Hundreds of veterans from Waffen-SS Latvian Legion and its supporters took part in an annual parade in the country’s capital Riga on Monday, despite warnings from the U.S. embassy that it may escalate into violence. The participants of the march walked toward central Riga's Freedom Monument even as several anti-fascist organizations arranged counterprotests in the city.
Police officials in Riga were prepared for possible emergency situations, Sputnik News reported. Konstantin Dolgov, Russian foreign ministry's human rights ombudsman, reportedly said that the march hurt the sentiments of the World War II victims and called upon the European Union to stop the "violation of the international law."
Earlier in March, Dzintars Rasnacs, Latvia’s minister of justice, said, according to Sputnik News, that he would participate in the parade, which would "honor fallen Latvian legionnaires and their faith in fighting for a free Latvia." The statement came despite the Latvian government's efforts to convince state officials not to attend the parade on March 16, which is not an official holiday in the country, according to Xinhua.
Last week, the U.S. embassy in Riga issued a statement, asking its citizens to be careful during the march and warned that it could lead to violence. Monday’s events included a memorial service at the Dome Cathedral, followed by a march to the Freedom Monument.
“U.S. citizens are reminded that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence,” the U.S. embassy in Riga said in the statement on its website, adding: “Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.”
The Latvian Legion of the Nazi Germany's Waffen-SS was made in 1943 and the unit surrendered in May 1945, along with other Nazi forces. The unit’s veterans have arranged the parade in Riga every year since 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sputnik News reported. In 2013, the parade had attracted about 2,000 people.
Those who participate in the march say that members of the unit need to be remembered for fighting the war to protect their country's independence against advancing Soviet troops, while opposing groups say that the march glorifies Nazism, Xinhua reported.