War of words in Britain becomes diplomatic issue for Latvia

A squabble between British politicians has grown into a minor diplomatic issue between Latvia and the United Kingdom, but the foreign ministers of both countries say relations remain outstanding.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Latvian Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš in an Oct. 3 telephone conversation that comments he made during his Labour Party’s annual conference were not aimed at Latvia or its government.

Miliband, during an Oct. 1 speech to the Labour Conference, attacked the rival Conservative Party for its ties to Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai, or TB/LNNK), which he said supports the annual march in Rīga by World War II veterans who served in Nazi Germany’s Waffen SS.

“It makes me sick,” Miliband said, according to a transcript of the speech.

Miliband was referring to a Sept. 22 discussion with Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles and Liberal Democrats spokesman Chris Huhne on the BBC’s Radio 4.

During the discussion, Huhne blasted the Conservatives for its alliances with conservative parties in Europe.

“The Latvian party actually celebrates Adolf Hitler’s Waffen SS,” Huhne said, referring to TB/LNNK and its backing of the annual March 16 commemoration by Latvian Legion veterans. During the war, Germany organized two divisions of Latvian soldiers to fight against Soviet forces. The majority of the Latvian soldiers were conscripts.

“I’m a bit surprised you’re using that old Molotov smear against the Latvians,” Pickles replied to Huhne, referring to former Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov.

A week later, Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a commentary published in the London-based daily newspaper The Guardian, took Pickles to task for his defense of the Latvian party.

“The obsession of ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’ to pay public homage to the Latvian-SS Legion in contradiction to all historical logic and sensitivity to Nazi crimes is not a product of ostensibly harmless nostalgia as Pickles would have us believe,” Zuroff wrote, “but part of a rather insidious plan to gain recognition for a perversely distorted version of European history which will officially equate Communism with Nazism.”

Zuroff has been campaigning against an effort by Eastern European political leaders to have Aug. 23 declared a European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. It was on Aug. 23, 1939, that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonagression pact. A secret protocol in the pact brought the Baltic states into the Soviet sphere of influence and led to the occupation of those countries.

TB/LNNK spokesman Rolands Pētersons, calling Zuroff’s comments baseless and defamatory, said in a Sept. 29 press release that the party has never defended Nazi crimes nor glorified the military units of the Hitler regime, but has only showed respect to Latvian soldiers who fought during World War II.

Following Miliband’s speech to the Labour Conference, Roberts Zīle, a member of the European Parliament and leader of TB/LNNK, countered Zuroff in an Oct. 2 commentary in The Guardian.

“It is simply absurd,” Zīle wrote, “to declare that Latvians who wish to honour their compatriots who fought and died in the Second World War have any sympathy for the abhorrent ideologies that were responsible for the death of so many of my people and that plunged my nation into decades of occupation by Nazi and Soviet oppressors.”

That same day, Andris Teikmanis, a state secretary in the Latvian Foreign Ministry, met with Antony Stokes, charge d’affaires in the British Embassy in Rīga, to express concern about the comments by British politicians. Meanwhile in London, Latvian Ambassador Eduards Stiprais met with Foreign Office officials to deliver a similar message.

During their Oct. 3 telephone conversation, according to a Latvian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Miliband and Riekstiņš agreed that relations between the United Kingdom and Latvia are outstanding and that the two countries must continue to work together to resolve questions important to Europe, including economic recovery.

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

7 thoughts on “War of words in Britain becomes diplomatic issue for Latvia

  1. This just reaffirms that the time for Latvians to fight was at the time of the first Soviet ultimatum in October of 1939. We would have lost that war, but, honored by all Nations, we would have won some battles under our own Latvian flag. A veteran of the 15th Division.

  2. I thought I will just post here these links to some historical information which is overlooked too often by media and general public and even intentionally silenced by Left-leaning loonies:

    1. After the war was over, Latvian (and Estonian) Legion soldiers served in Germany under British and American command, guarding Nuremberg Palace of Justice and prison during Nazi War Crimes Trials. They also later guarded USA Army headquarters and Berlin Airlift facilities during the Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin.

    2. Giving in to Soviet demands Sweden had extradited some of the Legion soldiers to USSR. 50 years later King of Sweden and Foreign Minister apologised for that and accepted their delegation in Sweden. King Gustaf shook hands with the old soldiers, the same people whom Miliband and his bunch are calling “Nazis”.

  3. It just never goes away! Sixty years later, sycophants and apologists for Soviet Communists still spew their vituperative, vicious lies in their efforts to brand a people and a country for events that were beyond their control. Latvian veterans, their families and fellow compatriots have every right to commemorate their hard-fought battles and the men who died fighting for their country, against both the Soviets and the Nazis. The only ones who continue to stir up this virulent, poisonous stew are those who have been revising history since the end of the Second World War, namely, the Soviets.They have never admitted to their inglorious deeds,vis a vis their treacherous acts against innocents, men, women and children in all of the Eastern European countries during that brutal war. They have even managed to indoctrinate members of the British Parliament, namely Foreign Minister Miliband. It’s like a yearly flu shot they disperse. Frankly, his words, spurred on by his Russian counterpart, and Zuroff, make me sick. Zuroff knows about the alliance between the Nazis and the Soviets and moreover, he knows how the Simon Wiesenthal Centre continued to collaborate with the Soviets after the war in an inescapable bid to falsely punish anyone who fought for their own homeland,… Latvian soldiers were forcibly inducted into the German Army… not the SS!!!!! The fact that Russian textbooks are being revised to indoctrinate Russia’s students with their lies about “liberation” also makes me sick. It also means that we’ll be hearing and reading about this ad infinitum.This is not just a diplomatic squabble but a potent struggle for the truth which sadly, seems to escape Miliband and to be sure, hinders his ability to be the best Foreign minister he can possibly be. How incredibly sad and sickening.

  4. Am in total agreement with Ediite’s well spoken, knowledgeable, and empassioned words. I’m responding in commemmoration of my Imantonkulis, who served at at a young age in the Latvian Resistance Army, was taken a POW, but luckily to Belgium, under British jurisdiction where conditions were such that he/other POW’s could survive; and my Papus Janis, who, though older, worked hard to provide ammunition, and bare essentials for the same-said army, motivated, in part, to avenge the death of his only younger brother Jakobs, who in an earlier borderline squirmish with the Russians, was killed and body dismembered as a warning to other young Latvian patriots. It’s not only the deliberate and intentional stirring up of venemous misinformation that should be of concern to all Balts. Even in emigrating to the USA, in July of ’49, Imantonkulis was fortunate to find an agent/representative, who upon interrogation, understood that Latvians were forcibly inducted into the German army and permitted him and his family to find refuge in the States! He could just as easily been unfairly rejected! In my opinion, it is imperative for Latvian-Americans to make their Trimdas staastu/stories known in their new homeland so that even in this New Millenium, to say nothing of something quite as complex as the present British-Latvian issue, young Americans, college graduates, yet, don’t grow up believing that in Latvia the official language is Russian; or even that the Baltics and the Balkans are one and the same; or that Latvians are the mouthpiece of Russia! Yes, I’m even proud and love the reticence and endurance of our countrymen; but long-suffering silence of what we, as former refugees of WWII went through in fleeing and then acclimating to new homelands helps fuel mistaken interpretations of what really Latvians and the Balts had to endure… still have to endure. Not to take this into another arena, but the present economic crisis and the difficulties of the Baltic States with “the good guys of the EU,” who, supposedly, wear the white hats but demand that The Balts
    starve their people, whose governments are incapable and/or unwilling to use the EU monies for the good of the people, and are even taking steps to take Latvia and 5 other nations to court, so obviously lack an understanding of what the real issues are. And that even, unfortunately, goes for those in the UK, France, and Germany and so forth.

  5. Thankfully there are many youths living in Latvia and Canada who share Edite’s and Maija’s views.Their actions will guarantee our survival.

  6. Miliband should go back to school and learn his history. 1) If the Latvians should not have taken vengence against Uncle Joe just because he deported 37,000 people from the baltic states to siberia, just because another 15,000 people were found in mass graves scatered throughout all three lands, just because he had our government officialls executed and just because he had forced young baltic men, 100,000, into the soviet army by force (I guess were communists too) then the U.S. should never have declared war on Japan. There the U.S. only lost 2,000 men and had another 8,000 injured in Pearl Harbor. 2) I do hope that Miliband has a computer at home. He can then check on Operation Keelhaul. There the western allies did a ‘Bloody Good Job’, all under the title of democracy. Anthony Eden was the one who came up with idea and F.D.R. was all for it. Remember: Ignorence is bliss but up to a point.

  7. Miliband’s prevarication has continued life today in a New York Times article by usually reliable Roger Cohen who asserts that British conservative leader David Cameron “hopped into bed with a band of central European right-wingers united only in loathing for European federalism. These include a Polish politician who thinks apologizing to Jews for World War II massacres is a bad idea and a Latvian party called For Fatherland and Freedom.” It’s disturbing to see this given new life in such a casual manner. FMI — http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/opinion/23iht-edcohen.html?_r=1&hp;

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