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 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.


Kāds said...

You're sick ..

Generally, I like to read your blogs. But this post .. You've gone too far!

I feel like those f**ked up gays with their Pride march are surpressing my right, my freedom of speech .. So don't tell that it is incorrect to ban them!

Juris Kaža said...

This is the uncomfortable part of democracy. It allows people to be radically different and to engage in public discussion of their differences, political, social, artistic, and, yes, sexual. One reason the Brezhnev era in Latvia was called "the time of stagnation" was that it was so boringly comfortable (at a very minimal level of comfort), there were no dissidents, no gays, no choice of tex-mex or sushi. Maybe you remember this time. I don't think you want to bring it back. Once you take the gays off the street once a year, you are taking a first step back toward that kind of society. Is that what youy really want? Or would you rather swallow your dislike of gays and let them be, on the assumption that other parts of society, playing by the same rules, are swallowing their dislike of something you may be or do (eat meat, attend or not attend a particular church, vote for party A or party B, be rich or middle class, wear your hair long- assuming you are a man - or whatever.). This is the rule that keeps all of us more or less free and able to be whatever we want to be.

tiesības, tikumība said...

Kārli, vai jums nekad nav licies, ka homoseksuālisma čaklas un neierobežotas izplatīšanas ierobežojums ir latviešu tautas (un citu Austrumeiropas tautu) vērtība, tikums, priekšrocība? Un ka centieni ievazāt gejību Latvijā ir vienkārši Rietumu problēmu imports, kurš ir pretdarbība tautas dabiskajiem tikumiem un kurā ir ieinteresētas tikai tādas šauras cilvēku grupas, kas cer vēlāk pelnīt ar šo importēto problēmu "risināšanu" (psihologi, juristi). Un ko jūs sakāt par tiem gadījumiem, kad homoseksuālisma popularizācijas kritizētāji ir tikuši diskriminēti - kad viņus apsūdz/iesūdz par katru izteicienu, kurā homoseksuālisti nav centīgi slavināti?

Var saprast, ka vārda un pulcēšanās brīvība ir jāaizstāv.
Bet paskatieties taču uz Latvijas realitāti - pie kā ir novedusi šī brīvība, kad to izmanto šeit palikušie krievu padomju kolonisti - rezultāts ir Latvijas rusifikācijas turpināšanās, latviešu valodas lietošanas samazināšana. Brīvība kam?

Tiem, kas piesmej un atņem latviešiem viņu materiālo un garīgo mantu, apetīte aug arvien lielāka. Tas izskatās diezgan muļķīgi, ka jūs pievienojaties tam eiroideologu bariņam, kas latviešu interešu stingrus aizstāvētājus nolamā par fa--istiem, neo---istiem, rad--kāļiem. Kā gan jūs saucat boļševiku un krievu imperiālistu aktīvos pēctečus - vai (tāpat kā gadījumā ar homosekusāļiem) par kaut kādu aizsargājamu un cienījamu minoritāti?

Juris Kaža said...

Since this is primarily an English language blog, I must summarize what "tiesības, tikumība" (rights, morals/virtue) has written,
First, the writer strangely addresses me as Kārlis. I am not Kārlis :)
Then he/she says that it is a virtue of Latvia and Eastern Europe to prevent the spread of homosexuality and "gayism", which is a West European import.
It is good to defend freedom of speech and assembly, but the writer believes this has led to increased Russification because Russian "colonist" use this freedom for their purposes.
The writer complains that defenders of "strong Latvianism" are labled fascists and radicals, and wonders if the Russian neo-Bolsehviks are also to be considered a protected minority.
That is about it, the writer may correct me since he/she apparent reads English well but prefers to write in Latvian.
I will address these issues in a new post soon.

Anonymous said...

Kaža happens to be not only a surname but also a folksy diminutive form of Kārlis.

Juris Kaža said...

Thanks, I was aware of this.

Jah said...

Linking the cancelation of the pride with Brezhnews era or, more correctly, option to get back there, is rather interesting thesis. Could you show up how this cpould work out :) Otherwise looks like propoganda stamp ;)

romesperi said...

What is happening in Latvia with the banning of this gay pride is quite disgusting. Kads, the "f**ked up gays" are not surpressing absolutely any right of yours. How the hell do some people marching in the street prevent you from exercising freedom of speech? The state has absolutely no right to prevent the spread of "gayism", because this is a basic breach of human liberty.

It is shameful what has become of Latvia, and it is even more shameful that the European Union is doing absolutely nothing about it. If Latvia wants to maintain it's "Latvian national identity" and homophobic attitudes, then it can bloody hell get out of the EU.

I just feel sorry for those Latvians (and I suppose there are many of them) who support the idea of a united, prosperous Europe where freedom and democracy reign.

PS: I don't understand how all of these attitudes are tolerated in Latvia. I mean, Romania, where I live, isn't the most gay-friendly place on earth, but at least the gay pride was allowed and heavily protected by the police, and no politician would be tolerated in making the anti-gay statements I have heard some Latvian politicians making.

Jah said...

Ya see, romesperi, joining EU doesn't mean that now Old Europe is allowed to tell Latvians what they should do and what shouldn't. If you tell me I am wrong, I'll tell you ain't democracy ;) Don't you think this is annoying to Eastern Europe that Old Europeans are asking them to do in fifteen years the distance they with all their supremacy were able to afford in centuries? After all we can put out substantial list of human right problems in any Western Europe country ;)

romesperi said...

Well, joining the EU means that Latvia has to respect certain standards and values. It's not as if the country is somehow entitled or forced to join the EU - it is a voluntary choice, and if it has accepted to join this political organisation, then it *must* respect its legislation and values, and it is currently not doing that. Furthermore, this isn't about "Old European values", but about progressive, democratic values.

Frankly, the EU (or "Old Europe" as you call it) can ask what it wants of "New Europe". New Europe doesn't have to do anything about it, *but then* it should leave the EU. Simple as that. No-one forced Latvia to join the EU. If it wants to take advantage of the common market and transfer payments from European taxpayers, then it must also respect EU values, values that were established by concensus and that Latvia fully agreed to before joining the EU. I think the only proper solution would be to suspect the country's voting rights until it gets it act together, because frankly I don't want to live in a Union where this type of behaviour is tolerated.

Finally, pointing at "Western European rights abuses" is the easy way out but proves nothing. The EU is not equal to "Western Europe", and if this were to have happened in Western Europe, it would've been just as bad. However, LGBT pride parades seem to happen with no problems in Western Europe, and the overall state of human rights and civil liberties in most other EU countries is exemplary compared to Latvia. Moreover, I don't see how the politicians can be so stupid to think that this does not affect people's perceptions of Latvia. I don't see the point of sacrificing what was until now a good image (remember "Baltic Tiger?) just for this quite minor social issue.

Jah said...

Well, I was thinking that Latvia was accepted in EU because it was in line with its requirements. Now I see ("...EU can ask what it wants of "New Europe"...") that Don Rammsfel was f...king right introducing Old/New Europe division. Big braza attitude insists on un-equality, but dont expect little braza will behave decently, because last two big ones we have eaten out of here are worst ones. I mean Germany and Russia. So, from that point of view euro-PMs ar just comic. I know you think we are barbarians, and I accept this for two reasons - it excuses us to behave as barbarians and it looks Rome, sorry, real EU is a bit affraid of us.

romesperi said...

Jah, I'm from Romania, so I don't see you at all as barbarians. Well, our gay pride at least took place and was heavily guarded by the police, and nationalism isn't as radical in Romania, but otherwise we're pretty much in the same boat (and I've similarly criticised the Romanian Government's ignorance of same-sex union legislation, but at least same-sex marriage isn't constitutionally-banned, as in Latvia ;).

All I'm saying is that Latvia agreed to certain standards when it joined the EU. It was not obliged to join the EU, but it still agreed to these standards, drafted by the EU-15, or "Old Europe". Considering that membership is voluntary, the EU can make up whatever standards it wants for its potential members. When Latvia joined, the standards were at a certain level, and included provisions for equal rights, democracy, anti-discrimination laws, etc. So, basically Latvia is at the moment not in line with the EU's requirements and is not really acting like a modern European country.

And finally, let's get rid of this East-West inferiority complex. The EU is not picking any more on the new members than on the old members. In fact, it's done to close to nothing in response to Kaczynski's growing authoritarianism and homophobia in Poland, and it probably won't do much in Latvia. And it has also criticised old member states in various fields. I'm saying that it should do more to ensure that it's legislation and standards are implemented, and the best solution would be a suspension of voting rights for Latvia, in the same way that Austria was suspended. Denying LGBT people *the right to free speech*, such a basic right, should not be tolerated in the EU.

And I would say this about any country, be it Latvia, France, Romania, Sweden or Czechia. So don't think I have anything against Latvia. In fact, the reason this has gotten me so angry is because I previously held Latvia in high regard and saw it as a breath of fresh air for the EU.

Bryce said...

This is a very interesting blog and a very thought provoking post, not to mention the comments! I agree that a democratic society will definitely produce discomfort in at least some of its citizens some of the time.

And here is a great site in Latvian that I think you might enjoy:

Latviešu wiki browser