Lithuania is urging U.S. retail giant Walmart to stop selling clothing with Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbols, which it says insults victims of Soviet-era persecution.
“You wouldn’t buy Nazi-themed clothing, would you?” the Baltic state’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, tweeted on September 7. “We trust @Walmart’s moral stance & call to withdraw products with the symbols of mass murders.”
The hammer-and-sickle symbol is banned in Lithuania, a nation of 2.9 million that was the first republic to secede from the Soviet Union as it began to fall apart in 1990 and has since become a European Union member.
Vilnius estimates that more than 50,000 Lithuanians died in camps, prisons, and during deportations between 1944 and 1953, while another 20,000 were killed in anti-Soviet guerrilla fighting.
Some politicians in neighboring Baltic states Estonia and Latvia, where people also suffered decades of Soviet occupation, have joined the call for the world’s biggest retailer to stop selling Soviet-themed merchandise, which appears to be trendy right now.
Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States Rolandas Krisciunas told AFP on September 7 that Walmart has not yet responded to his letter this week asking the retailer to withdraw the merchandise.
Walmart has stores in 28 countries but not in the Baltic states or other countries that were once dominated by the Soviet Union.
Still, much of its merchandise is available online, where Walmart is selling red-hooded sweatshirts and T-shirts emblazoned with the hammer-and-sickle symbol over the caption “CCCP,” which means “USSR” in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Hoodies described as “cool” on Walmart’s website cost $29.95, while the T-shirts go for $18.
Walmart did not immediately comment on the matter, but guidelines posted on its website prohibit the sale of products related to “any historical or news event” that could be considered “offensive.”
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.
Lithuania was a battleground between Nazi and Soviet troops during World War II.
It was seized by Moscow in 1940 under a secret pact with Adolf Hitler. Within a decade, some 300,000 Lithuanians had been deported, mostly to Siberia, or killed in insurgent fighting.
Lithuania joined both the EU and NATO in 2004.
With reporting by AFP and ABC News