RIGA - Citing security concerns, the Riga City Council has decided to prohibit the gay pride parade, which was originally planned for July 22. Linda Freimane, a representative of Latvia's Mozaika gay rights group, said the organization was planning to appeal the decision, which the city council announced on July 19.
However, the decision comes as little surprise.
Impassioned dispute over the planned gay parade mounted earlier this week, prompting Interior Minister Dzintars Jaundzeikars to openly discuss the issue with representatives of Latvia's Christian organizations and the United States' ambassador to Latvia.
But this attempt at constructive dialog only further revealed the schism in Latvian society when it comes to the issues of homosexuality and the freedom of assembly.
"The event should not be allowed to take place at all, as it offends the morals of Latvia's population and every Christian. It is a challenge and provocation against our religion," Nikolajs Tihonirovs, a Russian Orthodox priest, told journalists after the meeting.
Jaundzeikars, however, was more concerned with safety. He warned that those participating in the gay pride parade could encounter acts of violence, as both police intelligence and public opinion polls indicate strong opposition to the event.
Public calls have already been made to block the march, law inforcement agencies have reported.
"The police do not have so many men. What are we supposed to do 's use weapons?" Jaundzeikars questioned.
Authorities have so far identified several organizations 's most perceived as radically minded 's that are planning to protest the parade. Taking this into account, the interior minister has seriously questioned the march.
"If I was the organizer and had to make the decision, I would definitely not hold the event. If the intention was to speak about tolerance, the result is just the opposite now," said Jaundzeikars. "Police will do their best, but everything has its limits."
U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Catherine Todd Bailey said the United States supported the promotion of democracy, human rights and tolerance in Latvia, and hoped that the planned march would proceed peacefully.
The U.S. Embassy intends to help in the organization of several events within Riga Pride 2006's week-long program, said the ambassador.
Integration Minister Karina Petersone said that the commotion surrounding the planned gay and lesbian parade in Riga has been created artificially, and she urged organizers of the event to think well whether the procession is indeed necessary.
"You can't make someone love you by force," she said on July 18. She said that the organizers of the event should take into account the existing situation and the public attitude to the planned gay parade and give up the plan.
Petersone agreed there had been separate cases when people have been discriminated on the grounds of their sexual orientation but denied there are any serious problems in this respect. "This fuss was created artificially to present Latvia not in the best light," the minister said, adding that it was no coincidence that foreign guests have been invited to Latvia for the gay and lesbian festival Riga Pride 2006.
As she explained, the gay and lesbian parade was an exported experience and a tradition not typical for Latvia. She said that Latvia's population is not yet ready for the event as witnessed "by the dramatic experience last year" when the gay procession had to face an angry anti-gay crowd.
Liga Biksiniece, an official from the National Human Rights Office, agreed that the situation had been blown out of proportion and homosexuals were not the social group that was the most isolated and had the biggest problems. Yet they do represent one of the groups that elicits society's intolerance.
Human Rights Office chief Diana Smite said that any groups had the right to assembly and the state should ensure that the processions proceeded peacefully.
Freimane pointed out that Mozaika has no plans to stage an unauthorized march, therefore the organization hopes that the court will overrule the city council's decision.