"Racial attacks" continue, criminal case opened

  • 2005-07-20
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Local police have opened a criminal case over another racially motivated attack after the U.S. Embassy released a stern message to its citizens on July 12, warning them of a recent wave of racist and anti-Semitic assaults in the country.

The message stated that the attack of an embassy employee, which took place on July 1, was "clearly racially motivated." The alarm set off a number of stories in the local media, some claiming the situation was blown out of proportion.

"This attack harmed not only the victims, but also Latvia's reputation as a welcoming destination for U.S. tourists and businesses. I have already spoken with many Latvian government leaders who have condemned this ugly racist aggression and pledged the government's full cooperation in bringing those responsible to justice," U.S. Ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey said in a press release.

Local police responded by saying that the incident wasn't immediately reported.

The victim of the latest assault, who remains unidentified, said he was followed and harassed by four youths while walking with his family through Riga Old Town. Since the perpetrators' verbal harassments were in a foreign language, the American continued walking. One of the youths then became physically aggressive, pushing the American several times.

Shortly after the information was made public, the Foreign Ministry released a press release condemning the assault, as did other officials. The statement added, however, that despite the incident, Latvia was not "racist."

Many wonder why if the assailants are such a small group, the police have been unable to arrest them. This was the forth racially motivated incident in the Old City over recent months.

In March, skinheads physically assaulted an Indian chef outside the Universal Centrs shopping complex. Not long after, Rabbi Mordechai Glazman was verbally harassed in the Old Town, and Christopher Ejugbo, head of a local African NGO, was chased through the streets by skinheads threatening to attack him.

Despite openly stating their desire to harm people of color, Ejugbo's assailants were let go.

The media has done its part to raise awareness of the brewing problem. After Ejugbo's incident, the leading daily Diena ran four editorials concerning racism and intolerance in society. Following this coverage, a column titled "The Racism in Us" was initiated to explore issues of intolerance in society, inviting readers to contribute their opinions.

Some politicians retorted to the U.S. Embassy's recent warning, arguing that it was an "exaggeration" to imply that Latvia is a racist state.

Unfazed by such criticism, the embassy has asked any Americans that experience racial harassment to inform the consular section, as well as local police. The state department Web site's consular page was even updated to alert travelers of the recent incidents.