Friday, November 27, 2009

F**kwit EuroMP files criminal libel charges against a Latvian journalist

I use the following language deliberately, to make a point:
Aleksandrs Mirskis, a fuckwit asshole Member of The European Parliament from the Harmony Center party alliance (who are, actually, not a bunch of fuckwits, although one could differ with them on many issues) has filed criminal libel charges against former Diena journalist Gunta Sloga for comparing him to Baron Munchhausen in an article in Diena's Saturday magazine supplement Sestdiena.
In response to this hypersensitive cryptofascist's complaint, a court in Jurmala has filed charges against Sloga, the alternative internet publication CitaDiena ( reports in an opinion column by former Diena commentator Aivars Ozoliņš
The charges were filed under an Soviet-relic article of Latvian law that the Saeima has been agonizing trying to change in line with European Union press freedom and free speech standards.
Being under this kind of criminal charges, as Ozoliņš points out, can cause all kinds of hassles (the court can impose restrictions on travel or change of residence) and have a serious chilling effect on press freedom in Latvia. Which is exactly the point with these kinds of laws.
I started this blog a year ago because the NeoKGB Latvian Security Police arrested and detained for two days Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a college lecturer in economics, for published remarks abou the banking system and the Latvian lat. Smirnovs had the investigation against him terminated. When will these idiotic charges against Sloga be dropped? Until then, while I have serious reservations about violent protest, sign me up for a paving stone through the window of some institution of authority in this country. And write on the stone, regarding these articles of Latvian law, a quote from Rage Against The Machine -- Fuck You, I won't do what you tell me!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reporter fights committee chairman for a piece of the budget

One of my colleagues, a senior reporter at LETA, the Latvian news agency, described a bizarre incident in which she was at the Latvian parliament, the Saeima, covering the government budget process as pertains to cultural institutions, specifically state-supported theaters and the National Opera.
A parliamentary committee spokesman made a presentation of this part of the budget, but refused to give it to reporters. My colleague obtained a copy from a Saeima deputy, who was entitled to have it and who proceeded, together with the reporter, to make a copy for her. The committee chairman then proceeded to try to wrest the document away from both of them, declaring that he would never let the press have it.
My colleague and the parliametarian then proceeded to go to another copying machine and got her copy. It was a bizarre and disgraceful incident and an affront to the media and the public's right to know, especially when it comes to how their tax money is to be spent.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bauska protest fizzles, "martyr" arrives to court drunk

One month after a special police unit was sent from Riga to disperse demonstrators blocking bridges and a major highway in the southern Latvian town of Bauska to protest the reduction of services at a local hospital, the administrative trial of four protestors ended in farce.
One protestor was fined LVL 5 (around 10 USD), a second protestor was cleared of all charges, a third failed to arrive at court, and the fourth "martyr" of the August 31 action arrived in court visibly drunk, was tested with an alcohol meter and send home, his hearing postponed.
A planned action to "legally" block a highway by having people repeatedly cross at so-called "zebra stripe" crosswalks also failed, according to media reports. Too few people showed up and the crosswalks were closely watched by police. A small number of supporters of those detained and accused gathered peacefully near the Bauska courthouse.
It appears that despite initial support by several hundred people for the largely spontaneous bridge blocking action, the protest movement against the hospital cutbacks is fizzling out. Some people may have been placated by the appearance days after the protest of Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale, who gave vague assurances that the cutbacks would not be as severe as portrayed in the media. There may also be some truth to charges that a some of the protestors were "lowlife" and drunks.
Whatever the case, it appears that the "spontaneous" protests indeed lacked sufficient organization to mitigate the obstruction of ordinary traffic, to isolate aggressive and intoxicated demonstrators, and to prepare a legal defense team in case of arrests or other trouble.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Call for new protests in Bauska, Latvia

A blogger on the Bauska newspaper Bauskas Dzīve website has called for another peaceful but possibly civilly-disobedient protest on Wednesday, September 30. The action will coincide with administrative hearings against four Bauska residents charged with public order violations during an unsanctioned August 31 protest against the planned reorganization of the local hospital.
The blogger urges people to impede traffic on a main highway by repeatedly (and in large numbers) crossing the highway at a legal pedestrian (zebra-striped) crosswalk. By law, all vehicles have to stop when there are pedestrians on the crosswalk. It is not clear whether deliberate and repeated use of the crosswalk for the sole purpose of backing up traffic could be considered a violation.
Several hundred Bauska residents blocked two bridges and a major highway through the town for several hours until they were dispersed by a special riot squad sent from Riga. Local police made attempts to persuade the demonstrators to clear the bridges, but apparently didn't use force or threats of arrest.
Three of the protestors facing a court hearing on September 30 are charged with disobeying police orders, the fourth, with violating rules concerning public gatherings.
Media reports say police are expected to be out in force along the possible site of the demonstration, which has been called for 09:30 on Wednesday. It is expected that protestors will raise the issue of the local hospital again, despite assurances by Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale (during a September 3 visit to Bauska) that the hospital would continue to offer reduced, but adequate health care services. Rozentale's visit to the town just days after the bridge-blocking protest passed without incident, although she was confronted by demonstrators and engaged in a dialogue with them.
A number of hospitals in Latvia are being closed or downgraded as part of harsh austerity measures demanded by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other lenders providing Latvia with loans to prevent state insolvency and to bolster the financial system. Bauska residents are especially upset with the closing of a maternity ward and the reduction of emergency services in a town straddling a major, heavily trafficed highway where accidents are frequent.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paranoia runs deeper : Blogger questioned by Security Police

The Latvian Security Police have questioned a blogger who regularly contributes to a blog site maintained by Kristaps Skultelis (nickname Krizdabz), one of Latvia's better-known and popular bloggers. Writing under the pseudonym Ierindas Pilsonis (Ordinary Citizen), the man(whose first name is Raitis) has harshly criticized the Latvian state and government as being little more than a rapacious mafia and has said in some posts that revolutionary violence against such a system would be justified.
The blogger, who is at least 50 years old (he mentions an encounter with the Soviet KGB in 1978, when, presumably, he was an adult) describes being questioned by a polite young Security Police officer at a dingy regional Security Police office in Rēzekne, in eastern Latvia (Krizdabz comes from that area). He describes the office as poorly equipped and relates several bizarre incidents -- such as the officer reading excerpts from his earlier blog posts that had been faxed to the regional office. The officer also asked who prints "Ordinary Citizen's" blogs as if totally clueless that blogs are electronic media and are not disseminated in printed form (except as smudged faxes inside the Security Police). The blogger was also asked what political group or foreign country he was working for (as if his blog posts had been paid by someone). He was also questioned about his relationship with Krizdabz. The whole post in Latvian can be read here. I don't know how it would survive a translation with Google Language Tools, but worth a try.
The way things look -- with the Strategic Analysis Commission of the Latvian President's office saying that public trust in the institutions of government has collapsed -- the state is increasingly paranoid about anyone expressing angry criticism and is sending chilling signals not only to the critics, but to anyone giving them a forum. That does not change the fact that people in Latvia are increasingly frustrated and angry with what they see as a corrupt, incompetent (well, maybe not the current one) government that took the nation to the edge of bankruptcy and then brought on economic strictures (at least as applied by the government) that have devastated health care, education and pensions, with more devastation to come in the next round of budget cuts.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A subversive and revolutionary appeal?

Here is a quick translation of the anonymous call for a mass demonstration to protest government austrity on November 13. To find out (and prosecute??) those responsible, the Latvian Security Police have started an investigation.

Thanks to Didzis Melbiksis, fellow blogger (in Latvian and Swedish) and journalist for publishing it in his blog.

It should be a comfort to any terrorist sleeper cells or foreign spies that the Security Police are busy seeking the authors of this:

The state is only starting to save (cut spending--J.K).

It will take away more, and not from itself.

Therefore we must resist and show that we don't consent to this,

Let's continue a tradition and gather on the 13th, this time, in November in the Dom Square and by the Saeima (parliament building -- J.K.)

Let us show that we are not indifferent.

This information is being sent now, so you can make time and we can prepare for a MUCH larger picket.
Let us take along friends, parents, everyone.

Let us decide on our own salaries and say what we think of the government loudly!
Spread this news to others, together we will be able to do it!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Paranoia strikes deep

Buffalo Springfield once sang:
Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you're always afraid.
Step out of line, the MAN come and take you away.

In Latvia it isn't the man, but Linda Murniece, the lady Minister of the Interior, who has, wittingly or unwittingly (wits are a little short among Latvian politicians) taken a number of steps to put a chill on peaceful public dissent. The latest is having Latvia's Security Police, a kind of KGB-Very Lite (there is no Gulag, they don't pull out people's fingernails) investigate who has been circulating appeals for a peaceful gathering in Riga's Old Town on November 13 to protest additional cuts in public spending that the anonymous authors assume will occur by then. Unlike appeals circulated ahead of the January 13 riot which, well, openly called for a riot (a far more destructive one than actually happened, those anonymous instigators urged people to bring Molotov cocktails, none were used), the current appeal is simply for a gathering to express grievances. Sounds like democracy and free speech to me. It is also a timely call, a kind of viral marketing of the idea that by November, there may be another round of budget cuts reducing formerly tax-supported education, medical care and pensions to a defacto pay-as-you learn/heal/and save before you get old system.
It is more than two months until November 13, leaving plenty of time for NGOs and civic groups to organize and to help the police prevent or limit any violence (let's have no illusions, people are angry about what the previous fuckwit governments have done or failed to do as the economic crisis approached). What the government and Ms. Murniece have done is to turn loose the dogs of intimidation (the Security Police have a wonderful record of arresting people for their speech, it's what got this blog started almost a year ago) in a clear attempt to put a chill on any calls for public, anti-government gatherings. The government showed its attitude when it sent a riot squad to disperse demonstrators blocking bridges near Bauska to protest the reorganization of the local hospital, closing maternity services and drastically reducing emergency care. The message sent by the robocops, who might have been a little rough with some angry demonstrators, including some older women, was that the politicians in Riga feel threatened by any spontaneous public activity and will threaten back, rather than discuss the issues (Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale, at the center of the clusterfuck surrounding the reform/defacto switch to pay-as-you heal medicine, did later go to Bauska and had a heated discussion with a crowd of local people. Good for her on that count).
There is absolutely nothing illegal about anonymously suggesting that there should be a nationwide rally on November 13. The anonymity could, in a twist of black humor, be the result of earlier intimidation of dissent by the Security Police. In other words, send the Security Police to find those that the Security Police has intimidated into "better safe than sorry" forms of expression. Latvia is not Iran or some tinpot African dictatorship yet, but it will be unless people stand up and say they will not be intimidated.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Former banker flips out on democracy??!

Inesis Feiferis, an experienced banker who recently resigned as head of the Latvian Mortgage and Land Bank (Latvijas Hipotēku un zemes banka) told the portal Delfi that "many democratic norms should be restricted" during the present economic crisis.
In the article, the ex-banker, who was involved in the state takover of crisis-ridden Parex Bank (it was formally made a subsidiary of the state-owned Mortgage and Land Bank) does not elaborate on which norms he meant. However, freedom of speech, the press and assembly do come to mind as core democratic norms and values.
Feiferis seems to suggest that a government with emergency powers should be formed to adopt unpopular measures quickly and without needless discussion. Whether this means there would be censorship or punishment of media criticism of such measures is unclear. The apparent lack of aggressive questioning of the ex-banker by Delfi's reporters is yet another example of the spotty reporting on this site.
So I will give Inesis Feiferis the benefit of the doubt. When he resigned, Feiferis seemed to imply that he was tired, perhaps burned out by the demands of his job at the Mortgage and Land Bank, especially after the Parex rescue.
The statement on restricting democratic norms is so batshit on its face that I do suspect it is the careless chatter of a burnout. Take a needed rest.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Security police drop charges against Smirnovs

The Latvian Security Police (Drošības policija/DP) have dropped their case against the economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs, who was jailed for questioning late last year because of critical remarks about the Latvian banking system and the national currency, the lat, according to media reports.
Pending completion of their investigation, the DP banned Smirnovs from foreign travel and, by his own admission, had a chilling effect on his public statements and publications after the arrest. The case brought disgrace on Latvia as a violator of free expression and was the inspiration for this blog.
Smirnovs told journalists he has not changed his pessimistic view of the Latvian economy -- last October, he advised people not to keep their money in Latvian banks or in lats in a panel discussion reported by a Ventspils newspaper, triggering his detention more than a month later.
The DP also called in Valters Fridenbergs, a musician, for questioning because of jokes he cracked to a concert audience about not running off to the nearest cash dispenser (bankomat) because of worries about the Latvian economy and currency. Charges against him were dropped some months ago.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Latvia seeks to upgrade thought police, increase the chill

The Latvian government is considering a proposal to increase the powers of the Security Police to question and issue warnings to persons whose behavior "shows signs of illegal activity that could harm state security" according to a recent report (in Latvian) in Diena.
If adopted, the expanded powers -- aimed clearly at speech and expression, not actions-- would increase the chilling effect of the Security Police on free expression and debate. It would allow Security Police officers to question persons (including a summons to police facilities) and demand "explanations" for their activity.
The Security Police have already shown that their threshold for intervention against expression is at times very low and inconsistent. Last fall, the Security Police detained Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a college economics lecturer, for saying in a public discussion that he though people should not keep money in Latvia's banks nor Latvian lats. The authorities also questioned a musician who joked about not running off to take money out the bank during a concert. These incidents brought international attention to violations of freedom of expression by the Latvian Security Police.
Since then, there have been hundreds of mentions and discussions of the possible devaluation of the lat, the soundness of the Latvian financial system, and the wisdom of Latvia's economic policies, ranging from Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times (the former all being beyond the reach of the Security Police) to statements by local economists (Alf Vanags of BICEPS) and many bloggers and internet commentators. Except for Smirnovs, no one that I know of has been detained.
There have been cases of the Security Police acting against persons expressing radical political views, notably a neo-Nazi writing under the pen name Fenikss. His interrogation by the Security Police several weeks ago (the second in a year) indicates that the police of "prophylactic talks" dating back to the Soviet perestroika era KGB, was already being applied.
Before the late 1980s, the KGB would simply arrest dissidents, but it discovered (given its past as an all powerful institution of terror and repression) that it could silence or dampen dissent by the chilling effect alone. It was enough to have a talk with the KGB over coffee or tea to make one wonder whether expressing one's views was the smart thing to do.
Now the Security Police, looking more and more like the "liberal" era KGB (as it takes on the function of "overseeing" economic and political debate in society) is about to be handed more powers to exercise the "chilling effect" -- one of the most powerful arguments against any restrictions on free speech under at least US First Amendment practice. In other words, the mere threat of trouble will prevent people from speaking or writing who would otherwise do so.
Having, for the time being, abandoned its efforts to repress discussion of the economy and currency, the Security Police is now apparently being prepared to go after persons who discuss forms of resistance and disobedience to the current government's policies of extreme, sudden, and seemingly capricious cuts in public services and entitlements, effectively closing down the national health care system, reducing public education to a minimum and slashing pensions.
What the government fears is that there will be public discussion of such things as civil disobedience, tax resistance (why pay for nothing) and, of course, the harsher issue of street violence and rebellion as the fall draws closer and perhaps tens of thousands of Latvians will lose their unemployment benefits. While I believe violence will solve nothing, I think the possibility of new riots should be freely and openly discussed, without the Security Police interfering. If a person who has lost their job and unemployment benefit, who has seen one parent deprived of elective surgery and another retired but working relative (perhaps a surgeon) driven from their job by pension cuts, who sees their child's math teacher paid less than a street sweeper, that person understandably should be able to talk about the Latvian government and state in the words of the Bloodhound Gang: We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Freedom and confidentiality in media transactions

I thought for a while about where to put this and decided to post, initially, to the Free Speech Emergency blog because media are one of the most important vessels of free speech. I don't, presently, see any serious free speech issues in the sale of the Latvian media group Diena and the business newspaper Dienas bizness by the Swedish Bonnier Business Press to what will eventually be a mutual fund with investments in Baltic media.
The controversy about this in the Latvian media has arisen from the apparent structure of the transaction. The Bonniers were so eager to sell their Latvian assets that they wanted to do it before the buyer came into legal existence. That is, the Luxembourg-based Catella Media Investment Fund has not been legally founded yet. In order to seize the opportunity, the Estonian financier Kalle Norberg and the Latvian former executive of Diena some years ago, Aleksandrs Tralmaks, organized a temporary arrangement to buy and hold the assets until the final ownership structure was in place.
They also needed to fund the transaction, rumored to be around LVL 9 million, and what they seem to have done is a variation on when an ordinary citizen is offered a chance to buy something two weeks before payday. She doesn't have the cash on hand, but borrows it from several neighbors. They then, technically, become "investors" in "today only" discounted flat-screen television until the end of the month, when our real buyer is paid and pays off her neighbors. Is it important to know who these neighbors are?
OK, I am simplifying the process with Diena and Dienas bizness, but as I understand it, two of the future owners and investors are already known -- Kalle Norberg and Alexandes Tralmaks. They have put up some of their own money. The other investors, who have, for various reasons, wanted to remain anonymous, but both their and Norberg and Tralmaks' shares in the media assets will change when the mutual fund is set up. As more money comes into the fund, which, presumably, will become owner of all shares in the Latvia media assets, the relative ownership proportion of the initial investors will be diluted and will change on a day-to-day basis, as will the identities and number of all owners of shares in Catella Media Investment. Mutual funds trade on a daily basis.
Let us make a wild guess and say that a certain Niklas Z of Skype fame lent USD 500 000 to the transaction entity. When the mutual fund becomes operational, Niklas Z' s loan will be changed into shares of Catella, and the asset that he and all the other mystery men and women will directly own will be shares in a mutual fund. In the short term, of course, most or all of Catella's capital will be invested in Diena and Dienas bizness, but there could be additional purchases of media assets in the future.
Mutual funds are pure instruments of financial investment -- I put my money in fund A, whose managers and investment strategy I trust, and expect to see growth of, say, 40 % when I sell my fund shares in five years. In the interim, the fund, for all I care, can finance chipmunk races and crocodile choir contests, as long as I get my expected return on investment. I am not interested in owning or influencing the management and strategy of any of the fund' s assets, otherwise I would buy those shares directly, in sufficient amounts and put myself or my representative on the board of Chipmunk Racers R Us.
If and when someone in the Latvian media gets a leaked copy of the transaction related investment agreement, it will probably include a rather dull list of Estonian, Danish, Swedish and British names -- Veiko, Tarmo, Niklas, Samantha, whatever. And, certainly, the media will have full freedom to publish this "scoop" and should be protected from lawsuits or prosecution should that happen.
In short, I think the uproar over who the mystery investors in the transactions is overblown and too much energy is put into exploring conspiracy theories. It is certainly necessary to have transparency in media ownership, but things should shortly fall into place. Of course, I could be wrong and the real owners of Diena and Dienas bizness are Elvis Presley, Borat and three Russian oligarchs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

There are bigger f**kwits...

There are bigger fuckwits than Latvia's parliamentarians, but given time, our Lithuanian (or leiši, a kind of very mild Latvian racist term for the folks to the south) brethren may well lose that honor. The Lithuanian parliament has passed a law forbidding "favorable" discussion of homosexuality. which, in classic chilling-effect terms, forbids any discussion at all. It brings back old Latvian prejudices of an ignorant, impoverished rabble of provincial peasants (a la Lithuanian/leišu beggars wailing by the church -- a folkloric Latvian phrase -- gaudo kā leišu nabagi pie baznīcas). The law seems to have passed with an overwhelming majority. These folks really believe in this kind of repression.
Alas, Lithuania, formally, is a modern European Union member state, just as Latvia is. But Latvia, too busy with its intractable economic disaster (and spinning the wheels of a downward spiral with frantic budget cuts) would probably do the same. Certainly, Riga's near future deputy mayor, Aunārs Šlesers -- hey, I meant Ainārs :), Latvians will get the joke of that Freudian misspelling-- will try to ban any activities discussing sexual minorities in his city-state.
Meanwhile, with drafting its own anti-gay-speech law on the back burner, Latvia has enough trouble with one of Sweden's leading dailies, Expressen, demanding in an unsigned (a view of the paper's editorial board) editorial to Stop Latvian Censorship Now.* The paper refers to a law that forbids spreading false information about the national currency and the financial system. One of Expressen's recent guest opinion writers, the Latvian economics lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs, was arrested last fall for warning, in a public forum reported by a regional newspaper, that people should not keep their money in Latvian lats or Latvian banks. For this, he was detained for two days by the Latvian Security Police, in an action that made them a renewed version of the Soviet KGB.
Expressen now writes that Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg should make financial assistance to Latvia contigent on a repeal of Latvia's restrictions on free speech. "Instead of devaluing the lat, Latvia has devalued the freedom of expression," the Swedish daily wrote.
One can only agree. After all, the Smirnovs case was the reason for starting this blog. There is still reason to continue it.

* link in Swedish

Monday, June 8, 2009

Anti-free speech party to rule in Riga

Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way (Latvijas Pirmā Partija/Latvijas Ceļš --LPP/LC) took slightly over 15 % of the vote for city council in Riga and will probably be the sole coalition partner for the winner, the Harmony Center electoral alliance, which took more than 33 % of the vote.
Whatever other positions the LPP/LC may have taken on economic and other political issues, on free speech this party is clearly authoritarian and cryptofascist. Leading members of the LPP/LC called for and supported bans on peaceful Gay Pride marches in the Latvian capital. The issue with Gay Pride is not whether one likes, dislikes or is indifferent to homosexuality, but strictly one of the freedom of speech and assembly. The LPP/LC is a party that wants to restrict the rights of all Latvian residents to choose what points of view they may or may not hear. That is, as I pointed out earlier, the other side of the free speech rights of any particular point of view -- the right of other to hear or ignore that viewpoint without interference from municipal or government authorities.
Ainārs Šlesers, who may become mayor of Riga, has declared that he would ban all future gay pride events. Again, putting aside the specific issue of gay rights, homosexuality, etc., it shows that Šlesers is an authoritarian backed by religious fanatics who advocate a theocracy instead of a democracy with individual freedom.
There are, of course, other reasons to worry about Šlesers as mayor, including a long list of scandals and dubious dealings that have been documented by Delna, the Latvian unit of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International. But for the purposes of this blog, the main threat from the coalition of Harmony Center (Saskaņas Centrs/SC ) and LPP/LC is to the freedom of speech and assembly. I doubt that SC will rein in Šlesers on this issue. Latvian society is profoundly ignorant and backwards in its understanding of democracy and homophobic as well. It is precisely for this reason, that the free speech rights of those advocating an, in this case, unpopular viewpoint, must be protected but probably will not be protected and, instead, repressed by the upcoming city administration in Riga.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fools' speech is free speech too, especially for Latvian-Americans

Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that a Chicago-area (the USA, the land of the First Amendment) emigre (or the fashionable diaspora) Latvian group supporting Ainars Šlesers for mayor of Riga has been hounded out of existence by elements of the American Latvian community. This was to a large extent triggered by a somewhat indignant story in the Latvian daily Diena, which apparently is read and respected by the diaspora 
Don't get me wrong, there is no way I support Šlesers and his theocratic, holy-roller cryptofascist Latvian First Party/dessicated corpse of the once-liberal Latvian Way (LPP/LC). But that does not mean that people don't have the right to think and say that Šlesers is the greatest fuckin' thing since machine-sliced cheese. That is what free speech and a diversity of opinion are all about. As for the American Latvian Association "distancing" itself from the pro-Šleseristas in Chi-town, well, Maryland is already pretty distant. It would have been better to say: "we make no political endorsements and urge all Latvian citizens, be they in Latvia or abroad, to vote for the candidates of their choice." (SEE AMENDMENT BELOW)  As for others who had objections to the Šleseristas -- well, organize a debate, put up a website, go to or some such place and argue against Šlesers of for one of the other candidates. Yo, like the States is a democracy and has plenty of room for wacko opinions! And if  the diasporistas really follow what is going on here, down at the grass roots, they should know that this place is a real political Wackostan. Supporting Šlesers pales beside some of the crackpottery available here.
And finally, to the lawyers Blumbergs and the grab-bag of Latvian-American accountants, public servants, salesmen etc, WTF are you so chickenshit? If you really believe in Bro Ainars, don't fold the first time the wind blows against you. Tell ALA to ... well, I am reminded of  T-shirt I saw at the American Latvian Song Festival in 1978 -- it was worn by a friend of my from Germany and his brother as a protest against an ultraconservative relative of theirs. The custom shirts said Arvīd, ej tu dirst! The best translation I can come up with is  "Arvid, go fuck yourself!" 
So guys and gals from Chi-town, come out from under the table or bed or wherever you went after the first round of criticism, and put on your Arvīd T-shirts (aimed at those diasporistas who hounded you) on the front, and a picture of the stone-faced (ķieģelpurns) Ainārs on the back.

ADDED June 2, morning, Latvian time: 
It seems that ALA did make the kind of statement I mention above, a kind reader informs. I was basing this on the Diena report, where to "distance one's self" suggests disapproval and disagreement, like when football team X says "we are glad about winning the championship, but distance ourselves from those fans who decided to burn down the town hall and 20 cars in celebration."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Baltic Pride takes place with no problems

The Baltic Pride march took place in Riga on May 16 with almost no problems. The active counter demonstrators were just a little more in number than the marchers. The Pride march went out on a downtown street, though cordoned off by police. An interesting observation, not in the video as I edited it, was a scene at one street crossing passed by the march where there were perhaps 150 people simply watching, expressing no negative emotions. Maybe there is a seed of tolerance, though judging by the hysterical and hateful comments in the portals (, this is still a country with a huge element of post-soviet, mindless neanderthals.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Administrative Court overrules Pride ban -- will God take vengeance?

The Administrative Court has overturned a ban on holding the Baltic Pride event and march in a park in downtown Rīga. The decision was expected based on earlier cases and European Court of Human Rights practice/
Catholic Cardinal Jānis Pujats, Reverent Jānis Šmits and a representative of the anti-gay organization No Pride petitioned the court to be heard as interested parties but their petitions were rejected.
Representatives of the City of Riga could give no specific reasons for overturning their earlier permit for the Pride event. Lawyers for the LGBT organization Mozaika, who are organizing the event, cited press reports and a letter from 34 members of the Riga City Council (RCC) as evidence that the suspension of their rights of speech and assembly was based on political pressure and said that any other unpopular minority could suffer the same fate.
Reverend Šmits, leaving the courtroom after his petition was declined, is reported to have said: God will take vengeance.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Riga City Council restricts everyone's freedom

I think one can look at the ban on the planned  Baltic Pride in Riga as a direct attack on the freedom of choice of everyone in Latvia, regardless of their feelings about gay rights. In fact, one could paste over the issue with asterisks to make the point more directly. Say, the Riga City Council has banned ********.  No one will ever know what ******** is, because it is banned. Citizens no longer have the choice or option to know what ******** is.
Of course, almost everyone knows that the Pride march has been banned, but the effect of this is that no one has the individual freedom to chose to 1) attend and support 2) watch from curiousity 3) go and protest or 4) ignore the whole thing.  That means that everyone' s freedom has been diminished by the actions of an allegedly democratic city government.
We forget too often that the other side of the freedom of speech and assembly is the right of all adult people to freely pick and choose their "informational environment" from a range of choices that is not limited by state interference.
Banning the Baltic Pride in Riga directly violates the specific right to free speech and assembly of the LGBT community and organizations, whose causes may be of no interest to many other Latvians. But the ban also diminishes everyone' s freedom of choice and opens the way for the local and national governments to take even more choices away from the people. First we say you shall not be informed about ********. Next it will be ########.  Does anyone, other than the elected products of a warped homo-postsovieticus society want this?

Riga Baltic Pride effectively banned

The Baltic Pride march and public gathering, scheduled for May 16 in and near a park in downtown Riga, has effectively been banned by the city authorities. Technically, a gathering is still allowed at on the November 11 riverside road, where it was held last year and, in fact, would cause a greater disruption of through traffic than by cordoning off two streets for 30 minutes.
Two religious leaders Cardinal Pujats and Rev. Jānis Šmits were present at the Riga commission hearing (called to reconsider the permit granted to the Baltic Pride organizers). It is unclear whether they were allowed to attend the hearing, but both have demanded that any public activities by LGBT people be forbidden and condemned as immoral.
Mozaika, the Latvian LGBT organization sponsoring the event has started legal proceedings to overturn the commission's reversal of its earlier ruling. The second hearing was called after 34 out of 60 Riga City council deputies signed a letter demanding that the march permit be rescinded, citing public order (blocked streets) and "public morals". Several radical nationalist organizations have called for counterdemonstrations, both against the LGBT event and as a general protest against political and economic conditions in Latvia (apparently in an effort to gain attention on the assumption that the Baltic Pride could draw large crowds of curious and, to some extent, skeptical and hostile/to the gay event/ onlookers).
My take: this place gets more and more hopeless as democratic elections for local government approach and the most blatantly anti-democratic, authoritarian cryptofascist politicians make the most of this.
Lots of people will write how homophobic this is. OK, it is. What worries me as a heterosexual is that it is also freedom-of-speech-phobic or simply freedomphobic. And that affects all of us. Unlike sexual orientation, freedomphobia can spread and has spread in Latvia, but homo postsovieticus doesn't see that, won't see that and is happy and proud of not seeing that.
Time for an Ignorance Pride -- but hey, it has been going on for years!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on efforts to ban Baltic Pride, neo-nazi re-arrested

The Riga City Council has succeeded in getting a re-hearing of whether the Baltic Pride march and public gathering should be allowed on May 16. The responsible commission will be meeting on Thurday, May 14. I comment this in the video.
Also, the Latvian Security Police have detained a young neo-Nazi for publishing what they call hateful, racist and homophobic comments on internet portals in Latvia. Again, it is a pure freedom of expression issue, just like the Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois in the US in the 1970s. One can find this guy's remarks repulsive, but that does not justify arresting him. He writes under the nickname Fenikss and should be freed with all so-called hate speech charges dropped. Fenikss was already detained once late last year and released.
Or may 34 members of the Riga City Council should turn themselves in along with the crypotfascist Reverend Janis Smits for writing hate speech about the Baltic Pride? :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Riga city councilors ask that Baltic Pride be banned

More than 30 Riga city councilors (Riga, population around 800 000, has 60 council seats, probably the largest number of any municipality in the world) have signed a letter asking that the committee that approved a planned May 16  Baltic Pride March rescind the permit.
The reasons: 1) it would cost too much in police resources and street closures in times of economic crisis 2) a public gathering of LGBT persons is a threat to the morals and virtue of the city.
Two prominent signers of the letter were councilwoman Helmi Stalte, a member of Latvia's Liv (Finno-Ugric speaking) minority, and Ludvigs Almers, a clergyman.

My video thoughts on this:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Confusion about free speech rights in Latvia

This is a video commentary I made on the confused and inconsistent application of the freedom of speech and assembly in Latvia after the events on May 9 and the upcoming Baltic Pride (as well as the March 16 event to commemorate the Latvian Legion).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The "usual" call for banning free speech and assembly

As the spring comes around, so does activity by the gay community (LGBT -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, to be accurate) in Latvia, this year in the form of a Baltic Pride planned for Riga on May 16 as part of the annual "Friendship Days". This will bring LGBT activists from Estonia and Lithuania to Latvia for the first joint Baltic action.
No permit has yet been granted for the Pride March, which the Latvian organizers Mozaika wanted to hold in Vermanes Park, a central park surrounded by a fence (the 2007 Pride was held there). Last year it was held on a stretch of shore drive along the Daugava River near the Old Town, yet again under heavy police protection and with hundreds of shouting counter demonstrators.
The former head of the Latvian parliament's Human Rights commission, the reverend Jānis Šmits, has asked the Riga authorities to ban the Pride March in an open letter, published in Latvian on the website of Diena, but translated and republished here on a pan-European gay rights organization's website.

And here is my video commentary on this:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Latvian government approves totalitarian surveillance

The Latvian government has approved and will pass on to the parliament (Saeima) a law allowing the Security Police, without a court order, to track people's location through their mobile phones, to get records of their conversations and SMS traffic, as well as to track e-mail correspondence and fixed-line phone traffic.
This was reported by the investigative TV show Nekā personīga (Nothing Personal) on TV3 on April 5. According to the reporter, the police will be able to ask for records that are at least 18 months old, but it is unclear whether the Security Police and other institutions, such as the Criminal Police, the State Revenue Service and the Bureau for the Protection of the Constitution (SAB) could be able to obtain real time data.
The law was drafted by the Security Police, which says it has no difficulty getting court orders for wiretapping and tracking mobile phone users.
The TV3 investigators said there had been cases of police authorities threatening to conduct searches of mobile operators who failed to comply (this prior to the law being proposed or passed). Legal experts contacted by TV3 said the draft law represented a violation of European human rights laws.
One wonders whether this legislation is aimed at flash mobs, the Penguin Movement and any activities using e-mail and SMS to organize protests and, yes, civil disobedience and ultimately, violence against government institutions.
There is still some hope that a domestic and international outcry could deter the Saeima from passing this law.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Latvian ombudsman denounces compulsory flag display

The Latvian human rights ombudsman has denounced the existing regulations in Riga making flag displays compulsory on private property as well as a proposal to simultaneous force display of the flag of the city of Riga.
Ombudsman Romāns Apsītis said such ordinances were a violation of European human rights law and the Latvian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.
Displaying the Latvian flag is compulsory on many holidays as well as during certain state visits. Private property owners have been fined for failure to display the flag as well as improper display (without black mourning ribbons on certain days) and other technical violations (wrong color flagpole, timing, hanging the flag from a broomstick).
The proposal by the Riga City Council (Mayor Jānis Birks) in order to "boost morale and a sense of community" is a classic example of why Latvia's politicians are often complete, provincial idiots.
Burn a Riga flag for freedom!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Data inspectorate goes after Penguin Movement

The Latvian Data State Inspectorate has summoned the administrator of the website of the so-called Penguin Movement to explain what it claims were violations of laws and regulations with regard to handling and protecting personal data.
The claims related to several articles by the journalist and commentator Māris Zanders, where he allegorically and indirectly hinted at the mobile phone numbers and home locations of several Latvian politicians. The idea was that these unnamed persons with indirectly described numbers and addresses could get calls, text messages or "visits" by citizens wishing to express their dissatisfaction (or praise, you never know) of the policies and behavior  of the Latvian political elite.
The administrator of, known by his first name Atis, has been asked to explain these articles in person at the Inspectorate on March 26.  Details of the letter to Atis (in Latvian) can be found here.  This summons could be considered the first serious attempt to harass the Penguins.
The Penguin Movement is an informal network of persons who support non-violent protests and direct action against what they see as an insensitive, arrogant and corrupt ruling elite in Latvia. It derives its name from a statement by former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis in a New Year's Eve address that in cold weather (the present economic recession) the penguins (ordinary Latvian citizens) should huddle together. 
My advice -- move the website to a US or other foreign hosting location which values freedom of speech (especially concerning public figures) above so-called data security issues. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Banned march takes place without incident

The banned march to commemorate members of the World War II Latvian Legion and small counterdemonstrations took place despite an official ban. More than 1000 police did not interfere with any of the actvities, although there were a small number of arrests. This makes the ban and the talk of serious threats to public order sound ridiculous. But at least people were allowed to exercise their freedom of assembly and speech. Here is a short video I took:

New minister threatens police for protest action

Linda Murniece, Latvia's new Minister of the Interior, has threatened to fire any police officer who participates in a symbolic 10-minute stoppage of non-essential work today, March 16.
The police union had called for the action to bring attention to wage cuts and poor working conditions as well as the general state of the Latvian economy. The union stressed that work related to saving lives or interventions against ongoing crimes would not be affected.
The union has, under threats from Murniece, called off its action on a day when possibly hundreds of police will be massed in downtown Riga to prevent both a march by veterans of the World War II Latvian Legion and their supporters, as well as counter-demonstrations by so-called anti-fascist groups.
Murniece's statement comes after a decision by Riga city authorities to essentially suspend the right of free assembly and free expression because of unspecified threats. The new minister is taking a repressive hard line against her own employees, many of whom may be reluctantly doing their duty in a dubious repression of basic civil rights.
In 2006, the veteran's commemorative march was stopped by building a fence around the entire Freedom Monument area, but was permitted again in 2007 and 2008, with police separating mutually hostile groups.
My take on this is that this action is not so much aimed at the Legion march and its opponents as it is to make a show of force to deter potential rioters should the first economically-motivated disorders break out later in the spring. The government was caught off-guard and scared by the January 13 riots, which may be a prelude to wider civil disorder as the weather gets warmer.
On March 16, however, the hard line may backfire as people angered by the suspension of their rights of assembly may gather to defy the ban on organized marches and rallies.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Court upholds March 16 assembly ban

An administrative district court in Latvia has upheld a ban on all gatherings near the Freedom Monument on Monday, March 16, rejecting appeals by three different groupings seeking to hold marches or rallies on this day. 
The "main event" on March 16 has for years been a commemorative walk or march by former members of the Latvian Waffen SS, most of whom were drafted during the German occupation of Latvia and fought against the Red Army . March 16 is the only time when both divisions of the Latvian Legion fought side by side on the Eastern front.
The march has attracted protests by groups claiming the event glorifies Nazism and insults the victims of German aggression during World War II. Former legionnaires have testified that they were not Nazi sympathizers but fought to prevent the Red Army from re-conquering Latvia and continuing Stalin's terror. They say that whether they were drafted or volunteered, their intention was to defend Latvia and had nothing to do with Nazi ideology.
Opponents of the Legionnaires' march say there was some overlap between Latvian police units, which may have been involved in repression and violence against non-combatants, and the Legion, which was later formed by absorbing some of these units as well as conscripting tens of thousands of Latvian youths in 1943 and 1944. They are also offended by the claim that there could be any justification for having fought on the Nazi German side (there are Jews and descendants of Holocaust survivors among some of Latvia's "anti-fascist" groups).
There has been some tough talk by outgoing Minister of the Interior Mareks Seglins (staying on as Minster of Justice) about large numbers of riot police armed with tear gas and water-cannon being present on March 16. This seems an overreaction to the "main event" by octogenerians, but younger supporters and pro-Russian youths could present a danger of renewed rioting after the events of January 13.
Indeed, it may be the authorities' fear that any tense, politically charged public gathering could trigger new disorders. so better ban everything. But this amounts to a de-facto blanket declaration of emergency and suspension of civil rights in Latvia.
In past years, despite the disgrace of putting a riot fence around the Freedom Monument in 2006, the police have managed to keep opposing groups apart and there is no reason to believe it cannot be done again.
The court ruling may well backfire provoking all sides to defy the ban and assert their free speech and assembly rights. Some kind of disorder -- maybe even a new riot -- may be the unintended result of this attack on fundamental freedoms in Latvia. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Riga city council suspends freedom of assembly on March 16

The Riga city council has effectively suspended the right to free assembly near the Freedom Monument on March 16, a date associated with commemorations of the World War II Latvian Legion as well as counter-demonstrations claiming the Legion memorials glorify Nazism.
Several organizations, including the war veterans welfare association Daugavas Vanagi had applied to march or gather near the monument. The city council imposed the ban citing security fears.
The so-called Legionnaires' march was entirely banned in 2006 with fences surrounding the Freedom Monument area in what was seen as a scandalous ban on free speech and assembly rights. It was allowed under police protection in 2007 and 2008, accompanied by largely verbal protests and counter-demonstrations.
Also deprived of their righ to assemble are at least two "anti-fascist" groups and various radical nationalist organizations, who see March 16 as an opportunity to parade their views. According to press reports, the dwindling number of surviving legionnaires simply want to commenorate their fallen comrades.
The Latvian Waffen SS Legion was formed in 1943, mainly by conscripting over 100 000 Latvian youths in German-occupied Latvia. These troops fought almost exclusively against the Soviet Red Army on the Eastern Front in what most Latvian soldiers at the time percieved as an desperate effort to prevent a new Soviet occupation of Latvia. War veterans vehemently deny any Nazi sympathies.
March 16, 1944 was a date when both Latvian divisions, under Latvian command (but as part of the German military) fought physically side-by-side at a location just inside Russia. Hence it has been chosen as a day to commemorate those who fell.
The anti-fascist groups, however, see the march as a glorification of Nazism and maintain, with some historical support, that there was a mixing of personnel into the Legion from the so-called Latvian Police Batallions (formed before the Legion) which may have been involved in crimes against civilians. They also point to the Nazi SS regalia that the Legionnaires bore in addition to tokens of Latvian patriotism, such as badges in the color of the Latvian flag.
No wartime German symbols have been displayed at Legion marches. The anti-fascists, which include a number of Latvian and former-Soviet Jews, are also concerned that the commemoration is attracting young radical nationalists and neo-Nazis. The latter actually do glorify the Third Reich.
The free speech issues are clear -- all groups, seperated reasonably in time or space (as in the past) and under sufficient police protection (as in the past) have an inalienable right to freedom of speech and assembly on March 16. This includes both the anti-fascist groups that have been labeled as pro-Russian or pro-Communist by some, as well as nationalists or neo-Nazis merely voicing their views and beliefs, no matter how controversial or repugnant they may be. Not the least, the war veterans (men in their late 80s and early 90s) can hardly be seen as a threat to Latvia's security.
Perhaps the Riga authorities are spooked by the January 13 riots and see a danger in any large public gathering that incites passions. They forget that banning fundamental freedoms will excite additional passions (I don't think the Legions battles, in which my late father took part, were anything more than a historical tragedy) in those who feel that free speech should be defended at all costs. Maybe even tearing down a fence or two...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keep doing this work

There was a news report that the Latvian Security Police were going after some people who were forging and selling Latvian passports. This, plus watching out for real terrorist threats to Latvia, is a legitimate function of this agency. It's not like I think the Security Police are totally useless and repressive. When they attack free speech and try to chill debate in Latvian society, they are in their neo-KGB mode, but that is not to say that there aren't some legitimate functions. So, have a nice day, guys and gals.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Penguins signal that civil disobedience may be next

The informal, non-violent protest and resistance movement in Latvia known as The Penguins* is contemplating civil disobedience and the arrest of movement volunteers. This was discussed at a recent meeting of Penguin supporters in a Riga bar and restaurant. The discussion was led by journalist and commentator Māris Zanders, a "non-leader" of the Penguins, who asked "who is willing to do five days?" (a hypothetical jail sentence for possible misdemeanors related to obstructing buildings or disobeying and "resisting" police) with several of those present indicating they would do so.
The Penguins also discussed, in broad terms, the necessity for organizing a legal aid team to defend those eventually arrested as well as to gain maximum international publicity for those who may become Latvia's first political prisoners since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Penguins want to resist, by all non-violent means, the present government, which they see as corrupt, incompetent and deaf to its electorate. Their immediate goal is to have the government resign and to dissolve the Latvian parliament or Saeima and hold new elections. Many, however, are skeptical of whether new elections will improve the quality of governance in Latvia. In the long term, the Penguins want to see clean, efficient government, although the discussion on February 18 revealed considerable differences in long-term goals and visions.
A few representatives of the youth nationalist "All For Latvia" (Visu Latvija) party came to the Penguins' discussion. Their goal is to try to get elected in the next Saeima elections (whether snap elections in the next few months or at the end of the present term in 2010). One speaker said he wanted constitutional reform that would exclude "party politics" -- harking back to the authoritarian regime of President Kārlis Ulmanis after 1934.
Another speaker said the most pressing goal was to stop the plundering of the nation and to avoid the great debt burden that would be imposed by the ongoing 7.5 billion EUR package (from various international sources) to bolster Latvia's government finances and the banking system.
Zanders warned that regardless of what the Penguins do, he foresaw likely civil unrest in coming months as the weather gets warmer and the first of a wave of unemployed exhaust their unemployment benefits.
My take on this: The Penguins urgently need international legal, human rights and media contacts to prepare for any eventuality. Several lawyers and a man claiming to be a veteran police officer said that the treatment of persons engaged in civil disobedience, even if this was clearly stated, could be much harsher than in western democracies. One lawyer said Latvian courts and law enforcement structures still bore a heavy Soviet/totalitarian legacy and would not know how to handle "political"cases.
One solution is to have both international human rights lawyers and media ready to intervene and cover the detention and trial of persons engaged in civil disobedience. This would make Latvia less likely to violate human rights and diverge from European best practices in dealing with such forms of (technically illegal) protest.
* the term comes from Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis' New Year's Eve speech, where he said that in hard times, the penguins huddle together.

Press restrictions put off

A parliamentary (Saeima) committee has rejected proposals by Latvia's Minister of Justice Gaidis Berzins that would have severely restricted reporting on criminal cases (based on leaked documents and materials made public by the accused). Latvian media had expressed concern that this legislation would have prevented disclosures of such scandals as Jurmalagate, where transcripts of politicians' conversations in an attempt to corrupt the election of the mayor of Jurmala were leaked to the press and television.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Latvian Security Police Question Radio Journalist

The Latvian Security Police summoned Didzis Melbiksis,  a journalist from Latvian Radio, for questioning in connection with a post on what was apparently his private blog. Melbiksis told me this at an informal meeting of supporters of the Penguin Movement and I did not get all the details. What he posted, for informational purposes, was an anonymous document circulated on the internet ahead of the January 13 riots calling for a violent revolt against the Latvian government. While some of the suggestions in the document (such as preparing Molotov cocktails, which would have started fires and caused burns to anyone hit) were not carried out, the appeal was, in fact,  followed (perhaps through inspiration, not direct cause) by the riot.
I believe that even pamphlets calling for revolution are covered by the freedom of speech. One such example -- The American Declaration of Independence. The ideas of the Declaration could, by analogy, in some people's opinion,  be applied to the current situation in Latvia:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Drastic restrictions on criminal case coverage proposed

The Latvian Ministry of Justice (Minister Gaidis Berzins, Fatherland& Freedom Party) has proposed drafting a law that would drastically restrict media coverage of criminal cases by forbidding the publication and/or quoting  of case evidence and other materials. This is an apparent attempt to prevent, in the future, the publication of material embarassing to Latvian politicians, such as the transcripts of phone conversations in the so-called "Jurmalagate" scandal.
There such political figures as the current Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers and former Prime Minister Andris Skele were wiretapped (or unwiretapped, as some calls were on mobile phones) discussing the failure of an attempt to bribe a city councilman in Jurmala, a posh suburb of Riga, with Skele asking, when told of two possible candidates for mayor -- "who is the bigger cretin?" 
The newspaper Diena, quick to respond to the proposal to modify Latvia's press law and restrict criminal case coverage, quotes a Ministry of Justice official as saying that even coverage of open trials could be restricted, allowing "retelling" of testimony and evidence, but not "brutal quotation", whatever that means. Presumably Skele's memorable quote could be excluded from publication.
This is, yet again, to me, evidence that the so-called Latvian political elite is a bunch of scared cryptofascists who have no idea of how to run a democracy or manage a national economy. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Criminal investigation against musican ended

The Latvian Security Police have ended a criminal investigation against the musician Valters Frīdenbergs for allegedly destabilizing the Latvian financial system by comments joking made at a concert in November 2008. No formal charges have been filed.
According to the LETA news agency, the criminal investigation against Ventspils University College lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs continues, and he is still banned from leaving the country. Smirnovs was arrested in Ventspils, brought to Riga and detained for questioning for two days in November following publication of a report in a newspaper of a public discussion where he said that people should not keep their money in Latvian banks and in the Latvian currency, the lat.
The farcical investigation against Frīdenbergs has ended, but the case of Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a blatant violation of free speech, must not be forgotten. The chilling effect of what was done to him by Latvia's Neo-KGB still affects him and others intimidated by the actions of the Security Police.
People should keep up the pressure and express their continued outrage that the criminal investigation continues against the Ventspils academic. E-mail your protests to

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Penguins come bearing gifts

The Penguin Movement staged a peaceful and successful stroll-in by the Latvian parliament, the Saeima. leaving a small pile of gifts for the esteemed parliamentarians. Some, including an MP with whom I am friendly (his wife was a professionally important PR person a few years back and was/still is a nice lady), were not too happy with this, sensing the undertone of mockery. This gentlement, Mr.L (my Latvian readers know who) is said to have told a man offering his gift that " I don't take beggar's alms" and then whispered Fuck Off!
Maybe he should listen to his wife about good PR :)
Here is the video:

Penguins to gather at Latvian Parliament

The informal, non-violent extra-parliamentary opposition movement known as "The Penguins" will stage a "spontaneous" strolling action near the Latvian parliament or Saeima on Wednesday, February 4 at 3 PM local time. The action will coincide with an emergency meeting of the Saeima to take up a vote of non-confidence in the coalition government of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis. The vote is not expected to succeed.
Internet sites have been urging penguin sympathizers to bring gifts (used clothing, soap, curios, and the like)for parliamentarians or to decorate nearby tree branches with patriotic ribbons.
It remains to be seen whether the police, who have been on high alert in the wake of farmer protests on February 3, will attempt to seal off the area around the Saeima building. On January 17, a few days after rioters stoned the Saeima and broke a number of windows, police sealed off the area with steel barriers ahead of an unsanctioned demonstration by the tiny "Action Party" (Rīcības Partija). Journalists and TV crews outnumbered a few party activists at that gathering.
During the farmers' protest, in which columns of tractors drove into Riga and onto bypass highways near the capital, a large number of police vans, equipped for possible riot duty (windows were covered with screens) and elements of the elite Alpha riot control and special operations unit were seen near one street crossing where highway police stopped a convoy of around 25 tractors.
The Penguin movement takes its name from a remark by the Prime Minister in a New Year's eve address to the nation that in cold times, penguins huddle close together.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Political flash mob in Riga (videoblog)

The first political flash mob action took place in Riga, January 30 in front of the parliament (Saeima). The protestors, mainly employees and listeners of Latvia's public service radio (Latvijas Radio), stood silently with their mouths taped shut, protesting budget cuts and serious financial irregularities that have already "silenced" a significant part of the radio's programming. The radio, despite oversight by its own board of diretors and the National Radio and Television Council managed to run up accounts payable of nearly 800 000 LVL. The disclosure resulted in the sudden resignation of the director of Latvija Radio.
From a free speech viewpoint, the flash mob passed without incident. A few municipal policemen, dressed in ordinary street uniforms (no riot gear) patrolled near the event, which gathered at most some 100 people, including more than a dozen journalists and television crew members.

This is how it looked:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First "penguin" action coming after February 2


The informal non-parliamentary opposition movement known as "The Penguins" (pingvīni) will hold its first action next week, February 2 at the earliest. When and where is still unknown, making this more of a spontaneous "flash" action than the "flashmob" action planned by the Latvian Parliament on January 30 to support Latvian public radio.
The Penguin action will apparently involve a select group of persons committed to non-violent (but possibly disruptive and disobedient) protest gathering to confront one or more government ministers or politicians. Map coordinates hinting that certain political figures may live along "strolling routes" have already been published on the Penguin's website/blog (in Latvian only). No name have been mentioned, making it difficult for anyone to accuse the informal political movement of incitement to harrass individuals or disrupt government activities.
It has been noted in the Penguin blog that flower-laying ceremonies (a part of foreign official visitor protocol) at the Freedom Monument where government ministers join their foreign guests could be an opportunity to express shame and disgust toward the Latvian ministers (not the foreign visitors, but obviously generating considerable publicity).

Flashmob at parliament to support Latvian Radio

Employees of Latvia's public service radio (Latvijas Radio) have called for a flash-mob to gather near the parliament (Saeima) building for five minutes on Friday, January 30 to stand in complete silence to protest the "silencing" of the national radio service through budget cuts and a large deficit apparently cause by negligence by persons and authorities responsible for the oversight of its operations.
This will be one of the first political flash mobs in Latvia, and it has been announced in advance by "non-flash" (on the internet, in social networks) means ("classic" flash mobs are often gathered by SMS on short notice). Earlier flash mobs (several hundred people stopping all movement near Riga's Central Station) have been artistic "happenings".
Because of the publicity and advance warning, as well as the nervousness of the authorities following the rioting on January and stoning of the Saiema building, there is some danger that police could try to prevent or disperse the flash mob. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Latvia moves from speech to non-violent resistance

After the January 13 street riots in Riga, subsequent threats of government repression and what is widely seen as continued government indifference to public opinion, an informal movement of non-violent resistance, called The Penguins (Pingvini). The term emerged from a remark by Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, apparently in his New Year's Eve address to the nation (I was in the US at the time and missed it). Godmanis said that in hard (or cold) times, penguins squeeze together.
The penguin movement apparent started before January 13, since a contingent of mainly young people with placards bearing ironic "penguin slogans" was seen at the peaceful opposition rally at Riga's Dom Square that preceded the disorders.
Following statements that were seen as threats to freedom of assembly and speech by the Prime Minister immediately after the riots, journalist, blogger and radio personality (and my editor and colleague at LETA) Māris Zanders said that the government had "declared war" on the public and the only reasonable response was to prepare for non-violent resistance. Transcripts of Zanders' radio commentaries have appeared on the home page of the Penguins, putting him in the unwanted position of being an informal leadership figure for what is emerging as a non-violent, almost anarchist resistance movement.
Zanders has published a number of addresses and mobile phone numbers that he hints might be those of government ministers and has urged the public to call or send SMS to these numbers to express dissatisfaction. He has also listed some addresses and locations in Riga that can be understood to be the residences of the same ministers.  The journalist's commentaries have been formulated in sufficiently vague terms so that no one can call them incitements to harass public figures. Press reports say that several ministers have been turning off their mobile phones after work or failing to answer calls from numbers they do not recognize.
Zanders has also suggested the people go on " peaceful strolls" in areas where the politicians live or where important meetings of the government and parliamentarians are taking place. One could even have a friendly "snowball fight", he said.
The penguin website is developing discussions of other non-violent and civil disobedience actions (silent vigils, refusals to disperse).  There is, too, an undertone of concern that the authorities might use force against such protests and what, then, would be the reaction of the penguins and their supporters.
Aside from the penguins, Latvian farmers, especially dairy farmers, are threatening to obstruct roads with farm machinery and perhaps organize similar militant actions in Riga. The farmers are asking for government support to avoid bankruptcy during the economic crisis.
I think we are seeing the seeds of an extraparliamentary opposition in Latvia, ranging from non-violent demonstrators to civil disobedience, to possibly other forms of resistance if the state is the first to use force.  I will try to keep readers informed. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Look "provocative", go to jail

The news agency LETA reports that police in Riga detained several youths who "looked provocative" were loud and behaved "defiantly". So now this is a reason for police action? The chilling effect of the authoritarian Godmanis regime's "another Latvia" has now started.  The arrests took place in the Riga Old Town (Vecrīga), the site of riots on January 13, and the site of loud, provocatively dressed, sometimes "defiant" youths on almost all other dates in the calendar.
I don't know what these people were up to when they were arrested for being young, strangely dressed and "defiant" by the judgement of some police officer, but I would think their respect for the police has dropped and their readiness to maybe throw a paving stone back at those who detained them has increased. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Another Latvia" bans picketing in Riga's Old Town

The Riga City Council has denied permits for two politically-oriented gatherings in Riga's Old Town, the site of recent street riots against the government and parliament (Saeima) that saw windows smashed, police vehicles overturned and stones thrown at the police.
A group calling itself the "Action Party"(Rīcības Partija) and headed by formed Euroskeptic Normunds Grostiņš, called for a gathering on Saturday, January 17 at the Riga Castle (the "official"but ramshackle residence of the Latvian president) followed by a march to the Saeima. The Action Party wants the present government replaced by a cabinet of non-political professionals. Their permit was denied but the group has appealed to the courts.
Another rally was planned by a student group, also near the Riga Castle, on Sunday, January 18. It has apparently cancelled its plans.
There are comments and appeals circulating on the internet asking people to defy the ban on gatherings in the Old Town and hinting at a repeat of the January 13 disorders if the police attempt to disperse or interfere with any unsanctioned public meetings.
These bans on free expression (even as precautions against more violence) are in the spirit of the repressive (and scared, from the government's viewpoint) "another Latvia" to which Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis said the country had awakened following a night of rioting.
Unfortunately, it appears that more confrontations are inevitable -- certain parts of society have had a taste of actively fighing authority and there is some justification for at least civil disobedience and resistance to bans on free expression. It is not a good path of development, but unavoidable and largely to be blamed on the pig-headed, deaf and corrupt political elite of this country.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crackdown on expression could follow Riga riots

Latvian prime minister Ivars Godmanis said that it "is another Latvia" after the January 13 riots in Riga and that "other methods" would be used to quell violent protests. Speaking on a morning news show January 14, Godmanis hinted that further mass rallies in Riga's Old Town could be restricted or forbidden. The peaceful rally ahead of the unrest was organized by a new opposition party and supported by various non-governmental organizations. It was called to demand that President Valdis Zatlers dissolve the Latvian Parliament, the Saiema.
Following the rally in Riga's Dom Square a large crowd moved on to the nearby Saeima building where confrontations erupted between a small police contingent guarding the entrance to the building and the demonstrators. Snow, ice and eggs were thrown, followed by paving stones, smashing several windows. There were a number of injuries on both sides.
The rioting spilled over into other parts of the historic downtown, with youths overturning several police vehicles, smashing windows at the Finance Ministry and several shops and offices. A liquour store was looted. Charges by riot police were met with showers of stones and other objects, including uprooted street signs tossed as spears at both the police and store windows.
My assessment:
On one level, the ruling coalition in Latvia had this coming to it. Regardless of what the law and the book of etiquette says, a riot is a form of political struggle, though less focussed and clear than a well-defined non-violent protest. Seeing eggs and rocks fly at the Saeima building as a symbol of the ruling elite and Latvian politicians  made not only me but many others feel that they had this coming. 
If there is more severe repression against future protests, it will most likely escalate to the West European model of periodic clashes between the police and young streetfighters.
While this is unfortunate, especially for those suffering collateral damage -- looted stores, injured police and bystanders -- it now seems inevitable that street violence will become part of the political scene here and the threat of such violence -- a likely excuse for curbing non-violent expression. Post-Soviet authoritarian thinking in Latvia is strong, and it will not diminish but find some self-justification after the Riga riots. 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Latvian Security police praise "chilling effect" of their actions

The Latvian Security Police have praised the "chilling effect" of their own actions in detaining an economics lecturer, questioning a musician and starting criminal proceedings against both late last year.
Juris Leitietis, the head of the counter-terrorism unit of the Security Police said (according to press reports):

"Maybe some say that these two criminal proceedings are senseless, but already now one can say, that they have, to a certain degree, given results, because people think whether they are acting correctly when not thinking about their statements in the public space. Everyone--starting from journalists, show hosts and ending with individual (internet) chatters- after these criminal proceedings started to think somewhat how to express their thoughts," Leitietis said, adding that it was one of the goals, to ensure that people do not harm others, even unintentionally."

I am a journalist. I tend to write based on facts and different sources. I try to avoid imprudent assertions (though I will quote imprudent people as part of a good story)I am not intimidated by the authoritarian pig Juris Leitietis and his Neo-KGB. But I will make one statement of opinion about this kind of thinking: FUCK THE SECURITY POLICE! Clear and simple.