Latvia: Nationalism Finds New Enemies

In the summer of 1997, a local newspaper in Bauska, Latvia, published an interview with a policeman, Gatis Bugoveckis, who declared that he was homosexual, and stated that he was not the only gay man working in the police.

Bugoveckis was immediately suspended by Bauska police, who also assembled a certification commission which informed the Personnel Department of the Latvian Ministry of Interior of Bugoveckis' homosexuality. As a result, he was also denied a transfer to serve in the city of Riga, which had been formally approved. According to information received by the Homosexuality Information Center (HIC) in Latvia, the police told Bugoveckis that his interview was an "insult and humiliation to their honor." He was also pressured by the investigating officer, Edmunds Zabeens, to name other homosexuals in the police force. As a result of the pressure, as well as threats to his and his partner's safety, Bugoveckis resigned.

This case underlines a pattern of intolerance toward and discrimination against gays and lesbians in Latvia, encouraged by openly homophobic comments from state officials. Former Prime Minister Andris Skele has stated in the past that the "correct" sexual orientation should be required for employment in state institutions. (Reportedly, candidates for the police force must currently have their heterosexuality certified by a psychiatrist.) An amendment to include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination provisions of the Criminal Code has been stalled in Parliament for four years; during one debate, a member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, describing homosexuals as one of the lowest groups in society, declared that they deserved no legal protections.

More recently, the National Democratic Party, a right-wing ethnonationalist political group, has launched a campaign against gays and lesbians. According to the newspaper "CM" (October 21, 1997), a National Democrats' manifesto declares that "In order to protect the healthy part of the nation from the criminal, vicious, and disastrous influence of the shameless representatives of sexual minorities, it is necessary to adopt severe measures at once." The measures proposed include a ban on media representations of gays and lesbians, as well as on public activities and events.

The Homosexuality Information Center calls for letters to the Ministry of the Interior and to local police in Bauska to protest the firing of Gatis Bugoveckis. HIC also calls for letters to the President and Parliament of Latvia to insist on an end to homophobic discrimination.

Letters to local police should:

  • demand the reinstatement of Gatis Bugoveckis;
  • demand administrative punishment of members of the police force who incite hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Letters to the Ministry of the Interior should, in addition:

  • demand an end to the questioning of applicants to the police force about their sexual orientation.

Letters to the President of the Republic of Latvia should urge him to:

  • initiate legislation combating discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual citizens, and guaranteeing the protection of their equal rights;
  • declare such reform a priority in the area of human rights in Latvia.

Letters to the Parliament (Saeima) of the Republic of Latvia should call on members to:

  • include sexual orientation in paragraph 12 of the Constitutional Law On the Rights and Duties of Citizens and People, listing grounds on which discrimination is prohibited;
  • include sexual orientation in paragraph 69 of the Criminal Code, which lists grounds on which discrimination is legally penalized;
  • amend existing legislation so as to provide equal rights to gays and lesbian couples in such areas as adoption, child custody, inheritance, social security, pensions, housing, immigration, and labor law, or adopt a law on civil unions which contains such provisions.

Letters should be sent to:

The President of the Republic of Latvia
Pils laukums 3
Riga 50
LV-1900 Latvia
Fax: 371-732-5800
Saeima (Parliament) of the Republic of Latvia
Jekaba iela 11
LV-1050 Latvia
Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia
Raina bulvaris 6
LV-1050 Latvia
Police of the city of Bauska
Zala iela 12
Fax: 371-39-24335