Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another needless flag-burning uproar

I am no fan of flag desecration, but however one may feel about it, it is a form of symbolic expression and is not punished as a crime in countries with a high degree of democracy and individual freedom, although there are Western countries that have laws on flag and national symbol desecration. They are not a good idea.
There has been another case in Latvia that has, yet again, caused a needless uproar. Someone was caught on a mobile phone camera attempting to burn or scorch a paper Latvian flag (not a protected flag under the law, if I am not mistaken). The incident happened on independence day, November 18. This triggered a frenzy of outrage, especially as the perpetrator appeared to be Russian. A girl responsible for filming and posting the incident was also reportedly threatened.
Now the Latvian Security Police – the same guys and girls who were arresting university lecturers just a few years ago for expressing opinions about the national currency – responding, apparently, to the outcry, have found the suspect and have launched a criminal investigation. As all that time and effort was being spent, I can imagine the members of some terrorist sleeper cell using Riga as a hideout laughing all the way to their safe house. This is the sort of thing, if anything, that the Security Police should be looking out for.
Can you imagine that, because they were looking for one fuckwit who should not be punished for what he did, the Security Police missed clues that the sleeper cell was using Latvia to prepare for an attack on an airport or city in western Europe? Sorry, missed that because we were hunting for a teenager who burned a red-white-red paper pennant.
Also disturbing, but perhaps not that different from a redneck response in the US, was the torrent of foaming at the mouth commentary asking that the flag scorcher (you don't really see it completely burn in the video) be deported, imprisoned, whipped, lynched, even summarily excuted (though that may have been black humor irony). It reinforces the evidence from polls and surveys that Latvian society is deeply authoritarian. That is dangerous. If for no other reason, flag and national symbol desecration laws, it is to stop what amounts to the legal and enforcable “sanctification” of property and symbolic objects to make it clear that the state stands above and can repress individuals for disrespecting it.

At least the US Supreme Court still understands the essence of the problem:
The Government may not prohibit the verbal or nonverbal expression of an idea merely because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable, even where our flag is involved. Nor may a State foster its own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it, since the Government may not permit designated symbols to be used to communicate a limited set of messages. Moreover, this Court will not create an exception to these principles protected by the First Amendment for the American flag alone.

From Texas v. Johnson - 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

Perhaps the Latvian courts and the courts of a few other countries claiming to be democratic could look to this example?


John Christmas said...

I was testing my printer the other day. I printed a Latvian flag, which I later deposited in the recycling bin. Should I surrender to the Security Police?

Anonymous said...

Recent American law may allow the burning of the US or Israeli flag, but Latvia has other laws, Juris

Juris Kaža said...

These "other laws" are unjust, authoritarian and repressive. I hope that occured to you.