here and now they’re demolishing their own history.”

Others celebrated.

“It seems that Vilnius began breathing more freely today as these gloomy idols are leaving town one after another,” said Giedrius Petrauskas, a pensioner who took photos of the work.

Simasius said the city had received three offers from private museums for the statues, but gave no details. Most of the previously removed Soviet-era statues are on display in a quirky park in southern Lithuania unofficially dubbed “Stalin’s World.”

Polish authorities also took down a Soviet war monument recently, prompting Russia to accuse Poland of waging a “war of monuments.”