Political forces that extensively use hate speech in Latvia are not sizable, nor they receive the amount of support that their ideological counterparts in Western Europe do. Nevertheless, in recent years, those fringe ideas got a bit of momentum, with the creation of internet-based political movements.
It should be mentioned that signs of hate speech are also seen from some of the ruling political forces in Latvia, albeit their level of hate speech tends to be toned-down relative to those political forces that are out of political mainstream, closer to aggressive and discriminatory language.
Usage of Discriminatory Language Among Major Political Forces
Parliament in Latvia (Saeima) has three political forces that are prone to use discriminatory language as an instrument of political propaganda. Albeit they do not use hate speech in their rhetoric openly and outright, some of their statements tend to be quite harsh.
These three are: a national-conservative the National Alliance (Nacionālā apvienība), a conservative, anti-corruption oriented, the New Conservative Party (Jaunā konservatīvā partija), and a right-wing populist Who Owns the State? (KPV LV); if the first one tends to base its discriminatory speech oriented language on nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, then the two later ones target more on the anti-establishment rhetoric, aiming their aggressive rhetoric against individuals who they perceive as corrupt, oligarchical, vile, etc. All three of them are also taking part in the five-party ruling coalition.
The National Alliance (Nacionālā apvienība) (as of May 2020 it has 12 MP) is the oldest out of the three political forces mentioned above, dating its history back to the Latvian nationalist dissident group in the USSR established in 1988 – the Latvian National Independence Movement (Latvijas Nacionālās Neatkarības Kustība)1. Currently, the National Alliance presents itself as a national-conservative force that will preserve Latvian cultural space from non-native influences.
For example, in 2018, before the Baltic Pride, the Secretary-General of the party, Raivis Zeltīts, was comparing pride’s calls to end homophobia to Russia’s propaganda efforts against perceived “Russophobia”. He stated that in both cases the methods are similar – to present yourself as “victims advocate and to shamelessly defend your position”2.
In 2019, one of the National Alliance’s Board Members and the MP, Jānis Dombrava, embraced the “great replacement”3 by using the far-right conspiracy theory and stated that the migration to Europe will inevitably replace native populations with “representatives of hostile ideology” [sic]4.
Latvian center of investigative journalism Re: Baltica found out after conducting research that the National Alliance members have a connection to neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in Ukraine5.
The New Conservative Party (Jaunā konservatīvā partija) (as of May 2020 it has 15 MP) is a political force that focuses its efforts predominantly on anti-corruption politics; nevertheless, they are similar to the National Alliance in some of the ideological stances.
For example, the party member Ainars Bašķis, in 2020, outlined an understanding of the “Latvian conservatism” in which one of the points was support for “healthy families; normal families” – a father, a mother, kids, and close relatives6.
By using these somewhat insulting expressions towards other types of families, the party’s representative indicated that the party is not ready to accept same-sex families and single-parent families to the same degree as opposite-sex families.
In regards to the examples of the New Conservative Party’s aggressive rhetoric in anti-corruption politics, the most suitable would be of their antagonism towards the so-called oligarchs of Latvia.
For example, in May 2020, the New Conservative Party’s Board Member recorded a video address in which he stressed that the oligarch’s lawyers and former KGB agents (the prosecutor’s office and the political elite) are behind the criminal process that was taking place against him, in regards to the declassification of illegal information7.
The rhetoric of Who Owns the State? (KPV LV) (as of May 2020 it has 10 MP) toned down after the Parliamentary elections of 2018, if we are to compare it to their rhetoric during the election campaign. However, during the 2018-2019 coalition talks Who Owns the State? continued to focus their aggressive rhetoric predominantly on the anti-establishment ideas.
For example, in December of 2018, Who Owns the State? prime minister candidate Aldis Gobzems decided to exclude the liberal Development/For! (Attīstībai/Par!) from coalition talks and attacked several of the prominent politicians from this force, including Artis Pabriks, for being “marionettes” and Edgars Jaunups for being the ‘black cardinal’ of the casino business, Russian money, etc.8
In 2019, after failures to form a government and conflict with then the head of the party Artuss Kaimiņš, Aldis Gobzems left Who Owns the State?9.
Hate Speech Usage by Minor Political Parties
Compared to the mainstream political parties that are represented in the government and tend to use aggressive rhetoric, but keep it in the frame of general acceptance, some of the minor political parties in Latvia are more prone to the display of hate speech, often accompanied by fringe political ideas. In some cases, hate speech has led their representatives to criminal prosecution.
The political force that holds one MEP, albeit it fails to get elected to the national parliament, the Latvian Russian Union (Latvijas Krievu savienība), presents itself as an advocate of the Russian minority in Latvia. Their ideological stances are somewhat hard to define and best described as a mix of left-wing populism and Russophilia.
In recent years, two of the prominent party representatives have been accused by the Security Police [now the State Security Service] in the spread of hate speech.
One of the cases occurred in May 2018, when Vladimirs Lindermans was accused of spreading hate speech based on the national basis and organization of mass disorders. The events occurred during the All Latvia’s Parents Meeting10, where Vladimirs Lindermans said that Russians in Latvia face the choice of either to assimilate or to “get out of the country” and that Latvian nationalists are using Cold War-like situation between West and Russia to “do a soft ethnic cleansing, that would have not been possible during peacetime. [sic]”11.
The second case was opened in April 2018 against the party member Aleksandrs Gapoņenko who has made some controversial and undisclosed statements that had signs of hate speech during the above mentioned All Latvia’s Parents Meeting.
It should be noted that the State Security Service has closed criminal charges against both Vladimirs Lindermans and Aleksandrs Gapoņenko in 2020, noting that even though the statements they made are controversial, they do not classify as a hate speech12. This situation in itself prompts questions about the limits of hate speech and the willingness of prosecutors to investigate politically fueled cases.
A particularly unusual example of hate speech could be seen from a small political party the Action Party (Rīcības partija), whose head of the electoral list for the European Parliament election of 2019, Einārs Graudiņš, presented such statement during the televised debates:
“The question that has not been addressed yet is of the illegal immigration.This question should be addressed immediately and should be addressed surgically; all of those black masses that wander right now uncontrollably around Europe should be put to boats, sent to Malta, Sicily, and then back to where they came from. To all the others who swim into our united country [federal Europe], we immediately open fire. [sic]”13.
The Surge of Hate Speech Publications on Latvian Facebook Pages
In recent years, the daily average of users of Facebook in Latvia keeps on growing, which makes this social network particularly susceptible to political propaganda usage, especially by political groups that use hate speech in their political communication.
A small Latvian far-right party the National Union “Justice” (Nacionālā savienība “Taisnīgums”), that bases its political activities mostly around its Facebook page, publishes daily information that could be interpreted as a hate speech. By using derogatory language towards racial minorities, Russians, sexual minorities, mainstream politicians, and immigrants it tries to build an audience and to promote hatred against minority groups.
For example, on May 26, 2020, the party published a post on their Facebook page that included the screenshot with a news piece about the temperature of +47C in Deli, India. The screenshot was subtitled that “life in India is a literal hell, this is why the stream of [Indians] are coming to Latvia”. They urged to stop migration from India, otherwise “we” [Latvians] will cease to exist14. During the six years of existence of their Facebook page, it was a home for all sorts of hate declamations.
Another far-right Facebook page is the Latvian “Guardians of the Fatherland” (Tēvijas Sargi), which has a much higher following than the previous one (approximately 9.000 vs. 1.400 followers), that presents itself as a combat club for the patriotic Latvians.
The majority of the content on the page is focused on the combat techniques and only a smaller portion focuses on the ideological content. It is less pronounced in the display of hate speech, but some of the news content of the pages of the National Union “Justice” and the “Guardians of the Fatherland” tend to overlap, albeit presented in a less aggressive manner in the second case15.
Prosecution of ‘Hate Speech’ in Latvia from a Legal Perspective
Latvia’s main source of definition for the term “hate crime” is the Criminal Law, where several sections are dedicated to the different instances of hate speech, with possible ranges of punishments for the offense. For example, Section 78 of the Criminal Law specifically focuses on the cases of hate speech based on national, ethnic, and racial grounds.
Under Section 78, the punishment for private individuals is deprivation of liberty for a period of up to three years, and if violence threats were involved the punishment goes up to ten years of liberty deprivation. For public officials involved in instances of hate speech, under Section 78, the punishment is up to five years of liberty deprivation, with the rule regarding threats of violence also being applicable16.
Section 150 of the Criminal Law covers cases of incitement of social hatred and enmity, banning what is effectively a hate speech against age, gender, disabilities, and other characteristics. Punishments are up to four years of liberty deprivation17.
Unfortunately, the current revision of Section 150 is vague in definition, as it covers cases of social hatred towards gender, age, and disabilities, but then refers to “other characteristics”, lacking specific mention of such social behavior characteristics as political orientation or sexuality.
Criminal Law of Latvia also has a specific ban, under Section 74.1, on the public glorification of genocides, crimes against humanity, denial, gross trivialization of committed genocide, or crimes against humanity. Including genocides and crimes against humanity committed by USSR’s and Nazi Germanys’ totalitarian regimes, with a possible punishment of liberty deprivation of up to five years18.
Based on the information provided by the Supreme Court’s Case Law and Scientific Analysis Department in their report about such criminal prosecutions under the above-mentioned Criminal Law sections, in a period from 2012 to 2018 there were 42 court judgments. Of which, 38 court judgments were based on Section 78 of Criminal Law, which covers general cases of hate speech, 2 court judgments were based on Section 150, which covers cases of incitement of social hatred, and 1 case under Section 74.1, which covers genocide and denial of crimes against humanity19.
From the above, it follows that the court cases of hate speech in Latvia predominantly concern hate speech on the basis of ethnic, racial, and national grounds.
It is important to mention, that Latvia’s constitution (Satversme) has no mention of hate speech20, hence there is no constitutional ban on a hate speech in Latvia. Hate speech is covered under the Criminal Law. One possible explanation for this situation could be that there is a particularly conservative attitude towards constitutional changes in Latvia.
Latvia’s constitution does not get revisions often; moreover, it is preserved in a relatively simplistic and short manner.
Possible Action Plan to Lower Hate Speech Presence
First and foremost, it is important for mainstream political forces to take care of a political discourse culture in Latvia. Even if it is up for debate whether certain expressions are hate speech or just use of the rights of the freedom of speech and expression, there is little to no doubt that in recent years the political discourse in Latvia has become more emotional and prone to insulting expressions. This is certainly a worrisome tendency for the democratic development of the country.
Moreover, once hate speech gets justifications from mainstream political forces, it just adds momentum to fringe political forces to express themselves even in a more inflammatory manner, to get the attention of masses.
It is important to mention that investigative journalism also holds an important role in preventing the spread of hate speech in political discourse. The recent efforts from the center of investigative journalism Re: Baltica, investigative division of Delfi.lv, and other media outlets put light on to the cases of hate speech in Latvian public sphere that might not necessarily fall under the current legal definitions, but nevertheless present an alarming tendency in political discourse.
There is also a dire need to add definition and protection against “hate speech” to the Latvian constitution; this will provide a solid ground to revise every legislation which is hierarchically lower to compel with constitutionally defined protection against hate speech.
However, it is important to remember that adding references of “hate speech” to the constitution might not be the easiest process, as it would certainly provoke a debate on boundaries between hate speech and freedom of speech.
Nevertheless, this debate might prove to be fruitful and provide needed momentum for solving many challenges related to the presence of hate speech in society and politics.
The last important action that must be taken is a revision of sections of Criminal Law that concern hate speech.
Currently, definitions of “hate speech” provided by the Latvian Criminal Law are lacking several groups of subjects of protection such as sexual minorities, transgender individuals, etc., and lack several social characteristics, such as political beliefs or employment position.
Revisions of sections of Criminal Law might be beneficial in the long run, to acquire a more comprehensive case law regarding hate speech, as there will be a less vague definition of ‘hate speech’.
The article was published in “US/THEM. Hate Speech at the Service of Politics” (Projekt: Polska 2020). The full publication is available here: https://www.liberalforum.eu/publications/us-them/
1 Laiks. (27.07.1988). Nodibināta Latvijas nacionālās neatkarības kustība. (60). https://www.barikadopedija.lv/raksti/194390
2 Zeltīts, R. (06.06.2018), “Praids”, Kremlis un cilvēka cieņa. Retrieved from https://www.nacionalaapvieniba.lv/aktualitate/praids-kremlis-un-cilveka-ciena/
3 ‘The great replacement theory’ is a far-right conspiracy theory based on the white-nationalist sentiments that state that European white population is being progressively replaced with people of non-European background, in particular with Muslim populations from the Middle East and Africa.
4 Dombrava, J. (2019, January 2). Eiropas tautu aizstāšana. Retrieved from https://www.nacionalaapvieniba.lv/aktualitate/eiropas-tautu-aizstasana/
5 Ragozins, L., Jemberga S. (2019, December 12), Kā NA biedri draudzējās ar Ukrainas galēji labējiem. Re:Baltica Retrievedfrom https://rebaltica.lv/2019/12/ka-na-biedri-draudzejas-ar-ukrainas-galeji-labejiem/
6 Bašķis, A. (2020, january 14), Ainars Bašķis: Konservatīvisma pamattēzes Latvijā. Retrieved from https://konservativie.lv/2020/01/14/ainars-baskis-konservativisma-pamattezes-latvija/
7 Jurašs, J. (2020, May 10), Juris Jurašs par oligarhu advokātiem un čekas aģentiem Tieslietu padomē. Retrieved from https://konservativie.lv/2020/05/10/juris-jurass-par-oligarhu-advokatiem-un-cekas-agentiem-tieslietu-padome/
8 Zukova, K. (2018, December 11), Gobzems izskaitļojis ‘pariešu’ lietu bīdītāju un marionešu dīdītāju. Delfi. Retrieved from https://www.delfi.lv/news/national/politics/gobzems-izskaitlojis-pariesu-lietu-biditaju-un-marionesu-diditaju.d?id=50658217
9 Zukova, K., Dzerkale, S. (2019, February 6), ‘Simtiem cilvēku’ gatavi palīdzēt Gobzema ‘jaunā veidojuma’ radīšanā, dižojas deputāts. Delfi. Retrieved from https://www.delfi.lv/news/national/politics/simtiem-cilveku-gatavi-palidzet-gobzema-jauna-veidojuma-radisana-dizojas-deputats.d?id=50806233
10 Latvia’s Parents Meeting (Vislatvijas vecāku sapulce) was a political action in 2018-2019, that has been organized to show a protest to the education reform that planned to switch schools’ curriculum to Latvian only, in long term perspective, and to lower the amount of Russian-speaking schools in short time.
11 „Atklāj, kādi likumpārkāpumi inkriminēti Lindermanam” (2016, May 10). La.lv. Retriveed from https://www.la.lv/atklaj-kadi-likumparkapumi-inkrimineti-lindermanam”
12 „VDD izbeidzis kriminālprocesu pret Ždanoku, Lindermanu un Gapoņenko” (2020, April 23). Diena. Retrievedfrom https://www.diena.lv/raksts/latvija/zinas/vdd-izbeidzis-kriminalprocesu-pret-zdanoku-lindermanu-un-gaponenko-14240062
13„Eiropas Parlamenta priekšvēlēšanu diskusija. «Izvēlies nākotni! »” (2019, May 15). LSMl.lv. Retrievedfrom https://ltv.lsm.lv/lv/raksts/15.05.2019-eiropas-parlamenta-prieksvelesanu-diskusija.-izvelies-nakotni-.id158906/
16 Krimināllikums, 78. pants. (2019, July 3) Latvijas Republikas Saeima. https://likumi.lv/ta/id/88966#p78
17 Krimināllikums, 150. pants. (2019, July 3) Latvijas Republikas Saeima. https://likumi.lv/ta/id/88966#p150
18 Krimināllikums, 74.1. pants. (2019, July 3) Latvijas Republikas Saeima. https://likumi.lv/ta/id/88966#p74.1
19 Augstākā tiesa (2018) Naida runa un vārda brīvība (Tiesu prakse krimināllietās par Krimināllikuma 74.1, 78., 150.pantu) (2012.gada oktobris – 2018.gada maijs). 4. Retrieved from http://at.gov.lv/lv/judikatura/tiesu-prakses-apkopojumi/kriminaltiesibas