www.pietiek.com, 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.
MORE ON THE FASHIONISTA SCANDAL
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?