Hello from Latvia (2) - Last year events at Rigaš Pride
23 July 2006
Revised 27 July 2006
By Laris Grava
I am writing this in English since the story needs to be told far and wide. This is the story from my perspective. Everyone else who was there will have other stories to share.
Gaston and I are safe after yesterday’s well-organized fascist attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in Riga during Pride.
We are shocked by the hatred that manifested itself yesterday, but we are grateful for the positive energy that we found among so many friends and supporters.
Our organization Mozaika, an alliance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons and their friends organized a series of events from July 19 to July 22 called Friendship Days, including planning a Pride march. While the various seminars and other events were successful and crucially important in raising and discussing the concerns of the LGBT community in Latvia and internationally, the Riga City Council prohibited the Pride march from taking place on Saturday. The formal reason was security considerations, but it is crystal clear that there was immense pressure from homophobic and hateful segments of society, including the Latvian Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church, the Baptists, fundamentalist sects like New Generation and Glad Tidings, the ultra-right “Latvia’s First Party” (of which the Minister of the Interior is a member), radical organizations like “No Pride”, the National Bolsheviks, and the National Force Union.
The appeal to administrative court was also unsuccessful. Although this was an egregious example of political meddling in something that should be purely an administrative matter, in a sense, this may have been the best outcome for us, because the events on Saturday clarified to society at large, and to most of the government, that we represent tolerance and peace, and the other side represents intolerance, hatred and violence.
Saturday started with a very disturbing event. A LGBT church service was held in the Anglican Church. When the congregation left the church, they were assaulted by mobs who threw bags of liquid excrement at them. Some of our close friends were covered in it. Sophie Int’Veld, a member of the European Parliament, was also personal witness to this. Unhappily for the fascists, a number of the victims then went to a press conference for the foreign media. Thus, this hate crime was not only disseminated worldwide, but the journalists were able to experience first-hand the stench.
I arrived at the press conference to drive some people to a location on the outskirts of Riga for a symbolic gesture. One of my passengers was Maris Sants, a pastor excommunicated from the Latvian Lutheran church for being gay. Maris is one of the kindest people I have ever met, yet he is deeply reviled by a large segment of Latvian society for being gay, a Christian, and outspoken.
As Maris and I left the building where the press conference was being held, we encountered a very hostile mob. The police were there, armed, but this did not prevent a great deal of verbal abuse directed at Maris. I asked the police to escort Maris, a public figure, to my car, but they refused. So we decided that I should drive there without him. I went to the car, but then I noticed that two women had taken Maris by the hand and were walking him through the hostile crowd to the car. Maris got in my car, and we pulled out of the parking lot. As we did so, we saw that one of the women who had escorted Maris was besieged by the mob and she was covered in excrement. We pulled out quickly, but a well-aimed bag of excrement hit my car, which was then covered in it, and also some got into the ventilation system, so it really stank. Other friends Evita, Liga and Arthur, going to the same destination, also requested police protection, but were refused, so they had to run to their car.
We drove very quickly out of Riga, constantly monitoring whether we were being followed. Our destination was the Salaspils Concentration Camp, a memorial to the terror committed by the Nazis and their sympathizers during the Second World War. We went there to commemorate those who died at Salaspils, and to make a statement about how close we are now in Latvia to the collapse of democratic principles, supported by an intolerant and hateful society.
As we were driving to Salaspils, other Mozaika members were leaving the press conference to go to our Indoor Pride event at Reval Hotel Latvija. The buses transporting them were pelted with eggs and liquid excrement. Gaston and others were actively coordinating many of the activities. Gaston was hearing so many stories coming in from all sides, so emotionally it was an extremely difficult trial for him.
When we all arrived at Salaspils, we found that the situation at the memorial was very quiet, calm and peaceful. The fascist thugs had not figured out our plans. We were only about 10 people there, including members of Mozaika and members of Maris’ church and his mother. We were joined by media representatives from Reuters and Latvian TV. We walked to the monument, holding our small rainbow flags. Some of us said a couple of words, Maris quoted Himmler’s views on homosexuals, I mentioned that we are here to commemorate both the past as well as to be very concerned that Latvia is now returning to that past, and Rolands said that we are here to mourn the death of democracy in Latvia. This was followed by a moment of silence. Arthur said a prayer. Our small ceremony was broadcast on Latvian TV that night, including the entire 30 second moment of silence for the death of democracy in Latvia.
Then we returned without incident to Reval Hotel Latvija. I dropped Maris and Arthur at a side door (the mobs had begun collecting outside the main entrance), parked my car, and got into Reval Hotel Latvija.
Our Indoor Pride was a success. We were 250 courageous souls assembled on the second floor of Reval Hotel Latvija. I was truly touched to see so many of our close friends of all sexual orientations there. There were furious and pointed speeches by European politicians (including Deputies from the European Parliament, the Danish Parliament and the Swedish Parliament as well as the Vice Mayor of Amsterdam, etc.), by Latvian academics (but very few Latvian politicians), we sang songs (We Shall Overcome, Imagine, Bedu manu lielu bedu, etc.), and did a little dancing (Dancing Queen, Go West, etc.). It was a wonderful and colorful event. The most emotional moment was when everyone stood up, held hands and sang We Shall Overcome.
Outside, homophobic crowds had gathered and verbally and physically assaulted anyone carrying a rainbow flag or having any other LGBT attribution, or publicly known gays and lesbians. A friend of ours was spat at in the face. Two of our acquaintances tried to get into a cab to go to the airport. The fascist thugs threw bottles and eggs at the cab. On the way to the airport, several vehicles tried to ram the cab and run it off the road. Fortunately, they did not succeed.
The organizer of Moscow Pride, Nikolai Alexeyev, visiting us in Riga, submitted the following item as the events were unfolding: “It is astonishing. It’s worse than Moscow. There is total chaos here. The police seem very weak and disorganized. The fascists are able to act at will. And Latvia is in the European Union.” A foreign journalist who had been to the Warsaw and Moscow prides said that the situation in Riga was the worst he’d seen.
Even after our Indoor Pride ended, the situation was not safe outside. The Secretariat of the Minister of Integration organized government cars to drive Pride participants home. Some of the more well-known members of the LGBT community, including the board of Mozaika, remained in Reval Hotel Latvija. We rented a safe room and planned next steps. Over the next several hours we were in constant and direct telephone contact with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks and the Minister for Integration Karina Petersone. The Foreign Minister arranged that the acting Prime Minister, Aigars Stokenbergs, come to visit us in the safe room. We discussed the situation with him. After our discussions, Stokenbergs arranged for government transport to everyone’s home, but Gaston and I walked with the acting Prime Minister to the nearby Berga bazars to check out the situation. When we got there, we saw a number of friends calmly sitting in a beer garden. Ieva, one of the owners of Berga Bazars, described the events of several hours earlier, when a mob of more than 50 people tried to enter the territory, knowing that this was going to be one of the post-Pride meeting places. Ieva, together with her security guards, had to fend them off. They had to wait for an unacceptably long time for the police to arrive. A member of the Swedish police, one of our guests at Friendship Days, was also present, and she was in constant contact with her superiors in Stockholm. She said that the Latvian police did the minimum they could possibly do and she also conveyed this assessment to the Latvian Foreign Minister. The American Embassy was also closely monitoring the activities.
After the acting Prime Minister left, we spent some time at Berga bazars, then ventured to the restaurant Osiris, where so many of our friends had gathered. There was a great deal of energy and joy and even optimism for having survived the day’s ordeals. As one of my friends noted, “If I have to burn in hell, I’d much rather do it together with these people.”
Gaston and I got home safely. We later found out that two of our acquaintances were assaulted that night by thugs for being homosexual, but fortunately they only suffered minor bruises.
Although they were traumatic, we are energized by these events. We have established many new and deep friendships, the kind that are born when confronted with adversity. We are truly grateful to those of you who were present at our Indoor Pride, and to those of you who were with us in your thoughts.
P.S. Please consider staying at or otherwise supporting Hotel Reval Latvija in the future. This was our fortress against the hatred on the streets.
P.P.S. Needless to say, there will be so much to do in the future. Any financial help would be greatly appreciated. Here is the information for making a donation by wire transfer.
Recipient: LGBT un vinu draugu apvieniba Mozaika (Mozaika, an Alliance of LGBT and their Friends)
Official registration number of the organization: 40008100122
Legal address of the organization: Strelnieku iela 4a, Riga, LV 1010
[Bank info removed. Please send an IM to the author of this message for info.- Nate Black, Moderator]
(posted by Ernest Ivanovs)
Last edited by NathanATX; 03-28-2007 at 01:59 PM. Reason: Removal of Banking information - Nate Black