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.