RIGA - Latvia could be the first country in the world to see the German Nazi invasion during World War II celebrated. About 20 people came out to take part in the parade, but as the permission holder for the event did not show up, police instead made four arrests and stopped the march. Nevertheless, the gathering of participants prompted strong international reaction. Historical issues and a painful past have always been tough for Latvia. Not only have old politicians tried to base their election campaigns on the so-called Latvian-Russian conflict, but some youth organizations appeared to support them, too.
Up to now the most controversial commemoration has been the Latvian Legion Remembrance Day, on March 16, when elderly war veterans peacefully walk to the Monument of Freedom to lay a wreath in honor of fallen comrades. In 2005, many aggressive young people decided to join the event – Latvians on one side – and Russians, who called themselves anti-fascist, on the other. The counter-demonstration was dispersed by police and several participants were arrested.
For the past five years, the Nazi topic seemed to be almost exhausted, but at the end of June Riga Council received a request for a parade to celebrate on July 1, the day the Nazis marched into Riga in 1941. The municipality forbade the event, saying that it would be an embarrassment for the country, but later the Administrative District Court overturned the ban. As a result, 20 participants with Nazi emblems gathered by the Occupation Museum to march through the Old Town. As TBT looked on, a few dozen came to watch the parade.
“The German occupation was better than the Soviet Union occupation,” said one of the protesters.
When Uldis Freimanis, the person who had received the permit from the City to organize the march, failed to turn up for the event, police started arresting people who had turned up to participate. Although the march did not happen, most of the international press monitored it closely. Journalists from the European Union, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand reported on the parade. Latvia’s state officials had to work hard to explain to the world that the nation’s capital, Riga, is not a Nazi haven. This march’s aim is to celebrate the loss of Latvia’s independence, said President Valdis Zatlers. “In 1944, on July 1, the most terrible crime against mankind was committed. Almost all Jewish communities in Latvia were destroyed as a result of the Holocaust. This parade is a shame for our country.”
Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, together with Foreign Affairs Minister Aivis Ronis, said in a joint statement that any kind of Nazi propaganda would not be acceptable. “Law-enforcement agencies have to do everything possible to stop desecration of World War II victims. Freedom of speech and meeting cannot be an excuse for Nazi ideology glorifying.”
Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli foreign minister, said that the neo-Nazi procession is an indication of rising of anti-Semitism in Latvia and across all of Europe. “We are worried about these movements. We strongly believe that such events are not acceptable, and to avoid further precedents and development of these trends all similar parades are to be banned.”
Police have already started a criminal procedure against Freimanis for “glorifying Nazi ideology.”