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."