MOSCOW, March 16 (JTA) — Hundreds of Latvians participated in a march this week of war veterans who fought the Soviet Red Army during World War II. The local Jewish community protested the event held Tuesday, made into a national holiday for the first time this year, saying it commemorates soldiers who fought for the Nazi cause. Grigory Krupnikov, leader of the Latvian Jewish community, said he hopes the “holiday will be removed from the calendar next year.” A leading Jewish group denounced the march as well. Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement in Jerusalem that the march is “obvious proof that many Latvians have learned nothing from the horrors of World War II.” Meanwhile, Red Army war veterans and groups representing the ethnic Russian minority in this Baltic state staged a counterdemonstration. The two marches, both of which were held with permission from the authorities, paralyzed traffic in the central part of the Latvian capital of Riga and kept police on full alert for several hours. A march of Latvian SS veterans last year brought a storm of protest from Russia, Israel and a number of Jewish groups worldwide. The celebration caused an international scandal when high-ranking Latvian state and military officials joined the veterans’ march. A parliamentary decision this year to turn March 16 into a national holiday dedicated to Latvian soldiers who died in World War II heightened the controversy. Veterans of the Nazi-sponsored unit have traditionally marked March 16 as the day their unit first fought against the Soviet Red Army in 1943. Earlier this month, after Tuesday was officially named a national holiday, the Latvian president, who had previously spoken out in favor of the day, said he regretted the parliament’s decision. Guntis Ulmanis called the decision his personal mistake. According to media reports from Riga, no officials participated in this year’s march. Many Latvians argue that the Latvian SS did not participate in Nazi atrocities, arguing that its soldiers only fought for Latvian independence from the Soviet Union, which invaded the country in 1940.
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