RIGA - An Indian chef working at a popular Old Town restaurant in Riga was assaulted midday March 4 by a group of Russian-speaking youth, causing fears that there is an increase in racially motivated violence.
The assault occurred on a busy street outside the Lattelekom client center, across from a popular downtown shopping mall. Arwinder Sing Pasricha, 24, routinely passes through the area while running errands for the Indian Raja restaurant where he works.
After being attacked, Pasricha said that his calls for help were ignored by passers-by. In one of the city's busiest areas not one person stopped to help, even after the three or four assailants had fled. Bleeding, the victim returned to the restaurant, where fellow employees rushed him to the hospital.
"What do foreigners have to do to protect themselves?" Pasricha asked. "In this case I can't raise my hands and fight back," he added, for fear that local police would punish him. The incident has given him second thoughts about staying in the country.
Being a Sikh, Pasricha wears a turban. In a society like Latvia that has little history of non-white immigration, the few foreigners that hail from the Indian subcontinent and Africa are conspicuous.
What is perhaps unique about the attack, is that is was actually reported. Pasricha said he has heard many stories of other foreigners who have been either attacked or threatened. Few turn to the police.
Pasricha said that dealing with the police was also an unpleasant experience. Since they had refused to notify the Indian Embassy of the attack, Pasricha had to do it himself.
Christopher Ejugbo, chairman of the AfroLat Association, said that he was also assaulted six years ago in the Old Town, but had not called the police at the time. He added that another African had been severely beaten last year, and spent a month recovering in a hospital. Like Ejugbo, the victim chose not to turn to law enforcement for help.
After the official launch of AfroLat last year, Ejugbo received several personal threats, and his Web site's guest book is currently filled with racist epitaphs. The chairman said he was not sure if the number of attacks was decreasing, or if foreigners living here were simply more cautious. Either way, he no longer uses public transportation, after having experienced repeated harassment.
"Unless society begins to talk about it, it will continue," Ejugbo said, whose organization held public awareness sessions about Africans in the eastern part of the country last year.
Few foreigners who have been attacked turn to the media, leading to a dearth of available public information.
Film director Laila Pakalnina, who is also a columnist for the daily Diena, was outraged at the attack. "What happened is a dangerous precedent, which shows that our indifference has created an environment favorable to the types of dangerous social phenomena one sees in Russia," she said
"This is a problem everywhere in Europe," former Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks said. He added that the problem was especially prevalent when homogenous societies become more colorful, such as Latvia.