Latvia pays tribute every March 16 to its soldiers who back in World War II fought on the side of Nazi Germany in Waffen SS detachments. Every year hundreds of people sing patriotic songs and lay flowers at the Freedom Monument in downtown Riga. It’s the way Latvians honor their late Legionaires.
These acts always spark controversy as anti-fascist groups (mainly ethnic Russians who live in the country) say they exalt fascism and discredits the Soviet Union’s sacrifices. Police usually flank the Freedom Monument, trying to make sure the commemorations pass without incidents.
Nevertheless, such celebrations have become a real problem for the Latvian government. Riga City Council had previously banned public gathering for the date, but earlier this week a Court ruled the right to free assembly, removing such prohibition.
Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, but then invaded by Nazi Germany in 1941. Many residents saw the Germans as sort of liberators and subsequently about 140,000 Latvians fought against Russians with the German military. Some 50,000 were killed.
It is believed a number of Latvian Waffen SS soldiers were involved in the murder of Jews.
The Red Army would take over the country again in 1944, remaining under the Soviet flag until 1991, when Latvia regained its independence.
*Note that the videos are not from this year’s commemorations