On Saturday, March 16th, over 1000 Latvians honored Nazi-allied World War II soldiers. Violence almost erupted between the Latvian participants and the ethnic Russians, who are a minority in the country. The police used force, dragging some participants away and detaining four, to prevent any tumult.
March 16th is considered Legionnaires Day, a day in which Latvians commemorate war veterans. Others believe that this day glorifies fascism.
Latvia has a complex history regarding fascism and communism. After gaining independence after WWI, the USSR occupied them in 1940. Nazi Germany then occupied them one year later, until 1944 when the Soviets returned. As a result, many Latvians feel the Nazi occupation, which forcibly conscripted many into the Waffen SS divisions, was a time in which they fought for independence from communism.
Approximately 80,000 Jews, or 90 percent of Latvia’s prewar Jewish population, were killed in 1941- 1942. Many Latvians claim they did not have a role in the Holocaust because this was before the Latvian Waffen SS units were formed.
Protesters of Saturday’s commemoration referenced a list of Latvian crimes committed during WWII.