Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays to all

I want to wish Happy Holidays (be it Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza or Winter Solstice) to the readers of this blog (even the Latvian Security Police and its translators). I will be in the US, the land of the sometime beleaguered First Amendment, from December 26 to January 11.  To the extent possible (and with an apparent calm on the free speech front in Latvia) I will update this blog.

Valdis Rošāns, the neo-Nazi writing under the nickname Fenikss, has returned to the nationalist discussion forum www.zemesargs,lv after detention by the Security Police and seizure of computers and electronics (these have apparently been returned).
Fenikss was detained, allegedly on complaints by the political discussion website and advocate of internet tolerance and civility The publishers of the site may have taken offense at Fenikss' s anti-Semitic and racist posts on several Latvian internet discussion sites.
The issue here is whether one fights racism and anti-Semitism by argument or with the blunt instrument of the police (and resulting chilling effect and enforcement creep-- we got one crackpot, lets take in a few more, etc...). I don't want the same police who arrest economists and musicians policing the thoughts expressed in Latvia.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Neo-Nazi reportedly released by Security Police

Valdis Rošāns, a Latvian neo-Nazi who published his vehemently anti-Semitic and homophobic views on several internet forums under the nickname Fenikss, has been released from custody by the Latvian Security Police.  This according to reports from his acquaintances.
At the time of his detention, Rošāns also had his computers and other electronics seized. They are to be returned to him, according to a source who messaged me through the Latvian social network
The source said that Fenikss was detained on a complaint from the Latvian  internet discussion portal, a strong advocate of measures to restrain hate speech on internet forums. While has hosted discussions on a number of issues, including inter-ethnic relations in Latvia (a subject that draws rants in any number of forums in this country), it has posted permanent links to its "Internet without Hatred" (Internets bez naida) initiative.
My earlier post on Fenikss' detention has drawn no comment, which is no surprise. While there must be some readers who agree with my free-speech absolutist position (governments should not be given the power to intimidate or arrest people for their expressions alone), there is little sympathy for the content of what Rošāns or people like him write or say. Standing up for a Holocaust denying (or even a Holocaust supporting) crank's free speech rights is not going to draw the big crowds in the blogosphere.
My point remains -- the Latvian Security Police claim the right and use their police powers to repress the free speech of individuals such as the economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs and the far less sympathetic Valdis Rošāns. They are acting as a thought police. 
They will stop acting as a thought police when they reject complaints based on expression alone. While the police have a duty to listen to my complaints, if I complain that my neighbor is wearing an irritatingly green shirt, the police should respond to this complaint by saying that there is no crime.  Taste is not regulated by the criminal law. Nor should the criminal law of any democracy regulate pure speech and expression -- written and spoken words outside the most stringently narrow definitions of, say, the largely rejected clear and present danger standard in the US. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More mention of Dmitrijs Smirnovs detention

Latvia continues to appear in the international press in a negative or mocking light because of the detention of Dmitrijs Smirnovs almost a month ago.
The latest mention is in the political journal The New Statesman, which urges its readers to spend this coming Christmas, otherwise:

Such pessimism endangers the economy and would even be a criminal offence in Latvia, where a university economics lecturer, Dmitrijs Smirnovs, was arrested last month for telling his students, in a Darlingesque kind of way, that things were arguably pretty bad. Happily, Mr Smirnovs was released after two days and, while we do not condone enforcing economic optimism, it would be good to see a little of it here. For, paraphrasing Keynes, it is our gloom about the future that risks bringing about the very result we all hope to avoid.

The full article can be found here.
Meanwhile, Nadeem Walayat, writing in the British-based The Market Oracle financial website echos some of my feelings:

The response of Latvia's state police is reminiscent of the dark days of the USSR when the truth was only uttered in the confines of ones homes and any public announcements that did not tow the state line were met by arrest and a summary one way trips to the goolag(sic).

The whole post can be found here.
The prestigous French newspaper Le Monde has also published a story about the detention of Dmitrijs Smirnov.
Poland's Gazeta Wyborca also has a story, though what exactly it says, I have no idea :).
Meanwhile a Norwegian portal, Hegnar Online, puts it bluntly (loosely translating  its headline about Latvia): Here it is forbidden to ask questions about the economy.
I recently talked to a well-informed source close to Latvia's ruling circles and asked this person whether anyone cared about the disgrace that the Security Police actions had brought upon Latvia. My source essentially said that they were completely clueless and didn't think it mattered. Anyone suspect this country is run by provincial dimwits or worse??

From economists to neo-Nazis

According to unconfirmed reports, the Latvian Security Police have detained Valdis Rošāns, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who has been writing his views extensively on the internet (in Latvian) using the nickname FENIKSS.
The Security Police are also said to have taken Rošāns computers, peripherals, disks and tapes. I have engaged in debates with Rošāns/FENIKSS on a Latvian language nationalist forum (where FENIKSS is also generally regarded as a crackpot) (zemes sargs means guardian of the land. I was invited to comment on the forum as representative of libertarian, "liberal" (this is a nationalist curse word :) ) and otherwise alien viewpoints by the forum administrator, Jānis Iesalnieks, a young Latvian lawyer and political activist in the Visu Latvijai (All for Latvia) youth-oriented nationalist political party.
Iesalnieks reported on Rošāns arrest, also disclosing his real identity, on the nationalist forum.
While I do disagree with many of the views expressed on, and while I find FENIKSS/Rošāns views pretty crazy and disgusting, I nonethless see a possible violation of free expression here.
I also think that by going after someone that both Latvians and world-opinion would find distasteful, the Security Police are trying to restore their image as fighters against extremists and possible terrorists (Rošāns republished some satirically violent cartoons of a little man shooting caricatures of Latvian politicians and public figures, something I saw as an ironic comment on angry thoughts we all have. The real cartoonist is unknown.). Indeed, there are other countries where views like those of FENIKSS/Rošāns would be prosecuted under hate speech laws. I don't think hate speech laws are a good idea, nor do the free expression advocates at Article 19, nor, for that matter, would the First Amendment of the US Constitution tolerate this kind of detention.
By harassing a young neo-Nazi crackpot, the Security Police may be trying to restore their image after their detention of economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs and questioning of musician Valters Frīdenbergs. This caused an international uproar.
I don't think too many people will rally around Valdis Rošāns, but his case should be put on the record. Should we feel comfortable as long as the police only go after people whose views we, and society in general, consider repulsive? No, think I.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My interview on free speech in Latvia on Swedish Radio (in Swedish)

Swedish Radio' s media program Publicerat' s producer and host Åke Pettersson called me on December 5 and did a phone interview in Swedish about the attacks on free speech in Latvia. He apparently picked up the information, among other sources, from this blog, to which he kindly put up a link. Those of you who understand Swedish (as spoken by Åke) and svartskallesvenska (Swedish with a bit of an immigrant accent :) as spoken by me) can listen to the program (dated December 7) on the internet here. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bank of Latvia: detentions "laughable, pathetic"

Bank of Latvia (the Latvian central bank) president Ilmārs Rimšēvics told the newspaper Diena on December 3 that the actions of the Latvian Security police in detaining a university lecturer, questioning a musician and starting criminal proceedings against both were "laughable and pathetic".
Rimšēvics said:

Logically, the detention of these two people in connection with spreading rumors is, unfortunately, laughable and pathetic, for they were not the true rumor-mongers. The real rumor-mongers are watching this and laughing. The rumor-mongers work with SMS messages, naming specific dates when decisions will be made, even saying what the new lats rate will be. No such person has been detained. I truly feel uncomfortable, seeing how singers and lecturers are detained.

This is fine and should be put on the record. But Rimšēvics also told the media in an earlier statement (that seemed to refer to the Security Police actions) that in other countries, rumor-mongers would be arrested within 15 minutes of expressing their views about the finance system or currency. One can only guess which authoritarian regimes and dictatorships would act this way.
And while we are compiling idiot statements of the month, we cannot forget what Mārtiņš Bičevskis, Finance Ministry state secretary said about the point of the Security Police action being to scare and intimidate. A valiant defense of the chilling effect, as expressed, if I am not mistaken, to the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More blogs examine free speech violations in Latvia

They keep on coming...
I have found more blogs referring to the violation of the freedom of speech in Latvia by the Security Police (with the consent, I am sure, of the government):
The American Sentinel (a libertarian-leaning blog)
The openly libertarian blog, The Beacon, is worth quoting:

If the U.S. government were to attempt such suppression of criticism, it would have a big job on its hands. In this country, criticism of the government, the economy’s major institutions, and the present state of affairs is nearly universal, so a mass arrest might create a situation in which each guard had to oversee a million prisoners. But, of course, the government would not need to go to such extremes, because of little bit of well-publicized suppression goes a long way in persuading a multitude of potential critics to hold their tongues and keep their fingers off their keyboards.

The conservative National Review Online also mentions the incidents in Latvia.
A slightly strange German-language blog Porky's also writes extensively about this with the headline, freely translated: A Finance Crisis? TO JAIL!!!
The Norwegian internet newsletter E24 also picked up the story.

Nothing has gotten as much negative publicity and ridicule for Latvia in recent years as this idiot move by the Security Police and the government behind it. 

A little solidarity with Croatia

Croatia, neither a European Union nor a NATO member state, can "afford" to behave like an East European Slobbovia, and indeed, it has, by detaining and persecuting someone who put up a Facebook group rather harshly criticizing the Prime Minister of Slobbo... er Croatia.
The story is told here.
We, who, despite being both in the EU and NATO, have a government that sanctions Slobbovian actions by Latvia' s Security Police can only express our solidarity with the victims of the Croatian police action. Interestingly enough, the Croatian police may have been inspired by one of the earliest reports in English on the free speech issues raised by the detention of the Latvian college lecturer. It was published here on a Croatian portal. It seems that someone was inspired by this...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More blog references to laughingstock Latvia

Another couple of mocking blog references to Latvia, deserved, unfortunately:

Blogging Stocks (stock market commentary in the US)
The American Spectator (blog on the portal of a conservative American magazine)
Under The Name of Reason (a personal blog)

And so I hope it will go on. Must the Latvian government be trained like a puppy by having its nose rubbed in...

Nobel prize winner, NYT columnist mentions Latvia case

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize - winning economist and columnist/blogger for The New York Times mentions in passing (a link to the Wall Street Journal article) the detention of Dmitrijs Smirnovs by the Latvian Security Police. Krugman jokes that this might a way for the Bush administration to deal with critics of its economic policies.

The blogosphere bubbles about the repression in Latvia

Here are some blog posts on the repression in Latvia, a number quoting publications already noted here.
Marathon Pundit ( a US political blogger whose wife, it appears, is from Latvia).
The Bruges Group Blog (a rather long post, quotes the Wall Street Journal)
The Fundmastery Blog (on investing/?/) also quotes the WSJ)
Mostly Economics (a blog focussed on India, but free speech matters)
The Mises Economics Blog (free market economics)
Dispatches (another blogger with some link to Latvia)
UK Top Secret (another personal blog)

The sad thing is that the provincial, narrow-minded, inferiority-complexed (deservedly?) people in the Latvian government who approved this operation as well as those in the Saeima (parliament) who think this is OK are unlikely to read any of this, even to be aware of this. Basically, these authoritarian boors don't give a flying f**k what the outside world thinks of them.

Mention the financial crisis, go directly to jail (and the kangaroos laugh)

Now they know Down Under. This is a piece by AFP's Riga correspondent Alex Tapinsh. The full text is available here. More laughs for the kangaroos.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Arrest the Economists" --more ridicule of the banana republic

The liberal American "journal of politics and the arts", The New Republic (TNR), has noted the detention of Dmitrijs Smirnovs for his comments on the Latvian economy and currency. A blog, The Plank, on the TNR website draws the clear and simple conclusion:

"There is no excuse for such a breach of civil liberties, particularly in a country well on its way to full membership in the club of the west."

This is a simple enough English sentence for most of the Latvian government and even some of the parliament, the Saeima to read and understand. 
Thanks to an email from a friend for bringing this to my attention. The full post on the TNR blog can be read here (yes, the author does say there is  "an explanation" for Latvia's behavior).

Journalists publish open letter on free speech in Latvia

More than 20 Latvian journalists and media-related persons have published an open letter defending the freedom of expression against the actions of the Latvian Security Police.
The text of the letter can be found here. It is likely that other newspapers, besides Diena, will publish it. There is also an English-language version being prepared (I am the main author of both letters, others have contributed and edited).