Contested Monuments and Their Afterlives: The V. I. Lenin monument in post-Soviet Riga

  • Dmitrijs Andrejevs

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines legacies of the socialist past in Riga, Latvia. It looks at the role of one socialist-era monument; the monument dedicated to Vladimir I. Lenin that was unveiled on the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic and which was removed in the wake of the August Putsch and the declaration of de facto independence of the Republic of Latvia in 1991. The removal of the Lenin monument, as I argue in this thesis, was not the end of the monument. Rather, it became an absent monument. While I use the idea of an absent monument in this thesis as a convenient shorthand descriptor for the physical absence of monuments after their removal, it also speaks of the monuments role in absentia, its continued existence in, and its effects on, the collective memory beyond its physical presence. The study of a monument in absentia or in other words what I refer to as its mnemonic remains is one of the two cores of this thesis. This thesis scrutinizes two stages in the life history of the monument under consideration; its decline as a site of memory at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its afterlives in the Republic of Latvia (1990-2018). First, I aim to understand the struggle over the Lenin monument and the wider memory regime that it stood for. My thesis traces the de-commemorative strategies of memory actors and in particular highlights the previously under-examined role of the Communist Party of Latvia in this late-Soviet memory work. Building on the extensive range of state and museum archives, this thesis makes a novel intervention into Latvian historiography of the late-Soviet period and in equal part contributes to the still limited literature on the removal of socialist-era monuments at the time of the collapse of socialism in eastern Europe. Second, this thesis looks beyond the removal of the monument and considers its mnemonic legacies. Building on my observations and engagement with recent exhibitions at the major history museums in Riga, I argue that the removal of the Lenin monument is preserved in the cultural memory as a threshold memory. Further, drawing on municipal archives and public debates, I look at the monument proposals for the empty site of the Lenin monument and trace how its mnemonic remains were mobilised for and against various proposed monuments. In this process, I uncover the transformation of the absent Lenin monument into what I characterise as a phantom monument. The mnemonic connection between the absent monument and its empty site is further explored through the lens of contemporary art. Building primarily on institutional and state archives, I investigate how the memory of the Lenin monument was engaged with by artists. I highlight the ways in which site-specific art installations simultaneously engaged with, negated, and layered upon the mnemonic remains of the Lenin monument. Taken together, this thesis is as much about the mnemonic remains of the Lenin monument as it is about collective memory production generally and within the context of Riga, Latvia specifically. The selection of the Lenin monument in Riga helps me to explore and highlight the legacies of the Soviet monumental past. More broadly, this thesis demonstrates the significance of the study of mnemonic remains and the afterlives of monuments as a way of contributing to our understanding of collective memory dynamics.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorEwa Ochman (Supervisor) & Olga Ulturgasheva (Supervisor)


  • Art installations
  • History museums
  • Soviet
  • Latvia
  • Collective memory
  • Lenin monument
  • Absence
  • Iconoclasm

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