Tradition denied: The WWII Latvian Legion Day commemoration will have to find another venue, as Riga City Council has agreed to block all assemblies from gathering around the Freedom Monument on March 16. This traditional center-point of activities is being made off-limits due to security concerns, claim council members. This excuse, however, doesn’t hold water, as the event has been held for years under tight security with few disturbances, allowing the war veterans and others to exercise their rights in commemorating wartime duties and efforts.
RIGA - Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs (Harmony Center - in photo to right) says he will not be ordering any re-review of the decision made last week banning all scheduled assemblies at the Freedom Monument March 16, the traditional WWII Latvian Legion Day commemorating Latvian soldiers’ struggle to rid Latvia of Soviet Red Army forces. The municipality said it had arrived at the decision based on conclusions drawn by the state police and Security Police about a serious threat to public order during the planned events, reports news agency LETA.
“Usakovs trusts the decision made by the city executive committee, and believes it to have been made after carefully evaluating all circumstances,” said his press secretary Anna Kononova.
City Executive Juris Radzevics (Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way) made no comment on the decision, said his press secretary, Ugis Vidauskis.
Interior Minister Linda Murniece (New Era) believes that the decision to ban any public events was unjustified. She said that the Riga City Council’s task in this situation was to plan all of the events so that they did not overlap, thereby preventing the possibility of a conflict between organizations that may have opposing political stances. Those who deem March 16 an important day in history should be given the chance to organize public events on that day if they so wish, the minister pointed out.
Each year the authorities thoroughly prepare for the March 16 events because incidents can occur at any public event, Murniece said. This year too, March 16 will not be regarded as something extraordinary, and the authorities will be prepared to keep the peace at any public event. New Era believes that in banning the events, Harmony Center/Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way incite “ethnic hatred and heighten ill feelings among residents.” The ruling coalition knows full well that a large part of the community are dissatisfied with the decision and wonder why such a ban is not enforced on a similarly controversial celebration on May 9 - WWII [Soviet Red Army] Victory Day.
New Era’s faction leader in city hall, Edgars Jaunups, commented that the ban is a political move - a “totalitarian problem-solving method,” reminiscent of the Soviet-era mentality.
The reports by the state police and the Security Police did not recommend banning any events, Murniece stressed. Furthermore, these reports made no mention of the possibility of large-scale incidents that could pose a threat to public order and security, reported the Interior Ministry’s press officer, Sintija Virse.
Applications have been received by the Riga City Council for three events at the Freedom Monument on March 16. The first event has been applied for by the organization ‘Daugavas Vanagi Latvija’ (Daugava Hawks Latvia), who wish to carry out a procession and meeting between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. According to the organizers’ calculations, around 300 people could take part in the event. Following a service in Dome Cathedral, the procession is planned to follow Zirgu Street and Kalku Street to the Freedom Monument, where flowers will be laid.
Another event, from 11 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., has been applied for by Jurijs Kotovs, who is planning to protest “against the ruling coalition’s anti-national character and economic powerlessness.” He also plans to demand “the immediate resignation of the Saeima and the government.” The event could be participated in by 100 to 200 people, believes Kotovs.
A third application has been made, by Latvijas Antifasistiska komiteja (Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee), which from 11.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. wish to hold an “anti-Nazi meeting” by the Laima clock. The application was submitted by a group of 50 people.
Public Order Police Chief Andris Dzenis said previously that there is the possibility that there will be some “incidents,” and that police are prepared for provocations.
On March 16, 1944, two divisions of the Latvian SS Legion, young Latvian men in forced conscription into the German occupation army, engaged in a battle against the Red Army at the Velikaya River in U.S.S.R. territory.
Many of these Latvians saw the German army as the lesser of two evils, between Nazism and Communism. For many of these soldiers, the choice to join the Latvian SS Legion (not the Waffen SS) was a result of the murderous Soviet occupation between 1940 and 1941, during which tens of thousands of Latvians were executed or deported to Siberia. Many soldiers naively believed that, if they helped Germany win the war, Latvia might be rewarded with independence or autonomy. They were not fighting “for Hitler,” but for a free and independent Latvia.
Latvia has not yet received any signs from other countries regarding events taking place on March 16, and it will be dependent on the responsible institutions in Latvia whether provocations on this day will be utilized by Latvia’s “ill-wishers,” said Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins (People’s Party).
The world media will again pay attention to events taking place in Latvia, which is why those institutions in charge must be ready to ensure public order. “People in Latvia have the right to gather and express their opinions, whilst it is the responsibility of state institutions to ensure public order,” Riekstins added.
If several organizations clash with each other, our “ill-wishers will utilize this situation to their advantage, to tell the world that the situation in Latvia is unstable,” the foreign minister believes.
A large-scale conference on the Holocaust and the “Rebirth of Neo-nazism” is planned for March 15 and will be attended by Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel.
Josifs Korens, director of the Latvian Antifascist Comittee, said “Significant figures will be in attendance, with serious words.” Guests have been invited from Russia, the U.S., Israel, Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, and other countries. Around 100 participants could attend.
Since 1952, Daugavas Vanagi has commemorated this day as Latvian Legionnaire Remembrance day, though this is not an official holiday.