Threat of violence hangs over Riga Pride

Tony Grew May 29, 2008
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Latvian nationalist groups have issued a chilling joint statement saying that if a Pride event goes ahead this weekend it may create violent protests.

The Pride march is to be held on Saturday on the 11th November Embankment, where a key battle for Latvian independence was fought.

The coalition of nationalists, among them the All For Latvia! political party, issued a joint statement. All For Latvia! campaigns for “family values.” In 2006 it won 1.48% of vote but no seats in parliament

“It is completely unacceptable to us as nationalist Latvians that on May 31 of this year, one of the central symbols of Latvian statehood and national self-understanding – the 11th November Shoreline – will be used by minorities of sexual inclinations to propagandise their absolutely unhealthy views and amoral way of life,” the nationalists said.

This year Latvia will celebrate the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence. It was a Soviet satellite state from 1940 to 1990.

Resistance to the Pride event has also come from Riga’s Deputy Mayor, who called it a “propaganda of perversion.”

“I don’t believe that we should spoil a few percent of society members by allowing them to propagandise their perversion,” Andris Argalis told LETA news agency.

“Otherwise we’re going to have to afford the same opportunities to other, similar groups of sexual oddities – flashers, exhibitionists, glue-sniffers.”

Other leading members of the city council oppose the event.

The mayor, Janis Birks, stressed that the decisions about a ban on the Pride event fall to Andris Grinbergs, the city’s executive director.

Mr Ginbergs told LETA:

“From this perspective, the local government has no reason to ban the planned event.

“The planned march on the 11th November Shoreline, moreover, has to be seen as a compromise between the organisers of the event, the local government, and the security structures with whom the place and route of the event have been agreed.”

The levels of homophobia among Latvia’s political class was exposed in January when an aide to a Latvian MP was convicted of “gross public disorderliness” during Riga Pride in 2006.

A court found that he threw a bag of excrement at the car of a gay rights activist.

He was sentenced to 100 hours of compulsory labour.

In 2006 gay campaigners were attacked with eggs and bags of excrement by protesters when they quietly celebrated Riga Pride.

Authorities in the Latvian capital had banned the gay parade on public order grounds, but activists decided to continue with smaller activities.

The municipal authorities in Riga said that the event was cancelled to avoid public disorder after Christians, nationalists and neo-Nazis threatened the parade with violence and a counter march.

Last year politicians from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the European parliament joined the Riga Pride march, which passed off peacefully.

The Roman Catholic Church has added to tensions around Pride this year.

Over the weekend the Cardinal, Janis Pujats, and more than two dozen priests released a letter to the Latvian government claiming that Pride marches are illegal.

“First of all, they are aimed against morality and the family model which exists in our nation and is enshrined in the fundamental law of the state, the Constitution,” the letter stated.

“Second, homosexuality is against the natural order and, therefore, against the laws of God.

“Third, homosexuals also claim unlawfully to have the rights of a minority.

“A minority is made up of those who are different from the majority of people because of nationality, language, race, skin colour and other neutral characterisations, but not of moral evaluation.

“That means that there can be no minority of alcoholics, homosexuals, drug addicts or any other people if the minority is based on immoral inclinations.

“Otherwise this would be direct promotion of immorality.”

A survey of LGBT people in Latvia in February 2007 found that 82% of respondents were not in favour of holding Riga Pride, while only 7% felt that these events would help promote tolerance against sexual minorities.

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