Luxembourgh Times
soviet monument

Not a good time to honour Soviets, says town of Esch

Bettel and Esch scrap plans for monument to forced labourers from Russia during WWII

Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) visited Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in 2019

Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) visited Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in 2019 © Photo credit: Gerry Huberty

Plans for a statue honouring Soviet prisoners forced by the Nazis to work in Luxembourg's steel industry during World War II are on hold, now that Russia is waging war against Ukraine.

The project to build the monument, which Russian diplomats had pushed for, will be shelved, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel decided after a mutual consultation with the city council of Esch-sur-Alzette in the south of the country, once a hotbed for Luxembourg's communist party.

"At the moment it is unfortunately not possible, with the necessary distance and the necessary calmness, to do the important memorial work that is worthy of the victims and which is needed to contribute to a better understanding between the nations," Bettel said in a written response on Monday to a question from national lawmaker Fernand Kartheiser.

The city council for Luxembourg's second-largest city decided on 4 March to spend the money budgeted for the sculpture to Ukraine's humanitarian needs during the war, a council statement said. The council had allotted €200,000 for the monument, public radio station 100,7 said.

Esch and other municipalities in the former industrial belt along Luxembourg's southern border with France were long hotbeds of the Communist Party, whose president is still a member of the Differdange city council.

In the late 1930s, half of Luxembourg voters supported the KPL, rising to 80% in Differdange. More recently, the KPL failed to gain enough votes to enter parliament in the past four national elections.

Russia had sought a more prominent monument marking the Soviet Union's contribution to defeating the Nazis during World War II than the one currently in an Esch cemetery, the radio station reported.

Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had proposed the statue during his visit to the Grand Duchy three years ago.

Thousands of prisoners of war from Russia, Ukraine and other groups in the multi-ethnic Soviet Union were shipped to Luxembourg and forced to work on farms and in steel and iron factories from 1942 to 1944, a period that the Grand Duchy itself was occupied by the Nazis, University of Luxembourg researcher and former journalist Inna Ganschow wrote in 2017.

As many as 4,000 Soviet citizens were held in Luxembourg, including in camps in Differdange and Esch as well as the tiny village of Hollenfels, Ganschow found after researching details in Russia's government archives.

During his 2019 visit, Medvedev met with members of the World War II resistance in Luxembourg. Bettel called for more cooperation with Russia, which was already coping with sanctions after invading Ukraine's Crimea region and the failed assassination with a deadly nerve agent of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the UK.