Recently it was widely reported that the – to use its lengthy official name - Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders was destroyed by local authorities in the Latvian capital. This is certainly not without precedent, as numerous Red Army monuments have been removed in the Baltic states and also in Poland, Czechia and other nations formerly in the Warsaw Pact, many of these decisions being clearly driven by events in the Ukraine since 2004. I think we on this forum are mostly aware of the talking points used to justify their removal so I won’t bother to repeat those here. Instead I’d make the simple assumption in this particular case that those Latvians who support this decision are clearly unhappy with the direction their national history took in the past, and ask the question what sort of past they’d have preferred to have. I suppose this is a relevant Culture War question in Eastern Europe.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that Operation Barbarossa begins as it did, and then history develops differently. From then on, I think Latvia had the following options:
A – Germany wins decisive victory in the East and incorporates Latvia directly into the Reich; it only remains as an administrative area, if that; presumably, local Jews and Russians are either deported/killed or used as slave labor, and German settlers move in
B – same as A, but Latvia is allowed to retain limited autonomy as a vassal state / protectorate
C – the war in the East concludes with a separate negotiated peace in 1941 or 1942, and Latvia remains an independent nation as part of some demilitarized neutral zone between Germany and the USSR
D – same as C, but Latvia remains under German influence and its autonomy remains limited in the practical sense, maybe the Germans even retain military bases in Latvian territory
E – the war concludes with decisive Allied victory, but Stalin recognizes the independence of the Baltic states and withdraws his troops from there; still, Soviet influence remains palpable
F – same as E, but the USSR incorporates Latvia into a new military and economic system of cooperation under Soviet hegemony, and maintains military bases on Latvian soil; also, the Soviets have enough influence, soft power and political mechanisms to ensure that Latvia cannot leave this sphere of influence
G – everything happens as it actually did, but the Baltic states get nominal independence after 1945 instead of getting turned back into Soviet republics. Basically, the Warsaw Pact and COMECON have 3 more members.
I assume hardliner Latvian nationalists would prefer B (even for them, A is too extreme), and more moderate nationalists would prefer C or D. For obvious reasons however, even in the current climate of general anti-Russian/Soviet sentiment, I very much doubt they’d be willing to say this out loud. After all, A, B, C and D all mean that Nazi Germany remains undefeated, and Latvian Jews get genocided and pogromed. For the same reason, I believe these 4 options are unacceptable for the Russian and Jewish minorities in Latvia. After all, even C entails the strong possibility that they get oppressed and ethnically cleansed.
Also, I cannot help but notice that the same very obviously applies to Ukrainian nationalists in general, no matter how much leeway they currently get in Western media.
I’ll make the guess that E is the most ideal option in the eyes of Latvian centrists/normies at first sight; however, it still means that, realistically speaking, Latvia never gets to join either NATO or the EU. It’s the same as Finland’s fate but worse, as the border region between Russia and Finland at least consists of dense forests and numerous lakes, practically impassable ground for Russians if they invade (again). Also, I think it’s clear that the Soviets would agree to something (in their eyes) so unrealistic only if the US agrees to the same in Western Europe. In short, this means that even if NATO is formed, it remains limited in its geographical scope i.e. West Germany never gets incorporated into it, in other words, either the two German states remain neutral or the German state never gets divided and remains neutral.
G is very obviously unacceptable for most Latvians, as the difference from what actually happened is negligible.
F is, I think, also something most of them would only begrudgingly accept. However, the issue with this is that it’s basically merely the local version of NATO, but overseen by Russians. If our position today is that this would be unacceptable and violates our political norms, we’d also have to say that it was not acceptable for the Americans to maintain hegemony over Western European states and station their military units and nuclear weapons on their soil. (I’ll make an expectation for West Germany, as it was a defeated enemy and no peace treaty was signed.) Alternatively, one can make an argument that “but it’s different when the Americans do it, the Russians have always been Mongoloid Ugric-Turkic savages”, but I don’t know how many normies would be willing to say this unironically.
Also, both F and G entail the very real likelihood that the Soviets still get to erect a huge monument in Riga. Even in the case of E it’s relatively likely.
So where does that leave us?