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.

2 comments:

Mārcis Līcis said...

Jūtos tieši tā pat. Esot varas pozīcijās, acīmredzot, ir pārāk liels kārdinājums izmantot iebiedēšanu un piespiešanu, tā vietā, lai veicinātu sabiedrības informētību un cīnītos ar problēmu cēloņiem. Diemžēl izskatās, ka situācija šajā ziņā pasliktinās gan pie mums, gan arī citās valstīs.

Anonymous said...

I see people attempting to ride trains and busses all the time and they can be very abusive and dangerous (to everyone) because;
1) they have made up their mind that they will get this ride for free regardless of the consequences,
2) they are drunk or high,
3) both 1) & 3)
Surely you have seen the Youtube vids showing the fine citizens of Latvia standing around not interfering or even cheering on drunken thugs who physically abuse controllers who are just trying to do their job?
As for tourists being hauled off of busses, were they then charged? Or was the system explained to them and then allowed to go on their way? Hopefully the later for surely they can't hope to resolve that on a bus!