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Violence for the first Pride march in Latvia

in LATVIA, 25/07/2005

Juris Lavrikovs, activist and current communication officer of ILGA-Europe reports on the first Pride March in Riga, Latvia, his home country.

On the Riga Pride, please also read the following articles:

A statement by the organisers of the Pride in Riga and ILGA Europe.

A report from the BBC World News Protests disrupt Latvia gay march

A statement from Amnesty International

You can see pictures of pride on two local websites;
Pride.lv and Gay.lv

Following is an interview of Juris by Project GayRussia.ru.

When I called Juris Lavrikovs on Saturday evening the first words I heard in my phone were: "I am safe, I am at home now". Juris was very annoyed by what happened during the first ever gay pride in the history of his native country. It was not the first on the territory of the former Soviet Union (the first was last
year in Tallinn, capital of Estonia) but it was definitely the most violent and intolerant in terms of public reaction in the whole of Europe. Nothing of the kind ever happened in the countries of the European Union. We decided to ask Juris several questions concerning the pride, his attitudes to what happened, the reason why there was such an aggressive reaction from the public and also on the future pride in the Russian capital Moscow that Project GayRussia.Ru is planning to organise. We would like to thank Juris for his time answering our questions and we would like to express our sympathy with the courage of the participants of the first Riga gay pride. You did a great job as you won the court case against the homophobic authorities and you exercised your human rights written in the constitution
and in the European convention.

Nikolai Alekseev: Can you tell us a bit about the pride? What was there and how many people took part in it?

Juris Lavrikovs: There were around 100 to 150 people, there were thousands of protestors, very aggressive, extremely homophobic, all the way through, it was absolutely unbelievable. But the police was on a very high level, they guarded us throughout the march and they prevented attacks. There were
so many attacks, people were throwing eggs, people were using gaz, they were trying to block the march. It was extremely, extremely homophobic. I don't think anybody in Europe saw anything like that. Such a hysteric campaign.
Then, when we went to the church for the service, the police had to guard us throughout the service and basicly create a corridor for the people to get out. They called two city buses for people to evacuate from the city centre, then people took taxi cabs to go into different places. Even now everybody is still very stressed.

So, Latvian police as I understand was on a very high level? They helped to solve the problems?

Police was very good actually. The whole old city was absolutely
crowded with police, it was all over. They were doing a really good job. They created like a wall between the people who were marching and the protestors. There were a few attempts of people to block the street and police was clearing the way. And we just got the news that they arrested six people, they were arresting them for throwing the eggs into people who were
marching and also arrested people obstructing the march. Protestors were also using the gaz as I told you. Two people were arrested in Nazi uniform. (N.A.: As was reported later the leaders of two extreme nationalist groups, one Latvian and one Russian were arrested by the police).

Do you still consider it as a very symbolic day for Latvia and for the future of gay community in Latvia?

You know, everybody is so shocked, we just don't know what to think. It was predicted that we would have resistance but no one really thought it would be on such hysterical level. There was also a big demonstration very close to the old city for so called traditional family values. And some famous artists and politicians were there as well. I spoke to several people
on Gay.Lv, people just don't know what is going on. I think we need a bit of time to digest what happened. Cause it was not just the event of today, it was the whole hysteria and the political game which happened for the last week and a half. It was sick, absolutely sick what was happening here. And
the only good thing that came out was the statement which came out only yesterday, namely the court decision. But I think something really seriously needs to be done in the politics and in the law. The society shows itself as absolutely sick. Working on the international level I know about the events in very homophobic countries but country which is a member of the EU now, already over a year, showing this extreme high level of intolerance and physical violence is absolutely unacceptable. I feel there is something really wrong going on here. Some drastic measures have to be taken. I can't really say what will be happening next year because all of us needs time for reflecting, its too early to make any judgment. Everybody now just hiding at
home and drinking alcohol just to forget about it.

What played the most role in the protestor's motives demonstrating against the pride: was it just conservative values or Soviet influences?

Everybody is stunned, we can’t find the explanation. It might be the collections of all of these factors. Well, society is not well and people were expecting maybe after independence something better and quicker and frustration was building.

Why there was this hysteria all around the idea of the gay pride? What was the attitude of Russian community to this event and did they really take part?

First, why was this hysterical reaction. One of the reasons was of
course the frustration which was caused by unhappiness of population for so many years, changes and changes and no real impact of the these changes on daily life. And when people keep so much frustration for years they always look for, not consciously, some sort of to relieve this all negativity. And
especially because the politicians for the last week and a half expressed extreme homophobic views and steered the campaign. I think it was very easy for the general public to say: ok, these are the ones who are guilty for everything. It is one point. The other explanation might be that Latvia suffered under the Soviet rule the most as a nation in terms of ethnic issues. After the Soviet occupation Latvia had like 50% of people who were not ethnically Latvian. So the nation feels extremely unsafe about its continuation. The general level of education is also not extremely high. And people are saying: homosexuals, they are coming out, they want more people becoming gay and lesbian and we don't have anymore Latvians being born. You know, all these silly arguments.

Do you really know if Russians took part and what was their reaction to all this?

There were many people of Russian origins protesting as well. Maybe it is because people in Russia do not have so many years of democracy. And the whole values system is so different from the western civilization. So, maybe because they strongly feel themselves part of that community rather than the Latvian one, for them the issue of homosexuality is even bigger taboo than
for the Latvian. But I think on that occasion they were totally united, they have a group of people they can express their unhappiness about.

Were there Russians involved in the pride itself?

Yes we had local people who are both Latvian and Russian. We had people from Scandinavian countries, from Estonia, we had some Czech guys, Dutch guys. Many of them, French, Spanish, they knew about the event and some came for business deliberately making arrangements to come for this
event or came as tourists. It was quite international.

Is Latvian gay community united in their fight for equality or are there still different clans fighting with each other?

No, Latvian gay community is not united at all. We had a conference this morning and one of the presenters was talking about Latvian politics, the media and the development of gay community. I would say that Latvia does not have a developed gay community or a group that would represent its
interests. You can’t compare to such countries as Czech Republic or even Poland. It is extremely undeveloped here. We created a first gay organization about 15 year ago and it was quite successful initially. Because at that time it was created mainly by students and I was part of it. We developed our careers, we studied, we went abroad but it all collapsed.
It is enigma for me why nothing similar came out. I am starting to think that Latvia is a unique country, not in a good way. We are now sitting here together with an Estonian, talking. It is only 300 km between Riga and Tallinn. And last year the first pride took place there and they had nothing, nothing similar to this. They had a couple of people shouting something, not very loud and that was this. The Mayor of Tallinn said before the pride last year that Tallinn is an open city, it is a city of tolerance and everything was fine. And it is not only about gay rights, it is about the economy. And I don't understand what is going on with this country. I am so ashamed of it. It is such a sad sad day.

Anyway, you did a great job. You won the court case and you got your rights confirmed! And this is the most important now.

I think so too. On the 1 August we will have the full ruling of the
court. At the moment we are not sure what sort of arguments they will have. The city made some administrative mistakes but we hope that the ruling will have some human rights foundations as well. Because it was against constitution, it was a discrimination and so on.

What is the attitude of Latvian President to all the events concerning the pride?

She is on holidays at the moment. But yesterday in the main daily paper, which is very balanced, they had a short quote from her which was very supportive. Basically the President was saying that the value of human dignity does not depend on race, nationality or sexual orientation. And sexual orientation does not reflect on the people's stability. So, it was a very balanced view. And now on TV we have the first reaction from the
foreign minister who is saying that it is outrageous what is happening in the country and that we have to do a lot of work in this country including some legislative changes. Maybe something will come out of it.

We are planning to organize the first gay pride in Russia in Moscow next year in May or June. Would you be interested to come over here?

I think many people would be interested! But after what happened here in Riga many people will first think: is it safe? You should think about security. Here the police realized that the threats were really serious, that is why we had hundreds of police people everywhere in the old city. The good thing in Moscow is that it is a big city, it is incomparable with Riga,
you have millions of people, the number of people who will be ready to come out will be much higher. But it such a relatively small country as Latvia it was very difficult. And I think many people who originally planned coming out decided not to because they were so afraid basically.

So, fear was the main factor why many gays and lesbians decided not to take part in this event?

Absolutely. On several Latvian gay sites they had a poll: are you
going to come to the pride? And each of them indicated that we should have at least 200 people. But realistically many people decided not to risk.

You work as ILGA-Europe Information and Communication officer. Project GayRussia.Ru is going to put the candidature of Moscow for ILGA-Europe 2007 conference. Which chances do you think we have?

At the moment it is hard to say as Vilnus is also preparing their
dossier for the year 2007. But if you prepare really good presentation and provide good information on funding of the event then why not? We will need to see how ILGA will be able to cofinance the event as Russia is not in EU and most of the money for the conference is coming from EU.

Juris, thank you so much for your time and keep us informed about the future developments. We are always ready to cooperate with you.

GayRussia.Ru, interview conducted by Nikolai Alekseev



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