Latvia commemorates WWII war dead

  • 2014-03-17
  • From wire reports, RIGA

The annual Latvian Legion Day procession and flower-placing ceremony, and all hostile counter-events, took place on March 16 and are now over, passing without serious incident, reports LETA.

Only a few stragglers remained at the monument, discussing history and the developments in Ukraine, specifically Russia’s aggressive military invasion and occupation of the Crimea.

About 30 protesters from the "Association Against Nazism," a group founded on ‘Nazi style’ principles, were still in the fenced-in zone in adjacent Bastejkalns Park after the commemorations were over; they were being filmed and interviewed by reporters and camera crews. The improvised gallows in the park were taken down.

Showing a disrespect to war veterans, the “Association Against Nazism" protesters "harassed" with jeers and whistles the several hundred people participating in the procession honoring the WWII Legionnaires.

The procession began at 11:39 from the Dome Cathedral, where a mass began the commemorative day.

Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma gave a high opinion of the authorities' work to ensure that the Latvian Legion remembrance days passed peacefully.

Straujuma also emphasized that Latvia has always condemned the Holocaust and crimes against humanity committed by both Nazi and Soviet regimes, and always commemorated victims of the totalitarian regimes. Ever since the restoration of independence, the state of Latvia has consistently honored the nation's fallen heroes on the November 11 Lacplesis Day, said Straujuma.

However, those who choose to commemorate Latvia’s war dead - those who died fighting against the Russian and German invaders during WWII - have a democratic right to do so on March 16.

"It is universally acknowledged that during World War II and after the war ended, Latvia was occupied by two totalitarian regimes - the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Both the Nazi and Soviet powers used terror and inhumane persecutions, violating international laws, to force thousands of people in Latvia to join one or another country's armed forces," the State Chancellery said in a statement.

The March 16 Latvian Legion Day is the day of remembrance of Latvian Legionnaires. Latvian Legion Day was established in exile by "Daugavas Vanagi". March 16 was chosen as the most appropriate date because on March 16, 1944 both divisions of the Latvian Legion fought alongside for the first time against the Red Army. It was the only battle in World War II led solely by Latvian commanders.

Many Latvians, who were forcibly called up to join the Latvian SS Legion, saw the German army as a lesser of two evils. For many of these soldiers, the choice to join the Latvian SS Legion was a result of the brutal 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.

Latvian Legion Day is an unofficial holiday.