For & Against

Pro, con or no opinion?

Another year in Latvia, another Legionnaires’ Day parade. While I’ve written at length about the event in the past, this year’s parade was barely worth the coverage given to it.

The number of participants seemed to be down among both the supporters and the opponents of the event, with only the police recording an increase in attendees and the whole thing singularly lacked the electric atmosphere one can usually sense when urban conflict is imminent.

Mild sarcasm was about as nasty as things got. Noticing Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center walking along the pavement, a couple of old Latvian ladies said in Latvian: “Oh Mr Zuroff, thanks for gracing us with your presence! Where are your Palestinians?”

Zuroff ignored them but his assstant said “Sorry, he doesn’t speak Russian,” which seemed to offend the old ladies far more than Mr Zuroff’s presence.

Shortly afterwards a younger Latvian woman asked a couple of self-styled “anti-fascist” protestors in hats bearing the Russian flag and crest that if Russia was so great why didn’t they go and live there?

“Read some history. You wouldn’t think Russia was so great is your family had been deported to Siberia,” she said.

“Siberia is quite a nice place, actually,” they replied sarcastically.

Efraim Zuroff faces the cameras

And that was about as hot as things got. Towards the end of the parade I listened in to the comments of a couple of old men. I couldn’t quite work out if they were supporting or protesting against the Legionnaires from the fragments I understood. There was something about the Hitler youth but also something about independence, something about freedom and something about “the Russians.” Mainly there were grunts, sighs and shakes of the head.

They spoke Latvian with a strong accent that had a certain Russian inflection (my friend Aleks deduced they were from deepest Latgale).

“Er, so are you for or against?” I asked.

“For what? Against what? I don’t care as long as my pension gets paid!” they said.

In a curious way I find such a lack of concern for the sturm und drang of entrenched ideological certitude quite an optimistic sign.

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