Gays: a convenient enemy

  • 2005-07-27
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Transport Minister Ainars Slesers surprised many when he called for the resignation of Riga's mayor and executive director, setting off a crisis in the city's governing coalition, one that could also threaten the national government.
Ostensibly, Slesers' move was in response to Riga Executive Director Eriks Skapars' initial authorization of the country's first gay parade. Although Skapars later revoked the marchers' permit, the decision was overturned in court.

The "parade of perversion" should never have been allowed in the first place, Slesers said. He added that Riga Mayor Aivars Aksenoks should be removed, pinning responsibility on him for Skapars' failure to inform coalition members when approving the march in the first place.

If Latvia's First Party votes against either New Era member in a vote of 'no confidence,' it will have violated the coalition agreement, and most likely mean the end of the current ruling government. Latvia's First is also in the national government, and a breakdown in the Riga coalition could lead to a dead end.

"The situation is very serious," said Edgars Jaunups, a parliamentarian and member of New Era.

Unofficial talks between Latvia's First Party, the People's Party, and For Fatherland and Freedom are said to have taken place. Official meetings are scheduled for July 28.

Signatures from opposition city councilmen have already been collected, making a vote against Skapars likely this week.

The right-wing coalition enjoys only the narrowest of majorities in Riga, controlling 31 out of 60 seats. Latvia's First Party, People's Party, For Fatherland and Freedom and New Era make up the four-party coalition in the capital.

Politicians stoked the embers of intolerance shortly before the gay pride parade, enticing thousands of people into the Old Town to watch the event. Slesers and his party openly called to end the march. They also asked for a public moment of prayer. Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons, also from Latvia's First Party, called the parade a "mistake."

Some politicians are using the recent anti-gay hysteria as an election tool, raising voter emotion over the subject.

According to Pauls Raudseps, editor of the commentary and opinion page of the daily Diena, Slesers is set to capitalize on the intolerance.

"Here is someone who is actively using intolerance for political purposes. He definitely wants to make the situation worse rather than better," Raudseps said.

A survey by pollster SKDS revealed strong distrust of homosexuals in Latvian society, with as many as 75 percent of respondents saying a different sexual orientation was not a normal occurrence.