Latvia “fails” democracy test after gay pride violence
Neo-Nazi, Christian fundamentalist and extreme nationalist protesters terrorised participants at the Gay Pride rally in the Latvian capital of Riga last Saturday . Peter Tatchell of gay rights group Outrage attended and spoke at Riga Pride, he witnessed
first-hand what happened there.
“Private armed guards were drafted in to provide security, after the Latvian police repeatedly failed to halt the aggression of the homophobic mob.
Following the decision of the Latvian court to uphold the Riga City Council’s ban on the gay pride march on 22 July, the planned march was rescheduled by Mozaika as an indoor rally in the second floor conference hall of the Reval Hotel Latvia, in the heart of downtown Riga.
The Riga Pride rally in the Reval Hotel was under siege all day by protesters from the anti-gay “No Pride” movement – a highly organised alliance of Christian fundamentalists, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis.
They roamed the streets outside the hotel, looking for gays and lesbians to attack. Anyone who looked gay was liable to abuse and assault, even passing tourists. The police seemed to stand back and let them to terrorise people with impunity.
There was only a small police presence outside the Reval Hotel. Officers allowed the around 250 highly belligerent anti-gay protesters to completely blockade the hotel entrance. Several innocent guests were assaulted by the mob, on mere suspicion that they were gay.
At one point, a group of neo-Nazis infiltrated the second floor of the hotel, where the indoor rally was taking place. They tore up Mozaika posters, abused and threatened Riga Pride participants, and assaulted openly gay pastor, Rev Maris Sants, as he arrived. Non-white gays and lesbians were abused as ‘mixed race scum.’
The hotel management feared the homophobic mob in the street would try to storm the building and attack the Riga Pride rally upstairs. They rushed in private security guards armed with hand guns. These guards were stationed outside the hall where the rally was being held.
The hotel clearly had little confidence in the ability or willingness of the Latvian police to protect the event.
Many of the Riga Pride participants were trapped in the hotel for up to seven hours; afraid of being attacked if they tried to leave. Over several hours, participants were eventually evacuated in mini-buses via a rear entrance. As they left, some of the vehicles were pounded with fists and pelted with eggs by the anti-gay crowd.
The No Pride protesters were very well organised. They had a military-style operation. They seemed to know everything the Riga Pride organisers had planned and were able to besiege every event the moment it started.
The decision to ban Riga Pride contradicts Latvia’s agreed commitment to democracy and human rights as a member of the EU and the Council of Europe. Violating Latvian and European law, it is an attack on the right to protest and freedom of expression. This ruling sets a dangerous precedent, which is a threat to the democratic rights all the Latvians.
The ghastly events at the Reval Hotel capped off a day of extraordinary homophobic attacks by the No Pride protesters.
In the morning, a church service to celebrate Riga Pride, organised by gay pastor, Rev Maris Sants, was attacked by a dozen No Pride supporters. Worshippers were pelted with excrement and rotten fruit as they tried to leave the church. Despite previously requesting police protection, no police were present to protect the congregation. Dutch
MEP Sophie In’t Veld was one of the worshippers prevented from leaving
the church by the homophobic vigilantes.
At its 11am press conference, the Latvian LGBT group, Mozaika, announced its decision to not defy the ban on the Riga Pride march. They said they wanted to show themselves as moderate, reasonable, law-abiding people – in contrast to the extremism of the far right anti-gay protesters.
In the street outside the press conference, around 70 No Pride thugs jeered and assaulted people as they try to leave. One of those assaulted was Rev Maris Sants. As he went to his car, police ignored his request for protection.
Officials and supporters of Mozaika who attended the press conference had to be rushed into waiting vans to be ferried away from the baying homophobic crowd.
As I left the press conference in a mini-bus with some of the Mozaika leaders, we were chased by fascists in a four-wheel-drive who pelted our vehicle with eggs. They buzzed us through the streets of Riga until we got to the Reval Hotel.
The inaction of the Latvian police was scandalous. They seemed to be doing the absolute minimum to safeguard the Riga Pride participants.
The day before, on Friday 21 July, the Administrative Court of Latvia met to consider an appeal by Mozaika against the refusal of Riga City Council to grant a permit for the Riga Pride march
Justifying the ban on Riga Pride on public order grounds, the city authorities said they had received threats of serious, organised violence by homophobic religious, nationalist and fascist groups. They claim Riga Pride is the ‘biggest security risk’ to the country since Latvia won its independence from the Soviet Union.
Despite this hype about security threats, Mozaika was fairly confident that the judges would overturn the ban, as they did in 2005. Our optimism was fuelled by the composition of the court. Two of the three judges did not look conservative, conventional types. One had pink stripes dyed in her hair and the other one wore ultra-stylish
bright lime green trainers.
Their appearance was obviously deceiving.
In a reversal of last year’s judgment, the court upheld the decision of Riga City Council to deny Riga Pride the right to march.
Although no official reasons were given for upholding the ban, inside sources say the court made its ruling on ‘security grounds,’ based on alleged violent threats against Riga Pride. The Latvian and Riga authorities, backed by the police and the state security agencies, claimed they would be unable to guarantee the safety of the Riga Pride
This explanation does not stand up. Latvia was able to guarantee security for President Bush’s visit. It is guaranteeing security for the Queen’s forthcoming state visit and for the NATO summit later this year. If Latvia can provide security for these high-risk events, then it is nonsense to suggest the police cannot protect 200 gay pride marchers.
The unwillingness of the judges to disclose the nature of the threats or who made them is curious. Moreover, the judges took the extraordinary step of declaring details of the threats a ‘state secret’ which will remain classified, top secret information for five
The court met in closed session. Lawyers for Riga Pride were required to sign a statement that they will not disclose anything about the threats or the security grounds used to justify the ban – not even to their clients.
More from PinkNews
On Friday evening 21 July, ambassadors from many EU member states, including the UK ambassador to Latvia, Ian Bond, attended Mozaika’s Riga Pride reception at the Reval Hotel Latvia. It is understood that many EU ambassadors and national governments plan to express to the government of Latvia their disquiet at the banning of Riga Pride.
The banning of Riga Pride echoes the bad old days of Soviet tyranny.
It is scandalous that a member state of the EU has given in to threats and blackmail by religious fundamentalists and the far right.
The government of Latvia has a duty to resist threats of homophobic violence, protect its gay citizens and safeguard the right to peaceful protest.
Riga Gay Pride was a litmus test of Latvian democracy and Latvia failed the test.
The ban conforms to a pattern of homophobia by the Latvian authorities. The Latvian parliament recently refused to pass a law prohibiting employment discrimination against lesbians and gays, even though as a member state of the EU it is required to conform to EU law by outlawing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Latvia has also banned same-sex marriage.”