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.