The roof is on fire

  • 2005-07-27
The country's first gay march brought thousands of people to the streets of Riga's Old Town. Some came for prosaic reasons 's they wanted to see what gays looked like 's others for malicious ones, they wished to block the procession and stop the event from taking place.

In the week leading up to the march, politicians, particularly various fringe personalities such as MP Leopolds Ozolins, publicly condemned the parade, contributing to the outburst of hostility seen on July 23. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said the country was built on Christian principles, ignoring the fact that a separation between church and state is codified into the country's constitution. Amnesty International, one of the most influential human rights organizations in the world, was right to criticize such statements.

Even more worrying was the lack of politicians willing to step forward and defend the sexual minority's right to march. Even those who, for personal reasons, object to homosexuality should understand the basic tenant of democracy that allows minority opinions to be heard, and protected.

Attempts to ban the gay march were a disgusting reminder that many politicians have little understanding of democracy, and that instead of dealing with issues openly, they push controversial ones like homosexuality into the shadows.

Denying societal problems has become almost second nature to politicians. After a string of racist attacks in the city's Old Town, public officials still insist that there's nothing wrong with society, and that no organized group of assailants exists. After the explosion of intolerance directed at gays and lesbians, one wonders how long politicians will cling to the fiction that Latvia is a tolerant country, a statement that appears to have little basis anymore.

What is clear is that the hostility that has remained largely dormant in society since independence is open to manipulation at the caprice of politicians eager to capitalize on it. Transport Minister Ainars Slesers has capitalized on the anti-gay hysteria like no one else and has even gone so far as to threaten ruling coalitions in both the city of Riga and on the national level. The "parade of perversion" should never have been given a permit to march in the first place, he said, echoing nearly every other political leader. Oddly, was it not Slesers' gung-ho spirit to attract discount airlines that has flooded Riga with legions of European sex tourists? How selective Latvia's First Party has become in its perception of sexual morality.

Last week Latvia was swamped with irresponsible politics, the kind dangerous to the continued development of a tolerant, law abiding and democratic country. One can only hope that if "the party of the cloth" continues to preach prejudice from the pulpit of his party of the cloth that his political future disintegrates in ignominy. Promoting homophobia in society as a way to gain votes is dangerous and beyond the pale of a European Union member state.

Perhaps the most disgusting phenomena to emerge from the gay parade was the sudden show of unity between Russians and Latvians, even the more nationalist elements. The radicals threatening the gay participants with death and damnation in hell, occasionally throwing eggs and tomatoes at the crowd, were obviously from both ethnic groups. How ironic, and how sad, that the perennial adversaries were united, albeit for a day, in a vile wave of hate and prejudice.