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Latvia: controversy ahead of SS veterans parade

On Friday Latvia will court controversy as neo-Nazis, nationalists and other right-wing groups join an annual veteran’s parade through the capital city Riga in honour of the nation’s World War II era Waffen-SS legion.


Anti-fascism and human rights groups across Europe have opposed the march. European Jewish Parliament Co-President Joel Rubinfeld will be among those visiting the Baltic state this week, where he will have talks with Latvian parliamentarians and voice his opposition to the commemorative event.


Co-President of the European Jewish Parliament Joel Rubinfeld:

“My colleague Valery Engel who represents Latvia in the European Jewish Parliament is concerned about this issue and is very involved in fighting against any attempts to rehabilitate and honour the Nazis and the soldiers of the Waffen-SS. They are organising a round table and the European Jewish Parliament will participate in the debate. There is too little time left to actually block this year’s Latvian Legion parade, but we can at least send a clear message that we do not accept it. We must reject those who are honouring the fascists of World War II. The European Jewish Parliament will not remain silent in Latvia, nor will we stand by impassively in other European countries while those who are honouring the memory of people who butchered 6 million Jews are marching in the streets.”


The parade is not an officially sanctioned event, but despite its controversial nature it has been supported by many Latvian officials and MPs. Latvian President Andris Berzins has also thrown his support behind the parade, insisting that Latvian Legion soldiers are not war criminals but national heroes – a sentiment which has been roundly rejected by opponents of the march.


Co-President of the European Jewish Parliament Joel Rubinfeld:

“I think the opposite is true. Those who are supporting this march are actually humiliating and degrading the image of Latvia in the international arena. Supporting the Waffen SS is not a European value – modern Europe was founded on principles directly opposed to fascism, racism and anti-Semitism. Public figures like President Berzins who support the Latvian Legion are humiliating the Latvian people as a whole. We will go to Riga and extend the hand of friendship to the Latvian people. The message which we will carry to them as fellow European citizens is a simple one - those who support the rehabilitation of SS soldiers are taking the wrong path.”


The Waffen-SS was multi-national Nazi military formation which recruited soldiers from both the Third Reich itself and across occupied Europe. In Eastern Europe many Waffen-SS divisions were formed along national lines incorporating troops from countries recently occupied by Stalin’s Red Army.


Since the collapse of Soviet communism there have been concerted efforts throughout the former eastern bloc to rehabilitate veterans of these formations and reposition them as nationalist heroes, leading to charges of neo-Nazism and historical revisionism.


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