3 min

Under siege

Protestors attack Latvia Pride

LATVIA'S 'NO PRIDE' MOVEMENT: Antigay protesters attacked gays and lesbians leaving Pride meetings at the Reval Hotel Latvia and pelted them with human excrement. Credit: Nikolai Alekseev

Homophobic protestors attacked Pride goers attending Riga, Latvia’s second annual Pride celebration Jul 22, while police stood by and did little.

“I was hit with a bag full of shit and had to go wash up,” said the Rev Maris Sants.

“Protesters threw human excrement on us,” said the Rev Juris Calitis. “I was covered with it from head to foot. It was quite smelly.”

Blogging live from the site, Russian Pride participant Nikolai Alekseev reported: “As the speeches of local politicians and foreign politicians are coming to an end… in a room where 100 gays and lesbians came to celebrate what should have been Riga’s 2nd Gay Pride, protesters started to attack those going out of the hotel.

“The first taxi that was trying to take one of the organizers was attacked by the protesters who pushed the cars [and] threw eggs under the eyes of the police. Journalists were also attacked with eggs and water–on them and on their cameras. Protesters are targeting anyone going out of the hotel.

“Today, Latvia does not show the face of a modern and democratic country,” Alekseev continued. “Instead, Riga is showing the face of homophobic fascism. It feels like Moscow [Pride] all over again. Homophobic mobs are roaming the streets of Riga with apparent impunity.”

Antigay protestors attacked Moscow’s Pride Parade, injuring several marchers, May 27.

Latvian gays and lesbians gathered first for a religious Pride service at a church, then for meetings at the hotel two weeks ago, after Riga city council decided to prohibit their parade earlier this year. Protestors waited for the participants to leave the hotel then pelted them with human excrement, eggs and rotten food.

“[We were] under siege all day by protesters from the antigay No Pride movement, a highly organized alliance of Christian fundamentalists, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis,” said British queer activist Peter Tatchell. “They roamed the streets outside the hotel looking for gays and lesbians to attack. Anyone who looked gay was liable to abuse and assault, even passing tourists. The police seemed to stand back and let them terrorize people with impunity.”

Reports said 14 protesters were arrested during the various confrontations.

Last year, Riga city council allowed the city’s first Pride Parade to go ahead. The approximately 150 marchers were heavily outnumbered by about 1,000 antigay protesters, who hurled insults, bottles and rotten eggs, blocked the streets, and forced the parade to be rerouted. The protesters chanted “No sodomy” and “Gays fuck the nation.”

This year, council prohibited the parade, claiming police wouldn’t be able to protect marchers from marauding homophobic mobs. A Latvian court upheld the decision.

Latvia’s prime minister, Aigars Kalvitis, and president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, openly criticized the parade ban and urged council to reconsider.

“It lies at the very foundations of the constitution of Latvia that human rights shall be respected in Latvia without any discrimination, which means that nobody can be restricted in his/her activities based on his/her religious beliefs, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender or belonging to some other group,” Vike-Freiberga said. “Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees to the residents of Latvia the right to the freedom of speech and assembly.”

But council would not budge.

“We expect severe condemnation of the government of Latvia from other European governments,” said Laris Grava, co-founder of Riga’s Pride association Mozaika, in a press release.

The European Union (EU), of which Latvia is a member state, forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under its Charter of Fundamental Human Rights.

On Jan 18, the European Parliament passed a resolution, according to an EU bulletin, “to eradicate homophobia and promote a culture of freedom, tolerance and equality among citizens and in legal systems… through education as well as through administrative, judicial and legislative means. Parliament also called on member states to ensure that lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender persons are protected from homophobic hate speech and violence and to ensure that same-sex partners enjoy the same respect, dignity and protection as the rest of society.”

Two months ago, the European Parliament held a special debate on hate across the EU, including homophobia in Latvia, and again resolved to pressure member states to actively combat homophobia.

Riga city council still wasn’t swayed.

Prime Minister Kalvitis initially opposed last year’s march, denouncing it as “a parade of sexual minorities [taking] place in the middle of our capital city next to the Dom [Cathedral]. This is not acceptable,” he said. “Latvia is a state based on Christian values. We cannot promote things that are unacceptable to a large part of society.”

But Kalvitis later had an apparent change of heart, saying: “There were attempts to link my statements with expressions of homophobic views and hate in the society. This is not true.”

In June, Pride celebrations were also banned in Warsaw, Poland for the second year in a row.

Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski said that he is “for tolerance, but am against propagating gay orientation.”

Kaczynski also said the celebration would detract from plans to unveil a monument the same day to Gen Stefan Rowecki, a leader of Poland’s anti-Nazi underground army during World War II. “Organizing a gay parade on that day is a joke,” he told the Polish News Agency.

About 500 Polish gays rallied in front of city hall, chanting “Homophobe.”