History Repeats Itself

Legionnaires Day 2009 in Riga

Legionnaires' Day 2009 in Riga

Another March 16 rolls around and exactly the same sequence of events unfolds.

The Russians say people remembering the Latvian Legion are fascists, the supporters of the Legion say the Russians were the real oppressors and the media, myself included, fill screed upon screed with attempts to explain the whole complex mess that usually winds up being edited down to stories which make it sound like Latvians must goose-step to work each morning while Russians wish for the good old days when you could unfurl the hammer and sickle banner without being told where to stick it.

This year’s event was a virtual re-run of last year’s. In fact, I’m tempted to simply point you at my blog entry from last year and hope that no-one notices the difference.

The elderly maintained their dignity when few others could

The elderly maintained their dignity when few others could

But there were a couple of things worthy of note on March 16, 2009. First was the fact that the ‘official’ commemoration was in fact unofficial. The dozens of nationalists with their big Latvian flags forming an honour guard at the Freedom Monument were, apparently, not an organised bunch at all, but a collection of like-minded individuals who just happened to meet up with flagstaffs in their hands at around 12:00 on Monday.

Similarly, the knot of pro-Russian protesters near the Laima clock just happened to bump into each other one year to the day since their last little whistle-blowing recital on the same spot.

According to your own view of things, the ban on all demos and counter-demos was either caving in to Russian pressure, shrewd pragmatism for the benefit of international media or a necessary way of defusing tension. On the ground, it made little difference.

And if anything my observations of last year were only re-confirmed. The old folks generally seemed even more dignified and the young folks generally seemed even more stupid.

"I'll be there in twenty, I'm in the middle of a solemn remembrance."

"I'll be there in twenty, I'm in the middle of a solemn remembrance."

Call me a boring traditionalist if you like, but I regard it as rather bad form if, while standing in line to pay one’s respects to war dead, one whiles away the time by chatting on a mobile phone.

Similarly, dressing up as a concentration camp inmate to register your opposition to Legionnaires’ Day is a strategy that I personally find to be in questionable taste but which should be tolerated.

However, when you can only be bothered to wear a stripy prison-camp cap and then puff away with a cigarette dangling from your top lip while you accuse passers-by of fascist tendencies, perhaps it’s time to wonder how committed you are to righting history’s injustices.

But more important than the momentary depression of seeing silly people transmogrify tragedy into farce was the fact that no-one got hurt. The government passed its first test and can maybe now refocus people’s energies on the uncertain future rather than the unhappy past.

The red flag emerges from a Maxima plastic bag

The red flag emerges from a Maxima plastic bag

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