The Kremlin, with the help of local supporters, has launched a new project in the war of monuments against Latvia. In June, the wreckage of a Soviet Pe-2 bomber was found in the forests of Nice and Kurzeme, and a campaign has now begun to glorify the find. Funds are being raised for the excavation of the wreckage and its possible location at Liepaja Memorial.
Falsified information about this event was spread in Russian state media outlets. The occupying forces of the Red Army were called the liberators of Latvia, and the volunteers who took part in the unloading of the plane – “Russian-speaking men and women” – were praised for their dedication. The plot was prepared by the Russian state TV channel Russia 24, but was later broadcast by other propaganda channels. It tells not only about the plane itself, but also cites accusations by the Russian Ministry of Defence of “Latvian patriotic vandalism.”
“Recently, forces have become more active in Latvia, which at any cost seek to destroy the past of their country. Due to the negligence of the authorities, and in some cases with its support, acts of desecration of monuments and memorials dedicated to the liberating soldiers take place.”
In the background of the text, the Monument to the Soviet Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the Nazi Invaders in Riga is manipulatively depicted.
The Osipovs, Involved Agents of Kremlin’s Influence
At the end of the story, the hope is expressed that their discovery will find a second life, and the aircraft components will be placed in a memorial at Liepaja Central Cemetery, where the burials of Soviet soldiers are located.
“The main task is to preserve the memory and find out the names of the dead crew.” So, in the future, there will be a pompous reburial, as well as the ambassador’s speech, flags, St. George’s ribbons, carnations and all the other attributes that Russia needs in the war of monuments against Latvia to brainwash the population.
There is no doubt that the Russian embassy has already included the Pe-2 aircraft in the sphere of its interests within the framework of the policy of compatriots and propaganda of monuments. But formally, local pro-Kremlin activists are doing it, for example, Meklēšanas organizācija Patriots, headed by Alexander Borisov and well-known Kremlin friends Elena and Yevgeny Osipov in Liepaja, who have repeatedly come to the attention of law enforcement agencies because of their anti-state activities. In July, they launched a fundraising campaign to recover the wreckage of the plane and the dead soldiers. According to the stories of Russian propaganda channels and information on social media accounts of Elena and Yevgeny, the work is already underway – and is being conducted without the consent of the owner of JSC “Latvia’s State Forests” (LVM).
Fraternal Cemetery Committee Keeps Silent
Due to the unclear situation with the plane found in the forests of Nice, the LVM requested additional information from the Fraternal Cemetery Committee and the Patriots search organisation. Isn’t it mandatory to indicate these actions in the researcher’s application? Isn’t it necessary to provide information on the search for military equipment in the permit? Shouldn’t additional conditions be introduced for the performance of such work in respect of the use of machinery that does not qualify as ‘light machinery’ and in respect of property valued and excavated in the course of the work? So far, only the Patriots search organisation has responded to the LVM’s letter, explaining that only excavations with a shovel were carried out at the site to make sure that there was a plane on which the remains of the crew could be located.
This is not entirely true because videos released by Russia show that the excavations were carried out on a much larger scale and that large parts of the plane have already been found, against which pro-Kremlin activists posed. The response from the Fraternal Cemetery Committee has not yet been received, so the LVM has not issued a permit to the applicants:
“Currently, the LVM has not yet given any permission, as additional information on possible excavation work is expected.”
It is noteworthy that Neatkarīgā did not receive any explanations from the Fraternal Cemetery Committee for several days. However, explanations were provided by the Ministry of Defence, within which the association and the Foreign Ministry operate. Of course, we are interested not so much in the fate of the plane itself, but in the propaganda campaign that Russia is launching against Latvia – now, also with the help of this object. How does the Latvian government intend to confront Russia’s large-scale war with monuments? It seems absolutely by no means.
Assignment of Responsibility to Municipality
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out that the Law “On the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Latvia and the Government of the Russian Federation on the Status of Latvian Burials in the Russian Federation and the Status of Russian Burials in the Republic of Latvia” includes specific burials:
“The finds in the forest of Nice mentioned in your letter do not affect the essence of this law. It is not a legally established burial place, and therefore the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot comment on the situation. Any further activities related to finds in the administrative territory and their use are in the direct competence of the municipality. We invite you to contact the specific municipality in which the activity specified in your letter is carried out. At the moment, the MFA does not plan to take any action in connection with the event you mentioned.”
The Ministry of Defence also notes that the issue of excavations should be addressed with the South Kurzeme Municipality. Neatkarīgā did the same and found out that neither the South Kurzeme Municipality nor the rural municipality had heard of the plane found in the forest. This is also not surprising, as information about it is disseminated only in Russian to the Russian audience. However, the fact that the municipality knows nothing about the illegal excavations carried out on its territory does not make them legal.
We Do Not Need Such A Plane
In theory, excavators should coordinate every step with the Latvian authorities. As the Ministry of Defence explains, the soldier’s cemetery is primarily run by the Fraternal Cemetery Committee, and no information has yet been received from it that the remains of soldiers were found at the site of the wreckage of the Pe-2 aircraft. Secondly, according to the Law on the Protection of Cultural Monuments, the National Cultural Heritage Council must be notified of finds of possible cultural and historical value within five days. And even if the excavations were carried out legally, this does not mean that the found plane could be immediately put on a pedestal in Liepaja to glorify the Soviet occupation forces and humiliate Latvia.
The Advisory Board of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Defence must give an opinion on the erection of new monuments and the creation of memorial sites. This council determines the procedure for the erection of monuments and memorials dedicated to historical events and persons, as well as the creation of new memorial sites.
More than 300 monuments have already been erected by Soviet occupation forces in Latvia, and there are more than 300 artifacts of Soviet power in the burials. Yes, fallen soldiers deserve rest, no matter which side they fought on. However, in our time, it would be unacceptable to put on a pedestal a bomber of the Soviet occupation forces, the bombs of which killed Latvians and soldiers.