Recently, my native country Latvia, a small nation in Eastern Europe, was struck by an unprecedented homophobic attack. In one of Latvia's smaller cities, Tukums, some homophobes set two homosexual men who lived in the same apartment on fire.1 The men had already filed several complaints about regular homophobic threats and demands to "leave the city", but the police had been ignoring them for several months. The authorities' failure to act resulted in burns on almost 90% of the body for one of the victims.
I will remind you that his took place not in some Muslim sharia country or the authoritarian Russia, but instead in the very heart of Europe - in a member state of the EU, NATO and OECD!
Being an anti-fascist and protector of LGBT rights, I was utterly shocked by this incident. I have personally studied the issues of intolerance and discrimination in Latvia. In one of my latest reports State of Hate2, I pointed out that one of the main issues in Latvia is homophobia. What is more, hate for homosexuals exists alongside the omnipresent hate for other nations, particularly Russian speakers who make up 30% of the total population of Latvia. The incident in Tukums once again proves that it is dangerous to be gay or lesbian in Latvia. It is even more dangerous if one is a gay Russian. I happen to be just that - a Russian with a non-traditional sexual orientation.
Considering that I am currently the only openly homosexual councilor in the Riga City Council, I cannot stand aside idly and simply watch what is unfolding in Latvia. I would like to direct the attention of the international community to the fact that the incident in Tukums is a disgrace not only to my native country, but the EU as a whole.
Information in my possession leads me to think that the ultra-radical nationalist organization Tēvijas Sargi (Guardians of Fatherland) is behind the attack in Tukums. This organization's activists have previously publicly slandered the LGBT community, organized protests during the Baltic and Riga prides and threatened gay and lesbian activists. I have also faced threats from radicals, as have my colleagues from the party Latvian Russian Union.
The most concerning aspect of this is that the radical organization Tēvijas Sargi has connections in the Tukums police department, which is blatantly obstructing the investigation of this case and has even stated that the incident was not a homophobic attack, but instead a "suicide attempt of a mentally unstable homosexual"! Even more, Tēvījas Sargi operate under the auspices of the coalition party National Alliance. As a result, Latvian government officials and members of the parliament are deliberately inciting hatred towards LGBT persons and are preventing the investigation of the Tukums incident.3
I want to remind you that this is not the first homophobic incident in Latvia. Ethnic and sexual discrimination is commonplace in our country. Just a year ago, one of Latvia's most known professors Deniss Hanovs became the target of hate speech and physical assault.4 There were two simple reasons for this - he was a Russian gay.
Therefore, I plead with the European international community to voice support for the boys who suffered in the attack in Tukums and to pressure Latvian authorities and politicians who are deliberately obstructing the investigation of this case. It is absolutely unclear to me why the only Latvian protector of LGBT rights in the European Parliament Nils Ušakovs has not yet commented on this incident. He is also the only Latvian who is a member of an LGBT rights group in the EP. Ušakovs' party Concord has been a member of the LGBT organization Rainbow Rose for many years now, but both Ušakovs and Concord have so far ignored the tragedy in Tukums. Unfortunately, it seems that they do not care for the fates of Russian speakers in Latvia.
Europe should once and for all cease dividing its citizens in the right ones and wrong ones, regardless of whether they are LGBT persons or people from other nationalities - we are all equal Europeans. The fact that I am a gay Russian speaker does not make me a worse person than a heterosexual French or Danish person!
In expectation of the 2021 Baltic Pride in Riga, I urge the Latvian public to be tolerant and every member of the LGBT community to not be afraid to "come out of the closet". We are united in our differences and together we are a true force!
Councilor of the Riga City Council and Chair of the Latvian Human Rights Committee Aleksandrs Kuzmins.