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:


John Christmas said...

Thanks for a well-balanced and informative article and video!

Anonymous said...

It's terrible that veterans were made to hear that. They knew the truth of why they fought after they were conscripted that this day is their time to grieve for those they have lost. In Latvia, neither side were the "allies". The rest of the world must come to understand this. Especially as Russia had a FAR worse impact on Latvia than Germany. I feel this day is more about the people than 'nazi' celebration. It's a shame the media cannot see it that way.

Asehpe said...

It is curious that so many people are impressed by the Waffen-SS uniforms to the point of actually believing that the people laying flowers or their supporters actually stand for Nazi ideology. As far as I can see, the people there are honoring soldiers who fought against the Soviets -- unfortunately, they had to do so under the Germans, but still the point is they were fighting the Soviets. If they had done that in any other way, they would be similarly honored today, because the important thing is the fight against Soviet Russia, not the fight under the Swastika.

At least in the case of the Russian federation, I also think they're much more concerned with Latvians being proud of having fought against Russia than with their having done so, for lack of options, under the Swastika banner. The Russian attitude with respect to their own Neo-Nazis is not as strong, nor is it much of a concern to Russia when Neo-Nazi leaders affirm Nazist ideological points -- as long as they don't glorify those who fought against the USSR.

Asehpe said...

I think most of the problem with the Russian population is that the Legionnaires fought against Soviet Russia. It's not so much Nazism (which they don't espouse anyway), but the fact that they fought against Russians. I don't think the Russian government is so deeply outraged even by their own Neo-Nazis -- as long as they don't glorify those who directly fought against the USSR. I don't think they would care about Nazi regalia elsewhere -- as long as it doesn't specifically glorify those who fought against the USSR.

For them, this has never been about people wanting to "restart Nazism" (which the Legionnaires clearly don't want), but about people being happy that someone fought against the Russians. It goes against the image of the "liberating Red Army" they want to cherish.

The non-Russian anti-legionnaire protesters -- Jews, Holocaust victims, their supporters, etc. -- of course have a different perspective, and are really offended at the (unfotunate) presence of Nazi symbols in the celebration. But they strike me as people who are ready to, out of fear of "allowing evil to reappear", end up doing the same kind of evil that the Nazis were accused to. The protesters who spit on the floor or shout offenses at the Legionnaires remind me of the Nazis who spat at Jews and threw offenses at them in the streets of Berlin and Vienna. Their motivation -- the belief that their ennemy was "horribly dirty" -- is not dissimilar.

Anonymous said...

The Legionnairs fought for a free Latvia. It wasn't a fight FOR Hitler, it was a fight AGAINST Bolshevism, and there were only two realistic sides! It is theoretically true that the Latvian soldiers could have taken up arms against the Nazis and the Soviets simultaneously,but how realistic was that? 10,000 men against the armies of two superpowers? The Soviets had occupied Latvia from 17 Jun e 1940 to 22 June 1941, with subsequent torture, disappearings, murders, and deportations for mere dissidence. The Legionnaires were motivated only by the wish to keep the Soviets from reoccupying Latvia. There was a small group of Latvian soldiers (the Kurelieshi) who did try to oppose the Nazis towards the end of the war. They were killed and/or sent to Stutthof concentration camp. There is no rebirth of Nazism in Latvia. The Jews interviewed are paranoid. There is a wish to regain national selfrespect, which has been badly wounded by both occupying powers, and is still being scorned by many remaining Russians in the Baltic states. The young people are to be commended for doing this. Also, I wish someone would inform Mr. Brodie, that, during the thirties, when persecution of Jews was already starting in Germany, the then president of Latvia, Karlis Ulmanis welcomed Jews to Latvia and gave them refuge, at a time when even the western democracies were hemming and hawing about German Jewish immigration!