In a letter to Belgian Defence Minister, Pabriks calls for understanding of Latvia's complex history and respect for Latvian prisoners of war

12/10/2021 - 18:38
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On 10 December, Latvia’s Defence Minister Artis Pabriks sent a letter to the Minister of Defence of the Kingdom of Belgium Ludivine Dedonder calling for understanding of Latvia's complex history, respect for Latvian prisoners of war and not removing the war memorial monument “The Latvian Beehive” from its current location in Zedelghem, Belgium. The monument is dedicated to the Latvian soldiers, prisoners of war who were forcefully mobilized into the Nazi Germanys army during the Second World War.

“This monument was financed from donations of the general Latvian public, since there isn’t one family in Latvia whose family member or relative was not mobilized by the Nazy Germany after Latvia was occupied by the German forces. Therefore, I would strongly urge you to use any available means to reverse this decision as it will be interpreted as a very serious offence and humiliation by the Latvian people. This memorial monument is a very important symbol and reminder of the complex and tragic Latvian history of the 20th century,” Defence Minister underlines in the letter. 

At the same time, Defence Minister expresses his understanding that it is not easy for the Western countries to understand the peculiarities of the Latvian history and explains that during the Second World War Latvia suffered from both totalitarian regimes – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  Thus, there were families whose members were forced to go in battle against each other as they were forcefully mobilized both in German and Soviet military formations: “We today commemorate all soldiers who took the heavy burden to fight against their will and for the sake of hostile regimes. It is our duty to keep the memory of this heavy burden alive,” it is stressed in the letter. 

Defence Minister also indicates that the Nuremberg War Tribunal and the US Displaced Persons Commission acknowledged, shortly after the Second World War, that the so-called Latvian legion was not a criminal organization. Consequently, being a member of the Latvian Legion should not bear any negative consequences for its personnel. Moreover, during the Nuremberg Tribunal number of former Latvian Legionnaires were organized by Allied forces under Latvian National flag and entrusted to guard Nazi criminals waiting their verdict.

In the letter, Latvia’s Defence Minister Pabriks draws attention to the fact that the contemporary Russia, as the successor of the Soviet Union, is building its policy on revanchist ideas against its neighbours, which includes anti-Western and anti-democratic ideology, and expresses hope that this propaganda will not cause any disruptions between the NATO and EU countries.
Defence Minister Pabriks also admits that after the fall of Nazi Germanys regime and collapse of the Soviet Union, it is our duty to commemorate all victims of both regimes and not to fall into the trap of ignorance of history: “Therefore, Latvian Government and I personally have been persistently implementing policy of respecting and commemorating all victims, especially soldiers of the Second World War irrespectively of the side they were forced to fight for. Apart of returning dignity to fallen Latvian soldiers in both occupational armies.”

In his letter, Defence Minister emphasizes that the Latvian Parliament has recently approved a bill providing a payment of 40 million euros to the Latvian Jewish community for the property lost due to the Holocaust.

Finally, Defence Minister Pabriks expresses his certitude that the monument “The Latvian Beehive” returns dignity to generation of young soldiers forced to fight against their will in the army of enemy and that this monument in Zedelgem should continue to be a sign of friendship between two friendly EU nations - Belgium and Latvia: “As only with common efforts we can disperse the dark clouds overshadowing this symbolic monument of the history.”

As reported earlier, “Latvian Beehive for Freedom”, a monument commemorating Latvians kept at the Zedelghem prisoner-of-war camp designed by Latvian sculptor Kristaps Gulbis, was unveiled in 2018 in scope of a joint project between Zedelghem city and Latvian Occupation Museum. Its symbolism and plaque became the subject of international controversy, and this November Zedelghem hosted an international collective and social memory workshop between 15 international experts who suggested the city to remove the monument from its current location.

At the end of the World War II, Western Allies had captured almost 25,000 Latvian soldiers serving in various units of the Nazi German armed forces. Around 11,700 of them were kept at prisoner-of-war camp in Zedelghem, Belgium, from September of 1945 to May of 1946. Almost 90% of these prisoners of war were Latvian soldiers of Latvian Waffen SS Volunteer Legion formed during the 1943 German occupation of Latvia. More than 52,000 Latvians had joined one of its two divisions over several recruitment campaigns. Almost none of them can be considered volunteers. Almost all of them were forced to join German forces.

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Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia