Will MoFA Rinkēvičs allow the destruction of the monument to Latvian legionnaires?

"The nation is a bee colony. The country is their hive. With its own army, laws and order. Bees are peaceful - they do not attack anyone. They defend, fight and die for their hive, family, freedom,” with such words the sculptor Kristaps Gulbis described his idea of a monument to Latvian legionnaires who were imprisoned in the Zedelgem (Belgium) prisoner-of-war camp after the end of the war. There were almost 12,000 of them. The monument was unveiled in 2018. But now a dirty lie campaign has been launched against it...
15.07.2021. Elita Veidemane
©Okupācijas muzejs

The monument to the Latvian legionnaires stood calmly in Zedelgem, without disturbing anyone. And then suddenly, on a portal "against anti-Semitism", Lev Golinkin posted a smear article about Latvian legionnaires who were allegedly to blame for the Holocaust. Paris Match Belgique, for its part, published an article about the monument, and of course the Holocaust businessman Efraim Zuroff, a member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was singing his traditional song in it, saying that the monument to the legionnaires blasphemed against the victims of Nazism.

Belgian left-wing politicians also joined the campaign against legionnaires, claiming that the Zedelgem monument "incites hatred". It is not difficult to find the source for these "anti-fascist" activities: it is sprouting from Russia, which will never be ashamed to use the political left of the West to oppress Latvia.

Much has been written about the Zedelgem camp, and its tragedy is revealed in every line. Jānis Zemītis has also reported about this in his book "Nenoslēgtais loks: Leģionāra stāsts" (Unclosed Circle: The Legionnaire's Story). Latvians were not issued blankets and clothes before 1945/1946 winter, which was very cold. Furnaces in the barracks were installed only in mid-December, but blankets were issued in February. The food was bad or non-existent, and the German prisoners of war, who were transferred from the American-run prisoner-of-war camp to Zedelgem in March, wondered how Latvians could survive so long on such a poor diet...

In the autumn of 1945, Latvian legionnaires were transported to Zedelgem by rail throughout all of Belgium and they were not accepted anywhere: no locals tried to analyze if these strangers are Latvians or Germans, if they did bad things or not, if they fought voluntarily or were forced to - they wore German army uniforms. So - they were enemies.

In the first echelon, which entered Zedelgem in September 1945, there were 5,686 Latvian legionnaires. They were stationed in former army ammunition depots, behind barbed wire fences. The perimeter was observed by armed guards in the towers. Latvians were deprived of everything: compasses, maps, binoculars, cameras... Prisoners were placed in cages. Another echelon brought Latvian legionnaires - war invalids to the camp: some without hands, some without legs, many were also blind... The barracks in which they were housed were called "bone barracks".

However, many did not give in to fate. One disabled person, who had his leg torn off in an explosion, made a prosthesis out of wooden logs. A sympathetic English officer provided him with prosthetic straps, and the man could stand on his own two feet... But in general, the attitude of the guards was contemptuous and offensive. The camp was watched by soldiers of the Belgian Army Infantry Battalion, who believed that the prisoners were soldiers of the SS division, i.e., enemies. If a prisoner, returning from work outside the camp, had received a piece of bread from the locals, it was taken away. Many legionnaires afterwards remembered that it was the Belgian guards who were the most ruthless.

Although the food was bad, although the diseases reaped the legionnaires one after the other, the prisoners could only be saved by hopes for the future, marking them with useful activities. Thus, for example, even in such hopeless conditions, legionnaires formed metalworking, woodworking and even gardening groups, poetry readings took place, and the scout movement was revived. There were prayer evenings in which Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist pastors gave sermons...

Legionnaires even created their own local Freedom Monument, which was unveiled on November 18. The author of the monument, Jānis Juškevičs, said at that time: “Today, our gray figures move between barbed wire. Our steps are limited by high fences, but our dreams and longings cannot be limited and restrained. They fly through fences across lands and seas to their beloved, distant homeland. We believe, we know - the day will come when we will stand again at the great Freedom Monument in the heart of our homeland - ancient Riga. We will stand with flowers in hand. We will be free again in the free, new Latvia.”

Legionnaires from Zedelgem were released in May 1946. But neither Jānis Juškevičs nor the other legionnaires who had survived the camp could have known that the restored free state would be accompanied by pathetic captivity: on March 14, 2014, Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma (Unity, Vienotība) demanded the resignation of Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Einārs Cilinskis (National Alliance, Nacionālā apvienība) because, contrary to the government's decision, he undertook to go to the Freedom Monument at the Legionnaires' Remembrance event on March 16, emphasizing that he was acting as a citizen. "Europe will not understand us," Straujuma said, cowardly siding with lies and misinformation. This was not the only affront on those representatives of the government or parliament who dared to mention Latvian legionnaires.

However, no one has repealed the Declaration on Latvian Legionnaires in World War II, which was adopted in 1998 by the then brave Saeima. It reasonably and thoroughly explained the historical situation during the formation of the Latvian Legion, when the German occupation authorities formed these units. Among other things, the declaration contained clear indications that Latvian legionnaires had nothing to do with violence against the civilian population. And it is very important that there was also a clause in the declaration that imposed an obligation on the political authorities to prevent insults to the honor and dignity of Latvian soldiers in Latvia and abroad.

This is exactly the kind of insult that is currently taking place in Zedelgem, Belgium. Leaders mostly pretend not to see or hear anything, thus violating the declaration adopted by the Saeima. The so-called conservative forces of the "coalition" are completely silent, let's not even talk about the liberal Marxists.

However, there are some politicians who are raising the alarm. Inese Vaidere, a Member of the European Parliament, has sent a letter to the municipality of Zedelgem, which intends to eliminate the monument to Latvian legionnaires. "It is clear that the local politicians are not only lacking in understanding the facts of history, but are being put under pressure from the sidelines. Therefore, in the letter, we explain that Latvian legionnaires were mobilized against their will by the Nazi Germany and it is internationally recognized that the Latvian Legion had nothing to do with Nazi crimes against humanity. We also emphasize that it was Soviet propaganda that created a lie that our legionnaires would be equated with the Nazis, and this misinformation is still actively disseminated by Russia to slander Latvia,” explains Inese Vaidere.

Edvards Smiltēns, President of Latvian Association of Regions (Latvijas Reģionu apvienība), invites:

"Every effort must be made to keep the monument in place. It has historical, memorial and political significance for our people. To allow the demolition of a monument is to allow a message that is dangerous for Latvia's image to win, the consequences of which will be difficult to correct even in the long run. The Minister of Foreign Affairs must be aware of this and act accordingly. I also want to say that in case of failure, it would be our duty to deliver this monument to Latvia and install it in a suitable place in our capital.”

The deputies of the Union of Greens and Farmers (Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība) Saeima faction also call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs (New Unity, Jaunā Vienotība) to immediately address the issue of the monument with the municipality of Zedelgem. ZZS calls on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to do everything possible, including submitting a note to Belgium, as well as to further explain the aspects of Latvia's history in the events of World War II. It is to be hoped that Mr Rinkēvičs will have as much courage and knowledge of Latvian legionnaires to raise his voice against historical political vandalism as he had when removing the Soviet flag of Belarus and replacing it with the historic flag of freedom.

It is possible that in this case the cowardice of our Leaders will be as traditional as that observed on a daily basis, so the hopes of an adequate response from them might be nonexistent. It may be recalled that in 2014, the Latvian Ambassador to Belgium Lelde Līce-Līcīte together with Zedelgem residents, representatives of the municipality and its mayor Patrick Arnou, a delegation from the German city Reil, as well as representatives of the Latvian Armed Forces in NATO and the European Union and representatives of the Latvian diaspora commemorated soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars at a solemn ceremony in Zedelgem. At that time, no Zuroff in Zedelgem was shouting about "Latvian legionnaires killing Jews", at that time the soldiers were "just" soldiers...

Unfortunately, the cowardly silence of our leaders can become the basis for the fact that no official decisions of the local government - Zedelgem - will be necessary, just the targeted anger of the crowd will be enough to take up bats and go destroy the legionnaire monument. The racist and bandit movement Black Lives Matter has already shown that it takes very little to drive people mad, and then the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen fell victim to it, because it is a "racist fish", and so do the monuments to Winston Churchill and George Washington.

Will the high rulers of our country finally wake up from the pretense that "nothing has really happened" and stand up to defend the Latvian legionnaires and their memory? Or - will they continue to stare with eyes full of innocence, waiting for a crowd instigated by political villains to smash a monument erected in memory of Latvians? These issues most directly concern the Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs.


P.S. On Wednesday at around five in the afternoon, Edgars Rinkēvičs distributed a statement "On the monument to Latvian soldiers in the city of Zedelgem in Belgium"

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is aware of the monument in the city of Zedelgem in Belgium, and representatives of the foreign service have taken part in the unveiling of this memorial site. The Latvian Ambassador to Belgium has contacted the municipality of Zedelgem and clarified the circumstances, receiving confirmation that no operations with the monument plaque will be carried out at present. It should also be emphasized that the municipality of Zedelgem never intended to dismantle the monument. The Latvian Ambassador has also informed the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the incident and asked to participate in resolving the issue. The ambassador has planned a visit to Zedelgem and a meeting with the municipal leadership soon. For thirty years, the Latvian diplomatic service has persistently continued to explain the complex issues of Latvia's history and refute the countless slander, provocations and misleading information that regularly appear in foreign media.


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