Latvia’s National Alliance (NA), which I have always suspected to be discreetly (and sometimes not so) teetering on the edge between democracy and (crypto)authoritarianism, has called out the worst of the dogs in Latvia on what I will be the first to say seems to be a ratshit piece of distorted TV news.
Jānis Dombrava, a parliament or Saeima deputy from the NA filed charges with the Latvian Security Police (the guys who arrest college economics instructors for commenting on the economy) against the Russian language TV channel First Baltic Channel. The reason was an alleged distortion of events ahead of the March 16 commemoration event for the German-drafted Latvian Legion.
I arrived too late at this event to see what happened myself, but from other news reports and You Tube footage, representatives of the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee and Europarliamentarian Tatyana Zhdanok arrived some time ahead of the planned Legion (formally, Waffen-SS) commemoration and laid a wreath by the Freedom Monument in memory of the victims of Nazism. The wreath even had a ribbon with these words in Latvian on it.
Some time after the wreath was laid, persons apparently somehow sympathizing with the organizers of the Legionnaire event arrived and covered the anti-Fascist wreath with tulips, then placed a red-white-red emblem representing the Latvian flag and the shoulder flash of the Latvian Legion over the defaced wreath. This was, by any standard, an act of vandalism, since the base of the Freedom Monument is often the site for flower and wreath-layings and different floral arrangements have always peacefully co-existed. Zhdanok and Josif Koren of the Anti-Fascist Committee noticed the defacement of their wreath from nearby and approached to try to restore it and move the large insignia.
At this point a confrontation started with someone who acted as if he represented the organizers of the Legion commemoration. He tried to prevent Zhdanok and Koren from taking away the insignia and restoring their wreath. He firmly but politely asked them to leave, as “the next event” was about to start. On one of the You Tube videos, there is a point in the confrontation at which a voice off-camera shouts “ Jews do not belong here!” Koren is Jewish and I believe Zhdanok is also of Jewish descent, so this was a provocative and insulting remark, but it was not uttered by the man with whom both were having an argument over the wreath.
In the First Baltic Channel news item (I do not understand Russian, but got the gist of it), the sound of the male voice saying “Jews do not belong here” was attributed to the man with whom Zhdanok and Koren were arguing. From what I have seen, he said nothing of the kind, although the remark seems to have come from one of a not insignificant number of wackos who had gathered for the Legion commemoration.
The Russian language TV spot appears to have been, to put it mildly, a manipulation of the truth that should be exposed, denounced and perhaps reprimanded by the National Electronic Media Council. Some journalist organizations should also censure this kind of thing.
However, whatever distortion the First Baltic Channel may have made, it is no reason to run to Latvia’s “neo-KGB”, the Security Police, whose record on free speech and press freedom is spotty, to say the least. While the TV channel’s violation of journalistic ethics is reprehensible, it is a greater danger to journalistic freedom to use a repressive police agency as a tool of enforcing “good journalism”. Even if the blatant distortions by the First Baltic Channel is not the best test case, dragging them before the Security Police, even getting the Security Police involved in media content in any way will have a chilling effect on all media (perhaps, especially, the Russian-language media).
All of which leads me back to the nagging thought that just under the surface of the NA’s nationalist and democratic veneer, there may be an authoritarian streak that grabs for the biggest and most (unpredictably) dangerous stick around, to invoke repression rather than criticism and debate. And while on the subject of March 16, it reminds me of a very interesting man, an American academic from Lithuania that I met on the fringes of the March 16 event. He is Dovid Katz, whose main activity is the study of Baltic dialects of Yiddish, but who also aligns with the Anti-Fascist view that yes, fascism is really coming back to the Baltics because some old geezers gather along with some younger wackos and neo-Nazis. I honestly believe that these anti-Fascist guys have the volume, brightness and contrasted jacked up all the way on their picture of things. No, the Nazis are not really coming back in the Baltics or Eastern Europe. Yes, there are wackos around, as in the US (where Nazis marched in Skokie in the 1970s, all kinds of crackpot racist and anti-Semitic or perversely philo-Semitic Jesus is returning to the Temple in Jerusalem so glory to Israel sects about) and that is about it.
As far as I know, the NA didn’t condemn the defacement of the wreath laid by Zhdanok and Koren, which would have been the right thing to do. They at times traipse around issues of anti-Semitism (one of their members, who was criticized for this, even used the term “intelligent anti-Semitism”, whatever that means). This is the kind of stuff that feeds the paranoia about the Nazis coming back. Calling in the Security Police feeds my paranoia about a party in the government undermining media freedom.