It is getting seriously deranged in this country, and hard to decide whether this is the culmination of one of the many processes that make Latvia a kind of failed state/society lite, or the start of a censorship and book-burning campaign by crazed religious fundamentalists.
It all started with a perhaps expensive (more that LVL 6000 for 500 print editions, an internet version and a teachers’guide) translated Danish children’s book with stories of small children switching gender roles for a day. The general idea is to put children in the place of others, to think what it would be like to play a girl’s traditional gender role (play with dolls) or for a girl to do “boy” things like team sports.
When Latvia’s Minister of Welfare Ilze Viņkele presented the book and the gender equality program, she was angrily criticized by a group of fundamentalist Christians. Some 50 Christian and “pro-family” groups also wrote letters to the Prime Minister, other government ministers and the media denouncing the book and asking for Vinķele’s resignation.
The reaction of Latvia’s holy rollers was hysterical, with one man claiming to be the father of six children suggesting on television that a book burning be organized. Many comments on the internet by people who had apparently never read the book saying that it was aimed at teaching homosexuality. Others saw it as a plot to deprave Latvia (as if a girl playing European football and a boy wearing a sweater with glitters was the height of moral collapse). It is almost as if Vinķele’s presentation of the book opened the depths of ignorance, religious fanaticism, and anti-Western or anti-modernist rage. It is like a time portal opened to the 19th century, if not the Middle Ages in a country that is outwardly a modern democracy and European Union member state.
Vinķele herself said that she feared book burning or physical violence could be the next step in the outrage by a segment of the public over what they see as “homosexual propaganda” in the kindergarten. Nothing, least of all facts and the views of modern science will convince these people otherwise. It almost makes one think that there was something positive about the Soviet Union’s “militant atheism” and anti-religious campaigns. A little of that might be useful, though as much at odds with democratic values and an open society (committed to freedom of belief) as the Soviet’s totalitarian crusade to repress everything except the secular religion of Communism.