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.
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