Monday, July 24, 2006

More on Riga's Gay Pride and Latvia's Shame

Note: For those of you who may notice--this is a reposting of this post. I started to write this a couple of hours ago and then had to deal with getting the little one to bed, and must have accidentally hit "Publish Post" instead of "Save as Draft". . .though this is not a finely edited piece, the more drafty draft is gone. . .what's the blogger etiquette on this, I wonder, but only to wonder. . .

Notes and links:

1) The group that organized events surrounding the Gay Pride Parade, called Mozaika (Mosaic--their site here) has gathered 250 signatures so far and is calling for the resignation of the Minister of the Interior. The Latvian PM has given the Interior Minister 3 days to make a report on what happened during the confrontations, which took place both in front of Hotel Latvia and a church, in which he is to report on who the main people were that "did bad things." The bad things included throwing eggs and feces, and I forgot to mention in the previous post that there were perhaps a thousand or more counter-demonstrators. I don't know how many people were attending the events in the Hotel, as I did not myself go inside

2) A friend, a Latvian-American, said that she went into the Hotel Latvia as one showing her support for the GLBT community. Inside, people were told not to go out the front doors, and that transportation was being arranged out a side door. She, however, felt that she had come to show her support against the counter-demonstrators, and so went out the front door. Though nothing happened to her, she said that she was scared and that her impression was that the police were not doing a very good job of crowd control.

For more information on what happened to others, including to people who were just passing by, you can go to this post at the All About Latvia blog.

3) Some news links. . .it is one site. . .at the very top of the page, are two links with video of events:

A) The one entitled "'LNT ziņas: 23.jūlijs (2006)" has footage and info (in LV) of what happened in front of Hotel Latvia

B) The one entitled "900 sekundes: 24.jūlijs (2006)" has footage and information (in LV) of what happened today, the calls for resignations and demos in front of the ministry of interior.

I don't know how long those links will be up, and you have to go to that page to see them both, I can't provide perma or seperate links to them. . .

4) Then this today, from the Baltic Times: Minister of Interior responds to criticism.

5) Found this today, a statment by Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

Though she has her critics, she is a strong president who knows how to use her powers, limited to a largely symbolic function, to maximum effect. She is in general beloved of Latvians and in general disliked by those Russians who disagree with Latvia's strong language laws and attempts to beat a fiercely independent path from Moscow.

6) Another article here.

7) Article about last year's events, with damning comments from the PM:

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis had opposed the event, saying Riga should "not promote things like that".

"For sexual minorities to parade in the very heart of Riga, next to the Doma church, is unacceptable," he told LNT television on Wednesday.

8) My closing thoughts from my post after last year's Gay Pride in Riga:

I was sitting in a cafe in Riga, in a location of a restaurant chain called Lido that serves traditional Latvian food (there are similar chains in Ukraine, serving Ukrainian food, of course), and I looked out the window to notice a tall, very muscular black man wearing a very tight black dress that came down only to mid thigh level, and who was wearing knee-high leather boots with stilleto heels. I was amazed. Ok, in the US one might be able to spot such bold display of one's sexuality, but here in Riga! And also given that he was a black man in a country where nonwhites are but a decimal point of the population, one can guess that he was quite a sight. At the time, I had no idea how to read him and his display of sexuality but for to think, "Right on man, be proud!" But I could not believe the risk he was taking. He just strutted--and he strutted--up and down the street looking intently at each person who passed by. I therefore wondered about his eagerness most of the day, until later I learned about this whole anti-gay uproar. That fellow is just as courageous as any of the Latvians who boldly stood out to proclaim their right to be Latvian against the Soviet government. Or to put it another way, in light of last week's anti-gay fervor, walking down that street in that dress was just as bold and courageous (and potentially dangerous) for that man as it was for any Latvian to have walked the streets wrapped in the (red-white-red) national flag in the early days of perestroika and of open resistane to the Soviet regime. Thus, I truly, truly hope that neither he nor anyone else like him becomes martyred as did the many Latvians who bravely struggled against the Soviet regime for one thing: the right to be who they are

9) And one more thing: It is true that the vast majority of the counter-demonstrators spoke Russian. You can make your own heads or tails of this--but I will voice in here to say that I think it is quite evident that the leadership of the Russian community of this country is leading its members into much darker areas of the human spirit than the leadership of the Latvian and other non-Latvian communities are leading their members . . .Not, of course, to say any one community is free of prejudice and intolerance of any kind.


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

A very comprehensive and insightful post, Stefan. Your last point takes you out on a limb, though -- certainly much of the political leadership has failed, and the political leadership is almost entirely (ethnic) Latvian. On the other hand, there is an open letter signed by a couple of dozen members of the intelligentsia, expressing horror at the wave of intolerance sweeping Latvia -- the trouble is that the people stoking hatred already look upon the intelligentsia as lacking any moral authority (just the usual "Sorosista" conspiracy, to those on these fringes...). It's maybe notable that gay-bashing is one of the very few issues that brings Latvian and Russian radicals onto the same side (that and Europhobia...).


Stefan said...

You are quite right. I hesitated to include this last point before pressing the "Publish Post" button, having a big debate with myself over the implications of what I wrote.
You are quite right to point out that homophobia in Latvia is not a problem specific to any one community, but is, sadly, one of the few points upon which certain members of communities that are often in conflict with one another can come to agree.

Thus you are also quite right to point out that this whole Parade debacle was the result a failure of political leadership, which indeed is almost entirely Latvian. In fact, I am a little dismayed to see how the Interior Minister is being made into a fall guy for all the trouble--are not members of the city council who blocked the parade not equally as guilty? Did they not set an atmosphere of carelessness?

I guess I was fishing in the wrong place for a discussion on the problems of a Russian community with powerful voices and influences within it that push its members hard to resist integration into the post-Soviet, post-imperial society outside of Russian borders they now find themselves.

Stefan said...

Oh, and by the way, I have looked at your site and thank you for the link to mine. . .Your site(s) is/are very interesting and I will definitely be looking at them more, and I will put up a link to your site on mine as well. . .

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks Stefan -- I've been enjoying your blogs and noticed that we have some things in common in our backgrounds!

On whether the city council is just as guilty -- perhaps, but the Minister of the Interior explicitly recommended not permitting the parade, saying that he could not guarantee the security of the participants. There are municipal police forces in Latvia, but they are not equipped for this type of work -- the police force is national. So, in essence, he proclaimed himself helplessly incompetent?

The Interior Minister hails from LPP (Latvia's First Party), which is a party that has been making homophobia the centerpiece of its election campaign for quite some time now -- I refer to it as "the party of the cloth" because of the presence of numerous clergymen from various denominations in its ranks. It is a populist party that uses some American political techniques in its campaigns (one of its founders, a boxer and minister, spent about 13 years in Chicago). LPP was the primary proponent of the recent constitutional amendment on marriage and "protection of the family."

The Catholic Cardinal Pujats, who invoked the amendment prior to the planned parade (he claimed that it clearly made the gay pride event illegal), has become one of the main signatories to a letter defending the behavior of the police last Saturday. Pujats has also not refrained from contributing homophobic rants to far right publications in the past.

LPP has close ties to a growing charismatic sect called the New Generation, --

The leader of the LPP faction in Parliament commented remarks by Ojārs Kalniņš (the Director of the Latvian Institute) on how Latvia will be compared to Russia as a result of this débâcle by saying that he sees nothing bad in such a comparison -- Russia, like Latvia, resists the "culture of death," George Soros, and other dangers, according to him.

New Generation has numerous churches in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine --

The sect is suspected of having financed the "no pride" movement. Its membership is heavily Russian ethnically (as are Latvia's skinheads, by the way) and attracts not a few biznismeny. LPP fielded numerous New Generation members in the last municipal elections, and Alexei Ledyaev, the sect's leader, is given to making speeches that can be boiled down to the advocacy of theocracy. ("Do homosexuals need democracy? Our answer is -- NO!")


Stefan said...

Well, you've done it again--when writing that comment, I thought to myself, "Well, of course, the city council was listening to the minister of the interior saying that he could not guarantee safety. . ." Nonetheless, members of the city council had to have known better. Perhaps the minister's real incompetence was how he made the job easy for the city council members to block the parade while avoiding responsibility for doing so--in politics, especially in the post-Soviet world, you gotta be able to watch your back, jack!

We indeed have quite a bit that is common in our backgrounds/lifestories and also, I want to mention that Latgale has long fascinated me and I have not yet visited Daugavpils. . .perhaps I will in the near future!

Thanks for all the info and links in your comment. . .