Polish agency pushes to take Soviet monuments off streets

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Monument of the Gratitude for the Soviet Army Soldiers is pictured in Warsaw

The monument of the Gratitude for the Soviet Army Soldiers is pictured in Warsaw, Poland May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

WROCLAW, Poland (Reuters) - A Polish agency is campaigning to take monuments to the Soviet armed forces off the streets, dubbing them a bitter reminder of Moscow's domination, and consign them to less conspicuous "educational parks".

The state-backed Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which probes crimes from World War Two to the end of communist rule, wants local authorities to take down so-called "monuments of gratitude to the Red Army".

"The monuments ... would most likely be placed in ... monument parks," Grzegorz Waligora, from the IPN's research department, told Reuters in an interview.

"An educational park will be built where visitors can see the monuments as well as learn why they were built and by whom."

The agency is currently cataloguing 300 such monuments, of which those in a decent state would be preserved. The plans would not affect Soviet cemeteries in Poland.

Waligora said two potential sites for a monument park had been proposed, including a former Soviet army base in Borne Sulinowo in northwestern Poland.

The plan leaves local councils free to make their own decisions. It has been criticized by Moscow, which urged historians to "talk to the Polish veterans ... who fought side by side with Russian soldiers" before deciding anything.

Moscow last July said it was outraged by a move by Polish authorities in Nowa Sol to reduce to rubble a memorial depicting Polish and Red Army soldiers as brothers in arms.

In September, Moscow summoned Poland's ambassador to protest against the removal of a Soviet-era statue in the town of Pieniezno.

The neighbors share a complex history. Soviet troops invaded eastern Poland weeks after Adolf Hitler's forces attacked from the west in September 1939. The Red Army later freed Poland from Nazi occupation, but also persecuted soldiers from the Polish underground army.

After World War Two, Poland spent four decades under Soviet domination before embracing democracy and joining the European Union. More recently, it has been among the strongest critics of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

(Reporting by Natalia Dobryszycka; writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Andrew Roche)