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.