The Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance today published online its 9 December report ECRI Report on Latvia (fourth monitoring cycle). In the 67 page report, the ECRI (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance) explicitly condemns the Waffen SS marches enabled and supported for many years by some of the highest echelons of Latvian government and society. There is also reference to the more recent case of celebrating the day of Hitler’s invasion in 1941.
Early on, in the introductory Summary section the report states:
All attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborated with the Nazis, should be condemned. Any gathering or march legitimising in any way Nazism should be banned. (p. 9)
Then, in the core section of Findings and Recommendations, the Commissions conclusions are set out in in §§86 and 87. Here is the text of §§ 86-87, but with footnotes inserted, in petit italics, at their point of marking in the text in square brackets [ ]:
86. Further, ECRI expresses concern as regards the authorisation of certain public events to commemorate two incidents and the authorities’ reaction in this connection. As concerns the first incident, every year, on 16 March, a gathering commemorating soldiers who fought in a Latvian unit of the Waffen SS is held in the centre of Riga. In this connection, ECRI regrets that, in spring 2010, an administrative district court overruled a decision of the Riga City Council prohibiting this march. [The Latvian authorities have informed ECRI that the administrative district court did not consider the gathering as an event having the aim to glorify Nazism, nor did the participants of the march announce this to be the gathering’s objective. Furthermore, the authorities state that, in its judgment of 13 March 2009, the administrative district court indicated that in the last 10 years the events commemorated on 16 March are used to fuel ethnic tension in Latvia.]
Moreover, ECRI is concerned that the speaker of the Latvian Parliament allegedly publicly expressed regret for the formal prohibition of this event and that certain MPs have voted for the restoration of March 16 as day of remembrance [Established as an official day of remembrance in the mid 90s.].
Further, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs did not condemn the march, stating, on the contrary, that there was nothing wrong with former soldiers gathering together privately to remember their fallen comrades-in-arms and that any attempt to characterise this commemoration as the glorification of Nazism is unacceptable. ECRI understands that part of Latvian public opinion considers that: the legion did not fight for Nazism but to restore Latvian sovereignty (further to Soviet occupation); they did not commit atrocities against Jews; and that, although many individuals joined the legion willingly, many others were conscripted. However, ECRI cannot but express concern about any attempt to justify fighting in the Waffen SS and collaborating with the Nazis, as it risks fuelling racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance [In this connection, the General Assembly of the United Nations has adopted a resolution (A/RES/63/162) warning against “certain practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.].
As regards the second incident, ECRI, on the one hand, expresses its dismay at the authorisation by the competent courts of an event set to celebrate the Nazi occupation of Riga (on 1 July). On the other hand, ECRI is pleased that its principal organiser was summoned for questioning and that a criminal investigation was opened for the glorification of Nazi crimes.
87. ECRI recommends that the Latvian authorities condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborated with the Nazis. ECRI further recommends that the authorities ban any gathering or march legitimising in any way Nazism.
For some years, DefendingHistory.com has been among the many voices urging European Union institutions, including the European Commission, to break a long erstwhile pattern of timid silence at the entrenchment of state-supported pro-Nazi practices and commemorations in the eastern states of the European Union. It is sincerely hoped that this honest and straightforward report heralds a major change in policy.