Monday, July 9, 2012

Uldis Freimanis, a nationalist radical "goal post" for free speech, is found dead

Uldis Freimanis, a Latvian nationalist with radical public views on many issues, was found dead near his home in Riga. Freimanis, born in 1943, bore no signs of foul play and by some reports, had been suffering from a heart condition. A regular, placard-bearing participant at anti-gay and radical nationalist demonstrations, Freimanis was last seen organizing a commemoration of the end of the first Soviet occupation of Latvia when German troops entered Riga on July 1, 1941. Historically, Latvians' joy at seeing the Red Army driven out vanished quickly as it become apparent that occupation by Nazi Germany simply mean a change of shooters of Latvian citizens and their specific targets. This seemed lost on the organizers of the most recent event.
For me, Freimanis, no matter how strange and repugnant his publicly expressed views, which included strident anti-Semitism and homophobia, was a kind of litmus test of free speech in Latvia. He was a goal post for tolerance (non-censorship) of radical and offensive expression. Free speech is not for "nice" opinions, "moderate and balanced view", political correctness, etc. Freedom of expression is to protect the views that most of us may hate and be shocked by. If we both defend the right to peacefully express such views, at the same time as we express our own rejection of their substance and our arguments as to why they are wrong, we are doing the work of citizens defending both freedom and a democratic society.
I had a slight acquaintance with Freimanis, and he lacked some of the cold hostility and hatefulness I have felt from other, younger Latvian right-wing radicals. In fact, I sent him some digital photos of his son, who is a soldier with the Latvian army honor guard at the Freedom Monument and was hoping to send him a photo of his participation at the latest July 1 commemoration, which gathered a few dozen supporters. He was a cordial man in the few encounters I have had with him, and can only express my condolences to his family and my regrets that he will not have a chance to re-examine his views and convictions, which I see as being outrageous, but which he had every right to express,


Anonymous said...

Actually I believe you play an similar role in that you keep reminding us about the fundamental things we have to protect.

Anonymous said...

Neither occupier was any good for the country, they both wanted Latvia as a satelite.Freimanis was a voice in the willderness, speaking out for a free Latvia.