Riga, Capital of European Culture: Waffen SS, Stags and Silence?


by Monica Lowenberg

The UK’s home secretary Theresa May, the Hungarian Jobbik party, and Holocaust Memorial Day have all been in the press lately. Reading how the leader of pro-Nazi Jobbik party was, in the interests of free speech, allowed to hold his rally in Hyde Park, I have to question why Ms. May allowed this man entry into the UK and hadn’t called his racist attitudes, “unacceptable” as she had in the past with, “Every Muslim should be a terrorist” Zakir Naik. What had changed?

In the capital of European culture? Waffen SS Calendar (Riga 2014)

In the Capital of European Culture: Waffen SS Calendar (Riga 2014)

The Jobbik party is notorious for its antisemitic, anti-Roma, anti-immigrant views to the extent that in 2012 Marton Gyongyosi, Jobbik’s deputy leader, a man who in the same year was guest of honor of the Lithuanian Order and Justice Party’s president, Rolandas Paksas (a former president of Lithuania) requested that residents of Jewish origin be listed for security! However, one day before Holocaust Memorial Day the Jobbik party’s plethora of outrageous views and comments were not perceived as unacceptable enough to ban entry into the UK.

Could the Conservatives overall aim to win over BNP and UKIP voters, to be seen to be tough on immigrants have had anything to do with the decision to allow Gabor Vona entry? Unfortunately, the British conservatives have, under the leadership of David Cameron, developed in recent years a very special kind of blindness when it comes to right wing extremists from former Communist countries to the point that nothing is sacred when it comes to securing votes, not even the Holocaust one day before Holocaust Memorial Day. In response to Martin Bright’s article supporting my campaign against the annual glorification of the SS in Riga, the capital of Latvia (an EU, OSCE and NATO ally), Conservative MP Daniel Hannan probably won top spot for making the most glib comment of all time when he publicly defended, in the Jewish Chronicle of all papers, the SS and those who commemorate its evil. He wrote:

“To imply sympathy for the Third Reich would be rather like a Latvian paper claiming that, because British Conservatives mark Guy Fawkes night, they still haven’t reconciled themselves to Catholic Emancipation.”

Europe Minister David Lidington when asked to try to at least speak out with credibility, maintained that it (“it” being the condemnation of Hitlerist worship) is “not a matter in which the UK has any locus to become involved.”

David Lidington April 2013 cropped

Should the United Kingdom’s Europe Secretary really be rehashing Latvian Foreign Ministry talking points on the sanitization of Hitler’s accomplices in the east?

In a similar vein, Eric Pickles and William Hague believe the Latvian SS were only wearing Nazi uniforms and following orders. Martin Callanan, former Conservative chief whip in the European Parliament, who oddly (and admirably!) enough signed the Seventy Years Declaration that opposes the Prague Declaration (a declaration that Baltic governments have on an industrial level been steamrolling through corridors of power since 2008 with the intent to equate Soviet crimes with Nazi crimes) very aggressively refused to sign the petition against the Latvian SS being annually honored each and every March 16 since 1998, on the pretext that the petition against the march and now signed by over 7,000 people worldwide is, “very unfortunate as it does not honor victims of the Genocide against the Jewish population” completely ignoring the ERCI’s recommendation of 21 Feb 2012:

“All attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborate with the Nazis should be condemned. Any gathering or march legitimizing in any way Nazism should be banned.”

So, why such bafflingly contradictory behavior? The answer is simple: uncomfortable historical facts. The brutal mass murder of 95.6% of Latvian Jewry in 1941, the second worst percentage of Jewish citizens killed in the Holocaust but to date little known or reported, an atrocity committed by German Nazis and Latvians, many of whom would go on to join the Latvian SS in 1943, has over the years been repeatedly and conveniently forgotten and excused by Baltic PR teams and politicians when the issue of votes come into the equation. The most notable excuse banded around since the 1950s being one the Americans drew up to, in many respects, excuse their integration of a number of former Latvian SS into the CIA to help fight the cold war against Russia, “The Baltic Waffen SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose.” Why was the Latvian SS to be seen as separate? They were to be seen as separate as the Latvian SS per se had not as yet been formed when Latvian Jewry were murdered in 1941 and therefore could not be held account for the murders.

A morally reprehensible loophole that conveniently forgets that many of the Latvian men who brutally committed the mass murders of Jews in 1941, later joined the Latvian SS in 1943, forgetting that the Latvian SS 15th and 19th divisions fought for the most genocidal killing machine the world has ever known. Millions of people across the world lost their lives because of that regime.

Whatever the reasons for conscription there should be no honoring of such men in the twenty-first century. That anyone has to spell this out shows to what extent certain politicians for their own political ends, and historians seeking trinkets and junkets, have lost their moral compass. Glorification of pro-Nazi armed forces during World War II has no place in a European Union / NATO / OSCE capital which on 17 January 2014 became of all things cultural capital of Europe. Yes, you heard right. Cultural Capital of Europe! Up until the Holocaust, Riga was a thriving hub for artists and musicians, composer Oscar Strok, violinist Sarah Rashin, the famous historian, Professor Simon Dubnow and even Wagner worked there. Due to its art nouveau architecture USA today readers named it Europe’s “prettiest city” but something the travel blogs won’t state is that only last November at a hockey match in Riga stadium, a Latvian state dance troupe took up the whole arena to perform a Swastika dance. The excuse for such a manifestation was that the Swastika is apparently an ancient Baltic symbol…


The Latvian side Dinamo Riga were fined by the Russians the equivalent of one million rubles ($30,300 dollars) but what has Cameron and other senior Tories and the EU for that matter said to oppose such a blatant, provocative honoring of Nazism in an EU country. Nothing. And then of course is Riga’s reputation as the stags capital of Europe, voted by UK readers of FHM Magazine already in 2006 as the number one stag party destination in Europe. In 2009 the special relationship between Great Britain and Latvia was firmly and formally cemented in 2009 when the Conservatives ditched their more conservative allies in Europe and looked instead to Latvia for a liaison. Forever keen to position Britain as hostile to European integration (to further European Union integration) the Conservatives looked for parties who don’t like Brussels, and ended up in the case of Latvia with Robert Zile a party with just one MP in the European Parliament who associate themselves with anti-Stalinism, anti–Sovietism but also the Waffen SS. The depth of devotion between Cameron and Latvia was further noted at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral last year when Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis was one of only four currently serving prime ministers to attend the funeral, a man whose colleague President Berzins stated to world press in 2012,

“It is nonsense to see the SS at criminals, rather we should bow our heads to them.”

In 2013 when questioned by valiant conservative MP David Amess one of only five Conservative MPs including Bob Blackman, who have stood up against such blatant displays of Nazi nostalgia, Latvia’s Ambassador Stiprais in London stated that no Nazi symbols and uniforms can be seen at the march and therefore it is kosher or shall we say legit. Photo reportages of the march in 2013 proved Stiprais and Lidington, who supported him, wrong when a big fat smiling photo of Robert Ancans, Latvian SS Obersturmfuhrer, knights cross extraordinaire was placed at the monument of freedom and anti-fascists violently attacked by Latvian politicians connected with Robert Zile and his British Conservative pals. Since Riga is the designated-by-the-EU Cultural Capital of Europe, the EU’s leaders might care to take note that one of the most popular selling local calendars of all time is not one that takes pride in its living artists today, or being a member of the Euro since January 2014, or Jan Lipke, the incredible Latvian patriot who saved about fifty Jewish citizens from certain death in World War II.

No, it is a calendar that depicts the glories of the Latvian SS. Fortunately, the Latvian tourist board web site doesn’t offer the unsuspecting visitor an opportunity to purchase the calendar via paypal but rather in the first few lines states that to celebrate becoming cultural capital of Europe there will be in Riga “a human book chain transferring books from hand to hand, from the old National Library of Latvia Building to the new ‘Gaismas Pils’ (Palace of Light) National Library Building.” In the same paragraph there is a link to the Latvian Jewish community’s website that lists a remembrance service in Rumbula but not a link to a more telling statement on the same site:

“In 2010 the papers reported an increase in antisemitism in Latvia and the chairman of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities Arkady Suharenko stated on 14 Dec. that the Latvian Jewish Community is shocked and dismayed at the desecration of the Riga Jewish cemetery on December 8, and the desecration of the monument to Janis Lipke and other saviors on December 13. These aggressive manifestations of antisemitism seem to indicate that this is not an isolated action by some miscreants but rather a system, a pattern that is of concern to us.”

So, what has happened that such huge contradictions are allowed to manifest themselves in an EU capital? The answer is really very simple. When an EU capital is not held to task for allowing such public demonstrations of fascism to go unnoticed and unchallenged, are allowed to enter the EU in 2004 in the first place without having fully internalized the concomitant values, by being given further credibility and legitimization by the British conservatives since 2009, are allowed to join the Euro in January 2014, are made cultural capital of Europe in 2014, are honored with the rotating presidency of the European Union in 2015, like Hungary in 2011 and Lithuanian in 2013, then such public displays of fascism and Holocaust downgrading become acceptable. One can only conclude that if a little nationalism tinged with a little fascism helps some forget their economic woes and helps keep an eye on Russia then so be it. And so a special kind of blindness develops on behalf of not just Latvians and Senior Tories but the world at large, a world that would rather see Latvia as an economic success story to make themselves feel better and once more act as if the Cold War had never ended. One would be excused for believing that it was the Latvian SS who liberated Auschwitz rather than the Soviet Army who sacrificed over twenty million of their men so that Europe could be free. As UK scholar Philip Pilkington wrote in January 2013 in response to a gushing New York Times account of Latvia’s austerity measures,

“Latvia has entered a terrible place. It has become a focal point of Westerners’ fantasies and dreams; a place where we project our own economic troubles and rationalize the stupid and pointless policies being enacted by our governments. It has become the embodiment of all the economic pain that we now suffer. To impose this on another, to wrap them so tightly in our own illusions is a terrible thing indeed.”

Despite being the eighteenth member to join the euro in January 2014 and reducing unemployment from 19% in 2010 to 11.7% in 2014 the Latvian economy, as other commentators have mentioned still faces three main problems: a debt overhang, a declining and ageing population and a high level of unemployment due to a low rate of job creation. A substantial wage differential with Western Europe encouraged over 5% of young Latvians to emigrate and drift west. To lose over 5% of one’s young people is no success story. Cheap interest rates, supported by the peg and the prospect of Euro membership meant that Latvian households and corporates were able to get themselves heavily into debt. And debt in Euros (which is why the devaluation difficulty exists). Over 85% of Latvian mortgages are Euro denominated.

And in the midst of this economic turmoil, as in Greece, ultra-nationalism and the rise of the right has been allowed to flourish to enable forgetting about the real problems at hand. Simple economics at work? In little over a month on March 16, 2014, the Latvian SS will undoubtedly, with military precision, march down the center of Riga from Cathedral Square to the Monument of Freedom. The courageous mayor of Riga will be prosecuted if this year he attempts to ban the march, as he has, unsuccessfully, attempted in previous years. Thousands of young people will with blind adoration line the SS’ path with flowers, desecrate the wreath to the victims of Nazism and declare that the protesters are KGB agents. And what will the EU and senior British Tories once more do? probably turn a polite blind eye to such an abomination because it is more “diplomatic” and suits their own political games, but if they do then please excuse me from quoting Woody Allen when I think of them. The seemingly inexhaustible spate of literature on the Third Reich continues unabated with the soon to be published Memoirs of Friedrich Schmeed. Schmeed, the best-known barber in wartime Germany, provided tonsorial services for Hitler and many highly placed government and military officials. As was noted during the Nuremberg Trials, Schmeed not only seemed to be always at the right place at the right time but possessed “more than total recall,” and was thus uniquely qualified to write this incisive guide to innermost Nazi Germany. Following is a brief excerpt.

“I have been asked if I was aware of the moral implications of what I was doing. As I told the tribunal at Nuremberg, I did not know that Hitler was a Nazi. The truth was that for years I thought he worked for the phone company. When I finally did find out what a monster he was, it was too late to do anything, as I had made a down payment on some furniture.”

This entry was posted in Antisemitism & Bias, EU, Foreign Ministries: Holocaust Politics Abuse?, Human Rights, Latvia, Monica Lowenberg, News & Views, Opinion, Riga's Waffen SS Marches, Symbology, United Kingdom and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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