Between 500 and 1,000 persons took part in the March 16 march to the Freedom Monument. (Photo by Arnis Gross)
An estimated 500 to 1,000 persons in downtown Rīga took part in a controversial March 16 commemoration of the Latvian Legion, according to media reports and eyewitnesses. The event included a march to the Freedom Monument to honor soldiers who fell during World War II while fighting against the Soviet Union.
They were countered by protesters who carried signs and shouted slogans against the commemoration, which they argue glorified fascism and the Latvian Legion’s ties to Nazi Germany. Among the protesters was well-known Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, who was in Rīga attending a conference on the rebirth of neo-Nazism.
The annual event is meant to commemorate veterans of the two Latvian Legion divisions that fought on the side of Nazi Germany. The Germans organized the divisions in 1943. About 100,000 men, the majority of them drafted, served in the Latvian Legion. A number of ethnic Latvian politicians have distanced themselves from the commemoration, which is not an official observance, while many ethnic Russians view the event as an affront to Soviet soldiers who against Nazi forces.
As they did last year, Rīga city officials had banned the march and counter-demonstration. However, on March 15 the Rīga District Court overruled the ban. The march was organized by the veterans group Daugavas Vanagi Latvijā, which the counter-demonstration was planned by Latvijas Antifašistiskā komiteja.
Under heavy police presence and freshly fallen snow, the marchers moved from the Dome Square in the city’s Old Town, where they attended a service in the Dome Church, to the Freedom Monument.
A few persons were arrested for minor civil disturbances, and some for making anti-Semitic statements, according to media reports.
Interior Minister Linda Mūrniece thanked security and police workers for guaranteeing that March 16 events took place in a peaceful and orderly manner. Their success, she said in a press release, was in due in part to preventative measures taken before the march and demonstrations, including stopping unwelcome persons entering Latvia.
Counter-demonstrators held signs recalling the numbers of people killed during the Holocaust in Latvia. (Photo by Arnis Gross)
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