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Pērkonkrusts (Latvian pronunciation: [ˈpeːr.kon.krusts], "Thunder Cross"), was a Latvian ultra-nationalist, anti-German and antisemitic political party founded in 1933 by Gustavs Celmiņš, borrowing elements of German nationalism—but being unsympathetic to German National Socialism at the time—and Italian fascism. It was outlawed in 1934, its leadership arrested, and Celmiņš eventually exiled in 1937. Still-imprisoned members were persecuted under the first Soviet occupation; some collaborated with subsequently invading Nazi Germany forces in perpetrating the Holocaust. Pērkonkrusts continued to exist in some form until 1944, when Celmiņš, who had initially returned to work in the occupying German administration, was imprisoned.
Following the restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991, a new radical nationalist movement, also called Pērkonkrusts, was formed in 1995. The organization espouses many of the same values as its predecessor. Members have participated in efforts to bomb the Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders several times, leading to the arrest, trial and imprisonment of many of its members.
Principles and ideology
Pērkonkrusts has been variously categorised by scholars as representing the radical right, "activist nationalism" (Latvian: aktīvais nacionālisms), or fascism, with the latter term being the most commonly encountered in the scholarly literature. Roger Griffin, a prominent fascist studies scholar, describes Pērkonkrusts as having been a "small but genuine fascist opposition" which "pursued a revolutionary solution to the [economic] crisis and which would turn Latvia into an authoritarian state based on a new élite with a new corporatist economy", with its politics defined by "integralist nationalism".
Aside from the party's newspaper, Pērkonkrusts (1933–34), the main source of information on the political platform of Pērkonkrusts can be found in the 1933 brochure, Pērkonkrusts: What Is It? What Does It Want? How Does It Work? (Latvian: Kas ir? Ko grib? Kā darbojas? Pērkonkrusts). This publication not only outlined the movement's political programme, but also included the complete party statutes.
With its slogan "Latvia for Latvians– Work and bread for Latvians!" (Latvian: Latviju latviešiem– latviešiem darbu un maizi!), Pērkonkrusts wished to place all political and economic control of their country exclusively in the hands of ethnic Latvians. As a result, the party rejected the existing legislation that gave national minorities cultural autonomy. Pērkonkrusts aimed its propaganda against minorities who supposedly had taken over the Latvian economy (i.e. Baltic Germans, Jews) and the contemporary parliamentary politicians, whom it accused of corruption.
|“||In a Latvian Latvia the question of minorities will not exist. ... This means that once and for all we renounce unreservedly bourgeois-liberal prejudice on the national question, we renounce historical, humanistic, or other constraints in pursuit of our one true aim—the good of the Latvian nation. Our God, our belief, our life's meaning, our goal is the Latvian nation: whoever is against its welfare is our enemy. ...
We assume that the only place in the world where Latvians can settle is Latvia. Other peoples have their own countries. ...
In one word—in a Latvian Latvia there will only be Latvians.
— Gustavs Celmiņš, "A Latvian Latvia"
"Thunder Cross" is one of the names for the swastika in Latvian, which was used as a symbol of the organization.
According to Uldis Krēsliņš, although the party used both the swastika and the Roman salute, it was neither affiliated with, nor a copycat of German Nazism— as was the case with the United Latvian National Socialist Party (Latvian: Apvienotā Latvijas nacionālsocialistu partija) headed by Jānis Štelmachers.
The uniform of Pērkonkrusts was a grey shirt and black beret.
Development before World War II
The fascist group Ugunskrusts (Fire Cross), also a term for swastika in Latvian, was founded in Latvia in 1932 by Gustavs Celmiņš, but was soon outlawed by the government of Latvia. The former Ugunskrusts organisation reemerged immediately under the new name of Pērkonkrusts. By 1934, Pērkonkrusts is estimated to have had between 5,000 and 6,000 members, although the organization maintained that it had more.
Kārlis Ulmanis, leader of the conservative nationalist Peasants' Union Party and then Prime Minister of Latvia, proposed constitutional reforms in October 1933, which socialists feared would target the left more than the right. In November of the same year, seven communist deputies were arrested, while Pērkonkrusts officials were left alone. Because of political unrest, stemming partially from the growing power of the right, Ulmanis staged a bloodless coup d'état in May 1934, banning not only the Communist Party and Pērkonkrusts, but all parties and the Saeima (Parliament). Following the coup, Pērkonkrusts leader Celmiņš was imprisoned for three years and then banished from Latvia.
Although Pērkonkrusts did not exist officially after 1934, many former leaders and members acted with a degree of unity in subsequent years.
In the late 1930s, Celmiņš set up a 'foreign liaison office' of Pērkonkrusts in Helsinki, Finland. During his peripatetic exile, Celmiņš had established personal contacts with the representatives of other fascist groupings in Europe, most notably Romania's Corneliu Codreanu.
During World War II and the Holocaust
Not long after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Whereas the Soviet regime released the Communists imprisoned by Ulmanis with great ceremony, political prisoners from Pērkonkrusts were not freed. Instead, more members of Pērkonkrusts were arrested by the Soviet authorities during 1940–1941, some of them being deported to Siberia.
When the Germans invaded Latvia in late June 1941, Celmiņš, who had moved to Germany following Latvia's occupation in 1940, returned to Latvia as a Sonderführer (special officer) in the service of the German Wehrmacht.
In early July, Pērkonkrusts was briefly permitted to operate openly again. Former Pērkonkrusts members were actively sought by the German authorities as volunteers for the Arajs Commando. According to research by historian Rudīte Vīksne, however, there were only a handful of members of Pērkonkrusts who played a role in the Holocaust in Latvia., their activities focused more on propaganda.
During the early phases of the Holocaust in Latvia Mārtiņš Vagulāns, whom historian Valdis Lumans describes as a member of Pērkonkrusts, led a killing squad attached to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in the town of Jelgava.:243 Historian Andrievs Ezergailis has countered that Vagulāns was not in fact a member of Pērkonkrusts, between whom and the Nazis existed "a wall of suspicion." Ezergailis has also argued, "I do not think that among the killers of the Jews there weremore than ten Pērkonkrusts members, if that. They played a more significant role as purveyors of anti-Semitism in Nazi press."
The German authorities decisively banned the organization for good in August 1941. Some former Pērkonkrusts members collaborated with the Germans, while others maintained an anti-German sentiment and joined those groups subversively opposed to German occupation.
Celmiņš continued his outward collaboration with the Germans in the hopes that sizable Latvian military formations would be created. From February 1942, he headed the Committee for Organising Latvian Volunteers (Latvian: Latviešu brīvprātīgo organizācijas komiteja), the main function of which was the recruitment of Latvian men for the Latvian Auxiliary Police Battalions, known in German as Schutzmannschaften or simply Schuma. Aside from front-line combat duties, these battalions also participated in so-called anti-partisan operations Latvia and Belarus that included the massacres of rural Jews and other civilians.
Pērkonkrusts members working within the SD apparatus in occupied Latvia would feed Celmiņš information, some of which he would include in his underground, anti-German publication Brīvā Latvija. This eventually led to Celmiņš and his associates being arrested, with Celmiņš ending up imprisoned in Flossenbürg concentration camp.
In Latvia today
A radical group claiming Pērkonkrusts's name emerged in the 1990s as an organization whose stated goal was the overthrow of the current unsatisfactory government and the establishment of a "Latvian Latvia". In 1995, three former members of the group "Riba's Defenders," Valdis Raups, Aivars Viksnins and then-68-year-old Vilis Linins, joined with martial artist Juris Recs to reconstitute Pērkonkrusts. "Riba's Defenders" was an unregistered splinter group from the "Defenders" or Aizargs, founded by Janis Riba. Members of the group were assigned code names, swore loyalty oaths, and senior members wore masks to initiate recruits. The organization was explicitly militaristic and considered itself a "Latvian fighting unit" pursuing a "holy liberation struggle."
The ideology of the group was primarily characterized by ethnic and racial nationalism, anti-semitism, anti-communism, and opposed to liberalism and free markets. Among the goals of Pērkonkrusts were a Latvia where the "Latvian would be the lord and master in his Fatherland... not in those of Latvian-speaking cosmopolitan bastards," and "racial purity of the Latvian people." Pērkonkrusts has opposed "Jew neo-Communists... half-Jews and their allies... enemy number one of the Latvian people."
Members of the reconstituted Pērkonkrusts tried three times to bomb the Monument to the Liberators of Riga from the German and Fascist Invaders. In one of the most serious incidents, two of the members were killed in the explosion. In 2000, most of the leaders of the current Pērkonkrusts were arrested and tried. The group ceased organised activities for a number of years thereafter.
In recent years, Igors Šiškins has tried to re-activate Pērkonkrusts again. He has claimed to represent Pērkonkrusts at various events, such as the marking of Latvian Legion Day and Soviet Victory Day (9 May) in Riga. On 9 May 2007, Šiškins was arrested for wearing forbidden symbols in public. Šiškins was similarly detained for displaying forbidden symbols on 9 May 2009.
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- Pērkonkrusts poster from 1930s, from the collections of the National Library of Latvia.
- Story of Pērkonkrusts (Latvian)