‘We are Latvians!’ 1,000s join far-right torchlight procession in Riga
While about 2,000 people indicated that they intended to attend the event on its Facebook page, Latvia’s LETA news agency reports that the actual number was much higher. The National Alliance, the far-right party that organized the event, put the number of participants at 17,000.
At the same time, some witnesses said on Twitter that the number of people participating in the procession reached 15,000. The event was largely attended by Latvia’s youth, as well as people in military uniforms without insignias, but elderly people and families with children were also seen among the attendees.
The demonstrators gathered near a monument to Karlis Ulmanis, a controversial Latvian leader from the pre-World War II era who is seen as a dictator by some Latvians and a prominent politician by others. A hard rock band called ‘Livi’, which is known for its nationalist and anti-Soviet views, gave a concert by the statue.
The event was also attended by the leader of the far-right All for Latvia! group, Raivis Dzintars, who is also a member of a neo-Nazi group called the Daugavas Vanagi (the Daugava Hawks), which calls itself an organization of former Nazi Waffen SS Legion veterans. Dzintars gave a speech at the gathering.
18. novembra latviešu spēks:— Nacionālā apvienība (@VL_TBLNNK) November 19, 2016
"Dzimtā valoda" un 17 tūkstošu kopīgi teikts "Mēs esam latvieši!" pic.twitter.com/NhUuNkvoBf
The people then marched to Latvia’s Freedom Monument bearing burning torches while chanting “We are Latvians!” Some people came to the event with their own lamps, although the organizers provided thousands of specially prepared torches for those who didn’t.
Police were deployed at the scene as a precautionary measure, but the event remained peaceful.
Torchlight processions are held in the Latvian capital annually on November 18 to mark the declaration of Latvia’s independence in 1918. On Saturday, the demonstrators were celebrating the 98th anniversary of the foundation of the Latvian Republic. The tradition of staging torchlight processions began in 2003 when All for Latvia! held the first such event.
Several similar processions have been held in recent weeks, with a particularly large one on November 11. Today’s procession was organized by the National Alliance, the fourth largest party in Latvia, which is comprised of the nationalist For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and far-right All for Latvia! party. It was founded in 2010 as a political alliance, but the parties merged in 2013.
In August, the National Alliance actively supported the demolition of a monument to fallen Soviet troops in the Latvian town of Limbazi, which was carried out by the Daugava Hawks. The party even posted a video of the process on its Facebook page.
Russia condemned the act, saying it violated a bilateral agreement between the two countries that obliges Latvia to provide care, maintenance, and security for the memorials.