Remembrance day of the Latvian legionnaires
|Remembrance day of the Latvian legionnaires|
Flag alley at the foot of Freedom Monument, 2014
|Observed by||Former members of the Latvian Legion, their relatives and supporters|
|Significance||The 15th (1st Latvian) and the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian) fighting alongside for the first and only time against the Red Army in 1944.|
|Celebrations||Memorial service in Riga Cathedral, procession to the Freedom Monument, laying flowers at the Freedom Monument and regimental cemetery in Lestene.|
Remembrance day of the Latvian legionnaires (Latvian: Leģionāru piemiņas diena), often known simply as Legionnaire Day (Leģionāru diena) or March 16 (16. marts) in Latvia, is a day on March 16, when soldiers of the Latvian Legion, part of the Waffen-SS, are commemorated. From 1998 until 2000, it was officially recognized as a "Remembrance Day for Latvian soldiers" by the Saeima.
The day has been controversial as the Legion was formally a unit of Nazi Germany and the remembrance day has been seen by some as an attempt to glorify Nazism. Others point out that no one has ever been convicted of committing war crimes as a member of the Legion and hold that it was a purely military unit fighting against the Soviet Union that had occupied Latvia in 1940.
The idea of a Remembrance day for the Latvian legionnaires was raised in exile by the Daugavas Vanagi veterans' organisation in 1952. The date of March 16 was chosen because in 1944 both divisions of the Latvian Legion, the 15th (1st Latvian) and the 19th (2nd Latvian) fought alongside each other, for the first and only time, against the Red Army.
From March 16 to 18, 1944 a heavy battle was fought on the eastern shore of the Velikaya River for Hill "93,4", a strategically important height, defended by the 15th and the 19th Waffen-SS divisions. On the morning of March 16 the Soviet assault began, and the defenders were forced to withdraw, but the Soviets did not break the Latvian Legionnaires' resistance. On March 18 a counter-attack by the 15th Division, led by Colonel Arturs Silgailis, recaptured the hill with minimal losses. The Soviets did not try to attack there again.
Remembrance day of the Latvian legionnaires has been publicly observed in Latvia since 1989/90. It was officially recognized as a "Remembrance Day for Latvian soldiers" by the Saeima in 1998, a compromise between the For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party who wanted to establish the day as the "Remembrance day for the Latvian Legion" and other members of the coalition fearing the potential effect such a move would have on the international reputation of Latvia. In 1998 the procession to lay flowers at the base of the Freedom Monument drew the attention of foreign media and the following year the State Duma condemned the event as "a glorification of Nazism". In 2000 the Latvian government abolished the day as an official commemoration day, however it is still observed unofficially.
In 2005, a counter-demonstration was dispersed by police, arresting some of its participants; the march itself was condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In 2006 the Latvian government tried to bring the situation under control by fencing off the Freedom Monument, with Riga City Council claiming it required restoration. However, this statement was later questioned, as politicians named various other reasons for the move, the enclosed area was much larger than needed for restoration, and the weather did not seem appropriate for restoration. The unapproved events took place despite the ban and 65 participants were arrested by Latvian police, two of the arrested nationalists were citizens of Estonia. In 2006, laws requiring approval to arrange gatherings were ruled out as unconstitutional.
On March 16, 2007, the government mobilized the police force to guard the vicinity of the monument and the day went by relatively peacefully. The veterans' organizations Daugavas Vanagi and National Association of Latvian soldiers have announced that they dissociate themselves from ultra-radicals who organize processions at the monument and advised patriotic Latvians to attend other events. In 2008 the confrontation was limited to verbal arguments and insults.
Following the 2009 Riga riot, Riga City Council banned the 2009 commemorative procession to Freedom Monument and two counter-demonstrations, citing fears of unrest, however around 300 people disobeyed the ban and still walked to the Freedom Monument and laid down flowers under heavy police protection, with a few of the counter-demonstrators being arrested. Head of "Anti-fascist Committee of Latvia" invited its supporters to go on "an excursion" around Old Riga that day.
In 2010 Riga City Council banned the procession and a counter-demonstration, however on March 15 the Riga District Court overruled the ban, and from 500 to 1,000 people participated in the 2010 commemoration events in Riga the next day. In 2011 to avert provocation and public disturbances all 6 both pro and anti-Legionnaire Day events were once again disallowed. Nonetheless, around 1,000 people went on the procession and approximately 100 protested against it.
In 2012 around 2000 people took part in the procession and 1200 police officers were employed to maintain order in Riga. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis called coalition ministers from National Alliance not to participate in the events, warning that otherwise they might lose their minister positions. Three people were detained, one for for displaying fascist symbols, one for displaying Soviet symbols and one for disturbing the work of police officers.
On March 11, 2014 government of Latvia agreed to forbid ministers to attend March 16 events. Nevertheless, Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Einārs Cilinskis informed of his intention to take part in the procession like he had done for the past 16 years, resulting in Cilinskis losing his minister post. Protesters from "Association Against Nazism" were moved to a fenced-in zone in adjacent Bastejkalns Park where they installed improvised gallows. The day passed without serious incident, with only 7 people arrested for various misdemeanour charges.
In 2013 Saeima rejected a proposal from National Alliance to amend the law on Holidays and Remembrance Days and make Legionnaire Day a national remembrance day. In 2018 and 2019 Saeima turned down similar proposals from National Alliance.
As formally a part of the Waffen-SS, the Latvian Legion is seen by some as being a Nazi unit, while others point out that it fought only the Soviet Union which had previously occupied and annexed Latvia, it is not responsible for the Holocaust (since it was founded more than a year after Latvian Jews were murdered or sent to concentration camps) or any other Nazi war crimes and should be viewed as a separate entity. (being recognized as such by the USA, for example). Even though up to 80–85% people were conscripted, it was officially named Volunteer Legion to circumvent the Hague Convention of 1907 prohibiting drafting inhabitants of occupied territories by the occupying power.
The current official position of Latvia is that "March 16 is not an official remembrance day" and "Latvia commemorates its fallen soldiers on 11 November (the Lāčplēsis Day)". People are allowed to commemorate the fallen on March 16 on their own private accord, but higher officials and members of the government do not participate at the commemorative events taking place in Riga centre in their official capacity. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia has also stressed that no Nazi uniforms, symbols or slogans appear on this or other days in Latvia, as they are banned by law.
On March 16, 2012 Efraim Zuroff during his visit to Riga to protest against the legionnaires procession, stated in an interview to Latvian State television LTV1 that the "Latvian SS Legion was not involved in the crimes of the Holocaust" but also stated, as he has done each and every year since 1999, "although these units were not involved in crimes against humanity, many of their soldiers had previously served in the Latvian security police and had actively participated in the mass murder of civilians, primarily Jews".
According to a 2017 research by the University of Latvia and SKDS from 2012 to 2017 the public support for Legionnaire Day had decreased from 38% to 33%, however researcher Mārtiņš Kaprāns noted observing "a more pronounced tolerance" and that "a favorable attitude towards the Lestene memorial has grown both among Latvians and Russians."
Russia alleges that the Latvian Legion carried out punitive actions against partisans and the civilian population in the territory of modern Latvia, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (like the Operation Winterzauber).
In 2011, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance adopted a report on Latvia, expressing "concern as regards the authorisation of certain public events to commemorate two incidents and the authorities' reaction in this connection. As concerns the first incident, every year, on March 16, a gathering commemorating soldiers who fought in a Latvian unit of the Waffen SS is held in the centre of Riga. In this connection, ECRI regrets that, in spring 2010, an administrative district court overruled a decision of the Riga City Council prohibiting this procession" and recommended "that the Latvian authorities condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborated with the Nazis. ECRI further recommends that the authorities ban any gathering or march legitimising in any way Nazism". In 2013, United Nations special rapporteur on racism submitted a communication to Latvia concerning the events of March 16. In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the rise of neo-fascist violence in Europe, noting that "every year on 16 March thousands of people gather in Riga for Latvian Legion Day to honour Latvians who served in the Waffen-SS".
Leanid Kazyrytski has argued that, even though Nuremberg Tribunal excluded Latvian Waffen SS units from the list of criminal organisations, Latvian Legion does in fact possess all the features attributed to a criminal organisation by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
Traditionally a memorial service is held in Riga Cathedral, after which the participants go in procession to the Freedom Monument where they lay flowers. Another ceremony receiving much less publicity takes place at the Brethren Cemetery in Lestene parish.
Organizations whose members have been seen to participate in events:
- National Alliance. Traditionally members organize a flag alley at the Freedom Monument when the procession arrives.
- Gustavs Celmiņš Centre – an organisation seeking to revive the ultra-nationalist Pērkonkrusts movement.
Organizations that support veterans of the Legion and participate in events:
- Club 415 – Latvian nationalist youth organisation.
- Popular Front of Latvia – Latvian political organisation.
Parties whose members have been seen to participate in events
- Union of Greens and Farmers – a green/agrarian and conservative political alliance
- For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK – a right-wing conservative party
- New Era Party – a centre-right liberal conservative party
- People's Party – a centre-right conservative party
Organizations that have demonstrated against the events
- National Bolshevik Party
- National Democratic Party
- Anti-Fascist Committee of Latvia
- For Human Rights in United Latvia
- Nochnoy Dozor
- Neiburgs, Uldis (March 14, 2018). "The Latvian Legion and 16 March". The Museum of Occupation of Latvia. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- Pettai, Eva-Clarita; Pettai, Vello (2014). Transitional and Retrospective Justice in the Baltic States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-11-070-4949-9.
- "March 16 commemoration "attempt to glorify Nazism" – Russian Embassy in Riga". The Baltic Times. March 16, 2016. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- Kaprāns, Mārtiņš (March 20, 2017). "Spring in Latvia—a perfect time for rewriting history". East StratCom Task Force. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- Zīle, Roberts (October 2, 2009). "To call us Nazi sympathisers is absurd". The Guardian. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
- 16. marts Latviešu leģiona vēstures kontekstā by Antonijs Zunda, professor of Latvian University Archived March 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, retrieved on March 16, 2006
- "Appeal of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of Russian Federation 'To the members of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia in connection with the organisation in Riga of the march of the veterans of the Latvian legion of SS', N 3788-II GD". pravo.gov.ru (in Russian). March 18, 1999. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
- "Skirmish taken place by the Freedom Monument" (in Russian). Delfi. March 16, 2005. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
- "Wiesenthal Center Condemns Marches in Riga and Liepaja, Latvia of Latvian SS Veterans". Simon Wiesenthal Center. March 16, 2005. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- Putniņa, Aivita (March 14, 2006). "Wooden coat of the Freedom Monument" (in Latvian). Providus. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
- Latvijas jaunāko laiku vēsturē ierakstīta jauna 16. marta lappuse Archived July 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Archived press coverage regarding March 16, 2006 (Neatkarīgā; Diena; Latvijas Vēstnesis; Latvijas Avīze; Nedēļa), retrieved on March 17, 2007
- "Constitutional Court's judgment in case 2006-03-0106" (PDF). Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia. November 23, 2006. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
- "Police preparing for March 16 events in Riga center" (in Latvian). Delfi. March 16, 2007. Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- Skreija, Edgars (March 13, 2007). ""Daugavas Vanagi" un National Association of Latvian soldiers: Let's not politicize March 16" (in Latvian). Delfi. Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- "Legionnaire remembrance events have passed without any incidents" (in Latvian). Delfi. March 16, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
- Strautmanis, Andris (March 16, 2009). "Veterans defy ban, march to Freedom Monument". Latvians Online. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
- "Access to Freedom Monument in Riga restricted". The Baltic Course. March 16, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- Strautmanis, Andris (March 16, 2010). "Hundreds march to honor Legion, while protesters attack fascism". Latvians Online. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
- "All March 16 gatherings banned in Riga". The Baltic Course. March 8, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Legion Day procession under way in Riga". The Baltic Course. March 8, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Events by Freedom Monument went peacefully". The Baltic Times. March 16, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Public order on March 16 to be ensured by 1200 policemen". Baltic News Network. March 14, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "National Alliance's ministers might be sacked for participation in March 16 events". Baltic News Network. November 16, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- Petrova, Alla (March 16, 2012). "Latvian Legion walking in Riga". The Baltic Course. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "March 16 events off-limits for ministers". The Baltic Times. March 12, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Straujuma does not know how to react to Cilinskis' participation in the March 16th walk". Baltic News Network. March 10, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "No ministers to parade on March 16 vows PM". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. March 4, 2015. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Legion Day events in Riga ended without incident". The Baltic Course. March 14, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Saeima did not make March 16 a national commemoration day". The Baltic Times. March 14, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "March 16 won't be a national commemoration day in Latvia". The Baltic Course. March 14, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Saeima rejects National Alliance's proposal to make 16 March an official remembrance day". Baltic News Network. March 15, 2018. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- "National Alliance repeats March 16 memorial request". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. February 25, 2019. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
- Feldmanis, Inesis; Kangeris, Kārlis (December 15, 2015). "The Volunteer SS Legion in Latvia". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- Tomaševskis, Jānis (February 28, 2014). "Latvian Legion: controversial points". sargs.lv. Retrieved March 19, 2007.
- "Concerning events on 16 March". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia. March 16, 2018. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- "Basic facts about citizenship and language policy of Latvia and some sensitive history-related issues". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia. March 14, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Remembrance day of the legionnaires went peacefully" (in Latvian). LTV Panorāma. March 16, 2012.
- "Wiesenthal Israel director joins demonstrators against march of Waffen-SS veterans and supporters in Riga". Operation Last Chance. March 18, 2012.
- "Support for March 16 falling". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. March 15, 2017. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- "Involvement of the Lettish SS Legion in War Crimes in 1941–1945 and the Attempts to Revise the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal in Latvia". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. February 14, 2004. Retrieved November 11, 2005.
- Report on Latvia (fourth monitoring cycle) CRI(2012)3. European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Paras. 86–87
- Communications report of Special Procedures A/HRC/24/21 p. 23
- European Parliament resolution of 25 October 2018 on the rise of neo-fascist violence in Europe (2018/2869(RSP))
- Kazyrytski, Leanid (2016). "Latvian SS-Legion: Past and Present. Some Issues Regarding the Modern Glorification of Nazism". Criminal Law Forum. 27: 361–385. doi:10.1007/s10609-016-9286-3.
- "Fallen legionnaires remembered at Lestene cemetery". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. March 16, 2015. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Many MPs from Latvian National Alliance to participate in March 16 events". The Baltic Course. March 2, 2016. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- "Events commemorating and condemning Latvian Legion to take place on March 16". The Baltic Course. March 6, 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Six groups sign up for public events in Riga on March 16 Legion Day". The Baltic Course. March 3, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- ""Night Watch" makes its way to Latvia in groups" (in Russian). Delfi. March 16, 2008. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Remembrance day of the Latvian legionnaires.|