OPINION | LATVIA | RIGA MARCHES | ROLAND BINET’S DECADES OF PEACEFUL AND MUSICAL PROTEST | VILNIUS MARCHES | KAUNAS MARCHES | PRO-NAZI MARCHES IN EASTERN EUROPE | GLORIFICATION OF COLLABORATORS | ANTISEMITISM
VILNIUS—In the opinion of all in the Defending History community, modern Latvia is a free, democratic, peaceful, tolerant and delightful country that has in little over three decades successfully managed a dramatic transition to the conceptual and spiritual heart of the European Union and the NATO alliance of democratic nations. What a day-and-night contrast with the trajectory of its huge eastern neighbor Russia over these same decades: from the high hopes of the heady Yeltsin years in the 1990s to today’s dictatorial, criminal Russian Federation, led by our century’s most deranged dictator, that has been imprisoning and killing so many of its own people in addition, now, to the mass murder of thousands of innocent civilians in the course of the ongoing barbaric invasion of neighboring, peaceful and democratic Ukraine (Defending History’s statement in support of a rapid and complete Ukrainian victory).
In that context, and bearing in mind that no country on the planet (or, presumably, any other planet) is perfect and not deserving of free-speech critiques, and bearing in mind that democracy entails both the right and the obligation to speak out against injustice, it is beyond our comprehension that this year’s March 16th Waffen SS celebrations in central Riga have gone so well under the radar. Our usual correspondents in Riga, London, Washington, and further afield have all feared that if they dare speak up, they will be labelled as “Putinists.” When looking at “official” reports from Riga, one quickly sees why. First, state authorities used the lame and incapable-of-free-thinking Baltic Times, to announce fears that Russian provocateurs might protest the march (that is true of any and all activities everywhere; does that mean free expression has been successfully banned by Putin when it comes to the simple truths of the East European Holocaust?). And then, the national and equally fearful-of-open-debate Delfi.lv announced that the event has taken place without incident.
The common denominator in these and other local reports in Latvian and English? They all exclude any mention that the World War II forces being glorified were Latvia’s Waffen SS, all of whom swore the oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, and many of whose members were “recycled” Jew-killers from the slightly earlier “Latvian Holocaust heyday” of 1941; moreover there’s no great mystery about what they did when they’d find a Jewish citizen in hiding.
In other words, George Orwell’s timeless warnings have come to town. News reports tell of the heroic “Latvian Legionnaires who fought for Latvia’s independence against the Red Army.” Nothing could be further from the truth. They were fighting for Nazi Germany, not for Latvia. Hitler’s plan (well documented by historians) was for Latvia to be colonized by Germans for the supposed “Lebensraum” needs of Germans, with the Latvian people slated for incremental (rather than immediate) extinction. Had Hitler won the war there would have been no Latvia to become independent in 1991.
The only empirical historic effect of these Waffen SS units was to delay arrival of Allied forces at the concentration camps, ensuring the maximum number of Holocaust victims would be murdered. Nothing in any of this remotely deserves to be “celebrated” by an EU democracy.
The conclusion? Any true friend of modern democratic Latvia would and should politely and peacefully protest against the gifting of Riga’s beautiful historic center for the likes of fascism-worshippers who celebrate Hitler’s Waffen SS, and indeed protest the official Orwellian misnaming of sworn-to-Hitler forces as “freedom loving Legionnaires.”
We bemoan the lack of protest and coverage of diverse viewpoints this year, and hope that this chink in Latvia’s democracy is very temporary, and that next year’s march will at least be open to democratic free-speech critique. Or even better, that authorities finally, for the grand benefit of Latvia’s image, move it to the boondocks where it belongs. Not the center of a magnificent European capital. Latvia should be known for the many fine achievements of its proud and diverse people. Not for the Waffen SS of the Holocaust years.
But one veteran annual protester from Belgium, the beloved composer Roland Binet, stood up. He decided that the day of the march would be the perfect time to unite on one page his inspiring musical creations over the past decade and a half protesting the Waffen SS marches, and commemorating with love and sadness the victims of the Latvian (and Baltic) Holocaust.