RIGA - The Riga City Executive Director, Juris Radzevics, has granted the required municipal authorization to all public events planned in the Latvian capital on March 16, the date when Latvia remembers its Legionnaires or the Latvian soldiers, who served in the Latvian Waffen SS Legion and fought on the side of Germany in World War II.
Radzevics told the press today that, although he had authorized all events, certain restrictions have been imposed on some of the events planned on March 16 as regards their location.
As usual, both pro- and anti-Legionnaire demonstrations are planned in Riga on the controversial date. By tradition, the biggest of the events will be organized by Limbazi Section of the Daugavas Vanagi war veteran organization. It will be a commemorative procession that will end with a flower-laying ceremony at the Freedom Monument.
As reported, the March 16 Latvian Legion Day is the day of remembrance of Latvian Legionnaires. Latvian Legion Day was established in exile by the Daugavas Vanagi association. 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.
In Latvia the Legionnaires are being commemorated for fighting against the Soviet occupation and for Latvia's freedom but the Nazi connection causes great controversy abroad with Russia in particular taking the opportunity to trumpet about rebirth of Nazism in Latvia, and every year there are groups of pro-Russia activists holding demonstrations in Riga on March 16 to protest marking of the Latvian Legion Day.