About 1,000 people gathered in the Latvian capital Riga for an annual march by local veterans and supporters of two Nazi SS divisions that made up the Latvian Legion during World War II.
Marchers paraded with Nazis insignias and other flags, laying wreaths on the Freedom Monument, while some 50 anti-fascist demonstrators protested the gathering.
The march was larger than in years past, reflecting the growing popularity of far-right movements in eastern and central Europe.
Police forces had been beefed up after the city gave the go ahead for the march to go ahead as normal this year.
The march in Latvia, a member of the NATO alliance and the European Union, is currently the only public event in Europe and beyond honoring people who fought under the banner of SS, Nazi Germany’s elite security force.
Latvia maintains that the soldiers drafted into the local SS were done so forcibly. A statement put out by Riga’s foreign ministry cautioned that “The chapters of history are not written only in black and white.”
In 2018, authorities refused to allow the Latvia Without Fascism group to rally against the march, and one man was arrested for displaying a poster showing soldiers killing Jews.
“The European Union needs to pressure Latvia into abandoning this shameful event, but so far there is total silence,” the group’s Aleksejs Saripovs told JTA at the time.
Advocates of the veterans and their supporters claim that Latvian Legion soldiers were not involved in atrocities against Jews, despite evidence to the contrary. According to the Latvian government, the Latvian Legion was not really an SS unit and that the legionnaires who weren’t forcefully conscripted merely sought independence for Latvia when they joined Hitler’s army.
German Nazis and collaborators led to the near annihilation of 70,000 Jews who had lived in Latvia before the Holocaust.