RIGA, Latvia—More than 1,000 people paid tribute Wednesday
to Latvians who fought on the side of Nazi Germany in Waffen
SS detachments during World War II.
Tweet diggYahoo! Buzz ShareThis Flanked by flag-bearers, participants in the
annual procession sang patriotic songs and
laid flowers at the base of the Freedom Monument
in downtown Riga in honor of the Latvian
SS soldiers, who are known as Legionnaires.
were heckled by a small group of mainly ethnic
Russians who claim the commemoration glorifies
fascism and discredits the Soviet Union's
enormous sacrifice in defeating Nazi Germany.
shouted "disgrace!" and "no to fascism!" while one held a poignant sign made from a pig's head that read "fascist, remember Nuremberg."
massive police presence separated the two
sides, and police officials said the ceremony,
which has become a public relations headache
for Latvia, passed without incident.
were unfazed by the protest. "I am Latvian and I want to honor those who fought for the country's freedom," said Inga Branka. She said the Latvians who fought in the war were neither fascists
nor communists and that they had struggled
to restore their lost independence.
was forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union
in 1940, then invaded by Nazi Germany in
1941, and taken over again by the Red Army
in 1944. The country remained a part of the
Soviet Union until 1991, when it achieved
250,000 Latvians fought alongside either
the Germans or the Soviets -- and some 150,000
Latvians died in the fighting.
80,000 Jews, or 90 percent of Latvia's prewar
Jewish population, were killed in 1941-42,
two years before the formation of the Latvian
Waffen SS unit -- which some Latvians claim
shows the unit could not have played a role
in the Holocaust.
an unknown number of Latvian Waffen SS soldiers
were involved in the murder of Jews as auxiliary
police -- years before they entered the front-line