Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 16 "freestyle" with sirens, songs and scuffles

And so another March 16 with its commemorative march and counter-demonstrations passes, this time with no one attempting to limit anyone's free speech - at last. Long learning curve, Latvia. The next step after the events of the first "freestyle"  March 16 would be somewhat better planning to separate the marchers and the contras, especially since the Latvian Antifascist Committee had planned a rather loud audio protest. It could have been better placed near the Laima clock and the Chili pizzeria, so that every marcher passing would have heard the protest message without it booming at the flower-layers at the base of the Freedom Monument, which was, at least officially, a moment of remembrance of the dead.
The counterdemonstrators decorated their location with photographs of people being shot during the Holocaust, mostly in Latvia, but some of victims in Russia. In any case, these things happened before the Latvian Legion was formed, and the only connection could be that some of these killings (in Russia and Belarus) could be attributed to the Latvian Police Battalions, formed soon after the German occupation in 1941 and used for purposes other than combat. One task for historians (unless I have missed research on this) would be to document, to the extent possible, what persons from the Police Battalions were transfered to either of the two Latvian Waffen-SS divisions and whether any of them could be linked to war crimes. That would set the record straight to the extent possible after 70 years.
On the "Latvian"  side, there was some needless ugliness. The wreaths laid by the Antifascist Committee were, again, defaced rather than simple moved aside to make room for the flowers from the veterans and their supporters. If the Latvian Tennis Federation comes and lays flowers after the Latvian Basketball Federation has placed a wreath, they would just politely move it, wouldn't they? I also heard mumblings in the crowd that "Jews should not be here". This is deranged. Jews have been "here" in some cases for hundreds of years, they were and are Latvian citizens and have a right to remember their dead when and how they please (which is exactly what the Legionnaire supporters say about the old war veterans). The Jewish and other victims of the German occupation died in the same war as the veterans, and they, unlike the Legion or the Latvian units of the Red Army, were non-combatant civilians. Wacko theories that all the Jews of Latvia deserved to be shot because a few Jews (mainly from Russia) were linked to Soviet power have no place in serious discussion (and Latvians also played a prominent role in establishing the USSR, so where to we go with that? Answer - 1937, end of story for most of them. Do we want to go on along these lines?).
Another disturbing thing was that someone placed a photograph of one of the most decorated Latvian Waffen-SS officers, Roberts Ancāns, at the base of the Freedom Monument. Ancāns, an Obersturmfuhrer  in the Waffen-SS is covered with medals and regalia, including the Iron Cross, all for heroism in battle, multiple wounds and the like. Ancāns came into the Legion via the Police Battalions, before that, he volunteered for the Latvian Army before the war and occupation, intending, as lawyer, to become a legal affairs officer. He later emigrated to the US, where he died in 1982, He probably was "clean" of any suspected misdeeds, as he cleared the screenings that ex-Germany military refugees were subjected to. But whatever the story was, putting a person in full German regalia in the middle of a field of flowers, behind two wreaths from the anti-fascists that had been defaced and buried in other flowers just sends the wrong message. I could see placing a photo of General Jānis Kurelis in his Latvian Army uniform (he did end up in the Waffen-SS, but led a mutiny against the German authorities) among the flowers, but not someone who broadcasts the absolutely wrong message at first glance.
Finally, I am surprised (unless I missed someone at the earlier sessions) that there were no mainstream Latvian media covering the conference organised by the Anti-Fascist Committee, which was attended by some American former and serving state legislators, as well as a former Belgian and German member of the European parliament, and Latvia's MEP Tatyana Zhdanok (admittedly, a controversial "pro-Russian" politician who wins no popularity contests among the ethnic Latvian population). Here, they would have heard an explanation of the counterdemonstrators' motives. There was also a former Russian-born member of the Israeli Knesset, who tragically died while in Riga to attend the conference.
In any case, here is my video on the events: