RIGA - An out-of-control group of anti-gay protesters hurled eggs and excrement at parishioners exiting the Anglican Church of Riga where an openly gay priest, Maris Sants, presided over a service as part of Riga Pride 2006 on July 22. Police did not arrive until after the incident began. According to State Police spokeswoman Sintija Kajina, officers didn't arrive at the scene earlier because they were not notified of the service by organizers.
Yet Linda Freimane, a board member of the gay rights organization Mozaika, disputed that claim, saying her organization had sent, at police's request, a fax detailing all events her organization had planned for the day, including those not open to the press, as the church service had not meant to be.
"There's no chance they didn't know," Freimane said. "There were some people from the security police but no one from the city police." (See interview on Page 14.)
The incident marked a long day of similarly charged scenes. After the service, Mozaika held a press conference at the Stockholm School of Economics at 11 a.m., which was met by the same group of protesters outside, many of them from a group called No Pride.
No Pride members later stood outside Reval Hotel Lavija in downtown Riga where Mozaika held a meeting to mark Pride Day.
In both locations, members shouted homophobic slogans 's such as "No to sodomy!" 's threatened violence and grabbed rainbow-patterned flags and tore them up. Though police detained 14 individuals from among the anti-gay protest groups throughout the day, they did nothing to prevent the overall threats of violence and often refused, according to gay pride participants, to provide safe passage of the gay rights participants from the three locations.
Freimane laid much of the blame on Interior Minister Dzintars Jaundzeikars. In her words, "The first thing we are going to do is ask the Interior Minister to step down, because we hold him totally responsible for the police behavior as well as for his own opinions and expressions that made the whole situation worse."
Jaundzeikars defended the ministry's handling of the event, saying he had warned of possible disturbances leading up to the event. "What happened confirmed that I was right in issuing the warning," he said. "I think I made all efforts to prevent a riot."
"Nobody was physically hurt, no cars were overturned and burned as it happens elsewhere in the world," he said.
The day served as the emotional culmination of a long debate that had been engulfing much of the media in the country, as Mozaika, a five-month-old organization, sought to gain permission to hold a pride parade to make up for the gay pride parade held in July last year that erupted in violence. Riga's City Council prohibited the parade on July 19 citing security concerns and a later appeal through the courts failed.
Sophie in 't Veld and Raul Romeva, both members of the European Parliament, told reporters at the Stockholm School of Economics that the city's decision to deny permission to gay pride marchers amounted to a denial of the right to assembly and was therefore in violation of EU regulations.
"The EU is a community of values, and we should defend those values in the European community," Veld said, adding that she would call for political sanctions to be against Latvia.
Latvia would have to accept the EU's social norms as well as it's economic and judicial ones, Amsterdam Vice Mayor Tjeerd Herrema, who visited Riga to support parade participants, told The Baltic Times. The EU "is not a supermarket where you can pick out what you like."
Gascon Lacombe, a representative of the gay and lesbian organization Mozaika, said the anti-gay crowd had been waiting outside the church during the entire service. When the church service was over, participants noticed the anti-gay crowd and decided to leave through the back door. Most were able to get away unharmed, although some, including Sants, were hit by the foul objects.
Sants later visited the press conference at the Stockholm School of Economics. "I asked police to protect me as I walked (out of the school) to my car, which was 10 meters away from the front door, but they refused," he told The Baltic Times. Protesters singled him out as he was leaving the school, but two women offered to walk with him.
No Pride members, sporting T-shirts suggesting a ban on sodomy, drove trucks throughout Riga toting anti-gay slogans. People of all ages, including children as young as eight and old women, could be seen in their ranks. No Pride organizers were no less angered by police.
Igors Maslakovs, head of No Pride, said he was outraged by how police treated his fellow protesters. Security officers, he said, pushed him around and restrained him from helping a friend. "You do stupid things, you arrest people without any explanations," Maslakovs shouted at the police, while his peers cheered him on.
Maslakovs told TBT that his group was responding to an announcement made by Mozaika that it would hold a pride parade anyway in defiance of the law. "The response comes from the people in response to this announcement," he said.
Juris Lavrikovs, a Mozaika member, had earlier told the press conference that the announcement, posted on the Internet, was a fake and that his organization had no such plans.
As Mozaika and its supporters met in a conference hall on the second floor of the Reval Hotel Latvija to hear a succession of speeches from Latvians and foreigners in support of gay rights, No Pride gathered in front of the hotel.
At the beginning of the meeting, some members of No Pride made it to the second floor trying to disrupt the meeting. A few anti-gay protestors grabbed rainbow flags held by supporters and tore them up. When approached by one gay rights supporter, a No Pride member refused to respond. "We don't talk to faggots," she said.
"They are killing our children," another No Pride protester said. Gays "can't make children themselves, so they want our children."
Police gathered outside and formed a line in front of the hotel. At one point in front of the Reval Hotel, No Pride members pelted an LNT cameraman with eggs. When an American supporter of Mozaika waved a rainbow flag from the window of the second floor of Reval at the protesters, they responded by displaying thumbs down signs.
When a small group of gay pride participants tried to exit the hotel by the front door, police did not prevent No Pride members from running up and squirting water in their faces.