Legionnaires’ parade passes off peacefully

The Baltic Times
Mike Collier
March 16, 2008

RIGA — The controversial annual parade to commemorate members of the Latvian Legion passed without major incident March 16. The Latvian Legion consisted of Waffen SS units who fought with the Germans in the latter stages of World War II.

One of the heaviest police presences ever seen in Riga created a uniformed cordon controlling the whole route from the Dome Cathedral to the Freedom Monument, and ensured that the few protestors against the parade were kept at a distance where they could do little but blow whistles.

The parade assembled on time at 11am following a memorial service in Dome Square and were tightly marshalled both by police and their own organizers, bearing armbands in the colors of the Latvian national flag. Holding dozens of banners aloft, which included Estonian and Lithuanian tricolors as well as the Latvian flag, the parade left Dome Square to the strains of Latvian Legion marching songs.

Within a few minutes and with sleet falling, the parade reached the Freedom Monument where a guard of honor formed a corridor and members of the public laid flowers in memory of the Legionnaires. The small number of living Legionnaires were first, followed by widows, friends and families of their former comrades.

A small knot of shaven-headed neo-Nazi supporters brought up the rear. Dressed in sagging camouflaged trousers, boots and hooded tops, their scruffy appearance was utterly at odds with the smart and dignified bearing of the older participants and demonstrated their fundamental misunderstanding of the event’s purpose.

The number of active participants in the parade was approximately 600-700, with veterans and more elderly people leading the way with younger supporters behind. A few opponents of the parade, consisting of anti-fascist demonstrators and nationalist Russians (including one man wearing a Soviet military officer’s cap) were present along the route but offered no co-ordinated opposition or physical threat.

Bemused tourists – including some more intent on celebrating St Patrick’s day than anything else – took pictures along with locals and were given impromptu history lessons by English speakers.

By 1 o’clock, crowds were quickly dispersing and barriers were being removed, fears of violent clashes having proven groundless.