RIGA - The Latvian Constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respects religious freedom, says the U.S. Department of State annual International Religious Freedom Report that was released on July 30, reports LETA. At the same time, the document notes some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, primarily in the form of anti-Semitism in some sectors of society.
The report notes the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Valdemarpils on June 28 last year, as well as a vandalism attack on the grave of Zanis Lipke in Riga’s Second Forest Cemetery on May 17. The Foreign Ministry publicly condemned the act.
Last January police arrested three persons for vandalizing 89 headstones in the New Jewish Cemetery of Riga on Dec. 7, 2010. The perpetrators, teenage members of the Russian-speaking community, pled guilty, states the report.
On May 8 last year, two persons from the Russian-speaking community painted Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic statements in the Latvian language on a memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims. The perpetrators confessed, claiming they intended to cast suspicion on Latvian nationalist parties.
On Dec. 13, 2011, the hosts of an independent radio program called ‘Age of the Native Land,’ broadcast on the University of Latvia’s radio station, used offensive terms for Jews, questioned generally accepted statistics of Jews killed in the country during the Holocaust, argued that Jews were the instigators of Soviet deportations of Latvians to Siberia during the 1941 Soviet occupation, and criticized the level of attention given to the Holocaust, in their view, at the expense of attention to the suffering of other groups.
The report also mentions restitution of pre-war Jewish properties and discussions between the government and the Lutheran Church over the restitution of St. Peter’s Church in Riga.