March 16 parade takes place in Rīga

Police said around 1,000 people participated in a controversial parade through the streets of the Latvian capital, Rīga March 16,

The unofficial event in remembrance of members of the Latvian Legion, units of the Waffen-SS in the World War Two, passed off peacefully with no arrests made.

As usual, paraders waved various flags and laid flowers while opponents displayed placards and voiced their opposition. As always, a large number of international media were on hand.

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

The Latvian government's official position on the March 16 events are available at the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and says:

  • The State of Latvia has been consistent in condemning the crimes against humanity committed by both totalitarian regimes – Latvia denounces the Holocaust and mourns its victims.
  • The people of Latvia, who during World War II were subject to horrors of war on one or the other side of the battle-front, commemorate their fallen on different dates. The battles between the Soviet and Nazi troops in March 1944 caused major fatalities among Latvian men unlawfully drafted into the Nazi German army.
  • Since the restoration of independence, the Latvian government has consistently pursued an approach that Latvia commemorates its fallen soldiers on 11 November (the Lāčplēsis Day) – the day we remember our heroes.
  • As a democratic country, Latvia respects and also guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. 16 March is not an official remembrance day, and people, on their own private initiative, pay their respects to the fallen soldiers. The senior officials and members of the government do not participate in those commemorative gatherings in the centre of Latvia’s capital city.

You can learn more about the March 16 events to gain the full background from various other sources, too. The Support Foundation of the Pocket Books on Latvia’s History has produced a PDF, not funded by any particular organization or individual but put together on a collaborative basis by historians and academics Inesis Feldmanis, Ainārs Lerhis, Rinalds Gulbis and Kārlis Kangeris.

Latvian military and defense news portal sargs.lv published an article by Jānis Tomaševskis, Head of World War II History Department of the Latvian War Museum explaining some of the controversial aspects of the Latvian Legion's history.

Finally this audio feature we produced a few years ago gives a flavor of some of the different opinions on the streets on a typical March 16.  

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