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.


Andrejs Visockis said...

This is yet another sad day for this city and this country! The likelihood of me leaving this place is increasing by the hour.

Juris Kaža said...

So see you at the airport? :).

Lingüista said...

Latvia is a country I really like -- I've started learning the language, which I find profoundly beautiful. So when I hear about this lack of democratic education in Latvia, I feel really sad. I suppose this is one more thing to blame on the old USSR -- the destruction of the hope of a real civil society in which people would understand what it means to respect the rights of others to express their opinions.

At least, I suppose it was the USSR -- wasn't the first Latvian Republic (before Ulmanis' coup) better at supporting free speech? Or am I wrong?

At any rate... what do you think might be done to help? Any groups in Latvia worth supporting? Is there any thing a far-away foreigner (I'm from Brazil) can do to help?

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