Pride Under Attack in Latvia
No whistles. No public displays of affection: no kissing or touching. Welcome to Riga Pride 2007, where hundreds of LGBT rights activists held a peaceful march in the Latvian capital on Sunday 3 June.
After organisers Mozaika had planned the first Pride event for July 2005, Riga City Council withdrew permission at the last minute following a televised statement by the Prime Minister that he could not "accept that a parade of sexual minorities takes place in the middle of our capital city... Latvia is a state based on Christian values; we cannot advertise things which are not acceptable to the majority of our society."
When Riga Administrative Court annulled the withdrawal, 300 people attempted to march in the streets while over 1,000 people gathered to protest; some tried to block the route while others used teargas and threw eggs. One year later, Riga City Council refused to let the Pride march take place, concerned by threats of violence and claiming they could not guarantee security. People attending a church service in support of Riga Pride 2006 were attacked by a large group of protesters who threw, among other things, eggs and human excrement. Although organisers had requested police protection, no significant police presence materialised until hours after the trouble started. Seven people were eventually ordered to pay small fines for taking part in the attacks.
Following these unsuccessful attempts, this year appeals were issued to the Latvian Prime Minister, Aigars Kalvitis, by the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, and British Ambassador to Latvia, Mr Ian Bond, to ensure adequate protection for those taking part. Participants included several MEPs and MPs from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany, and Amnesty International members who travelled from all around Europe, including a local AI group from Edinburgh.
In the weeks before the event, local newspaper Ritdiena published an open letter from Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats, in which he described homosexual behaviour as 'total corruption in the sexual arena' and 'an unnatural form of prostitution,' calling on the government to protect 'the traditional family against the licentiousness of homosexuals' and 'stop this foreign-inspired action, in which a handful of people with questionable morals try to force the institutions of government to accept their perverse views.'
No Pride, an organisation founded by Latvian businessman Igors Maslakovs who wants "to fight against the opinion that the homosexual lifestyle is proper and even recommended, which is enforced on Latvian society by the European Union," produced anti-gay t-shirts and stickers depicting two men having sex, which were used to deface posters advertising Riga Pride. Together with right-wing Christian group Jauna Paaudzee (New Generation) they staged a massive concert under the banner 'The World Against Homosexualism' to coincide with Riga Pride 2007. At the event people who signed a petition objecting to equality for LBGT people were offered free balloons, stickers and t-shirts with anti-gay slogans. Though organisers had anticipated an attendance of up to 40,000, no more than 5,000 participated throughout the afternoon.
At a security briefing prior to the Pride march, Mozaika advised all participants to exercise caution and dress in neutral clothing on their way to Vermanes Gardens, while also warning that police would not allow any behaviour that risked provoking the anti-gay protesters. Despite security fencing around the park, which was cordoned off by two rows of police, and the presence of hundreds of security police including heavily-armoured riot squads, a small number of paint bombs and firecrackers were thrown at the LGBT activists who carried placards that said 'Equality is a human right' and 'Love is a human right'. A small number of anti-gay protesters were arrested for hurling firecrackers and abuse as a heavy police escort transported participants to a safe distance (a location not disclosed until the morning for safety reasons).
Riga Pride overcame a number of setbacks in the lead-up to Sunday's march, having scheduled events over four days to engage in dialogue with the public and encourage people to attend. A 'celebrate diversity' concert had to be relocated from Andrejsala, one of the city's live music venues; a city-wide chain of cafes named Double Coffee reneged on a contract to distribute free information postcards about the planned events; and a conference on family models in Europe also had to be relocated from Riga Congress Centre, which claimed to discover a double booking one day before the event (unaware of the relocation, anti-gay protesters turned up as scheduled). Organisers Mozaika suspect they capitulated to pressure from anti-gay groups and intend to issue legal proceedings in each case.
For more information on LGBT rights in Latvia, visit www.mozaika.lv
Amnesty International UK campaigns throughout the year on human rights issues for LGBT people: www.amnesty.org.uk/scotland