March goes ahead despite ban

  • 2009-03-18
  • By Monika Hanley

Police were on alert throughout the event, though no major incidents were reported.

RIGA - Despite the Riga City Council's ban on all events commemorating March 16, Legionnaires day, several hundred Legionnaires and their supporters filtered through the 1,000-strong police barricade to pay their respects.
Contrary to expectations, events commemorating the Latvian Legionnaires, who served in the German army during World War II, went smoothly. Veterans and supporters laid flowers at the Freedom Monument and sang the national anthem.

About 13 people protesting the event were detained by police. Shouts of "Hitler Kaput" were heard as an illegal symbol 's the former Soviet Union flag 's was unrolled, leading to the detentions.
Among those detained was Josefs Korans, head of the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee.
"They did not ask us to do anything. They just loaded us into a police bus and kept us there until the event was over. Then we were taken to the police station. They didn't want documents," Korans told The Baltic Times.

"Personally I am very sad. It is clear that we can't work without leadership. If there was a ban, why was there still singing and a parade? It forces us to take this matter to the EU. It is shameful to live in the only country that still glorifies SS soldiers," said Korans.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has also expressed displeasure at the way the day unfolded. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko accused the protesters of condoning neo-Nazism.
Despite the ministry's comments, the Russian ambassador to Latvia, Alexander Veshnyakov said there were positive trends in the official's attitudes towards the event. He said that authorities and officials were not present at the event and urged people not to attend. 
Veshnyakov also hoped that the Riga City Council will not ban celebrations on May 9, the day many celebrate the Soviet victory in World War II.

Following the Riga City Council decision to ban all demonstrations in the city center on March 16, Olafs Pulks, a city council member of the New Era party, said that the municipality would be consistent in its actions and would also ban all May 9 events at the Victory Monument.
Present at the event was Martins, 85, who was one of 140,000 Latvian Legionnaires to serve with the Germans in World War II. 

"All we wanted to do was lay flowers by the monument to remember our brothers who fought against the Soviets. This is what we did and it shouldn't bother anyone," he said.  
About 50,000 Legionnaires died in the war or in deportations following the restoration of Soviet rule in Latvia.
In 1950 the United States published a declaration about the Baltic SS legions having been special units to be distinguished from other German SS troops and not regarded as harmful movements.