Marking anything other than “Europe Day” in Latvia is now a crime against democracy
More than two dozen residents of Latvia were arrested on Tuesday for violating the law against celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. The EU and NATO member police even seized a “Russia” jacket from a man in a wheelchair, and arrested another for wearing Soviet medals in public.
By 11:30 pm local time, Latvian police reported a total of 26 arrests, 38 misdemeanor citations and four criminal cases, according to the news outlet Delfi.
While most of the cases were recorded in Riga, the capital, multiple arrests also took place in Daugavpils. In one incident, a senior citizen described as “looking too young to be a veteran of WWII” showed up wearing a jacket with Soviet medals. When police told him to take it off, he resisted arrest.
Five people were arrested for laying flowers with “symbols of military aggression” at the Freedom Monument in the Daugavpils Victory Park. They were charged with “public use of symbols glorifying militaristic aggression and war crimes.” In the same park, police forced a man in a wheelchair to remove his jacket because it said “Russia.”
Vīrieti ratiņkrēslā ietērpuši vējjakā ar uzrakstu “Russiaa” un ģērboni uz rokas. Policija liek novilkt. Vīrietis pats nerunā, viņu atvedušie saka, ka neredz problēmu. Pēc mirkļa vējjaku tomēr novelk un ieloka krēslā. pic.twitter.com/YvkdEPFflu
— Inese Liepiņa (@LiepinInese) May 9, 2023
Two Russian-speaking men were detained at the Dubrovinsky Park in Daugavpils after giving an interview to TV3. Their sin was expressing the opinion that the fascists had returned to power in Ukraine, with EU support.
Last month, the Latvian parliament banned Victory Day celebrations as “belittling and undermining the values of Latvia as a democratic and national state, including the division of society, the glorification of war, military aggression and totalitarianism, as well as a false interpretation of historical events.”
Latvians nonetheless turned out in droves to lay flowers at cemeteries and memorials. Most of the arrests and citations involved placing flowers at “prohibited places,” where Soviet monuments once stood before the government in Riga had them destroyed.
Along with its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia joined the EU and NATO in 2004. About a quarter of its 1.8 million residents are Russian-speakers, who often face discrimination. The Baltic states used to be part of the Russian Empire until 1918, and of the Soviet Union in 1940-41, and again between 1945 and 1991. The Baltic republics have insisted that the Soviet period amounted to illegal occupation, and have glorified those who collaborated with Nazi Germany as patriots.