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Latvia Pride Trashed, Mobs Throw Human Excrement
by REX WOCKNER
2006-08-02

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Pictured Nikolai Alekseev at Riga Pride. GayRussia.Ru photo. Peter Tatchell at Riga Pride. Photo by Nikolai Alekseev/GayRussia.Ru. Antigay protesters from the nopride.lv organization. Photo by Nikolai Alekseev/GayRussia.Ru. A religious woman with holy water and an icon flings herself upon a car carrying gay activists. Photo by Nikolai Alekseev/GayRussia.Ru

__________________

The second effort to stage a gay pride parade in Riga, Latvia, was an unmitigated disaster July 22.

The City Council and a court banned the parade, claiming police would not be able to protect marchers from marauding homophobic mobs. So, activists instead staged a religious service at a church and meetings at a hotel.

But the homophobes were not deterred by the change in plans. Scores of anti-gay protesters gathered outside the Anglican church and flung human excrement, eggs and rotten food at gays and lesbians as they left the building.

'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.'

'Worshippers were pelted with shit and rotten fruit,' said British participant Peter Tatchell. 'Despite previously requesting police protection, no police were present to protect the congregation.'

Activists meeting later in the day at the four-star Reval Hotel met a similar fate, attracting hundreds of anti-gay demonstrators. ' [ We were ] under siege all day by protesters from the anti-gay 'No Pride' movement—a highly organized alliance of Christian fundamentalists, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis,' said 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.'

Blogging live from the site, Russian 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 said. 'Instead, Riga is showing the face of homophobic fascism. ... It feels like [ this year's ] Moscow [ pride ] all over again. Homophobic mobs are roaming the streets of Riga with apparent impunity.'

Reports said 14 protesters were arrested during the various confrontations.

Latvia's prime minister, Aigars Kalvitis, and president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, disagreed with the City Council and the Regional Administrative Court, and had urged that the parade be permitted.

'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.'

On July 24, the pride organizing group, Mozaika, announced plans to 'sue the City of Riga in the European Court of Human Rights for banning the march.'

'The presidency of the European Union is now held by Finland, which will put the Riga Pride events at the top of a list of discussions at a meeting of European Ministers of Justice next week,' the group's cofounder, Laris Grava, said in a press release. 'We expect severe condemnation of the government of Latvia from other European governments.'

Last year, gays were allowed to stage Riga's first pride parade. The approximately 150 marchers were heavily outnumbered by around 1,000 anti-gay 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.'

Prime Minister Kalvitis 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.

'Latvia is a democratic country that wishes and is able to ensure human rights of every person living here. [ T ] he government of Latvia is clearly against discrimination of any kind. It is worth noting that not long before the parade the Cabinet of Ministers adopted decisions preventing discrimination of sexual minorities in [ the ] labor market.'

At Moscow's first gay pride parade May 27, which Alekseev co-organized, marchers attempted to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then walk a few blocks for a rally across from City Hall. They were attacked repeatedly by neo-fascists, skinheads, militant Christians and riot police. Several marchers were injured.

Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had banned that march, saying Russia's 'morals are cleaner' than those of 'the West.' He called the attempt to lay flowers a 'desecration ... a provocation [ and ] a contamination. People burst through and of course they beat them up,' he said.


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