Nationalist party wants to make March 16 an official memorial day

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The right-of-center National Alliance wants to make March 16, the controversial date when parades are staged to honor the Latvian Waffen-SS divisions, into an official memorial day, party head Raivis Dzintars told LTV March 8.

"We shouldn't be ashamed to honor Latvian freedom fighters," said Dzintars, after saying that, for a time in the 90s, March 16 was indeed a memorial day.

The party intends to submit amendments to the official calendar to the Latvian parliament within the next few days. 

The controversial date was made a memorial day in 1998. In early 2000, as Latvia wanted to join NATO and the EU, the step was retracted, and all soldiers are instead commemorated on November 11.

The day invariably gets Latvia bad international publicity, mostly but not exclusively coming from Russia, which says it's a Nazi supporter rally or an attempt to justify Nazism. 

Though March 16 is not included on the nation's official calendar of events several hundred people always turn out to parade through the center of Riga and pay tribute to Latvian soldiers who served in the Latvian Waffen SS Legion and fought on the side of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Controversy inevitably follows with participants saying they are honoring freedom fighters and opponents accusing the event of rehabilitating and glorifying fascism.

Tensions are always high, but recent years have not seen any serious trouble thanks to a huge and well-organized police presence along the parade's route.

March 16 was the date in 1944 on which both divisions of the Latvian Legion fought against the Red Army.

Similar numbers of Latvians fought on both the German and Soviet sides after seeing their independent state removed from the map by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and then enduring successive occupations.

A less controversial commemoration of those who fought in the Latvian Legion also takes place on March 16 at the regimental cemetery in Lestene.

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