Latvia - Neo-Nazis terrorise Riga Gay Pride rally
Armed guards called in to protect gays and lesbians
Homophobic threats declared a ‘state secret’ for five years
Peter Tatchell reports from Riga, Latvia – 22 July 2006
“Neo-Nazi, Christian fundamentalist and extreme nationalist protesters
terrorised participants at the Gay Pride rally in the Latvian capital
of Riga last Saturday (22 July 2006).
“Private armed guards were drafted in to provide security, after the
Latvian police repeatedly failed to halt the aggression of the
homophobic mob,” said gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of
Mr Tatchell attended and spoke at Riga Pride, at the invitation of the
organisers, the Latvian LGBT rights group, Mozaika. He witnessed
first-hand what happened there.
“Following the decision of the Latvian court to uphold the Riga City
Council’s ban on the gay pride march on 22 July, the planned march was
rescheduled by Mozaika as an indoor rally in the second floor
conference hall of the Reval Hotel Latvia, in the heart of downtown
Riga,” added Mr Tatchell.
“The Riga Pride rally in the Reval Hotel was under siege all day by
protesters from the anti-gay “No Pride” movement – a highly organised
alliance of Christian fundamentalists, ultra-nationalists and
“They roamed the streets outside the hotel, looking for gays and
lesbians to attack. Anyone who looked gay was liable to abuse and
assault, even passing tourists. The police seemed to stand back and
let them to terrorise people with impunity.
“There was only a small police presence outside the Reval Hotel.
Officers allowed the around 250 highly belligerent anti-gay protesters
to completely blockade the hotel entrance. Several innocent guests
were assaulted by the mob, on mere suspicion that they were gay.
“At one point, a group of neo-Nazis infiltrated the second floor of
the hotel, where the indoor rally was taking place. They tore up
Mozaika posters, abused and threatened Riga Pride participants, and
assaulted openly gay pastor, Rev Maris Sants, as he arrived. Non-white
gays and lesbians were abused as ‘mixed race scum.’
“The hotel management feared the homophobic mob in the street would
try to storm the building and attack the Riga Pride rally upstairs.
They rushed in private security guards armed with hand guns. These
guards were stationed outside the hall where the rally was being held.
The hotel clearly had little confidence in the ability or willingness
of the Latvian police to protect the event.
“Many of the Riga Pride participants were trapped in the hotel for up
to seven hours; afraid of being attacked if they tried to leave. Over
several hours, participants were eventually evacuated in mini-buses
via a rear entrance. As they left, some of the vehicles were pounded
with fists and pelted with eggs by the anti-gay crowd.
“The No Pride protesters were very well organised. They had a
military-style operation. They seemed to know everything the Riga
Pride organisers had planned and were able to besiege every event the
moment it started.
“The decision to ban Riga Pride contradicts Latvia’s agreed commitment
to democracy and human rights as a member of the EU and the Council of
Europe. Violating Latvian and European law, it is an attack on the
right to protest and freedom of expression. This ruling sets a
dangerous precedent, which is a threat to the democratic rights all
The ghastly events at the Reval Hotel capped off a day of
extraordinary homophobic attacks by the No Pride protesters.
“In the morning, a church service to celebrate Riga Pride, organised
by gay pastor, Rev Maris Sants, was attacked by a dozen No Pride
supporters. Worshippers were pelted with excrement and rotten fruit as
they tried to leave the church. Despite previously requesting police
protection, no police were present to protect the congregation. Dutch
MEP Sophie In’t Veld was one of the worshippers prevented from leaving
the church by the homophobic vigilantes.
At its 11am press conference, the Latvian LGBT group, Mozaika,
announced its decision to not defy the ban on the Riga Pride march.
They said they wanted to show themselves as moderate, reasonable,
law-abiding people – in contrast to the extremism of the far right
In the street outside the press conference, around 70 No Pride thugs
jeered and assaulted people as they try to leave. One of those
assaulted was Rev Maris Sants. As he went to his car, police ignored
his request for protection.
“Officials and supporters of Mozaika who attended the press conference
had to be rushed into waiting vans to be ferried away from the baying
“As I left the press conference in a mini-bus with some of the Mozaika
leaders, we were chased by fascists in a four-wheel-drive who pelted
our vehicle with eggs. They buzzed us through the streets of Riga
until we got to the Reval Hotel.
“The inaction of the Latvian police was scandalous. They seemed to be
doing the absolute minimum to safeguard the Riga Pride participants.
“The day before, on Friday 21 July, the Administrative Court of Latvia
met to consider an appeal by Mozaika against the refusal of Riga City
Council to grant a permit for the Riga Pride march
“Justifying the ban on Riga Pride on public order grounds, the city
authorities said they had received threats of serious, organised
violence by homophobic religious, nationalist and fascist groups. They
claim Riga Pride is the ‘biggest security risk’ to the country since
Latvia won its independence from the Soviet Union.
“Despite this hype about security threats, Mozaika was fairly
confident that the judges would overturn the ban, as they did in 2005.
Our optimism was fuelled by the composition of the court. Two of the
three judges did not look conservative, conventional types. One had
pink stripes dyed in her hair and the other one wore ultra-stylish
bright lime green trainers.
“Their appearance was obviously deceiving.
“In a reversal of last year’s judgment, the court upheld the decision
of Riga City Council to deny Riga Pride the right to march.
“Although no official reasons were given for upholding the ban, inside
sources say the court made its ruling on ‘security grounds,’ based on
alleged violent threats against Riga Pride. The Latvian and Riga
authorities, backed by the police and the state security agencies,
claimed they would be unable to guarantee the safety of the Riga Pride
“This explanation does not stand up. Latvia was able to guarantee
security for President Bush’s visit. It is guaranteeing security for
the Queen’s forthcoming state visit and for the NATO summit later this
year. If Latvia can provide security for these high-risk events, then
it is nonsense to suggest the police cannot protect 200 gay pride
“The unwillingness of the judges to disclose the nature of the threats
or who made them is curious. Moreover, the judges took the
extraordinary step of declaring details of the threats a ‘state
secret’ which will remain classified, top secret information for five
“The court met in closed session. Lawyers for Riga Pride were required
to sign a statement that they will not disclose anything about the
threats or the security grounds used to justify the ban – not even to
“On Friday evening 21 July, ambassadors from many EU member states,
including the UK ambassador to Latvia, Ian Bond, attended Mozaika’s
Riga Pride reception at the Reval Hotel Latvia. It is understood that
many EU ambassadors and national governments plan to express to the
government of Latvia their disquiet at the banning of Riga Pride.
“The banning of Riga Pride echoes the bad old days of Soviet tyranny.
“It is scandalous that a member state of the EU has given in to
threats and blackmail by religious fundamentalists and the far right.
“The government of Latvia has a duty to resist threats of homophobic
violence, protect its gay citizens and safeguard the right to peaceful
“Riga Gay Pride was a litmus test of Latvian democracy and Latvia
failed the test.
“The ban conforms to a pattern of homophobia by the Latvian
authorities. The Latvian parliament recently refused to pass a law
prohibiting employment discrimination against lesbians and gays, even
though as a member state of the EU it is required to conform to EU law
by outlawing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Latvia has also banned same-sex marriage,” concluded Mr Tatchell.
For more information please contact:
020 7403 1790
Mozaika’s media coordinator
+ 371 22 43 1000
Mozaika board member
+371 294 131 55
+371 28 618 925