Tuesday, July 25, 2006

From shit to fists

The Latvian daily Diena reports that a gay couple, returning from a bar, was assaulted by youths who first asked them for cigarettes, then asked if they were gay. When one of the men replied in the affirmative, they were assaulted by the youths. This happened around four in the morning, So now the "hate gays for Jesus" movement has gone from shit to fists. I am not going to say that gay bashing has started, but the media have picked it up. Probably, there were earlier cases which were dismissed as ordinary street or barroom brawls. Now, any «same sex» group (including hetero friends) can be stopped, interrogated and punched out if the attackers don't like the response or don't believe it (i.e. if there are two «metrosexually» dressed men going home to their wives/girlfriends and possibly children).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Video snippets of the craziness in Riga

Here they are:

I apologize for the jerkiness and the low quality. The phone is not a digital video camera, it is adequate at best. The shots from my web cam are overexpose, I used it at my summer house.

Shit-throwing Christians and the pseudo-nun

What happened during the June 22 Gay Pride events in Riga was so deranged and bizarre that reasoned and measured comment can only come a few days later, so here are some raw impressions and thoughts.

Merry chaos
The organizations behind the banned Riga Pride 2006 march invited their members and supporters to a meeting at the Reval Hotel Latvia, a large high-rise hotel in the center of Riga, about a city block from where the banned march would have taken place. This was to be an indoor rally at 1400 (2 pm). Around that time there is nothing but about 150 – 200 people milling around, a number of camera crews, other media. AFP, which I didn't know had a television or video service, is already editing something on a laptop.
In one of the main conference rooms, the sound system is playing We Are Family and that kind of stuff. Nobody seems to be in charge, but I meet many people from the ex-exile community who are living in Riga now, that is, folks who used to live in Sweden, Germany, Canada, the U.S., most of then friends and acquaintances. More light happy disco or whatever is played for some minutes, I chat with friends. My time is limited; I have to drive back to my summerhouse in Carnikava. People I recognize as organizers of the even start milling around closer to the podium in the «don't worry be happy» disco. An attractive woman, who I don't recognize, spends several minutes standing by the microphone looking like she is about to say something. Is she an actress I don't know? She holds the perfect I am about to say something pose for like three minutes. I leave before anybody says anything.
The internet portals have been filled with days with people quoting from or writing their own loonazoid (nice made up word that fit the situation) rants about some gay conspiracy that has an agenda that will start with gay rights and finish with various horrors, the forced teaching of gay sex in schools, adoptions, «recruitment» of non-gays to be gay etc. etc. Well, if this is the pace at which the conspiracy is moving, I say, don't worry...
As I leave I go to the main spokeslady for the event, Linda F, tell her that I wish all the best, but, unfortunately, I have now developed a small prejudice, namely, «gays are bumblers» (which is the best I can do for translating the Latvian term čammas).

Tossing shit at a church for Jesus!
Used to be, you could kill a Commie for Christ (say that in a John Wayne voice to get my drift), but there aren’t enough left. So what happened in Riga as I was told at the disco waiting to become a conference, was that Christians tossed bags of shit at churches, clergymen (my old Latvian camp counselor Juris Calitis), worshipers, and even an Estonian tourist (never mind the tourists at the Reval Latvija who, mistaken for possible gays, were abused in an incomprehensible language and had eggs thrown at them.) The Estonian tourist was a large young woman in a plain t-shirt, short dark hair, slacks, either just at the wrong place at the wrong time, or fitting someone’s hallucination of what a lesbian might look like. «Real women» in Latvia apparently, are blond near-anorexic Barbies (at least until they have a couple of kids, as God ordered…). Oddly, Ms I am about to speak at the hotel nearly fit that bill, though she also looked intelligence (Barbie lets Ken do that) and had apparently eaten during the last month.
Anyway, Latvia can now patent the latest form of Christian fundamentalist protest, tossing shit at a church for Jesus.

Holy shit and how to gather it
Before we all (or most of us cynics) chuckle at this, think about the practicalities of such actions. Somebody had to collect and load the projectiles. This mean either a hunt for dog feces, or doing it yourself. Not a major problem in Riga, just quality issues (in warm, dry weather, you lose spatter potential quickly). The other alternative is to supply it oneself, basically to either shit into a plastic bag (SAS soldiers on ultra-covert missions are trained to do this, not ordinary citizens) or to have one large container with several contributors. Then someone has to fill the baggies.
All of this is doable, but what makes it all the more bizarre is that the NoPride faction, to the point of beating this one aspect to death, emphasized their revulsion at anal sex by some gays, and called them «shit pusher». I guess it took a lot of prayer and determination to get past this revulsion of excrement (hey, I’m with these guys and gals on this matter, I have an outhouse type toilet at the summerhouse) and make those projectiles.

A lesson in sodomy

Before we leave this particular theme, one of the many gonzo aspects of the whole madhouse was that the NoPride faction were the only ones to have displayed explicit symbols of sexual activity in public places (one of the main objections to the Pride march was that gays would «demonstrate their sexuality» openly). The NoPride symbol was a no parking type of red circle with a slash covering two stick figures engaged in anal sex (the «passive» one even has a stick penis to make the point).
At a later point in the whole gonzo afternoon ( I was back in Riga), an older lady in one of these explicit sodomy t-shirts (it was size or two too large) approached me in the middle of a heated discussion (more on this later). She thrust the shirt at me (I am tempted, I go for it and therefore write: «lifting it from her withered dugs») and asked whether I knew what that was. I tried to politely say, yes. I now regret that I didn’t ask for a detailed explanation.

The raging pseudo-nun
The worst experience of the day was yet to come. You are thinking of confronting the mob by the hotel (by the way, an hours long unsanctioned demonstration, involving hooliganism and violence)? Wrong! I drove two 10 and 11 year old kids to watch Garfield II and for 40 minutes each way, they insisted I turn the radio (loud) to European Hit Radio (104.3 FM in Latvia). I yearned for the disco sounds of the gay meeting, which must have eventually started.
While my son and his pal were at the movies, I strolled to the Reval Latvija thinking things must have ended. Wrong again. The mob and the riot squad were still there, one chanting and tossing stuff, the other relaxing. The siege of the hotel had gone on for hours and it was hot, yet again, over 25 C for sure. I took out my phone (new Nokia N80) and shot some video.
I was approached by a polite young man standing in front of the mob who asked why I was defending the homosexuals. I said that was not the point, I was defending the right of anyone in Latvia to peacefully gather and express their views. He said he was a father of three and I said so am I. He was worried that homosexuality would somehow “spread” to children, etc. and a whole gay agenda (marriage, adoption, etc) would descend on Latvia.
I said that to advocate homosexuality was as impossible or silly as addressing a crowd of full-grown adults and saying “be taller” because tallness is good or better than being of short or medium stature, and because it would make Latvia a better basketball nation. There is, I said, no way to persuade people to be taller and there is no way to persuade people to be gay. Doesn’t happen. A different story when it comes to attitudes, loyalties, whatever, like convincing someone to join a party, a church or organization.

Holy vodka
Well, that discussion was sort of cut off as more people joined it, started shouting. Some people addressed me in Russian, which I don’t understand. Nearby was a woman in a headscarf holding a religious picture and a bottle of clear liquid with Russian lettering on it. It was in the same shape as one of the squarish, somewhat artsy vodka bottles sold at supermarkets. I thought this woman was some kind of nun or member of a religious order. She asked me why I had signed a petition by Latvian intellectuals against intolerance and supporting freedom of speech, I had not. Last year, I signed one supporting the first Pride (again on human rights and free speech considerations).
I couldn’t place the bottle. The lady wasn’t drunk (weird, perhaps, intoxicated, no). We also have a short discussion about the fact that I am married but don’t have a wedding ring. My wife and I don’t follow this tradition, that’s all. Which seems weird to the weird lady…
By now the shouting was increasing, it was no longer a discussion but people bellowing in two languages at me and everyone in general. There were camera crews and other journalists around. Someone got the idea that I should go home. As the movie was going to end in around 30 minutes, I, too, thought this was a good idea, but I would go by the Forum Cinemas first, thank you…
Now the mob is bellowing at full volume, alternating between “Go Home” in Latvian and another two word slogan, which may have been a grotesque mispronounciation of “No Pride” or some phrase in Russian (though I know what that language sounds like). Reflecting now that most of that particular mob was some kind of religious loonies, I wonder if the phrase was not some kind of speaking in tongues. I finally go inside the hotel.

US anti-gay holy rollers involved?
I spent some minutes talking to a German TV journalist, we try to do an interview, but are turned out of the second floor of the Hotel Latvija as the last of the gay supporters are evacuated through the back door. Back out again, I do a face to camera with the crowd chanting “Naah Praazd” or something like that. Someone tosses an egg at me, which misses (or was this earlier). The loonies (Latvians and Russians alike) chant “God Bless Latvia” in Latvian, then (I missed exactly what they were doing, I was dealing with the German journalist) apparently said a prayer (telling Jesus how much shit they tossed at his Dad’s house??) and dispersed with almost military precision. One wonders whether all of this has anything to do with the anti-gay religious sect sponsored in Latvia by US holy rollers and described in the American journalist and commentator Doug Ireland’s Direland blog (he writes extensively on gay-related issues).
On evening televison. the pseudo-nun is shown throwing herself on a taxi carrying a gay activist and spraying it with a liquid It turns out her high-class vodka bottle was not that at all, but holy water (apparently the Russian orthodox have this too). An exorcism as you drive by, or a holy car wash?
Later, it is reported that unknown cars tried to run the taxi, with the gay activist and some sympathizers from Sweden (?) off the road on the way to the airport. This is where it gets serious, and I will get serious in a later post;
The pseudo-nun (or does her church have married nuns?) turns out to be the wife of the mega-anti gay, denomination hopping preacher, folksinger and social critic (from a wackaloonie perspective) Kaspars Dimiters. So it all makes sense, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ignorant, spineless slide toward authoritarianism

Latvia has taken yet another step toward becoming an authoritarian state. The first was the bizarre spectacle on March 16 of fencing in the entire area around the Freedom Monument, sending hundreds of police into the streets and detaining scores of people simply because some people commemorating those who fought and died in the Latvian Legion (organized as Waffen SS by the Germans in 1943) wanted to hold a meeting there, and some opponents, mainly pro-Russian radicals, were going to protest.
On July 19, the Riga City Council banned the Riga Pride 2006 march scheduled for July 22, citing security reasons. This was a blatant, cowardly violation of the elementary right of free speech and assembly. That is now the primary issue, not gay rights. Gay rights advocates have been muzzled in the public space. The right to advocate a tolerant attitude toward gays gets unequal and discriminatory treatment as opposed to the anti-gay faction, which was allowed to demonstrate peacefully in the Rathaus Square, a place where hundreds of foreign tourists gather each day and could get a fine image of Latvia as a homophobic, intolerant and religiously fanatical country (which is not an entirely accurate picture). In effect, this action was clear proof that the Latvian authorities discriminate against gays and lesbians by restricting their right to political expression.
This discrimination by a governmental authority, the City Council, should have serious repercussions at the European level. I would even suggest that the Riga authorities be reprimanded and, in some way, shunned by other municipalities across Europe that have allowed Pride marches and that have been able to provide police protection to unpopular causes.
I would also turn the Riga City Council's arguments against its efforts to host the November NATO summit. If the Latvian authorities cannot protect a small number of gay rights advocates from possible attack by homophobes (and, given that homophobes also have the right to assemble and demonstrate, to keep both sides apart), then how can they hope to protect NATO leaders and delegates from what could be the world's most sophisticated and determined terrorist organizations. If the Riga Pride 2006 were to be held (and I believe it will be held, either by court order or by justifiable defiance of the ban), then at worst the police will have to remove some anti-gay Christians and some members of the strangely translated National Power Unity (it sounds like an electricity supplier, sorry) who may or may not throw a few punches. If the Latvian cops are not up to that – and one of their officials is being investigated for insubordination by suggesting orders to protect the gay march should be ignored – how are we to know an extended-range, rowboat-launched rocket won't land in the middle of the NATO event?
Again, the issue is less about gays than about a general understanding of and respect for democracy and human rights. As a survey/analysisby dialogi.lv of Latvian attitudes toward gays shows, homophobia is part of a deeper strain of "support for authoritarian tendencies and a lack of democratic political culture." This has been amply demonstrated by the actions of the Riga authorities and by the cowardly position of the so-called Minister for Integration, Karina Petersone, who, rather than standing up for the right of people who happen to be gay to voice their concerns, suggested that the march be cancelled. Sounds like all those people in the US in the 1950s and early 1960s telling the "Negros" that they would only provoke Southern segregationist society by pressing their demands too hard.
I am really disgusted by this and will make an effort to join in any defiance of the pride march ban, along with other like-minded heterosexual defenders of the right to free speech and assembly.