Monday, March 15, 2010

Court lifts bans on March 16 legionnaire, ant-fascist activities

A Latvian court has voided a ban on all activities near the Freedom Monument on March 16, when a march by former Latvian legionnaires and a counter-demonstration are planned. The Riga City Council under mayor Nils Ušakovs of the Harmony Center, like his nationalist predecessor Jānis Birks, banned the march and counter-demonstration, citing unspecified threats that had been identified by law enforcement agencies.
Last year, the march and opposing activities took place last year in defiance of the ban, with a heavy police presence. The 2009 ban was supported by a lower court (the same institution that lifted the ban this year) but was overturned almost a year later by an appeals court. Apparently that decision, balanced against evidence that possible disorders could take place, was the reason that the lower court lifted the ban this year.
In all likelihood, the march and counterdemonstration will take place (this blogger is in Stockholm for much of the day and won't be able to make a direct report) with police keeping both sides apart.
Supports of the Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires (most living veterans are in their late 80s) maintain that the soldiers drafted by the Germans were not ideologically Nazis and fought to prevent a return of the Soviet occupation that saw 15 000 Latvian citizens deported to Siberia on June 13-14, 1941/
The ant-fascists argue that fighting on the side of Nazi Germany for whatever reasons should not be "glorified" by public commemorations. They point to a certain overlap of the manning of the Latvian Legion (largely drafted) with members of the Latvian Police Battalions, which were formed earlier and participated in actions against partisans and civilians in Belarus and Russia.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Latvian Supreme Court Overturns (Last Year's) March 16 March Ban

In what is rapidly developing into a black comedy, the Latvian Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling upholding last year's ban on a March 16 march to commemorate the Latvian Legion, a controversial military formation largely drafted during the Nazi occupation of Latvia.
The Supreme Court ruling comes shortly after the Riga city authorities, under a new mayor from a different political party (Nils Ušakovs of Harmony Center) banned all activities near the Freedom Monument on March 16. A march to commemorate the Legion with some surviving legionnaires (many in their late 80s) was planned, accompanied by nationalist youth organizations. Two so-called anti-fascist groups had also planned counter-demonstrations, alleging that the march by former Waffen-SS soldiers (most of them conscripted) represented a " revival of Nazism" in Latvia and also raising the issue of the participation of some persons, later members of the Legion, who had allegedly taken part in actions agains civilians and Jews as members of police batallions.
The court ruling places the new mayor (elected in June, 2009) in an awkward position, since his ban was based on similar arguments, claims that law enforcement agencies fear disorder, etc. Even the Minister of Interior Linda Murniece, who is in charge of Latvia's police and other internal security agencies, has said there is no basis for the ban. It will also be appealed by this year's organizers. Last year's ban was imposed by mayor Jānis Birks of the nationalist Fatherland and Freedom Party.
Many Latvian politicians regard the Legionnaire commemoration as an international embarassment for Latvia, since it is easy to make an association between fighting on the German side and Nazism without understanding the forces at work on the Latvian nation at the time.
Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff will also be in Riga at a conference organized by one of the "anti-fascist" groups, and he would do well to look into the motives of those Jews who became concentration camp security guards or KAPOS. In Nazi-organized ghettos, the occupiers also formed a Judenrat or Jewish Council, in which some Jews served thinking this would make their lot better. People can end up on the wrong side for what they subjectively thought were the right reasons under extremely stressful and chaotic conditions.
It is time for Nils to lift the ban or look the fool. With enough police (and last year, there were more than enough when the whole event took place anyway, in defiance) there should be little or no trouble.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Riga City Council restricts everyone's freedom, again

The Riga City Council, this time under different political leadership (Mayor Nils Ušakovs of the Harmony Center) has again banned all marches and gatherings at the Freedom Monument on March 16, the day that the Latvian Legion, formed under German occupation in 1943, is commemorated.
The ban affects the Daugavas vanagi organization, a war veterans group as well as two so-called "anti-fascist" groups who were planning to counter-demonstrate against the march by a small number of Legion veterans (many of whom were illegally drafted by Hitler's Germany) and their sympathizers to lay flowers at the Freedom Monument.
Last year, the march was held in defiance of a ban and police successfully kept apart the marchers and counterdemonstrators. This year, there is no reason they cannot do the same and avoid a crass and stupid violation of the freedom of speech and assembly by all concerned. One can only hope that all sides will appeal the ban in court.