Friday, November 19, 2010

A dialog of fools thrown to the thought police and more on the fashionista scandal, an interesting hybrid of a Latvian wiki-leaks and some borderline hatchet-job investigative journalism reports that the scandalous electronic  correspondence of Latvia's new foreign minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis and Latvian-American physician Aivars Slucis is being turned over to Latvia's post-independence zombie of the KGB thought police, the Latvian Security Police (Drošības Policija).
Kristovskis, corresponding about a year ago with Slucis, a financial supporter of radical nationalist causes in Latvia, wrote that he broadly and in principle agreed with a screed in which the US-based Mayo Clinic doctor said he would be hard pressed to treat Latvians and Russians equally were he practicing medicine in Latvia. The e-mail also referred to the possibility of starting a medical facility in Latvia that would only treat ethnic Latvians.
There was, of course, a major uproar when this correspondence was disclosed even before the ink was dry on whatever document was signed nominating Kristovskis as foreign minister. A vote of no-confidence against him requested in the new Saeima (where the newly-elected legislators had barely learned how to operate the electronic voting system) failed,  but the whole scandal set the tone for the generally shambolic way the new Dombrovskis government was put together.  But that is another story.
The free speech issue at stake is that neither Dr. Slucis anti-Russian remarks, nor the reply by Kristovskis should be the subject of a police investigation. What both sides wrote, however deranged or offensive it may look, is and should be protected free expression. Period.
I will repeat again -- free expression is not something that protects only nice expression, rational expression, polite expression etc. Free expression protects all forms of thought and opinion, starting with the most extreme views. Once we let police power start examining "extreme" expression -- where will they go next?
The almost black humor crackpot part of Slucis'  views is that as a physician, he would be bound to treat enemy combatants in a war. I don't know (I doubt it) if any injured Taliban have been flow to the US and "outsourced"  for treatment to the Mayo Clinic, but I think that Slucis would have to take them as patients. Certainly that would be his duty were he a military doctor,  or in the unlikely situation that foreign terrorists were wounded by police during an incident in Rochester, Minnesota and rushed to the Mayo Clinic as the nearest hospital.
However you analyze the complex tensions that sometimes exist between Latvians and Russians in Latvia, both ethnic groups are not engaged in armed conflict. Yet Slucis makes statements that would not apply even in an armed conflict (in World War II, American doctors treated Germans whose language they didn't understand and who had been killing  Americans minutes earlier. They may not have liked it, but they treated them).  Arguments, not police, should be used against crackpot opinions.

While on the subject of the bizarre, it is worth noting that my post on the expulsion of fashion blogger and magazine editor-in-chief Agnese Kleina from the Riga Fashion Week drew more than 2 000 hits in a single day to my blog. This was amazing, because to me this was a marginal matter, hardly a case of the government banning a public protest or arresting a journalist. It was actually my gut reaction to what seemed to me to be irrational mistreatment of a fellow journalist.  But nothing I have ever written on this blog has ever gotten the same level of attention, especially considering that most Latvians may find my slang-ridden American English prose a bit difficult to understand. I had no idea that the fashion industry (of which I know nothing) had so many followers
Anyway,  I got a couple of e-mails from  Jeļena Stahova, the president of the Baltic Fashion Federation, who explained her reasons for banning Kleina.
She sent  a longer e-mail in Latvian, but the salient points (here in an edited  Google translation) were as follows:

The decision on refusal of accreditation  for A. Kleina, by the Baltic fashion Federation and in particular by the Riga Fashion Week Autumn session was made  this year In the spring, when I got to publications of Latvian Style and Fashion Awards ceremony. The reason for this was Kleina in her unethical comments  in a  blog, where she mocked thje event for members, leaders and everything that happened on the runway, in a way that is inconsistent with the word"Journalist" and which  was inconsistent with any professional journalism general ethical standards.Her remarks on the RFW poster  had nothing to do with this case. 

My original post was a borderline rant, so I am glad that Jeļena didn't take offense, especially as I know about as much about the fashion business as a dog knows of the Catholic mass (translating, loosely, the Latvian expression  ko suns zin no dievkalpojuma) .  I don't know what Agnese Kleina wrote earlier to anger the Fashion Federation and Jeļena, but as far as ethics go, there is a difference between blogging and "straight" (no reference to sexual orientation)  journalism. Blogs are there to express opinion, and the ethical standards are much looser. In writing news, it is unethical to distort facts, etc.  so to say that 50 people watched XY's collection demonstration when there were clearly 200 people there, or to confuse colors, etc. would be bad journalism. But to express a strong opinion in a blog is another story. Perhaps it is foolish to offend members of a close-knit and sensitive community (the Latvian fashion scene) knowing that they may react strongly to being offended. But that is more a question of tact than journalistic ethics. 
So I hope I have made an effort to be fair to the other side :).  Do I get another 2000 page hits for this?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Boozehound (?) gets six month jail sentence for desecrating Latvian flag

A 28-year old man has been sentenced to six months in jail for desecrating the Latvian flag by hanging from the flagpole of the Smiltene town hall while boozed up. The flagpole snapped and the flag was torn. This according to media reports.
Normally, this would be a case of public drunkeness and property damage or vandalism. What is disturbing is the harsh application of a law that, essentially, "sanctifies" symbols of the state and nation, giving them protection above and beyond other items of public or private property. The reason for this in Latvia as in other states is to create a disincentive for using national symbols (the flag, coat of arms, whatever) in certain forms of protest -- burning, defacement and the like.
While I doubt that our Smiltene boozehound was making any kind of political statement by doing pull-ups (maybe just one :) ) on the town hall flagpole, it is nonetheless both ominous and bizarre that he was sentences under a political law. It would be worse, still, had his actions actually been politically motivated. Is this a hidden warning not to deface the Latvian flag as a protest against, say, budget cuts or some other matter. If so, our Smiltene boozehound is actually a mineshaft canary warning of a latent but very real threat to the full freedom of expression in Latvia.
I don't favor burning flags as a form of protest either here or in the United States, where I grew up. But I do support the First Amendment cases that defend the right to burn one's own property as a form of protest even if that property happens to be a national flag.
As a final note, it may be that the dude in Smiltene got the harsh sentence because he had a previous shortened or suspended sentence for another crime. Even that does not justify harsher sentencing under a law designed to repress free expression. Had the charge been simple drunkeness and vandalism, fine. Repressive laws --no.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Latvia, vindictive repression hits the "rag trade"

Normally, Riga Fashion Week would be way beyond my sphere of interest -- babes on the edge of anorexia strutting down runways in far-out outfits you never see on the street or in offices (although Latvian women generally dress well). Good for them and on to the next subject...
But wait, it now seems that the organizers of Riga Fashion Week have expelled Agnese Kleina, a fashion blogger, journalist and editor of the magazine Deko (which is all about fashion, design, style and all that stuff). Agnese, it seems, criticized the poster for the event. I mean, that is what fashion/design/style journalists do, isn't it? They tell the rest of us why they think something is well designed or in good or bad taste, sort of like film critics write about movies and food critics about restaurants. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and seldom is there just one viewpoint. Take the film Amaya (a film shot in Hong Kong by a Latvian director who works in Lithuania). Some critics thought it was great. I saw it and I would give it five WTF?s (I found myself thinking those words at least five times, starting with when the camera panned down to actress Kristīne Nevarauska's legs so as not to show that she was not voicing the accented English lines she was supposed to be saying).  So should I now be expelled from Latvian movie houses?
What makes the case of Agnese Kleina even stranger is that when she was declined accreditation by the organizers of the event, she went there as the personal guest of one of her favorite designers, just to see her show off her collection. Even so, she was escorted out of the event by security people. WTF? How about the right of a participant and exhibitor to invite whomever she wants?
While you could argue that private events do not have to follow rules and practices about the freedom of speech (this derives from the freedom of non-state actors to be total assholes if they so choose or are intellectually doomed to be just that), the fashion event did take place at Riga Airport, a public facility and with the moral support of the Riga City Council,  a public authority whose reputation can be tainted by being dragged into, excuse the sexist terminology -- bitch fights.

Agnese writes about the incident in the English-language portion of her fashion blog:

Riga Fashion week? Been there, done that. Although with no press accreditation whatsoever as my official application was denied for the first time (I guess, some post on some poster is to be blamed), but still. Some birdie told me that similar ‘reasons’ have put TV fashion journalist Gundega Skudrina in the same list of persona non grata. Well, shit happens. I hope, it won’t go further down and doors won’t be showed to theatre reviewers, fallen in the disgrace of some theatre directors.

Oh well, this is Latvia, what else can one expect.... or am I wrong?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Latvian news agency LETA hit by denial of service attack

The Latvian news agency LETA has been hit for several hours Thursday night by a denial of service (DOS) attack that blocked access to its main news website The business portal appeared to be working normally.
The attack came two days ahead of national elections October 2 to the Latvian parliament or Saeima. LETA  will be a major source of election news and returns and a threat at this late date creates uncertainty as to whether LETA or its
LETA editor-in-chief Pēteris Zirnis, citing the news agency's IT administrators, confirmed that a denial of service attack had been going on and efforts were made to stop it. DOS attacks, also called distributed DOS (DDOS) involve a large number of computers sending huge numbers of connection requests or specially-designed data packets to a target server, with the aim of overwhelming its capacity to respond.
While DDOS attacks are often launched for purposes of criminal mischief or extortion, it cannot be rule out that someone is testing their ability to disrupt the flow of news during the coming elections or at other critical times. In that case, there is a severe and ongoing threat to the free flow of information in Latvia.
As of 23:50 Thursday night, the main service was still down.

UPDATE: LETA service appeared to be restored at around 24:00 (midnight)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dmitrijs Smirnovs, arrested for published opinion, sues the Latvian Security Police

Instead of writing, I have recorded this as a video. What do readers/viewers think?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Latvian police see no violation in campaigning by two political candidates

The Latvian National Police see no violations of any laws in campaigning activities by two candidates of the  Vienotība (Unity) alliance who had confrontations with security guards by the Riga Central Station and the Central Market, according to press reports.
Rasma Kārkliņa, a German born Latvian political scientist who worked extensively in the US, was told by security guards hired by the Norwegian-owned Linstow property management company to stop. Police were summoned after Kārkliņa objected and she went to a police station to make a statement.
Lolita Čigāne, another Vienotība candidate, was campaigning in the largely open-air Central Market where she got into a confrontation with security guards and firmly stood on her constitutional right to free speech,
A spokesperson for Linstow, which has stewardship over the public areas by the Central Station, where it manages the Origo shopping center, which is integrated with the train station, said that Kārkliņa should have obtained approval to campaign by signing an agreement with the company. However, such contracts apparently apply to semipermanent campaigning facilities, such as tents, sheds, or stand-alone signs (such as a large one erected to promote the candidacy of Ainars Šlesers, once associated with Linstow and Norwegian retailing interests). As Kārklinā said in an updated statement, she is "neither a tent nor a large banner".  The law cited by the Linstow spokesperson also speaks of "public institutions", which means there should be no political campaigning in closed spaces, such as municipal offices, police stations, City Hall and the like.
A reasonable approach would be to treat peaceful, free speech and assembly as a nearly inviolable right in all areas that are functionally public spaces (that is, open to all and generally allowing both transit by the public and the peaceful presence of members of the public). This means that the stewardship the Linstow can exercise over this area by contract or other legal right should be limited to strictly technical matters (cleaning and safety issues) and, to some extent, the placement of semi-permanent structures in the area, as well as some scheduling issues (hard to have two public gatherings in the same place at once).
What Linstow has chosen to do, instead, is to aggressively assert what amount to maximum property rights(like those of a private home, office and, to some extent, the enclosed areas of the Origo shopping facility) and the ability to dictate limits on the speech and behavior of persons in an area that is for all intents and purposes.
It may be a bit far-fetched to say that Linstow is acting on behalf of Šlesers, who helped set them up in Riga when he was a private businessman in the 1990s, it can be claimed on indisputable fact that the company has acted as a defacto private political police. Personally, I don't blame this so much on the Norwegians, who have always been Scandinavian-style democrats, but on the local Latvian mentality, to forbid and intimidate first, then ask questions about free speech and political rights later, when forced by a public scandal to do so. Unfortunately, the authoritarian reflex and the authoritarian personality are very much alive in Latvian political and corporate culture. In Norway, the spirit of the authoritarian Vidkun Quisling is dead, but in Latvia, the mentality of the distant authoritarian past, and of the not-so-distant totalitarian times, is still with us.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Latvian parliamentary candidates expelled from public areas

Two candidates in the upcoming Latvian parliamentary elections were prevented from campaigning in two public places -- the square by Riga's Central Station and the Central Market.
Rasma Kārkliņa, a candidate for the "Vienotiba" (Unity) alliance was told by Origo shopping center security guards to stop speaking to passers-by in front of the Central Railway Station, a place where campaigning has been conducted previously, where concerts and public gatherings have been held and where young people gather, loiter, talk and sometimes skateboard.
Kārkliņa, a political scientist who moved to Latvia from the US, was eventually taken to a police station to give an account of what happened. She says she was simply talking to bypassers, urging them to vote for Vienotības. She did not set up a table, stand, tent or other object that might have required permission from Norwegian-owned Linstow,  the property management company that runs the Origo shopping center inside the Central Station and charged with maintenance and care of the public area near the station.
A spokesperson for Linstow in Latvia, responding to a discussion on Twitter, said that Karkliņa had been asked to officially coordinate her campaigning with Linstow, but had not done so. She said political parties who got approval could conduct campaign activities.
In a press release, Kārkliņa said she believed her expulsion from the Central Station Square had to do with political opponent Ainārs Šlesers former business ties to Linstow and other Norwegian business interests. Before going into politics, Šlesers played a key role in bringing the then Norwegian Rimi supermarkets, the Dressman and BikBok clothing stores and other Norwegian retailers and real estate managers into Latvia in the late 1990s.  Šlesers spokespeople have denied these accusations.
Also challenged by private security guards at the Riga Central Market was Vienotiba candidate Lolita Čigāne, who was campaigning with two assistants. According to some reports, she aggressively verbally challenged those asking her to leave, citing her right as a citizen to free speech  The Central Market management said they had a right to restrict Čigānes activities under a law forbidding election campaigning on property that is more than 50 % owned by a municipality. The Central Market is owned by the City of Riga, as is the Central Station.
The Central Station area and the Central Market are two areas of downtown Riga with very high pedestrian traffic with commuters going to trains or shoppers at Origo and the Central Market. They are natural areas for meeting large numbers of "ordinary" citizens.
There has been some discussion on Twitter (in Latvian) of holding a protest "Tweetmob" in the Central Station Square in the next few days to peacefully protest the violation of freedom of speech and assembly.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Latvia's "Wikileaks Lite" closed, investigate journalist flees country

Lato Lapsa, a controversial Latvian investigative journalist with access to hundreds of pages of documents in a criminal investigation of politician and Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs, announced he was fleeing the country and shutting down his websites, including one that was a kind of Latvian "Wikileaks Lite".
Lapse told Latvian media that serious threats had been made against him and his sister and her chidren and he was leaving Latvia until at least October 3, the day after the national elections.  He indicated he had been in touch with the Latvian Security Police (Drošības Policija/DP), but it was not clear whether the agency had advised him to close his websites.
The website published copies of what it claimed were bank statements, witness affidavits and other documents from the criminal investigation files concerning Lembergs, who Lapsa says skimmed some LVL 1 billion (almost USD 2 billion) that would otherwise have gone to the state treasury through various schemes, offshore companies and the abuse of political office and influence. The website has now been taken down.
Lembergs, who spent several months in investigative detention, has denied these charges and told a panel of journalists on Latvian television recently that he had sown the seeds of his large fortune (estimated at over LVL 100 million) by selling hunting rights for stags in Latvian forests to "wealthy Germans"  during the last year of the Soviet occupation. After obtaining the local Soviet hunting trophy permits (Lembergs was a Communist Party official in Ventspils at the time), for a few tens of rubles (dollars), he sold them to the "millonaire"  Germans for DM 10 000 (around USD 5 000 at the time) apiece.  The politician, who has been in power in the port and, until several years ago, major petroleum transit city Ventspils since Latvia regained its independence.
Lapsa, often called a "notorious"  investigative journalist with dubious methods of presenting his evidence, published, among other documents, the bank statements of Lemberg's adult children showing then spending large amounts on clothing and restaurants in Latvia and in European capitals, as well as handling deposits of millions of LVL.  Lembergs says that, according to official income statements filed as a public official under Latvian law, he earned LVL 25 million in salaries, fees and dividends over the past three years, making him probably the most highly remunerated person in Latvia in any position,  public or private (by contrast, the head of Lattelecom would have made less than LVL 1 million over the same three year period). Lembergs has denied all charges leveled against him and won a court case in which he was accused of wrongly and obstructively refusing to register a well-lnown public official because the man was not identified by personal code in a document from the Minister of Economics at the time.
Lapsa also shut down other websites, including those promoting his latest book on the politician Ainars Šlesers. Lapsa's methods in this and other "expose" books have been criticized. In the latest book on Šlesers, still being sold despite the website closure, he discloses that the politician's and former businessman's father was a mentally disturbed, abusive murderer who played only a short, traumatic role in Šleser's upbringing. He alsi claims that Šlesers, now the vice-mayor of Riga, evaded taxes on fish imported from Norway in the early and mid-1990s, events now beyond the statute of limitations for such violations.
Nonetheless, the silencing and temporary exile of "Latvia's most scandalous"  journalist and the closing of his "Wikileaks Lite"  websites by threatening the health or life of Lapsa's sister and her children has darkened the already strange and murky pre-election political and journalistic scene in Latvia. It strongly suggests that powerful, criminal interests are involved in the struggle for political power, setting Latvia apart from other Northern European countries where dirty politics, while hardly non-existent, never reach such an intensity.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Turning up the repression in many ways

I haven't had the time or energy to post, although I should have. The country continues to ease toward a crypto police state. Just a few incidents as examples.
During Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov's visit to Riga, a number of deputies of the pro-Russian, left-leaning For Human Rights in a Unified Latvia (Latvian= PCTVL) picketed near the Riga City Council building, not against Luzhkov, but to demand that a street named after the deceased Chechen leader Dzhokar Dudajev be renamed. They were dispersed by the police, some taken home under compulsion.
You can have more than mixed feelings about the PCTVL, but they have a right to free speech and assembly like anyone else, and to use police force in a discretionary manner against a peaceful, "spontaneous" and technically "illegal" assembly just shows where the country is going.
Another sight, that would seem to have little to do with free speech, is the presence of joint police and Riga traffic wardens (the people who catch and fine fare jumpers) on the streets at night. These operations, to nab a few persons who have stolen 70 santims (or $ 1,40) worth of services look intimidating. The whole crew of burly police in bright green-yellow fluorescent vests and sometimes burly wardens standing around one or two people who have failed to pay or whose electronic tickets expired simply says " police state" to me and other passers-by.  Is this the most serious kind of crime in Riga at the moment? With bike thieves rampaging and other petty crimes with real victims (not the revenues of the Riga transport organization Rīgas Satiksme), is this what the police should be doing?
I do see a similarity with the dispersal of the spontaneous PCTVL protest, because the sometimes brutal and unfair actions of the traffic wardens have and will trigger spontaneous protests by other passengers. Children have been thrown off public transport at night,  tourists who misunderstood how to pay or use tickets have also been taken off the bus from the airport, their first contract with Latvia. There have been incidents of resistance -- verbal and otherwise -- to this behavior by some wardens. At the same time, there have been cases of unprovoked and disproportionate abusive behavior and even violence by fare jumpers, so there is sometimes reason to have the police nearby, but why these nightly shows of force and intimidation? Seems to me the message is -- if you see repression, brutality, unfairness - don't you dare protest, resist or rise up. 
Finally, there was a case of two men running a professional marijuana farm in the countryside getting 12 and 8 year jail sentences. I decided to Twitter in Latvian that this was outrageous, because such sentences are disproportionate for what is essentially a victimless crime. I was assailed on another news site, along with those who expressed sympathy for my views, as being an advocate of drug use, which I am not.  A few commentators suggested that even to debate such matters -- the scientific basis for calling marijuana growers "merchants of death" (a possible lethal dose starts at 10 kg of active ingredient THC in one sitting) and the folly of a hysteria-driven, repressive drug policy-- was something that should be repressed or punished.
Unfortunately, these commentators, as representatives of public sentiment, indicate that what a large part of the Latvian population wants is to be ignorant, scared, and to not only live in an increasingly repressive society, but to actually cheer it on.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Latvian right-wing extremist gets two year suspended sentence for hate speech

Valdis Rošāns, a self-proclaimed Latvian right-wing extremist charged with hate-speech  writings on the internet (including comments on a Latvian-language libertarian blog that I wrote), was given a two-year suspended sentence by a Latvian court on August 18.
Rošāns published remarks that were allegedly demeaning to Jews, gays and other minorities. He claims his internet comments were reported to the authorities by, an organization dedicated to tolerance and, among other things,  to diminishing hate and abusive behavior on the internet.
While these are admirable aims, I believe Latvia and other European countries should adhere to the broadest possible interpretation of free expression. Repulsive as some of the tbings Rošāns has written may have been, they should not be grounds for imprisonment, suspended or otherwise.
Supporters of free speech such as Article 19 have argued against hate speech laws. They are counterproductive and dangerous, giving the power to chill or even censor free debate and expression. Repressing people like Rošāns not only violates his right to free expression, it also, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, violates my right to be exposed to all kinds of expression and allowing me, not the state, to decide what I will or will not listen to or read.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Did Sweden's Bonnier Group inadvertently pump cash into Latvian political faction's black war chest?

I have written this as a "dream" on my Latvian language blog, but in fact it is credible version of what may have happened in the controversial divestment by  Sweden's  Bonnier Group of the Latvian media group AS Diena and the business newspaper Dienas bizness (my employer for 11 years up to 2006).
The version I have heard is as follows:

By early 2009, Bonnier realized that its newspapers in Latvia had been loss-making for some years and it had to decide how to stop the losses. There were a few options. First, to declare the newspapers bankrupt. This could be a dragged out process and perhaps would require a restructuring of the Diena group to separate out some profitable and potentially profitable parts. It would also cause some bad PR for Bonnier, who came into the Latvian market in the early 1990s under the banner of bringing a free, independent press to the post-Soviet country;

Another, similar alternative would be to close the newspapers. This (also probably the bankruptcy proceedings) would require dismissing the entire staff, paying severance pay, etc. There would also be bad PR.

The third possibility was to divest the newspapers. However, with at least Diena making serious losses (both papers lost a total of LVL 2.7 million in 2009), it was unlikely to get a buyer for any reasonable price. Also, it didn't look like the media market in Latvia would recover in the foreseeable future with the country in the midst of a very severe recession.

It was then, according to a version I have heard, that the Bonnier Group decided to use a means of divestment that may have been used when the Swedish Social Democratic media group A-Pressen fell apart in the early 1990s. Then, in order to divest unprofitable regional and small-town newspapers, A-Pressen made some deals in which the "buyer" was actually paid to take over the asset. In other words, there was reimbursement for at least the first year of predictable losses that the paper would make.

For the "buyer", this meant little or no cash out of pocket  and vastly reduced risk, at least for a while. The method is said to have also been used in non-media related transactions, for instance, filling the cash on hand of a company, then "selling" it for a roughlt equivalent sum.

Of course, I may have some of this wrong, there is some huge Swedish government study of the A-Pressen case I have yet to read. But should this version be reasonably accurate, it means that the "buyers"  of Diena and Dienas bizness were compensated with a pretty good sum, that the Bonnier Group could show as an expense, not further losses from its Latvian subsidiaries.

To make a long story short, after the initial "sale" of the newspapers to a company founded by former Diena executive Aleksandrs Tralmaks, it appears that ownership of the newspapers came into the hands of the British Rowland family, who had little or no previous contacts with Latvia and with investments in media. There is consensus among observers in Latvia that the Rowlands were probably a front for political interests in Latvia, most likely the party alliance between oligarchs Andris Šķele and Ainars Šlesers, with Ventspils mayor and accused money-launderer Aivars Lembergs also probably involved.

Once the reimbursement for taking the two newspapers off the Bonnier Group's hands passed through the Rowlands (with some fee deducted), it may have found its way into the black (underground) or grey (hidden influencers, support organizations) war chests of the oligarchs.

It now appears to have turned up again in the latest bizarre twist in the decline and fall of both formerly Swedish-owned newspapers. On August 5, the Diena group announced that 51 % of its shares had been purchased by Viesturs Koziols, a Latvian entrepreneur, friend and former business associate of Ainārs Šlesers.  Koziols said he had bought the shares with his own money, but also said he had no vision of how to develop the media group and bring it back to profitability.

If there is a Mrs. Koziols or other significant other, I would imagine that Viesturs would face her wrath for blowing a significant part of the family fortune on a loss-making, seemingly hopeless investment (hopeless if you have no idea what to do with your "purchase"). Koziols is listed as a Latvian millionaire and he didn't get to be that by being a foolish investor.

This leads one to believe that perhaps Koziols is spending a part of the money paid " through" the Rowlands from the Bonnier Group. Which is not to say, by any means, that the Bonniers intended for any of this to happen, nor that they can be held responsible, anymore than I can be blamed for spending a 20 lat bill that passes through a number of people and is, say, spent to buy liquor for an underaged alcoholic.

Circumstances strongly suggest that Koziols investment in Diena is a "risk-free" project since it is money entrusted to him, with sole purpose of keeping the weakened and discredited media group alive and inactive politically until after the October 2 parliamentary elections. Then it may be allowed to go under by the New Year, just as another Koziols media project,, did before and after the 2006 elections (I have no content analysis, but others say it was a short-term, election year project).

Indeed, there may have been no actual transfer of funds, merely a shift of front men from 100 % Rowlands (with people still WTF'ing their presence) to 51 % for a local boy with at least some entrepreneurial credibility. One sign that no new money is coming into Diena is that journalists are not being paid their per-item honoria any more, just basic (as little as LVL 180) salaries. Since the Latvian media job market is very limited and depressed, this will not set off a stampede away from Diena, but will very seriously demoralize the already confused and demoralized reporting staff.

What does this have to do with freedom of expression in Latvia? It is not directly on point, there is no state authority repressing the media. However, there are political interests undermining the quality and independence of the press. These political forces, especially the First Party of Ainārs Šlesers, are homophobic and have a hidden authoritarian agenda. There will be less freedom of the press, a kind of Russia Lite, if these political forces win. So, ultimately, it is a freedom of expression issue.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Latvia puts anti-repression protest organizer on trial

It seems Janis Kuzins organized a second protest on May 13 near the Latvian Prosecutor's Office, a few hours after the chalk action. The organizer of that protest at the Cabinet of Ministers is also being charged.

The Riga Center district court will hear an administrative misdemeanor case on Monday, August 2 against Janis Kuzins, an organizer of a spontaneous protest in front of the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers (government house) against the arrest of cyberactivist Ilmars Poikans and the police search of the home of Ilze Nagla, a Latvian television reporter.  She broke the story of Poikans' whistleblowing (revealing state and local government salary excesses based on State Revenue Service obtained through a security "hole" in a data base) under the name "Neo".
The protest in May was peaceful and involved up to 100 people using chalk to write protest slogans on the sidewalk in front of the government building in downtown Riga. The action was filmed by television and Nagla, one of the victims of police repression, attended the protest.
There was a second protest  somewhat later at the Latvian Prosecutor's Office.
While technically illegal, the protest did no harm to property or public order and the chalk was scrubbed away in a few hours. The charges against Kuzins, who could face up to 15 days in jail or a fine of 250 lats (almost 500 USD), have been brought in an effort to put a chilling effect on spontaneous protest in Latvia.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Latvia: Moving toward a "police state lite?"

I'm putting some pieces together, maybe too few, maybe not enough, but it is looking more and more like Latvia is drifting toward becoming a “police state lite”. Let's look at what has happened in recent weeks.
A court lifted a ban by the Riga city authorities on holding a march and flower-laying event on July 1 to commemorate the “liberation” of Riga from Soviet occupation in 1941 when Germany invaded the USSR. When one of the official organizers of the march, Uldis Freimanis, an activist for fringe causes, failed to show up for the event because he was summoned for questioning by the Security Police, the “regular” municipal and national police had a technicality on which to stop the march by some few tens of individuals. The main organizer was not present! One police force “helped” the other police to ban free expression that had been correctly sanctioned by a Latvian court.
Just to set the record straight as to where I stand.This march was a dubious undertaking, to say the least, since the Nazis were hardly interested in restoring an independent, democratic Latvia, but simply making the nation part of Ostland, a province of Hitler's empire. The Latvians were considered racially a few levels below the Aryan Germans, while Jewish Latvian citizens and any European (often Austrian) Jews, to whom Latvia had given refuge in the late 1930s were rounded up for extermination.
When Hitler started running short of cannon fodder, the German occupation regime in Latvia started drafting or otherwise strongly urging young Latvians to “volunteer” for two Waffen SS divisions formed to fight on the Eastern Front. The so-called Latvian Legion suffered enormous casualties. The formation of the Legion was, in effect, its own punishment for those who want to look at things in these terms.
However misguided, ignorant or simply pro-Nazi the organizers of the planned July 1 march were, they were correctly granted the right to express their views (and freedom of speech is tested by the expression of offensive views, not by public rallies to praise how blue the sky is or how fine it is that summer is warm). The police, it almost seems, conspired to prevent that free expression and even made a few arrests on July 1. Free expression, backed by a court, lost out to the police.
At almost the same time, the Security Police brought criminal charges against the author of an article in the Russian language portal, which is based in Daugavpils, for suggesting that the deportations and repression by the Soviet occupation authorities on June 13-14, 1941 was not harsh enough. For me, this is personal, since my grandfather, Andrejs Zeidaks and his family, were on the list of those to be deported in a later action (precluded by the arrival of the German army). However, this is not sufficient reason for me to celebrate anything other than my grandfather being saved by historical chance, nor to ask that freedom of expression be limited in Latvia. The crackpot author of the offensive article should be protected by the right to free speech, period!
Finally, there is the case, documented by the police's own video, of the Latvian theater and film director Viesturs Kairišs going home with his wife and a family friend/professional colleague after a night in the bars of the Old Town. Suffice it to say that Kairišs was not stone cold sober and was calmly walking with both ladies on his arms (this can be seen on the video). He apparently joked with a police patrol about getting a ride home, and this led to both him and a foreign opera singer getting arrested (the latter scuffling with police).
Even the police video shows that they were not dealing with aggressive, bellowing, stumbling, disoriented drunks (of which there sometimes is no lack in Old Riga as the night turns to early morning). The arrest of Kairišs and his companion (his wife was left alone) was a case of poor, perhaps malicious use of police discretion (if the police acted on every technical violation of the law, there would be hundreds of thousands of people in Latvia's jails). The cops simply didn't appreciate the man's sense of humor and punished him for it.
These incidents suggest to me that Latvia is continuing to move toward (or already is, with many unreported and unpublicized incidents) a “police state lite”. The most disturbing trend is in the repression of free speech that started with summoning a old lady who wrote an angry letter to then prime minister Aigars Kalvitis to the Security Police, followed by the detention of an economics lecturer from Ventspils, Dmitrijs Smirnovs, for published remarks about the stability of the national currency and the banking system (aren't those part of the economy and economists are, like, trained to comment and analyze the economy?).
I'm writing this post while in the US for a few days more (the land of the First Amendment, but not without problems of its own), so I may not be up on all of the details of what has been happening in Latvia since June 20, when I flew over here. But I think you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Call off your censors, Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs!

Free speech and assembly are more or less absolute and inviolable rights. At least I believe so and so has the US Supreme Court. Free speech is not freedom for nice speech or politically correct speech, because as soon as we start talking in these terms, as to what speech or expression should be allowed or forbidden, we are moving into the censor's territory. There should be no censors, period. The best argument for this is that no one has the right to tell you or me what I may read, hear or see. That includes preventing me and others from being aware that some people want to commemorate, if not celebrate the occupation of Latvia by the German army on July 1, 1941.
Certainly, the arrival of Hitler's armed forces cut short a period of brutal Soviet rule and started a new period of repression and betrayal of the hopes of the Latvian population in general and genocide against Jewish Latvians in particular. Latvia' s Jews got the worst of both occupations – they were overrepresented among those 15 000 Latvian citizens deported on June 13-14, 1941 because of their class, education and perceived loyalty to the “bourgeois” Latvian state. They were exterminated by the German occupation forces on racial grounds.
It is probably fair to say that the second, Nazi occupation of Latvia took a greater number of Latvian citizens' lives than did the relatively short (cut short by the start of Operation Barbarossa) Soviet “Year of Dread” (Latvian: Baigais gads), at least in the period 1940 -1945. This is especially so if one counts the number of Latvians who were killed, crippled or driven into exile as a result of forced military service for Germany (the Latvian Waffen SS) Stalin' s repression and the deportations of 1949 indicated what would have happened years earlier had there been no German attack on the territories occupied by the USSR.
To call for a celebratory commemoration of the German invasion of Latvia in 1941 (briefly and bitterly misperceived as “liberation” at the time) with all of the historical hindsight of the present day is simply a crackpot enterprise. But free speech is there to protect crackpots, even ignorant or deliberately disgusting crackpots who bring needless scandal and disgrace to the whole country (international reports about “glorifying Nazism”).
Certainly, when it will be the 60th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Latvia, there are grounds for a different kind of commemoration – one of historical reflection and closer examination of the much shorter occupation of 1941 – 1945 and its toxic effects to this very day. The place for this might be the Occupation Museum or a series of lectures and debates on the main questions surrounding July, 1941 at some other venue. The issue should not be swept under any rug.
Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs has said that police will look for the tiniest sign of glorification of Nazism or the like in the July 1 flower-laying commemoration. This is a very disturbing thing to say. As at any controversial gathering, the role of the police should be preventing confrontations and disorder, it should never be to monitor the content of free expression by anyone exercising the right of free expression, no matter how offensive some may find that expression. If the Riga Municipal police can't take a joke from a mildly intoxicated theatrical director (Viesturs Kairišs) walking calmly home from a night of bar-hopping with his wife and another female friend, how can they be expected to apply any standard of “ethnic incitement”, “race hatred” or whatever? I am less worried about a gathering of wackos who are probably neo-Nazis (the Latvian Gustavs Celmiņš Society certainly is ideologically fascist, and its namesake, the Thundercross/Pērkoņķrusts leader Gustavs Celmiņš was actually arrested by the Nazis – no local competition accepted). I am more worried about the municipal government of Riga instructing the police to be censors. Let the loonies do as they please and send the Security Police (Drošības policija/DP) back to its cage.  

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Latvian state language agency head denounces academic to Security Police

Based on media published excerpts of an interview by Sergejs Kruks, an academic researcher,  the head of the Latvian State Language Agency (Valsts valoda aģentūra/VVA)  Jānis Valdmanis, denounced the researcher to the Latvian Security Police, who summoned Kruks for questioning last week.
Kruks told the Latvian news agency BNS that his research indicated Latvians had to change or abandon some of their traditional values and give up the idea of preserving the country " as an open-air museum" where poets and artists can make a living and where national costumes, the language and traditions are preserved."
Valdmanis apparently interpreted this as a violation of laws against inciting ethnic hatred and asked the Security Police to investigate.
Kruks, an associate professor at the Riga Stradiņa university, is the second academic in recent years to be investigated by the Security Police for statements made to journalists and published in the media. Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a lecturer in economics at a college in Ventspils was arrested, taken to Security Police headquarters in Riga and held for two days after suggesting that people should not trust Latvian banks and the Latvian lat at a round-table discussion published in a local newspaper.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Latvian Supreme Court clears neo-Nazi of race hate speech charges

The so-called "Senate" or highest appeal level of the Latvian Supreme Court (Augstākā tiesa) has let stand a lower appeals court decision clearing Latvian neo-Nazi Andris Jordāns of charges of inciting race hatred. Jordāns was originally sentenced to an 18 month jail term for statements he made at a meeting of the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee denouncing Jews and Roma (gypsies) as "not being human".  There were a number of Latvian Jews in the audience during Jordan's remarks, which, as some video records show, were delivered in a normal, non-threatening tone of voice.
From news reports, it appears that the lower appeals court decision was based on a failure of prosecutors to prove that Jordāns' speech was an incitement to racial hatred. It did not touch the issue of whether there should be hate speech laws (probably more of a question for Latvia's Constitutional Court), simply that the prosecution failed to make its case.
Jordāns is precisely the kind of hard case (a racist, anti-semitic loony-tune) where it is necessary to separate principle from personality and stand by the broadest interpretation of free speech. Free expression applies to all speech and expression, regardless of its content and with some very, very narrow exceptions (had Jordān's statement immediately been followed by an attack on Jews in the audience, there might be a case, similarly, there could be a case for diminished responsibility based on provocation if a Jewish person from the audience had taken a punch at Jordāns).
We can all imagine supporting the free speech rights of a kind little old lady who is arrested for verbally protesting the closing of a shelter for stray cats. But the real test case is for people who we really, really don't like and whose politics, if implemented, are dangerous and totalitarian. That means people like Jordāns or some raving Muslim jihadist preacher.  Freedom for the thought we hate, as Anthony Lewis more or less formulated it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Neo released under restrictions, Latvians protest arrest

Ilmārs Poikāns, the Latvian artificial intelligence researcher who reportedly admitted being the cyberactivist Neo, responsible for exposing government duplicity on salaries and spending, has been released after two days in jail.
Latvian police didn't ask that Poikān's pre-trial detention be extended and agreed to his release upon condition that he not leave the country and remain at one place of residence. It is not clear if Poikāns admission that he is Neo can be interpreted as an admission of guilt.
Neo disclosed, over several weeks, the month-by-month salary payments of a range of ministries, state agencies and state-owned companies. Many, but not all, had not followed government austerity guidelines and continued paying high salaries and bonuses to high-level managers while reducing salaries of ordinary employees.
Meanwhile several hundred Latvians demonstrated against Poikāns' arrest and the search and seizure of Latvian television journalist Ilze Nagla's home. Her laptop computer, containing working materials for her investigative weekly program DeFacto was seized along with an external hard disk and other media.
Two different protests, organized by communicating on the social media tool Twitter were held at the main Government House (the Cabinet of Ministers) and the Prosecutor's Office, both in downtown Riga, Protestors used chalk to write protest slogans on the broad sidewalk in front of the Cabinet of Ministers. These included demands to free Neo and for the protection of the freedom of the press in Latvia. Nagla appeared among the protestors and was given flowers by an admirer. She was interviewed by Swedish radio and local media. As in earlier interviews, she called the raid on her home late at night by plainclothes police an attack on the right of journalists to protect their sources and a frightening experience.
Nagla returned home alone around 10 pm and was confronted by a man in her stairwell who put his foot in her door before producing a search warrant requested by the police and authorized by a prosecutor (and approved the following day by a court). The search took around two hours. Police officials claimed the extraordinary search was necessary for operational purposes, a procedure the normally would be used to search the home of a person suspected of harboring a dangerous fugitive or preparing a terrorist attack.
A police spokesman also said that the search "was not aimed at Nagla's professional activities" although it resulted in most, if not all of her work-related electronic files being seized.
Aleksejs Loskutovs, a lawyer  and the former head of the Bureau to Prevent and Combat Corruption (Latvian abbreviation KNAB) has offered to be Poikān's defense attorney. While a popular and sometimes controversial figure with political ambitions, Loskutovs admits he has no experience in press freedom cases and in what will be a political trial if charges are brought against the IT expert.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

IT researcher arrested, Latvian TV investigative journalist's home raided by police

The Latvian police have detained Ilmārs Poikāns, a researcher in artificial intelligence at the University of Latvia's Computer Science department on suspicion that he is "Neo", the Robin Hood-like cyberactivist who leaked public sector salary statistics showing that many top officials didn't take government-mandated salary cuts and other austerity measures.
According to news reports, Poikāns, 31.  was arrested at his workplace late at night on Tuesday, May 12. The police also seized a private server hosted by the university Computer Science department.  He could face up to 10 years in prison for disclosing confidential information with resulting "serious consequences."
The Latvian police also simultaneously raided the home of Latvian television's investigative journalist Ilze Nagle, apparently in connection with the Poikāns, who is  suspected of obtaining government and public salary information through a leak in the State Revenue Service IT system.  Nagle, who is host of the weekly investigative Latvian TV program "De Facto" , was among the first to report on "Neo" and a cyberactivist group called the  4th Awakening People's Army. "Neo" later published links to compilations of public sector salaries on the social media application Twitter.
The police seized Nagle's computer and other data platforms (hard disks, flash drives).  Nagle  called the raid a violation of press freedom and laws allowing journalists to protect their sources.
Police spokesmen said that the raid on Nagle's home had nothing to do with " her professional work". Nagle, however, said the police action showed that the Latvian authorities could conduct searches and intimidation against any investigative journalist and seize all information regarding sources and professional contacts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Court lifts bans on March 16 legionnaire, ant-fascist activities

A Latvian court has voided a ban on all activities near the Freedom Monument on March 16, when a march by former Latvian legionnaires and a counter-demonstration are planned. The Riga City Council under mayor Nils Ušakovs of the Harmony Center, like his nationalist predecessor Jānis Birks, banned the march and counter-demonstration, citing unspecified threats that had been identified by law enforcement agencies.
Last year, the march and opposing activities took place last year in defiance of the ban, with a heavy police presence. The 2009 ban was supported by a lower court (the same institution that lifted the ban this year) but was overturned almost a year later by an appeals court. Apparently that decision, balanced against evidence that possible disorders could take place, was the reason that the lower court lifted the ban this year.
In all likelihood, the march and counterdemonstration will take place (this blogger is in Stockholm for much of the day and won't be able to make a direct report) with police keeping both sides apart.
Supports of the Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires (most living veterans are in their late 80s) maintain that the soldiers drafted by the Germans were not ideologically Nazis and fought to prevent a return of the Soviet occupation that saw 15 000 Latvian citizens deported to Siberia on June 13-14, 1941/
The ant-fascists argue that fighting on the side of Nazi Germany for whatever reasons should not be "glorified" by public commemorations. They point to a certain overlap of the manning of the Latvian Legion (largely drafted) with members of the Latvian Police Battalions, which were formed earlier and participated in actions against partisans and civilians in Belarus and Russia.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Latvian Supreme Court Overturns (Last Year's) March 16 March Ban

In what is rapidly developing into a black comedy, the Latvian Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling upholding last year's ban on a March 16 march to commemorate the Latvian Legion, a controversial military formation largely drafted during the Nazi occupation of Latvia.
The Supreme Court ruling comes shortly after the Riga city authorities, under a new mayor from a different political party (Nils Ušakovs of Harmony Center) banned all activities near the Freedom Monument on March 16. A march to commemorate the Legion with some surviving legionnaires (many in their late 80s) was planned, accompanied by nationalist youth organizations. Two so-called anti-fascist groups had also planned counter-demonstrations, alleging that the march by former Waffen-SS soldiers (most of them conscripted) represented a " revival of Nazism" in Latvia and also raising the issue of the participation of some persons, later members of the Legion, who had allegedly taken part in actions agains civilians and Jews as members of police batallions.
The court ruling places the new mayor (elected in June, 2009) in an awkward position, since his ban was based on similar arguments, claims that law enforcement agencies fear disorder, etc. Even the Minister of Interior Linda Murniece, who is in charge of Latvia's police and other internal security agencies, has said there is no basis for the ban. It will also be appealed by this year's organizers. Last year's ban was imposed by mayor Jānis Birks of the nationalist Fatherland and Freedom Party.
Many Latvian politicians regard the Legionnaire commemoration as an international embarassment for Latvia, since it is easy to make an association between fighting on the German side and Nazism without understanding the forces at work on the Latvian nation at the time.
Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff will also be in Riga at a conference organized by one of the "anti-fascist" groups, and he would do well to look into the motives of those Jews who became concentration camp security guards or KAPOS. In Nazi-organized ghettos, the occupiers also formed a Judenrat or Jewish Council, in which some Jews served thinking this would make their lot better. People can end up on the wrong side for what they subjectively thought were the right reasons under extremely stressful and chaotic conditions.
It is time for Nils to lift the ban or look the fool. With enough police (and last year, there were more than enough when the whole event took place anyway, in defiance) there should be little or no trouble.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Riga City Council restricts everyone's freedom, again

The Riga City Council, this time under different political leadership (Mayor Nils Ušakovs of the Harmony Center) has again banned all marches and gatherings at the Freedom Monument on March 16, the day that the Latvian Legion, formed under German occupation in 1943, is commemorated.
The ban affects the Daugavas vanagi organization, a war veterans group as well as two so-called "anti-fascist" groups who were planning to counter-demonstrate against the march by a small number of Legion veterans (many of whom were illegally drafted by Hitler's Germany) and their sympathizers to lay flowers at the Freedom Monument.
Last year, the march was held in defiance of a ban and police successfully kept apart the marchers and counterdemonstrators. This year, there is no reason they cannot do the same and avoid a crass and stupid violation of the freedom of speech and assembly by all concerned. One can only hope that all sides will appeal the ban in court.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Latvian State Chancellery asks Security Police to hound news agency reporter

The Latvian State Chancellery has reportedly asked the notorious Latvian Security Police to start surveillance on a senior reporter with the news agency LETA after she obtained details of how European Union (EU) funds were to be spent for "increasing the administrative capacity" of the agency.
Emilija Kozule, a reporter covering the Latvian parliament, the Saeima, told this blogger she was informed by a Saeima deputy that Gunta Veismane, the head of the State Chancellery, had threatened to have the Security Police wiretap Kozule' s phone calls and otherwise put her under surveillance on suspicion of disclosing confidential government information.
It is not clear whether a budget for spending EU funds can be considered confidential.
Kozule obtained the budget details during a meeting of the Saeima European Affairs committee on February 8 and published a story detailing the planned spending of LVL 6.39 million (almost USD 13 million). Members of the committee, who also had access to the budget, had expressed skepticism about some of the spending projects, including sums for various ill-defined "evaluations" and " assessments" .
One item proposes spending LVL 20 000 (USD 40 000) "evaluation of the possibility of centralization of support functions for the requirements of a functional audit." The budget, as reported by Kozule in her LETA story, contains many other items with similar phrasing.
The Latvian Security Police (Drošības Policija) gained notoriety in November, 2008, when they detained an economics instructor for public remarks made about the Latvian banking system and the currency, the lat.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Russian TV host fined, Latvian protestor arrested

My day job is taking up a lot of energy and time, so I have not updated this blog for a while even though there have been events demanding comment.
The first, already in December, was the imposition of a LVL 1000 (more than USD 2000) fine on Andrej Mamikin, a TV host and journalist for the predominantly Russian-language TV5 television channel. Mamikin was accused before the National Radio and Television Council (an oversight agency) of inciting ethnic hatred and demeaning the (Latvian) nation during a broadcast on Latvia's independence day on November 18.
Mamikin, who has said he tried to invited but was turned down by several other historians, had Igors Gusevs, a historian as a guest and presented a series of viewer call-in questions, including the answer that Latvia's 1918 declaration of independence was " a fateful mistake."
Mamikin says the fine violates his freedom of expression and his freedom to question as a journalist.
The other incident, on January 13, involves the arrest of Gints Gaiķēns, a man who started the ongoing so-called " tent village" protest in front of Latvia's government house, the Cabinet of Ministers. č.attempted to use a "sky lift" to raise himself to face the office of the vice-mayor of Riga, Ainārs Šlesers and display a protest placard. Even before the skylift, placed near Riga's City Hall (city council building), Gaiķēns was forcible taken away by municipal police who didn't give a legal basis for his arrest. He protested that his right to free speech had been violated.
Gaiķēns intended to challenge Šlesers election campaign promise to create 50 000 new jobs in Riga.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Security police sought to recruit neo-Nazi to inform on journalists

The Latvian Security Police (Drošības Policija/DP) sought to recruit Valdis Rošāns, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, to inform on other radical nationalists as well as two "mainstream" journalists and bloggers.
Rošāns, who writes on the internet with the nickname Fēnikss (the Phoenix), has published an account on several Latvian-language website describing a raid on his residence by officers of the DP on December 10, 2008. The DP seized most of his computers, mobile phones, videos and DVDs and other electronic equipment. They also found two shotgun shells that could be used to bring weapons charges against Rošāns.
DP agents seized Rošāns' phone despite pleas that he needed it to arrange to pick up his grandfather at the hospital where he was being treated for cancer.
Rošāns was taken to a DP office for interrogation and was offered a chance to avoid serious consequences (charges of inciting national hatred as well as the weapons charge that could be hung on the two shell inadvertantly left by someone in Rošāns apartment) by becoming an informer for the DP. He was asked to inform on his radical nationalist cohorts (a questionable, but not irrational demand) as well as on this blogger and Māris Zanders, an internet columnist, editor and commentator at LETA at the time.
These requests apparently came after the December, 2008 search and interrogation, as the so-called Penguin Movement (, an informal, democratic and non-violent resistance group, did not appear until at least after January 1, 2009, the day after then Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis' New Year speech in which he compared the population during an economic crisis with " penguins who huddle in the cold". The Penguin Movement has no formal leaders, although Zanders was seen as a spokesman and organizer of a "walkabout" near the Latvian parliament, leaving appropriate "gifts" for deputies. All was in a spirit of mockery, irony and black humor.
The attempt to recruit Rošāns to spy on the Penguins is laughable, since he would not be admitted to any confidential plans or discussions of this informal group, whose basic values are democratic, non-violent and open. Of course, no one would prevent Rošāns or any other radical nationalists from coming to a Penguin meeting (there have been only a few in early 2009) to exchange views.
My own relationship with Rošāns has been one of heated debate on a couple of internet forums -- my own, largely inactive Latvian-language libertarian blog at, and on the (non-crackpot) nationalist website I have met him a couple of time in person. I think he is a person that can be influenced by argument and debate, although I disagree strongly with his views. I will not call the police because of what he says or writes.
There may or may not be some merit to the DP monitoring radical nationalists (they should be left alone, I believe, unless they are breaking laws involving direct harm to others), but it is more that dubious that the DP is using people to inform on mainstream, democratic political movements and journalists. It confirms my suspicion that the DP is a kind of neo-KGB, using the same methods as the Soviet secret police.