Latvian conservatives begin Pride backlash

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Christian groups in Latvia have welcomed fundamentalist US preachers and to the country and talked tactics about opposing gay rights.

A meeting organised by Janis Vanags, Archbishop of the Latvian

Evangelical Lutheran Church, was attended by Janis Pujats, the Latvian Roman Catholic Cardinal, and representatives of the Orthodox, Penecostals and other Christian sects.

They were addressed by Kenneth Hutcherson, who runs a ‘super-church’ in Seattle and is a vehement opponent of gay rights.

He told the Latvians that homosexuality was spreading rapidly, and that the “gay lobby” had increasing political influence across the world.

“We need to do everything to ensure that even in the European Union it does not loose its principles.

“It is a holy right of any nation to decide I what society to

live,” he told the assembled crowd, which included senior MPs.

Latvia joined the EU in 2004.

In a related development, an organisation called “No Pride” has written to Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair to complain about Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

Mr Livingstone has pledged his support for the Riga Pride event, and London Pride has twinned with Riga as a show of solidarity.

Mr Livingstone last week called on the new Mayor of Riga to ensure the safety of Pride marchers.

In 2006, the march was attacked and missiles and human excrement were thrown at participants.

“No Pride” complained to Tony Blair:

“Each nation’s citizens have a right to choose the way their country develops and it is unacceptable that civil servants of the United Kingdom interfere with the Latvia’s internal affairs.

“We consider unacceptable London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s alongside organisation ILGA Europe actions supporting and escalating the conflict in the Latvian society between traditional values and supporters of homosexuals’ rights, by stating their support for Riga Pride 2007.

“We ask Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London … and LGBT people to respect the views of Latvian society and their right to self-determination and sovereignty.

“Propagating and supporting radical foreign groups with totalitarian characteristics you shamelessly breach the choice of citizens of the sovereign state of Latvia’s to live in free and democratic nation. All such activities are criminally punishable in Latvia.”

Gay and lesbian protesters were refused permission to march in Riga on the 22nd July 2006 by city officials, who cited security advice from the interior ministry.

The US ambassador to Latvia had earlier met with interior minister to urge him to allow the march to go ahead, but he refused.

A group of around 50 activists instead held a service of tolerance at a local Anglican church.

Hundreds of neo-Nazi skinheads, ultra-nationalists and members of the Orthodox church besieged the church, pelting the activists with excrement.

It was reported that local police stood and watched as events unfolded and declined to intervene.

The new Mayor of the Latvian capital has publicly backed the gay rights march in the city later this year.

In an interview with Diena newspaper earlier this month Janis Birks said he was ashamed at events last year and called for tolerance and understanding on all sides.

“The problem is not in the march but sexual orientation,” said Mr Birks.

“We need to have discussion within society. What happened on the side of sexual minorities and the other side, I think we need understanding from both sides.”

Mr Birks said that if security could be provided, the march could go ahead.

Ken Livingstone, welcomed his Latvian counterpart’s comments, but urged Riga authorities to do more to protect gay people on the march.

“Security is something that is under the control of the authorities,” said Mr Livingstone.

“It is their duty to ensure that demonstrators are able to exercise their right to peaceful protest.

Last month London Pride announced they would be “twinning” with Riga Pride as a sign of solidarity.

Chair of Riga Pride Kristine Garina said she was delighted by the agreement to twin with London:

“We hope that this will have a real impact on the overt homophobia in our city.

“Riga Pride and Pride London hope that as many people as possible will travel from the UK to the beautiful city of Riga to help them celebrate their Pride festival from 30 May to 2 June and join the fledgling Pride parade on 2 June.”