Minister warns of potential for March 16 flashpoint

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Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said Monday that he expects Latvia to be targeted by a concerted disinformation campaign in the run-up to the controversial March 16 unofficial parade commemorating Latvian soldiers who fought on the side of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Speaking on LTV's morning news program, Kozlovskis said he believed Latvia could be targeted for propaganda purposes even more than in previous years.

The usual allegations that Latvia has seen a "revival of fascism" could be expected, Kozlovskis said, but with the background of the war in Ukraine and nationalist hysteria being whipped up by Russian media, they could be even more aggressive than usual.

"Four different organizations have applied to stage public events on March 16. So far the scenario is similar to previous years."

"However, given the geopolitical situation and the fact we hold the Presidency of the European Union I would say there are concerns we will see a enhanced disinformation campaign accusing us of reviving fascism and so on."

"We need to make sure that as in previous years, the end result of the event is just verbal confrontation and nothing more serious."

Kozolvskis said he hoped clashes between people taking part in the parade and self-styled "anti-fascist" groups protesting against the even would not amount to more than "verbal confrontation."

March 16, known unofficially as 'Legionnaires' Day' is - along with Soviet Victory Day on May 9 - one of the most contentious dates on the calendar.

Caught between the superpowers during World War II and occupied in turn by Soviets and Nazis, similar numbers of Latvians fought on both sides.

The Latvian Legion comprised two combat divisions that were part of the Waffen-SS under the control of Heinrich Himmler rather than the regular German Army or Wehrmacht.

The parade, from the central Dom Cathedral to the Freedom Monument, has in recent years been contained by a massive police presence, while demonstrators have also been given the opportunity to have their voice heard via a loudspeaker system.

Last year, Environment Minister Einars Cilinskis lost his job after he defied Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma's order that no ministers should participate in the parade.

No such ban was placed on coalition members of parliament and a large contingent from the National Alliance political party which is one of the three parties in government, is guaranteed along with a few thousand participants.

Kozlovskis also used his interview to say that around 100 organizations were currently operating in Latvia that had ties to Russian government funding. 

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