MOSCOW - President Andris Berzins' statement that Latvian Legion soldiers who fought for Germany in World War II are not criminals, and that they deserve respect, has brought a negative reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry, reports LETA.
"Unfortunately, we have to conclude that the official long-time tendency for "historic revenge" does not contribute to seeing modern Latvia as a democratic country, and neither does it contribute to the development of relations with Russia," said Russian Foreign Ministry's representative Alexander Lukashevich.
"The attempts to justify atrocities against peaceful people of Novgorod and Pskov regions, in Belarus and in Riga ghetto committed by the Latvian SS legion, made up of volunteers, are blasphemous, immoral and therefore cause strong disapproval in Latvia as well as in other countries," noted Lukashevich.
"Besides, the attempts to whitewash Hitler's henchmen are accompanied by the shocking argument that the Soviet government allegedly rehabilitated the former SS Legion members in 1955," said Lukashevich. Amnesty was granted only to those Soviet citizens who 'due to their cowardice or ignorance cooperated with the invaders' during World War II. This did not pertain to the 'commandos convicted of torturing and murdering Soviet citizens'."
As reported, Berzins said in a TV interview that those Latvian residents, who ended up in the Nazi army during World War II, were not criminals.
Berzins was asked whether Latvian Legion Day on March 16 should be commemorated in a different way. The president did not directly respond, stating that "nothing should be ignored". It should not be denied that so many people lost their lives and sacrificed themselves for Latvia's future.
The president explained that only 500 out of 50,000 legionnaires are still alive and their average age is 90 now. "Are they a threat to anyone?" asked Berzins, adding that he was puzzled by the fact that these commemorative events are being opposed, and emphasizing that these people had fought for Latvia.
Berzins stressed that legionnaires were forcefully enlisted to fight for Nazi Germany in 1944. In 1950, the United States concluded that they did not commit war crimes. Later on, they were also rehabilitated by the Soviet Union.
"It would be nonsense to perceive them as criminals," said Berzins. "Instead, we should bow to them," added the politician.
The president is convinced that the authorities will be able to ensure public order on March 16, and all instigators will be called to justice.