Cilinskis and other Latvian ministers in 2012
Cilinskis and other Latvian ministers in 2012 Reuters

Latvia's environment minister is being sacked for planning to take part in a march by veterans who sided with the Nazis against the Soviets in World War II, the prime minister's office said Friday, according to AFP.

"No minister has ever attended this event, so it is important the dismissal happens before it takes place, not afterwards," Andis Blinds, spokesman of Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, told the news agency.

Einars Cilinskis' dismissal will take effect later Friday, he added.

Veterans of the Latvian Legion have staged a parade in the capital Riga every March 16 since Soviet rule ended in Latvia in 1991.

The date marks a failed 1944 battle to repel the Soviet Red Army, paving the way to nearly half a century of occupation.

Jewish groups, Moscow and Latvia's large ethnic Russian community - accounting for quarter of its two million citizens - see the parade as glorifying Nazism because the Legion, founded in 1943, was commanded by Germany's Waffen SS.

The veterans insist they were trying to defend their small homeland against Soviet occupation.

Straujuma, who took office in January, has banned her ministers from joining this year's parade.

Some 140,000 Latvians, mostly conscripts, fought in the Legion. Roughly a third died in combat or Soviet captivity.

Another 130,000 sided with the Soviets, of whom almost a quarter were killed, many in battles with Legion compatriots.

Moscow seized Latvia under a 1939 deal with Berlin carving up eastern Europe, and later deported 15,000 Latvians to Siberia. Germany drove out the Red Army when it ripped up the pact and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Some Latvians hailed the Nazis as liberators, but they killed 70,000 of the country's 85,000 Jews, aided by local collaborators.

Two years ago, Riga banned the annual March 16 demonstrations, saying said it received applications from eight different organizations wanting to stage demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on the date, but rejected them all.

The Riga city council noted at the time that the restrictions had been imposed to "avoid possible provocations and threats to public security."

Last year, Latvian President Andris Berzins avoided attending a Holocaust memorial ceremony together with visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Berzins aides responded to a request from senior Israeli staff that he attend the ceremony at the Rumbula Forest with Peres, saying Berzins was too busy. They also reportedly told Israeli aides there is a state policy in the country preventing the Latvian president from accompanying visiting presidents to ceremonies.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)