Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another suspicious "hate speech" case in Latvia

It looks like Latvia has another "hate speech" case, with one Ingus Graudiņš getting a suspended sentence for writing anti-Russian comments on an unnamed internet website. According to media reports, Graudiņš was involved in some kind of scuffle with Russians on the street, then went off and wrote some kind of rant or a series of anti-Russian rants. Apparently strong, perhaps racist language was used, though none of the matter-of-fact reports I have seen quote anything that the accused wrote.
As a defender of free speech, I am against any and all hate speech laws. Speech is speech - you may dislike it, hate it, be enraged by it, but you should not empower the government to imprison people simply for what they say or write, no matter who it enrages, insults, or offends. Civil libel and slander cases are another thing, but even here I would tread very carefully, especially if public figures are involved. If you choose the limelight, well, realize that sometimes it can be a targeting beacon for shit.
The case of Graudiņš, on the facts that I know, looks like a selective political prosecution in order to have a chilling effect on discussion of ethnic issues ahead of referendum on making Russian a second state language that will be held in early 2012. Depraved racist ravings are regular, daily occurances on Latvian internet portals and there should be a line of hundreds outside the courts if all these comments were to be prosecuted. I searched but couldn't find (portal content shifts) a series of comments I saw to some news story earlier today blaming "the Jews" for whatever it was that  had happened. This is so commonplace, along with the lambasting of gays and advocating their imprisonment or extermination, that one regards it as part of the written background noise on the Latvian internet.
Certainly this does not reflect well on Latvian society, but ignorance, bigotry and folly can't be remedied by repressive police methods and the stifling of political debate, even if one or several of the many voice in the debate are raving and raging, rather than making arguments. Sad, but let's not fill prisons over it.
Another worrying thing is that we have had several outrages against free expression in this country, the latest being a police raid on an internet site, but there has been absolutely no reaction, not even a two-sentence mention on the Index on Censorship website or its free speech blogs.  We had police arrest spontaneous demonstrators, we had an internet medium's office raided, editor detained for 48 hours, servers seized, and now a rather suspicious hate speech case. I informed Index about all of these. May I kindly ask Index on Censorship- why the fuck are you completely ignoring this?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on the Latvian police action against a journalist

This is a chronology of events surrounding the arrest of Leonids Jakabsons, a journalist and editor of the investigative and whistle-blowing website 
Jakabsons has been released after being held the maximum 48 hours before a suspect must be brought before a judge and a case presented for further detention (a formal criminal investigation must be started or charges brought). It is pretty clear that this detention is a deliberate application of the chilling effect, as was done when Ilze Nagla, a Latvian television journalist, had her home searched and laptop seized after reporting on the activities of "Neo", a cyberactivist who leaked anonymized salary data from government and municipal institutions that he obtained by exploiting a "hole" in the State Revenue Service database. Later, when arrested, "Neo" was discovered to be Ilmārs Poikāns, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Latvia faculty of mathematics and computer science.


November 16, 2011. publishes Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs correspondence with Alexander Hapilov of the Russian Embassy, a person suspected of spying
November 18, 2011 Ceaseless cyberattacks start against and continue to the present.
November 21, 2011 complains to the Cybercrime unit of the Economic Police, the responsible detective Aleksandrs Bebris shows no interest in the complaint/
November 22, 2011 After news appears on news portals about the cyberattacks on, the Latvian IT security incident response unit CERT.LV contacts and offers its assistance. CERT.LV examines log files, identifies the attacker and is prepared to participate in the case as a witness.

December 3, 2011, Detective Aleksandr Bebris announced that the Cybercrime unit has more important cases to investigate and no further investigation would be undertaken, even though the evidence submitted was more than sufficient to arrest those responsible.

December 14, 2011, Detective Aleksandrs Bebris asks systems administrator Edmunds Zalitis to give a witness statement with regard to the cyber attack on Detective Bebris was particularly interested in the technical specifications of’ s servers and whether there were backup copies, The detective also wanted access password, which, for security reasons, were not disclosed.

December 15, 2011 at 12:30 Cybercrimes unit detective Aleksandrs Bebris and three masked policemena around at the Riga World Trade Center and, using a sledge hammer, break into the office of an internet club. After an hour and a half, the police leave, taking along the server , a server labeled “Backup” and two optical labeled Norton Systemworks 2005 (as could be determined from a bad quality carbon copy). The search and seizure had been requested by detective Nauris Liepins of the National Police, the search warrant was  approved by Judge Rinalds Silakalns. Aleksandrs Bebris and Peteris Reinfelds participated in the search.

At the same time, journalist Leonid Jakabsons is arrested at his home and all data media found in his residence during a search are seized.

contact provided by the source
edmunds zalite
+371 29222919

THE LESSONS LEARNED:   Journalists in Latvia are operating in a latent crypto-authoritarian system where their freedom to work and the security of their working materials (digital or otherwise) can be violated at any time. To build better defenses, it is best to use cloud services and store or back-up notes and other confidential material in countries such as Iceland, Sweden, perhaps the US. Certainly any website like should be hosted outside Latvia. Critical data should be encrypted at the cost of losing any media or computer it is on, while the authorities struggle to try to break in. 

Latvian website journalist jailed

I am reposting this item, apparently written by Reporters without Frontiers (or Borders) in Latvia. I was out of town when this happened on December 15 and I had assumed to be a Russian-language website, which I don't read because I don't speak Russian. This is not to say that repression against Russian-language media in Latvia should get the short shrift, just that I cannot examine the issues as precisely as if the reasons (or excuses) for the repression were in a language I read. So here it is.

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns yesterday’s arrest of Leonīds Jākobsons, a news website owner and editor who for the past month has been posting copies of a series of compromising emails that had been sent or received by Nils Ušakovs, mayor of Riga and a former member of the Latvian parliament. The organisation demands his immediate release.
The emails that Jākobsons began posting on his website Kompromat ( on 17 November indicated that Ušakovs provided information to a member of the Russian embassy in Riga and engaged in a strange correspondence that has aroused suspicions about the nature of Ušakovs’ activities.
The winner of the National Journalism Prize in 2009 in the “Defence of Media Freedom” category, Jākobsons is reportedly also in the possession of other – so far unpublished – emails suggesting that illegal commissions were used to finance a political party’s election campaign illegally.
“We demand Jākobsons’ immediate release,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is unacceptable that a journalist can be jailed for an alleged media offence in a European Union member country. “The confidentiality of journalists’ sources is being seriously threatened by the seizure of all of his computer equipment and by the pressure being put on him to reveal how he obtained the emails.
“The mayor of Riga can bring a legal action against Jākobsons if he thinks it is necessary, or he can take advantage of the right of reply if he thinks he has been defamed. But Jākobsons’ arrest and imprisonment and the confiscation of all of his equipment seem more like an act of revenge than the actions of an impartial judicial system.”
During a raid on Jākobsons’ apartment yesterday, police seized two computers and all the computer storage material and devices they could find. After completing their search, they arrested Jākobsons on suspicion of illegally acquiring electronic communication data. The police also went to the premises of an Internet Service provider and seized the three servers that hosted the Kompromat website, which can no longer be accessed.
The day after Jākobsons posted the first emails on Kompromat, the site began being the target of a major DDoS attack that lasted several days. On 21 November, a hacker succeeded in deleting all of the site’s archives (more than 10 years of content in Russian and Latvian). The site’s editors were able to restore all the content from a backup but the attacks continued.
The police had refused to accede to a request by Jakobsons for an investigation into the origin of the cyber-attacks on his site.
A well-known and widely-read site, Kompromat has done a lot of investigative coverage of corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking and other criminal activity. It has often been pressured and prosecuted, but none of its personnel had ever been attacked or arrested in the past.
Currently held at Čiekurkalns police station in Riga, Jākobsons is expected to be transferred to the city’s main prison shortly. Conditions in the jail are poor and Reporters Without Borders has been told he will probably have to share a cell with ordinary offenders.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dumbass "censors" move against Russian language news in Latvia

The National Electronic Media Council (Nacionāla elektronisko plašsaziņas līdzekļu padome/NEPLP) has brought charges against the mainly Russian-language television broadcaster TV5 for including, in a news item video, a clip of a person calling Latvia "a fascist state." According to media reports (I don't understand Russian and don't watch Russian-language broadcasts), the words, called "discrediting the Latvian state" were apparently  uttered by a vox pop (one of several people-in-the-street interviewed to illustrate a news spot).  Since the news item dealt with the somewhat emotionally charged subject of collecting signatures to make Russian a second state language in Latvia, it is no surprise that some Russians interviewed may have strong feelings on the matter and about Latvia in general. To show them in a news broadcast is to give an accurate, even if disturbing (both to Latvians and Russians) view of the range of feelings. In fact, I am sure most Russians, even most signing the petition, would not rationally call Latvia fascist, because if it was fascist, there would be no free and open petitioning.
What has taken Latvia a tiny step toward authoritarianism is precisely this kind of fuckwit reaction by the NEPLP. After 20 years as a free country, and seven years in the European Union, Latvian state institutions should not have to be tapped on the head with a blunt object to be reminded that only autoritarian states punish "discrediting the state".  WTF??
Moreover, it was not the editorial view of TV5 that Latvia is fascist, but that of a person on the street as part of a legitimate news item. And even if TV5 were to claim, absurdly, that Latvia is fascist, it is entitled, as in any democracy that grants the right to free speech and expression, to even express moronic and crackpot views. That is what free speech is all about. Why does nobody fucking get it!? Time and energy are wasted and activities that in fact do discredit Latvia as a democratic country are undertaken against crackpots of all persuasions -- such as efforts by the Riga City Council to stop a march commemorating the "liberation" of Riga by the German army (running out the Red Army) on July 1, 1941.  There are others who demand that the gathering by old Red Army geezers and their supporters on May 9 be banned. While I consider the commemoration of the Latvian Legion on March 16 neither historically nuanced (a huge waste of life and bad PR for the next 70 years) nor a crackpot undertaking (although it gathers some ultranationalist crackpots and foaming-at-the-mouth anti-fascists to have fun with each other), it should not be banned either. Why is is so hard to get the simple idea of free expression (and in this case, of news editorial independence) across to anyone with authority in Latvia? The smart thing for the NEPLP to do would be to drop its charges, apologize, and stay the fuck out of post-factum censoring the news.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Latvian police deliberately detain, intimidate peaceful protestors

Three persons spontaneously protesting against the actions of a political party and three bystanders were detained by Latvian police in the capital Riga on October 5 and taken to a police station for "identification". There they had a sign written on a sheet and a t-shirt with a slogan on it confiscated. According to media reports, the police gave no reason for confiscating the items, one of which was a sheet with a slogan labeling former Latvian president Valdis Zatlers "a traitor" and the t-shirt with a handwritten slogan "Zatlers, have you no shame?" in Latvian.
So-called administrative charges have been filed against all six persons detained in connection with the protest and they face jail term of up to 15 days and fines of up to LVL 25 (around USD 50).
Following their release, the protestors told Latvian media they would probably not hold a spontaneous protest again, since some of them have small children and cannot risk being detained by police.
The protestors had gathered answering a call on Facebook and social networks to protest plans by the former president's recently founded political party, the Zatlers' Reform Party (ZRP) to form a coalition government with the Harmony Center party, seen by the protestors as pro-Russian and a potential threat to Latvia's national identity and independence. The ZRP was founded earlier this summer after Zatlers, then still president, set in motion a dismissal of Latvia's parliament, the Saeima, which was overwhelming approved by referendum in July. In subsequent elections on September 17, the ZRP came in second to the Harmony Center with 22 seats in the 100-seat Saeima and almost immediately made overtures to bring Harmony Center, with 31 seats, into government.
The party, supported mainly by Latvia's ethnic Russian voters, is seen as "pro-Russian" by many and has been accused of denying that Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1940 until independence was regained in 1991. For many Latvians, this interpretation of historical events is the local equivalent of "holocaust denial", and led to impassioned comments on internet portals once it became clear that the ZRP wants to include Harmony Center (Latvian abbreviation SC) in the new government almost at any cost.
While the protestors had not applied to demonstrate under Latvian law and local ordinances, they maintain they were not creating a disturbance or blocking traffic. Police have earlier stood aside when spontaneous protests have occured, including another gathering near the Saeima building to protest the ZRPs policies, which saw up to 20 people standing in a street in front of the Saeima. Police also did not intervene when several dozen protestors gathered in front of Latvia's "Government House", the Cabinet of Ministers building, last year to spontaneously protest the arrest of an internet activist who had obtained confidential data on government and municipal salaries in the wake of austerity policies. Those protestors used water-soluble chalk to write slogans on the sidewalk by the government building, actions which could technically be seen as petty vandalism.
The use of temporary detention against anyone protesting on the street clearly creates what under US legal precedent would be seen as a "chilling effect" on the right to protest and on free expression.
The behavior of the police is an outrage, no less than that of the New York Police Department in arresting hundreds of demonstrators in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations (so the US is no longer – and perhaps never really was – the benchmark for free expression and assembly). However, the US and European countries do set examples for public outrage and resistance to such attacks on free speech by the police, both by challenging such actions in the courts and by organizing and publicizing police abuse of free expression rights.
Police in most countries can use their discretion when there are technical violations of the law an/or municipal ordinances that cause no harm to third parties. By choosing to detain three demonstrators and three bystanders, the Latvian police must be presumed to have chosen to intimidate citizens who spontaneously choose to express a political viewpoint in public. This is a first small step toward authoritarianism.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Latvian talk show host booted after 16 years for calling politicians "whores"

Kārlis Streips, a Latvian-American  host for Skats no malas (A View from The Sidelines), a talk show featuring local journalists, has been fired for calling the Latvia's Green and Farmer's Union political party "whores" (maukas in Latvian). Streips made the remark in his first post-election Monday evening show. He has been hosting the show, featuring himself and three Latvian journalists (in rotating, different groups) for the past 16 years.
While Streips guests have represented different political views and included both Latvian and Latvian-speaking representatives of the local Russian media, the host (who worked for local TV in the US before moving to then Soviet Latvia in the late 1980s) often ended the program by talking directly to the camera and saying what he thought about the issues under discussion -- from politics to admonishing his viewers not to drive and drink (on the Midsummer holiday).
The management of Latvian Television accused Streips of violating rules against prime-time vulgarity and a breach of good taste. However, viewers now able to turn off the Latvian voice-over on interactive cable TV can hear a stream of obscenities when watching certain American ir British films. Also, Streips "vulgarity" was political speech, not his attempt to wrap up his Monday evening show with an Eddie-Murphy style tirade.
Comments on internet portals have been generally favorable to Streips and have accused Latvian TV of political censorship. On Twitter Latvians have created a hashtag #maukas. Some observers link his firing to the resignation of Ilze Nagla, the host and a reporter of De Facto, an investigative news program, and to the failure of LTV to renew its contract with Jānis Domburs, the host of a topical current events discussion program Kas notiek Latvijā? (What's Happening in Latvia). As one observer put it, LTV has been reduced to running just straight news programs, light entertainment and reruns from its past glory.
It is rumored that Streips may be quickly hired by the private, Swedish-owned channel TV3 where several frustrated LTV journalists have gone in recent years. The fact that Streips is controversial both for his opinions and the fact that he is one of a handful of openly gay public figures in Latvia (Streips is not an activist and generally low-key about his sexual orientation). He is seen as a workaholic who also runs a radio show and teaches journalist at the University of Latvia, as well as working as a translator and English language voice-over talent on some commercial and documentary films.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Liepaja municipal police harass Saeima candidate

Municipal police in Liepāja, a port city in Western Latvia harassed and detained Ansis Dobelis, a candidate for the Latvian parliament, the Saeima, in the September 17 national elections because he was approaching people on the street. Dobelis, a candidate from the centrist Unity (Vienotība) party reported the incident in his Latvian-language blog
In the blog post, Dobelis writes that he decided to walk around in Liepāja and personally approach city dwellers to talk about his candidacy. This is exactly how candidates campaign -- "pressing flesh" (shaking hands) and talking one-on-one with citizens -- in free, civilized societies. Liepāja and, perhaps, Latvia as a whole, is apparently not, nor will soon be, a free and civilized society.
Dobelis was detained by the Liepāja municipal police, questioned, photographed and had some kind of document prepared, but not shown to him, concerning his actions. The police said he was violating a city ordinance about posting political bills and holding campaign meetings in the town center. While there can be considerations of esthetics (posting placards on municipal or third-party property) and public order -- holding large rallies, etc., this kind of ordinance, appears, on its face, to be a violation of fundamental rights of free speech and assembly. It is even more offensive when used to attack the basic democratic process of election campaigning.
Unfortunately, a climate of hostility toward public political displays is partially fed by public discussions of the alleged necessity of forbidding most, if not all paid political campaigning, of drastically restricting forms of expression by candidates and reducing the race for the national parliament to a 19th century level of meeting hall gatherings with no coverage by electronic media and draconian controls the print media. While no one has actually called for anything that extreme, certain imprecise formulations of the need to limit campaign spending and contributions can have a chilling effect on expression and media contacts by candidates, and "heating up" effect on those looking for any excuse to repress free expression. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Crusading Obscurantists attack a social studies textbook

Obscurantism and theocratic tendencies, never far in the background in Latvia, are raising their heads again as a virulent debate rages over the inclusion of psychologist's views on homosexuality in a 9th grade social sciences textbook. The psychotherapist Jolanta Cihanoviča is quoted in a reprinted interview as saying that homosexuality is not an illness, that this has been acknowledged by medical and psychiatric organizations around the world, and that it is a “normal aspect” of human sexuality.
Religious organizations, including the archbishop of the Latvian Lutheran Church Jānis Vanags, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Latvia, Zbigņevs Stankevičs, representatives of Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist congregations, signed a letter to the Latvian government demand that the textbook be withdrawn because of what they deemed unacceptable views on homosexuality. Interestingly, the letter was also signed by a nationalist member of the Latvian parliament, the Saeima, Imants Parādnieks, who, according to press reports and his own statements, maintains long-term, affectionate relationships with two women and has been called a “polygamist” by some media.
Latvia's Ministry of Education and Science has now caved in to the demands of the ultra-conservative religious factions (mainstream Lutheranism is tolerant of homosexuality, Latvia's church does not even ordain women) and hinted that the views of “the church” would be included in the next edition of the textbook. Presently, it looks like the “church” is considered to be only those religious leaders that vehemently denounce homosexuality as sin and depravity, and also reject the views of medical science and psychology that different sexual orientation is not an illness or disorder.
I wouldn't object to a social science textbook that illustrated contemporary trends by examining the debate in society and within world religions on sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. That could very well include quoting the condemnation of gays as depraved sinners by some Latvian religious leaders and the acceptance of gays and all other people by such ministers as Harvard-trained Juris Cālitis, who has held religious services ahead of Latvia's controversial “Gay Pride” events a few years ago.
However, the danger in the present turn of events is that the education authorities of a formally secular democracy are caving in to the demands of obscurantist religious movements and their political supporters. If they make gains on the “hot” issue of gays, other attacks on the secular teaching of science are not far behind. After all, as recent polls show, this is a country where 35% of the population believe that the sun revolves around the earth.
Media stories about the controversy, as always, generated hundreds of reader comments, most of them vehemently homophobic, supporting the censorship of the textbook, and referring to various conspiracy theories about why most medical and psychiatric organizations in the world, including the World Health Organizaition (WHO) do not see gays as Satan's agents sent to deprave the young and to destroy Latvia in particular.
Cihanoviča, an experienced psychotherapist who has been published internationally, was denounced in violent, hateful language in many of the comments, something that has almost become a norm in Latvian internet media. It yet again affirms my observation some time ago that Latvians hate free speech and love hate speech or something to that effect.
To be “fair”, or at least to explain why the endemic witches' kettle of ignorance, xenophobia, paranoia and twisted national inferiority complex was set a-boiling again, Cihanoviča used the word “normal” (normāls) in Latvian. It became a red flag to a herd of intellectually blind (or disabled) raging bulls, because to many Latvians, normāls is seen as meaning “this is what you MUST accept” or “this is what you MUST go out and do”. In other words, in the narrow, scared and information deprived mind-space of many Latvians, it mean that “we are turning your kids into gays and they better obey, because it is normāls.” In fact, normal simply means that it is something that is out there, that doesn't go away, that is part of nature, life and society. In Latvia, snow is normal, but I don't have to affirm that I love it or to run out and buy skis or a sled.
The whole issue is interesting, because it falls squarely across the themes of two of my blogs – one on free speech issues, because text book censorship by religious groups is a major free speech issue in many countries, It also addresses the issue of Latvia as a failed state of sorts, whose failure is partly rooted in the persistence of ignorance, xenophobia, authoritarianism and the populist appeak of crusading obscurantism or, as Latvians put it karojošā tumsonība. The warriors of intellectual darkness have made the education authorities blink, which is a very bad sign.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Morons as punishers, morons as the punished?

Latvia is never lacking for examples of petty fuckwit authoritarian behavior by ape-brained primates who have found their way into public administration. The latest example, according to media reports, comes from Liepāja, where a pensioner was administratively fined LVL 25 (around 50 USD) for calling the light-haired wife of a municipal official "little blondie" (blondīnīte in Latvian).
The alleged name-calling occurred after Linards Ozols tried to deliver some heating briquettes to a friend but found the driveway to the courtyard  of the friend's apartment house blocked by a car belonging to a blond-haired woman, who refused to move it, but finally moved the vehicle (apparently a jeep-like SUV) after Ozols addressed her as "little blondie", which she considered an insult.
To be fair, calling a woman "blond" in certain contexts in Latvia  is a mildly sexist insult based on the assumption that women, generally, are not as "smart" as Latvian men (depressive, chain-smoking drunks in the grave by age 65 by another stereotype) and that blondes are the least smart of them all. But where there is boorish behavior, an exchange of insults follows, as Latvians would say, like amen! in church (kā āmen baznīcā). You cannot force people to be civil, least of all in a society where, with a number of factors working simultaneously, white trash behaviors are more and more commonplace. To punish minor incivility is a ridiculous violation of a person's right to speak freely.
What elevates this incident from the perniciously silly to the bizarre is the fact, according to media accounts, that Ozols, having delivered his briquettes, was unsuccessfully pursued by a Liepāja municipal police car, which only failed to overtake him because of oncoming traffic. However, Ozols was later identified and handed an adminstrative fine for calling the blond wife of municipal police official blond.
Police officials call the pensioner's story of an alleged pursuit a fantasy, but Ozols was eventually fined for insulting the wife of Gints Krēsla, the head of the Administrative section of the Liepāja municipal police.

Nazi crank back in the news
The other free speech issue recently raised in the Latvian media is a report that the American organization the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has taken notice of an anti-Semitic rant on a Latvian television channel by a crackpot extremist, Uldis Freimanis and asked, in a public statement, that he be "brought to justice." The ADL statement correctly notes that incitement to ethnic hatred is punishable under Latvian law, so  the organization's demand is logically correct and consistent with its mission to expose and combat anti-Semitism and other kinds of bigotry.  Fair enough.
However, as an American organization, the ADL should be aware that in the US, Freimanis' ravings would be protected speech under the First Amendment and were he punished on US territory, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) might well take up his case. The ACLU, which has a number of Jewish lawyers working for it, was behind legal actions in the 1970s to allow a march by neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois. a town populated at the time by a number of Holocaust suvivors. The Nazis won their case, helped by some Jewish lawyers who put free speech and free assembly (the right to non-violently express any message) above the deeply offensive content of the Nazis' message.
I fully agree with the ADL that Freimanis expressed offensive, depraved views about Jews, that he even urged their murder, but absent a very limited context of direct incitement (leading a mob with torches to a synagogue) I oppose the punishment of any speech, writing or other expression not involving the direct use of force.  The organization Article 19,  I believe, has  a number of articles on its website opposing the  application of so-called hate speech laws. There should be no hate speech laws in Latvia, hate, bigotry and ignorance cannot be legislated out of existence. Free speech, open debate and free expression are part of a process that may, over time, reduce the level of ignorance and xenophobia in this country,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16 - police, peaceful marchers and free expression

The annual March 16 event to commemorate the Latvian Legion, forcibly conscripted by the German occupation authorities in 1943, passed peacefully after its almost ritual banning by the Riga City authorities and the lifting of the ban by a Latvian court. It almost looked like an effort by outgoing Minister of Interior Linda Mūrniece (caught briefly in the video) to show that there were still many police under her command. Toward the end of the video, when I say this may be one of the last few years when the event takes place, I mean that there will be very few actual veterans of the Legion left alive and fit to march. It will either fade or become a purely politicized event expressing differing interpretations of historical events that few people have living memory of.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Latvian court backs free speech and assembly, yet again

An "antifascist" organization a few days ago and the Latvian veterans' organization "Daugavas vanagi" on March 15 won the right to assembly near the Freedom Monument on March 16 in appeals to a Latvian court.  The court ruled, yet again, for the right to free assembly. Lame-duck Minister of Interior Linda Murniece (who has resigned, but will not go away until June) initially opposed the ban on public gatherings imposed by the fuckwit Riga City Council (the fuckwit part doesn't fade with a change in political compositon). Now she is promising a massive show of police force to make sure the rallies stay peaceful. Massive, at least, as far as the large majority of police who will not be out in the countryside staging armed robberies and gun battles, or driving around Riga shitfaced banging up cars, as another member of the elite Alfa unit did.
What happens now is that a small number of 80 and 90-somethings, former Latvian Legion members, accompanied, perhaps, by their middle aged children, will march to the Freedom Monument after a religious service. They will be met by a cordon of Latvian flags held by youth supporters of the Visu Latvijai  (All for Latvia) a fervent, but moderate nationalist party. Various ultranationalist and neo-Nazi crackpots will also show up. Opposing them will be a mixture of geezers and younger folk denouncing the Legion veterans as fascists. There will, yet again, be almost universal distortion or ignorance of both history and "alternate history".
What I mean by that is that in 1943,  when the Latvian legion was drafted in violation of international law by the Nazi occupation authorities, nobody was seen off with an honor guard of dozens of flags of the Latvian republic. Maybe I am wrong, but the red-white-red shoulder flashes that these conscript Waffen SS troops got was as far as officially allowed displays of nationalism went back then.
It is also undeniable that like the little spoon dipped in tar that gets used in a big honey pot, there were people in the Latvian Legion who had been with the Latvian Police Battalions formed prior to 1943. I don't think even any of these guys participated in the Holocaust, which was largely over in the Baltics by 1942, but some of them may have done some nasty things in Belarus.
That will not prevent some of the anti-fascists from acting as if everyone in the Latvian Legion personally took part in the shooting of Jews and then celebrated by having Hitler's face tattooed life-sized on their back with a hairpin taken from one of their victims. Nonsense, to be sure.
As for the "ignorance" of alternate history, consider this -- what if the side the Latvian Legion was fighting on had actually "won" in a limited sense. Say, Stalin dropped dead in late 1944 and the Red Army suffered some major calamity and whoever took charge of the Kremlin called an uneasy armistice. Then what?
I am pretty sure the Germans would have shifted much of their "best" troops to the West, to give the Allies a bloody nose, maybe doing a better in the Battle of the Bulge, or maybe a bit worse, because some Latvians decided to desert or surrender to the 101st Airborne? Then what? I could see reprisals in Latvia, mutiny, more Legionnaires and civilians killed by "loyal" German troops and maybe the Red Army moving in anyway to "restore order" (a mutiny or disorder on the Eastern Front could be a breach of the armistice, who knows).
The least likely scenario, whatever the 18 to 20-something patriotic draftee legionnaires were thinking at the time, was that Hitler would say -- thanks, kids, here is Latvia back! Not likely. At best, there would be even fewer surviving Legionnaires and brighter and stranger shades of grey about what they were up to in an alternate history end of World War II. The guys who happily surrendered after mauling an American tank company? Sorry about that.  The guys who survived a battle with the regular SS and staggered out of a concentration camp dressed in the tatters of another kind of SS uniform? WTF or whatever they said in 1945? Guys who surrendered to Swedish police after landing on Gotland in the 1938 uniforms of the Latvian army, but armed with Schmeissers and captured Russian submachineguns?  No, it would not have ended well, only differently.  What happened in reality to the Legionnaires was one of many potential bloodsoaked clusterfucks waiting to happen under the political and military circumstances of World War II.
My late father was drafted and fought in the Legion, he was badly wounded. At the end of it, he took off his Latvian flag shoulder flash and said something like -- we did our best, but it got fucked up, and what happened did not really do honor to that flag. Kind of sums it up pretty well. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

F**kwit Riga city administration just doesn't learn, suspends free speech again

The fuckwit (yes, the term is appropriate, once is a mistake, more than twice, well...) acting Riga City manager Māris Kalve has yet again forbidden any and all requested public meetings relating to March 16, a day on which various groups have commemorated the World War II Latvian Legion and others have protested this commemoration. Needless to say, the Latvian Legion, formed during the German occupation of Latvia, was controversial. Most of the Legion was drafted, yet the soldiers predominantly fought in the belief that they were defending Latvia against the return of Soviet terror experienced in 1940-41. Some members of the Legion may have come  from police battalions formed earlier and involved in surpression of anti-German partisans.
Prior to the formation of the Legion in 1943, the Holocaust took place in Latvia, and there are some members of contemporary Latvian society who believe (inaccurately, but they are nonetheless  entitled to believe so) that the Latvian Legion can be equated with Nazism. These so-called anti-Fascist groups have also announced they would hold demonstrations on March 16. All of these intended manifestations of viewpoints, some of them extreme (young nationalists and ultranationalists are also "commemorating" the Legion), are part of the contentious, noisy public dialog of a free and democratic society. Kalve, using his office in a fuckwit manner, has attempted to stop this dialog. This is a direct threat to free speech, freedom of assembly and democracy in Latvia. Last year, a court annulled a similar ban. The Riga City administration has learned nothing. Last summer it allowed, then violated the free speech rights of people organizing by dispersing, a crackpot (in my opinion) commemoration of the "liberation" of Riga by German forces on July 1, 1941.
It is the duty of a democratic municipal government to respect the right of all citizens, regardless of their political views, to free speech and peaceful free assembly. This includes assembling sufficient police forces to keep opposing, hostile groups apart, something which the city has managed to do in the past (even when contending groups simply violated bans on marching and gathering). It should do the same on March 16 and rescind the ban on public meetings before the courts do so.
The ban, of course, has caused an understandable outcry among commentators on Latvian internet news portals, but it has also brought other democrats out of the woodwork. These people are calling on the authorities to ban celebrations on May 9, when mainly Russian war veterans, their families and supporters gather to mark the end of World War II as understood in Soviet times (the rest of the world commemorates May 8). I would agree the many of the old geezers, wittingly or unwittingly, are celebrating what, to most Latvians, was the beginning of another, longer and more devastating occupation than any that took place during the war. The commentators accused Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs, an ethnic Russian, of favoring the May 9 celebrants. While this may be true ro some extent, it is no reason to ban May 9 or any other peaceful public celebration. If mayor Ušakovs' attendance at May 9 events offends voters, they can try to throw him out of office at the next municipal election. That is also a democratic right.

For the record:  From The Urban Dictionary 
Someone who despite constant failure, is unable to learn from these transgressions. Continues to do foolish and irritating things, which aggravate many people. They are not only a halfwit, but also significantly fucked in the head. Hence the term fuckwit. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Latvia proposes an internet kill-switch -- Mubarak on the Baltic?

Latvia's new draft law on a “ A State of Emergency”, which was presented to the meeting of state secretaries (part of the process of introducing it to the parliament or Saeima) last September, was way ahead of Egypt's authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak by granting the government the right to throw a kill switch on the internet and all other electronic media. They can also censor the press and all correspondence, too.
The draft law also contains provisions for regulation the movement of citizens during an emergency, for overruling the decisions of local authorities, for searches and seizures in private homes and a number of other totalitarian measures. It also provides for emergency allocation of resources, goods and services and other steps that are at least superficially reasonable in case of a natural disaster, war or insurrection.
What is worrisome is that a state of emergency can be declared for political reasons, such as “a threat of civil disorder”, and that the provisions for regulating media and electronic communications, especially the internet, are dangerous and disproportionate. It is hard to see what benefit the population could gain from being shut off from domestic and outside media during a major global or regional disaster. As far as preventing people in Latvia from disseminating information over the internet and social media, it looks like the main purpose of such measures would be to keep the outside world from learning of repression or other violent and irrational actions by Latvia's own government and authorities.
Let us assume that a megastorm, a Cyclone Yasi or Hurricane Katrina type of storm was raging over Northern Europe and about to hit Latvia, where a state of emergency had been declared. Why should people be cut off from looking at the Weather Channel, the BBC, CNN or other news sources on the internet or on their mobile phones for a “second opinion” in addition to what the government was saying in official announcements?
I don't think the government would cut off the internet simply because a storm was coming, but such measures could be used if there were mass demonstrations that presented a “danger of civil disorder” to police and government bureaucrats advising those able to declare a state of emergency. In such a case, the reason for cutting off electronic communications, including the internet and the social media that live on it, would be to prevent information about state repression from getting out and to interfere with efforts by dissident groups and civil society to self-organize using the internet.
In short, this is a dangerous piece of draft legislation that leaves way too much leeway for the state to censor, repress, and prevent the dissemination of information about its own repression. This law must be stopped and/or drastically modified so that it is not a compilation of “rubber clauses” that can be stretched to attack inalienable human rights in times of social and political tension. There shall be no Latvian Mubarak, no internet kill switch.