Andris Berzins backs controversial annual parade honoring
World War II Latvian Legion who fought under Nazi Germany,
claims they deserve respect
Latvian President Andris Berzins on Tuesday defended a controversial annual parade
that honors troops from the Baltic state
who fought the Soviet Union under the banner
of Nazi Germany.
on the LNT television channel, Berzins said
veterans of the World War II Latvian Legion,
a 140,000-strong unit of Germany's Waffen
SS, deserved respect not condemnation.
"They were conscripted into the fascist German Legion. They went with the ideal
of defending Latvia. Latvians in the Legion
were not war criminals," Berzins insisted.
also said foreign criticism of the March
16 rally was unfair.
not an official holiday, the day sees a parade
by veterans and their families, as well as
Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff criticized the parade saying: "An annual celebration of the Nazi invasion is like celebrating the mass murder
of Nazi victims – Jews, communists, gypsies
and the mentally ill." Zuroff demanded the local government put a stop to this "outrage."
Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has warned
ministers not to take part. Members of the
right-wing National Alliance - one of three
parties in his coalition government - have
been prominent attendees in previous years.
rally sparks demonstrations by members of
Latvia's Russian and Jewish communities who
say it celebrates Nazism.
veterans insist they were not Nazis but simply
defending their small nation against the
Soviets seized Latvia in June 1940 under
a pact with the Nazis. It broke down in June
1941 when Germany invaded Soviet territory.
troops were hailed by some Latvians as liberators.
Only a week before they arrived, the Soviets
had deported 15,000 Latvians to Siberia.
the Nazis brought their own terror, killing
70,000 of Latvia's 85,000 Jews, helped by
veterans underline that it was founded in
1943, after most of Latvia's Jews had been
slaughtered, arguing they cannot be held
Legion was a mixture of volunteers and conscripts.
Roughly a third died in combat or Soviet
captivity. Another 130,000 Latvians sided
with the Soviets. Almost a quarter were killed,
many in battles with their Legion compatriots.
the war's tide turned, the Soviets captured
Riga in October 1944. Latvia regained independence
in 1991 and joined the European Union in