Kalvitis ensures safety at upcoming Legionnaire march

  • 2006-02-16
  • By TBT staff
RIGA -Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has assured that the March 16 commemoration of the Latvian Legionnaires, who fought on the side of Nazi Germany during World War II, will proceed in a safe and orderly manner. The event has provoked aggressive demonstrations in the past, leading to several arrests.

In an interview with 900 Seconds, a news program on LNT, Kalvitis called on "all patriots and those responsible for the state not to yield to provocations, because provocative extremists both from abroad and inside Latvia are taking advantage of this date."

The PM promised that security services would control the situation and prevent any public disorder that might break out.

The Foreign Ministry also released a statement regarding the planned event. The ministry wrote, "radicals in Latvia are again attempting to express their ideas on March 16. With their activities, radicals of both the right and left-wing are attempting to discredit Latvia at the international level."

"The first [people] to assert their readiness to defend Latvia, are also [the ones who] create new problems. Others are prepared to push their propaganda by attributing fascism to Latvians. The International media is hypocritically creating a perception of Latvia that has never been accepted by our society and nation," the statement said.

Therefore, the ministry has asked local authorities to reject any "pseudo-patriotic events" planned for March 16.

Two nationalist organizations, the youth association Klubs 415 and the National Force Union, have already submitted permit applications to hold processions on March 16. The Riga City Council commission can decide whether or not to grant this request no later than 10 days before the event.

Riga Mayor Aivars Aksenoks said that, if the organizations had no legal demands, the city council would allow them to march.

In the past, the annual gathering Latvian Legionnaires and nationalist organizations on March 16 - especially their traditional march to the Freedom Monument 's has caused great commotion in Latvia and abroad. Yet the organizations have publicly explained that they are not former S.S.-members, and are only asking to commemorate the lives of those lost while fighting for Latvia.

In Latvia, the Legionnaires are viewed as those fighting against the Soviet occupation for national freedom. However their Nazi connection has caused much controversy abroad, particularly with Russia, who has taken the opportunity to trumpet ideas about a "rebirth of Nazism in Latvia."

The Latvian Legion was established in February 1943, but March 16 was chosen as the commemoration date because it marks the fierce battle fought between the 15th and 19th Legionnaire divisions and the Soviet Army in 1944. The clash took place at the Velikaya River in the Opochka region of Russia.

A total of 140,000 people were called to form the Latvian Legion. About 50,000 of them died either in battle or during the deportations that followed with the restoration of Soviet rule.

In 1950, Washington published a declaration about Baltic S.S. legions, defining them as special units to be distinguished from other German S.S. troops. It stated that the Legionnaire movement was not regarded as harmful to the United States government.