Monday, May 28, 2012

Some good free speech developments, but keep off the grass!

Some good things seem to be happening in the free speech/free assembly area in Latvia. The Riga City Council has decided that the planned Baltic Pride 2012 march is not a threat to public order and should be permitted. So on Saturday, June 2, members of the LGBT community in Latvia, along with visitors from the other two Baltic countries and supporters from other countries in Europe, will be able to exercise their right to free speech and assembly. There will probably be a hateful, screaming crowd of counterdemonstrators – Latvia is probably one of the most homophobic countries in Europe, at least judging by the kinds of comments on internet portals.
Several diplomats will also take part in Baltic Pride, including the US Ambassador to Latvia Judy Garber and American ambassadors from the other Baltic States. Representatives of the Latvian government will take part in some pride-related events in the days ahead of the march.
It is important for “ straight” or mainstream people to take part in Baltic Pride to show that they, at least, are not part of the problem, not part of the anti-free speech, homophobic and possibly religious fanatic “majority against Baltic Pride” claimed by opponents of the march. For this reason, but mainly because I am a libertarian believer in free speech, I will attend Baltic Pride assuming nothing else gets in the way (I have driving commitments on weekends to resupply my mother-in-law at our summer house).
A slightly disconcerting incident I witnessed was the Riga Municipal Police asking people to leave the banks of the Riga Canal. It was done, I assume, with firm courtesy, but if the city is reneging on its commitment to open up the grass on Riga parks, then it should have explained why. The grass on the slopes, as far as I know, is not a different species than that in some other parks, where careful sitting or picnicking on the grass is not forbidden, or at least tolerated. One of the most absurdly SOVIET things about Riga was the ban on sitting on the grass in all public parks. The only thing the public could enjoy was walking on the sidewalks and sitting on the benches – compared to the openness of park grass areas in most civilized countries.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Defending free speech in a debate on banning Baltic Pride in Riga

The debating society of the University of Latvia has asked me to participate in a debate on whether the Baltic Pride March planned for Riga on June 2 should be banned. I, of course, will be taking the side of free speech and assembly with other debaters and will be opposed by Jānis Rožkalns, a former Soviet-era dissident and anti-pride activist of late, as well as Jānis Šmits, a member of the Riga City Council and a minister. Both believe that the Pride event should be banned  to protect children and the "moral climate" of the city.
The debate will take place at the University of Latvia "Mazā aula" lecture hall on Wednesday, May 23, at 16:30.
My view is that freedom of speech and assembly, no matter how "offensive" the purpose, cannot be forbidden. Censorship and the restriction of basic rights is a hallmark of authoritarian and totalitarian societies. Free speech is freedom for the speech we hate. My opponents, who evidently hate the idea of gay rights (they maintain that they don't hate gays per say) should be held to this standard. I certainly hold to this standard when, in this blog, I have defended the right of neo-Nazis to peacefully express their views.
I also will say that the issue is not one of Gay Pride in particular, since I would have exactly the same arguments for free speech and assembly if, instead of Rožkalns and Šmits, I was facing the opponents of allowing the Legionnaire's March (or the anti-Legionnaire protestors) on March 16 or those demanding tht the gathering to celebrate May 9 be banned. I also am against banning, to my mind, the crackpot celebration of the "liberation" of Riga by the Germany military on July 1, 1941, setting off a new round of repression against Latvia's citizens, in particular Jewish Latvians.
Living in an open, free democracy means living in the market of ideas, including ideas that you personally shun (so if you don't like gays or neo-Nazis or various crackpots holding the floor for a few hours, stay away. I personally am somewhat entertained by those whose views are radically different from mine and sometimes radically batshit).
Just for the record, I am straight, married, and have three sons and one grandson. So much for being a destroyer of family values or whatever crackpot accusations participating in this debate may bring down upon me. And yes, I am not homophobic, although being gay for me is second in being personally unimaginable to -- playing golf. It is just not me, neither batting a little ball around in a wide, well trimmed grassy field nor same-sex relationships. But that doesn't motivate me to start a no-golf movement or to declare golfers as a pestilence to society.  Hey-- don't ask, don't tell. And yes, you are free to flaunt your par, your score or whatever it is. This is a free country, let's keep it that way.