Baltic countries want Walmart to remove Soviet-themed shirts

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Three Baltic countries have lashed out at retail giant Walmart for selling online T-shirts and other products with Soviet Union emblems on them, and demanded that the goods be removed.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were forcibly annexed by Moscow in 1940 and remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, except for a brief occupation by Nazi Germany 1941-1944. Lithuania has been taking a particularly hard line against its communist-era legacy, banning all Soviet symbols as well as Nazi ones.

"Horrific crimes were done under the Soviet symbols of a sickle and hammer," the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States, Rolandas Krisciunas, wrote Wednesday to Walmart. "The promotion of such symbols resonates with a big pain for many centuries."

"When the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, hundreds of thousands of our citizens were killed, exiled, tortured, raped, separated from their families. Similar fates struck dozens of millions of other innocent people, including children, across Europe and across the globe," the ambassador wrote.

Krisciunas said he does not believe that Walmart deliberately chose to offend by selling the T-shirts, tank tops and sweatshirts with Soviet symbols and the letters USSR. "But in this case, the T-shirts and other products with the symbols of mass murder should be immediately withdrawn," he wrote.

The Baltic News Service said a group of lawmakers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had written Wednesday another letter to Walmart, saying "it is utterly disappointing (that the chain) does not show respect for the millions of different citizens who fell victim to the Soviet totalitarian regime."

Selling such items "demonstrates lack of human decency," the BNS news agency quoted them as saying. They added that Walmart "participates in promotion, among its customers worldwide, of totalitarianism, human rights abuse and suppression of freedom and democracy, the values that allowed such corporations as Walmart to grow and prosper."

"We call on Walmart Inc. to demonstrate their corporate responsibility (...) and immediately discontinue selling of the (...) items," they wrote, according to BNS.

There was no immediate reaction from the retailer based in Bentonville, Arkansas.

It seemed from the site that it is a third-party company that sells the shirts through Walmart Inc.'s page. Similar shirts were also on sale on Amazon's regional sites, but the lawmakers' letter did not mention the company.

In May, German sports gear maker Adidas agreed to remove a red tank top with the letters USSR and emblems of the Soviet Union from its online store. The item was being sold ahead of the soccer World Cup in Russia.

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Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Finland, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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