COMMEMORATION DAY: WWII veterans mark their respect for those lost in action.
RIGA - The traditional World War II Latvian Legion memorial procession organized by ‘Daugavas Vanagi Latvija’ (Daugava Hawks in Latvia) was met at the Freedom Monument by the fascist-styled group ‘Latvijas Antifasistiska komiteja’ (Latvian Anti-fascist Committee), who provoked with disrespectful chants and placards, but the two sides did not come to fisticuffs, reports news agency LETA.
The Daugava Hawks, in a press release, said that “The [Latvian Anti-fascist Committee] is closely supported by politicians linked to Russia, in particular shadowy groups that deny Soviet war crimes, even denying that the Baltic States were ever occupied by the Soviet Union.”
It added that Juris Augusts, global head of the Daugava Hawks, “condemns any collaboration with these revisionists and apologists for crimes against humanity,” and that “Ironically, neo-Nazism is on the rise in Russia, with well documented problems with race-hate crime and oppression of minorities. By contrast Latvia is a fully-functioning liberal democracy and European Union member with only a tiny and marginalized fringe on the political far right that has no representation in parliament.”
Participants in the day’s memorial procession were greeted at the monument by rows of young people holding national flags. According to police estimates, around 1,000 people took part in the procession. The event passed without serious incident, and acts of protest against the procession were not as loud or widespread as in previous years.
Several dozen protesters were in attendance, and were kept away from the procession by two rows of police and metal barriers. Some protesters were wearing their now traditional prison stripes. Many had St. George ribbons attached to their clothing.
There was a considerable police presence. Interior Minister Linda Murniece (New Era) and State Police chief General Valdis Voins were also in attendance.
The commemoration of the war veterans was originally banned by Riga City Council, but a last minute reversal, by the Riga Administrative District Court, lifted the ban on all events at the Freedom Monument.
At a conference in Riga on March 15 dedicated to World War II and the Holocaust, Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, sharply criticized Eastern European countries’ avoidance of admitting participation in Holocaust crimes, and encouraged those present to actively fight against this.
Zuroff stressed that collaboration existed in all territories occupied by Germany in World War II; however, in contrast to the collaborators with the Nazi regime in Western Europe, those in the East participated actively in the killing of Jews, he claims.
Zuroff however, failed to make the distinction that the Latvian Legionnaires had nothing to do with the Holocaust. The legionnaires were not fighting ‘for Hitler,’ but against Stalin’s Red Army and for a free Latvia.
“The Latvian Legion, who fought valiantly and honorably against the Red Army from 1943-1945, were first and foremost victims of the Nazis. Latvian men and boys were conscripted into the German forces against international law. They were thrust into the front line, with little or no training. The surviving legionnaires, who hoped that with allied help they would be able to regain an independent homeland after German capitulation faced further oppression at the end of the war from the Soviets. Those captured by the communist authorities were sent to concentration camps in Siberia, where only some survived. The legionnaires who did manage to return were severely repressed for the 50 years of Soviet occupation which followed,” reads the press release.
Latvian Legion Day is an unofficial holiday. Since 1952, Daugavas Vanagi has been commemorating this day as Latvian Legionnaire Remembrance day.