Veterans defy ban, march to Freedom Monument

An estimated 300 World War II veterans and their supporters have defied officials and marched to the Freedom Monument in downtown Rīga, Latvian media report.

The March 16 action, banned by Rīga city officials, saw the veterans and supporters parade—under heavy police protection—through the Old Town district from the Dome Square to the Freedom Monument. There they placed flowers at the base of the monument and sang patriotic songs.

The annual event commemorates veterans of the two Latvian Legion divisions that fought on the side of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. An estimated 100,000 Latvian men, most of them drafted, served in the German army. Opponents of the commemoration, including the Russian Foreign Ministry, say allowing it is glorification of Nazism.

City officials last week banned the gathering at the Freedom Monument, saying they feared unrest. Two counter-demonstrations also were banned. The Daugavas Vanagi veterans group, as well organizers of a counter-demonstration, appealed the city’s ruling, but the Administrative Court in a March 13 closed-door session upheld the ban.

Rīga Mayor Jānis Birks urged the marchers to be smart and not give in to provocation, according to a March 16 press release from his office. He warned that leftist extremism has grown in strength and that the city council and police are hard-pressed to deal with unrest like that seen after a large-scale anti-government demonstration on Jan. 13.

Latvian media reported that a few counter-demonstrators were arrested.

Latvian Legion commemoration

Watched by local media, veterans of the Latvian Legion and their supporters gather before a March 16 parade to the Freedom Monument in Rīga. (Photo by Arnis Gross)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

20 thoughts on “Veterans defy ban, march to Freedom Monument

  1. What a scary situation. Veterans aren’t allowed to march to the Freedom Monument? Russia still want’s to rewrite history and pay no attention to fact! Why don’t they take care of Russia for once and leave Latvia for the Latvians?? God Bless Latvija!

  2. As a grandson of my late grandfather who was in the Legion. And to those men who had the guts to stand up to the Soviets under overwheiming odds to protect there familys and home soil. You are truly Heros of Latvia and should be treated as such. For those of you who protest against these men go and learn your history. I’m proud of you Pop.

  3. The Russian Foreign Ministry wants this banned? It seems that they always want to throw in their two rubles, without realizing that no one wants them. They have an enormity of issues within their own borders, but instead of dealing with those, they try to keep the spotlight on anything and everything else. I’m thrilled that the Latvian Veterans said “nyet” to them. Clean your own side of the street before you stick your nose into the rest of the world’s business. Dievs Svētī Latviju!

  4. Riga City Council erred in judgement by choosing to ban the Latvian Legion Veteran’s march to the Freedom |Monument on March 16. They in effect allowed themselves to be influenced by the Russian Foreign Ministry and overreacted to the possibility of problems that might be caused by protestors.A democratic country does not ban a peaceful march by veterans who wish to honor the sacrifice of their fallen friends, sing patriotic songs and honor the country for which they fought, Latvija. AS it happened, the Latvian police did their job and rightly and adequately protected the Veterans and their supporters from any provocations by Russian protestors. Russians have spent years revising history to protect their own insane versions of what they have done and to this day continue to do. Putin and Medvedev have ressurected a resurgence of a brutal butcher, Stalin,as a famed historical figure ,deserving to be revered and emulated by the populace and Russian schoolchildren. What kind of insanity propagates and foments the actions of a murderer who enslaved millions of people for over fifty years and sent hundreds of thousands of innocents, to die in the Gulag, to lie in barren, unmarked graves. Many of those sent to die were Latvian men, women and children. How dare anyone prevent veterans of the Latvian Legion and their supporters which should be every Latvian of good will and decency ,be ever barred from laying wreaths at the Freedom Monument and to sing Latvija’s hymn, “Dievs Sveti Latviju, mus dargo Teviju”. March 16th is a day which warrants a National Day of Remembrance in order to give the great honor due to those of the Latvian Legion who fought for Latvija against the brutal hordes of Soviet tanks and its monstrous military machine. It is truly a David and Goliath story, but one which took fifty years in order to achieve feedom from the yoke of communism.

  5. My mother and her family would not be here in the States if it had not been for the Legionnaires holding back the Russians, thereby allowing her to escape. They should not even have to ask permission to lay their wreaths at the Freedom Monument. They have earned all the respect due them for their heroism. They only fought for Latvia the only way they could, which was with the Germans. The enemy of their enemy was their friend.

  6. Unfortunately it is true, that leftist extremism has grown in strength. They were disorganized after the fall of USSR and restoration of the independence of Latvia, but now they have regrouped themselves and have established ties with leftist extremists in other countries, be that Estonian branch of “NASHI” youth organization of Russia (nicknamed “Putin Jugend”) or neo-Stalinists from European Parliament (like Sarah Wagenknecht) etc. Putting the old Comintern and KGB ties to use. All coordinated, supported and financed by Russian Federation. Besides a new generation of Russians have grown up in Latvia to immigrants from USSR who do not remember Soviet times, but are under strong influence by Soviet revanchist and Russian nationalist leaders (many of whom are their teachers) of so called “Russian speaker” (i.e. Soviet immigrant) community of Latvia. Effectively creating a neo-Soviet generation hating everything in Latvia that is not either pro-Soviet or pro-Russian. Similar in a way to problems with radical Islam fundamentalism elsewhere. After all, major Russian newspapers in Latvia are owned by radical pro-Soviet Russian nationalists, so brainwashing is easy. It is scary, but seems that the Red Tide is on the rise. Again. I hope there will not be another 1940, but the possibility is there. P.S. I suggest you watch “Nekā personīga” of TV3, March 22, 2009. It shows how Russian members of Parliament on 16th of March host pro-Soviet extremists from Estonia who are banned from entering Latvia, and how they actually admit being financed by Russian embassy. Etc.

  7. @Daina Dahlgreen: Indeed it is a scary situation. The police is protecting instead of preventing a legally banned demonstration and no one seems to care. Latvia will need God’s blessings if things proceed like this. This slogan “Latvia for the Latvians” is the most serious danger to the future existing of a Latvian state at the moment. The Russians are there. They have the legal right to stay there, according to the laws of Latvia. They are not allowed to be expelled. And if Latvia will ever try to do so, Russia will react within seconds according to the georgian pattern. And Europe will possibly not move, judged from its present state and its history of inertia. No, the Latvian Latvians have to accept the Russian Latvians’ being there as much as the the Russian Latvians have to accept the end of the Soviet Union and to accept the fact that they will never again rule over Latvia against the Latvian Latvians. Either the two people of Latvia settle their issue, or Latvia will perish. That is my opinion. @tom: Indeed the LV authorities acted poorly by ignoring the rule of law. Banned is banned and police has to obey this. Or got I something wrong? @Robbie Herbert: Those men stood not up on their own but were subscripted by the Germans. It might have been their intention to fight for an independent Latvia and to repeat the triumph of WWI, but in the end they fought and died for the German dictator. @chicagodaina: You are right. Russia should keep quiet. But Europe should not. It should pay more attention to what is happening at its eastern borders before it is too late.

  8. @Edite Lynch: If the city council erred or not, I cannot decide. But they had the right to decide (am I wrong?), and their decision was not respected. By the way, I don’t understand this staring towards Russia. Latvia should turn its head and look towards Europe. Most of Europe did not take any notice of the mid march events in Riga, but the echo in the press was devastating and is devastating every year. The Legion is seen as part of German nazi forces and to some extent I share this view. And what really scares the observer from the outside is the participation of neo-nazi organisations like Klub415 and whatever they are called. The old veterans endanger their own reputation by celebrating together with those young men. You are perfectly right in your description of soviet horror. Latvia has to remember this forever. But it should also not forget its 70 thousand jews which were killed, to a great extent by Latvian auxiliary police, the Arajs commando. His men were incorporated in the Legion afterwards. I know that they have to be kept apart from the main body of the Latvian Legion, but the picture is not complete without those sad things. @Gina Saleda: Unfortunately, the Germans were not friends of the Latvians. As good nationalists they only were friend of themselves. That’s why the Latvian Legion was not founded before ’43, when the tide of war changed in Stalingrad. They simply had to. But yes, the fight of the Legion in Kurland saved a lot of innocent persons’ life. @Janis Berzins:
    Wow, Sahra Wagenknecht a danger for Latvia? That’s nice, I have to remember this. The cute girl would be proud about such an overestimation of her influence. Come back from soviet times and join us in 2009.

  9. Alex, there was nothing “nazi” about the Latvian Legion. I am in the United States because the U.S. said there was nothing “nazi” about the illegally conscripted Legionnaires. There are many books and articles in English and Latvian that would better inform your strong but factually wrong opinions. Latvia was occupied, in case you have forgotten. What part of occupation don’t you understand? Also, the criterion for honoring one’s own soldiers is not whether the rest of the world, trapped in opinions of abject ignorance, will approve. The Latvians need to honor their Latvian Legion soldiers who fought for Latvia. I trust myself as a Latvian and my Legionnaire father who was actually there to know better who the Latvians fought for than you, my enemies, or misinformed friends. Enough with the unnecessary, cowardly apologies and onward with the truth about surviving brutal occupations to the best of the Latvians’ abilities. You totally lost me, felix, with your sexist comment about the “cute girl.”

  10. It is silly to claim that “Latvia would not have lost a whole generation of its sons” if they only had not resisted Russia. Obviously you do not know how Russia operates: First they destroy whatever works by murdering or deporting the entire leadership and most of those who are educated. Then they bring in and substitute Russians, their language and culture. It is completely irrelevant what a person has done. One reason so many Latvians failed to flee is that they believed that since they had never harmed anyone, nobody would harm them. Not so! Even babies and mothers about to deliver were forced into railway wagons and deported to Siberia where most of them starved to death. The brave resistance of the Latvian Legion exposes to the world the Russian lie that Latvia ASKED to be part of the USSR. That is why Russia to this day is trying so defame the Latvian Legion by calling them Nazis. They still want to foist on the world the idea that Communists are the good guys, never mind that they murdered some 101 million people (according to Solzhenitzyn)

  11. Eve, you are right. I was there and i’ve seen all that. My family was on the second list to be deported, for what? Those young russian thugs in latvia should be deported back to Russia.

  12. It is sad that to this day Veterans that fought for their own homeland and countryside can not honor their fellow soldiers they fought shoulder to shoulder with for this sacred ground they walk on. These men that make up the Latvian Legion and their supporters are being persecuted for their loyalty to their country. History shows their focus to be grounded in not let their country to be over run by an oppressive neighbor. They were not fighting to expand their own borders as others in that time did. The understanding of these differences is critical to understanding their loyalties. They were brave men to have the audacity to stand up for what they believed in on the soil they were born on. Free men that fought to stay free! Yes they choose a partnership that turned out to be not popular in the long run. They did not have many other options for help at the time. Their choice was in the end, a focus to defend the homeland they loved. They did not tread on someone else’s homeland or try to get additional gains for their country. The men being honored are heroes to the land the freedom monument stands on today still. Let’s not forget the sacrifices they made to let other survive and prosper today in Latvia who again had to regain their freedom from the oppressor. Freedom fighters are many in history and Latvia has theirs also. Please recognize them for what they stood for and not for the generality that can be extrapolated from their alliances that had different goals.

  13. Sunny, my apologies to Ms Wagenknecht and to all for the ‘cute girl’. I thought it to be funny, but obviously it was not. But something else: regardless if or if not there were true nazis in the Legion or not, they clearly fought alongside with the German forces and helped them a lot. The war would presumably have been shorter if the Latvians would not have fought as brave as they reportedly did. And Latvia would not have lost a whole generation of its sons. And maybe the Soviet revenge would not have been as brutal as it was.

  14. Let the veterans march. It will not be that long, when all of them are dead. They deserve their place in the sun. They have nothing to be ashamed of.

  15. @Eve: Silly? Maybe let us drop the question what would have happened if something else had happened. Sorry, I started this. But, nevertheless, I am a bit astonished by the equation you implicitly put forward: Stalin=Soviets=Russians without any hint that you make any distinction. This does not mean that I want to deny in any way what Stalin and the soviets did to the Baltic countries! On the other hand, the fact that the brave Latvian resistance was part of the German forces should not be dropped. So many Latvian soldiers died in Berlin, not only in Kurland. @lakstigula: What you propose is not only against Latvian law stating that the permanent residents without citizenship may not be expelled (Section 3 of the Constitutional Law about the Rights and Obligations of Citizens and Persons) but also constitutes a crime against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court. ([d] Deportation or forcible transfer of population). It’s a bit unfair to make those proposals from a save distance. The Russian reaction to such a deportation would have to be endured by the Latvian homeland and by the rest of Europe, including my own beloved country Germany. Since most of you write your extremisms from far away, I can stick to the hope that the Latvians living in Europe have a more reasonable thinking. @Janis Cakars: The part of the LL which belonged to the Araj’s commandos before joining the legion does have something to be ashamed of, isn’t it?

  16. Felix, have you really not run out of hot air yet? The kind that you’ve been spouting in a failed effort to defend your Stalinist-Soviet-Russian friends you obviously adore. You seem to be of the firm conviction that Latvian Legionaires committed all sorts of atrocities while fighting for the very air they breathed from their birth and for the land of the country in which they were born and pledged to defend in order to defeat the Russian Bear aka Goliath. Your type of comments are completely convergent with those who for years have told outright lies, used deception and have become sycophants for Soviet=Russian militants and politicians.Yes; Stalin=Soviets=Russians. Have you not been aware of the desecration of attempts at democratization in Russia where your allies Putin and Medvedev have resurrected Stalin as a revered and honorary Soviet for Russia’s schoolchildren to bow to? Instead of sending journalists and opposition party members to Siberia, they have been poisoned, targeted and murdered, right in Russia proper and in foreign countries. Russians today are coping with a huge influx of immigrants and surprise, surprise, they are being required to learn to speak only Russian and become part of Russian culture in order to achieve jobs or even citizenship. Amazing , isn’t it, how Russia can mete out medicine for immigrants in their own country yet are unwilling to abide by these same qualifications for Russian citizens who have found safe haven in Latvia, recently (for better economic reasons) or those who infiltrated the country for Russification purposes. A free and democratic country can dictate the terms for whom citizenship is afforded. Felix, one can only hope that you have run of out steam because reading your blasphemous tomes are becoming increasingly tedious.

  17. No, sorry, not out of steam. A Latvian friend of mine gave me the advice simply not to answer to attacks of this kind. If this were a personal dialogue, I could happily do so. But here in public I cannot leave the field to rants like this. I am definitely sure that you will not listen, so you can easily skip this. Yes, I have Russian friends. No, Putin is not one of them. He does in general not have many friends in Germany, most people consider him as a criminal, including me. No, the brutal Russian behaviour against immigrants and journalists is no reason at all to justify anything happening somewhere else, including Latvia. No, I do not think that the Latvian Legion as whole committed all sorts of atrocities. Yes, I believe that parts of it did, at least in another context. No, I don’t like to see the old men with the flags and the flowers marching together with the neo-Nazis with the swastika on their jacket through a European capital. Yes, I liked that the march was banned. No, I did not like it that the police safeguarded this banned march. Yes, I regard Russia still a threat for Latvia. But there is a much bigger threat from inside: The nationalists, the extremists. They are capable to tear this beautiful country apart again. Dievs, svētī Latviju.

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