RIGA - March is here, and state police have begun preparations for what promises to be another eventful Legionnaires Day on March 16. The Interior Ministry, which fears there may be violent clashes, has passed an "action plan" calling for a massive police presence to keep the peace during the contentious day.
"We will take the toughest measures against instigatorsâ€¦ Police will be ready for situations of any degree of seriousness," Interior Minister Mareks Seglins told journalists after a March 4 meeting with police, where security was discussed.
Several marches and flower-laying ceremonies are planned on March 16 by various nationalist groups and former soldiers to commemorate the sacrifices made by the Latvian Waffen SS unit, also known as the Latvian Legionnaires, in fighting against Soviet forces.
Supporters insist that the unit was not affiliated with genocidal Nazi crimes and was only allied with them to stave off the communist advance.
A counter march is being organized 's primarily by Russian nationalist groups 's which will try to counter what Russia claims is historical revisionism if not a growing cult of neo-Nazism in the Baltic state.
Last year, the event went off relatively peacefully. Police in heavy riot gear lined the streets and the only disturbances amounted to some angry shouting. Three years ago, however, violence marred the events when clashes between the two groups erupted.
Valdis Voins, head of the Riga Central Police Department's public order division, told journalists that the Freedom Monument 's the traditional culmination of the marches 's would be ringed by barricades and police officers.
Four public events have so far been registered on the day. At 11 a.m., the Daugava Falcons Latvian nationalist group will hold a march through the Old Town to the Freedom Monument in honor of the Legionnaires.
Shortly before that 's starting at 9:45 a.m. 's the Anti-Fascist Committee, a Russian rights group based in Riga, will hold a similar march in protest of the World War II soldiers.
Two more events have been planned by an organization supporting the rights of tenants of denationalized housing projects.
Russia has taken a special interest in the events as it uses the opportunity to trumpet it as a sign of the rebirth of fascism in Latvia. In an interview with the popular television news program "900 seconds," newly-appointed Russian Ambassador Alexander Veshnyakov said that he would closely follow this year's
The Latvian SS Voluntary Legion was formed in February 1943 by decree of Adolf Hitler. At first the legion consisted of four battalions fighting in the 2nd SS brigade, while later it was expanded to include police units.
Some legionnaires were volunteers who wanted to fight against the Soviet invader, while others were conscripted. In all, it is estimated that 52,000 Latvians fought in the legion's 15th and 19th divisions.
March 16 was chosen as the commemoration day for legionnaires since on that day in 1944 the legion's two divisions fought in a decisive battle against the Red Army near the Velikaya River as the Wehrmacht retreated westward.