A series of events normally held in honor of Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires who fought for Hitler against the Red Army will not go ahead this year, with lawmakers in Riga citing the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
The capital’s City Council announced the decision on Monday, Russian-language media is reporting. It means the annual day out has been canceled for both flag-waving nationalist demonstrators, and the anti-Nazi counter-protesters who usually show up. The Izvestiya newspaper quotes a spokesperson as saying that “the organizers of the events in memory of Latvian legionnaires and their opponents, due to the epidemiological situation, withdrew the applications they submitted.”
The Latvian Legionnaires’ Remembrance Day traditionally takes place on 16 March, albeit unofficially, since the country’s government abolished it as a formal commemoration. It celebrated the role of two military divisions raised by Nazi Germany to fight against the Soviet Union’s Red Army as it pushed through the Baltics and to Berlin in 1944.
Opponents of the processions have said they represent the glorification of Nazism, while supporters insist that 80 to 85 percent of those who fought as legionnaires were drafted as conscripts. Others claim the brigade wasn’t responsible for Nazi war crimes, and fought alongside the Third Reich only after the vast majority of the country’s 93,000 Jewish people had already been deported to concentration camps and murdered.
However, in 2018, a man was arrested at the annual march for displaying a poster of soldiers killing Jews. Reporting on the case, the Times of Israel noted that the event “occurs amid rising tensions with Russia, [and] is part of numerous expressions across Eastern Europe of admiration for those, including Holocaust perpetrators, who collaborated with Germany against the Soviet Union.”
Groups such as the Anti-Fascist Committee of Latvia, human rights organizations, and activists from the ethnic Russian community have demonstrated against the event in the past.
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