• Baiba Ziga

Are we witnessing another witch hunt?



I am furious, I am sad, I am disappointed and many other things...


This morning was one of the mornings when I decided to make rounds through English, Latvian and Russian news channels, which I often do to get a more rounded picture of how the world’s current affairs are communicated and reflected in different countries and political powers. However this morning I was struck by an article in Latvian media about two young medics who were set on fire out of gay-hate.


Yes, you heard that right. This is not a chapter from ‘witch burning at the stake’. This happened on 23rd April in a residential area under our watch…


This article really triggered me, and since I have spoken with several of my friends and colleagues who have shared the shock and trauma of these events, and I wanted to share my reflections on what I feel are the key three contributions to such hate crime in the next paragraphs.


Political landscape


The Prime Minister and the President of Latvia were very quick in showing their solidarity to the victims by tweeting that these events should be seriously investigated and perpetrators punished. However, these are people who have the power to influence the law, the public policy and how same sex relationships are referred to. Latvia is still among the most homophobic countries in Europe.


Let me tell you something about the difference between the Western and Eastern European societies. In Western world societies (e.g., the US and the UK) societal activism usually precedes changes in law or policy (and those changes are usually substantial enough to keep the activists off their back for a little longer and minor enough for people benefiting from the system not to panic).


In Eastern European world the landscape is slightly different. For centuries we have served under bigger powers, be it Sweden, Germany or Russia, and therefore made to acknowledge, respect and unquestionably serve *the authority*. Most of us only regained our independence about 30 years ago. In these systems we have been socialised using the tools of communism, racket, disinformation, lack of access to basic items (let alone opportunities or equal rights) to conform and not to ever question the authority (here I mean anyone who is perceived as older, wiser, higher status than you, and, yes, that also includes your pervert uncle who might have touched you inappropriately as a child.) Historically, these societies look up to the authority for common guidance on how to talk and behave, and activism is more of a by-product of acute disagreement to whatever has been “pushed onto” people rather than a call to question injustice. That is a generalisation; of course there are pockets of positive news stories and younger generations challenging the status quo. However we are still often not even a generation apart from the Soviet grooming.


Societal double standards


This is a story of two young medics aged 23 and 29 being set on fire due to their choice of expressing love outside the conservative guidelines. These are also the people who we crawl onto our knees to and beg to bring our loved ones back from the dead, or execute their supernatural powers to cure and heal our close ones. Here their race, sexual orientation, gender, age don’t matter. However, outside that environment, and if we are privileged enough to be in good health, we suddenly find the need and audacity to claim or prove our social power by harming someone who doesn’t fit the box of what we know and “challenges” our social identity.


These young men have had history of being pushed down the stairs in the block of apartments they live, they have been verbally and physically abused, told to move out of the city and the culmination was the 23rd April when one of them was set on fire and is fighting for his life with 85% body burns and the other is equally recovering in the hospital with severe burns from trying to save his partner.


Where do you begin with drawing a line in such hate that has socialised people to despise ‘the others’ without realising that those ‘others’ are our own colleagues, neighbours, teachers and even our family members? When does this become *YOUR problem*? When your white daughter marries a black man and has children who are being harassed, called names and later in life discriminated in their workplaces, healthcare, housing systems simply based on their skin colour? Is it when your son comes out as gay and is now being targeted daily and robbed of basic dignity, respect and belonging from the very community that raised him? Or, when you are faced with an unfortunate accident or illness that claims your independence, and you are now dependant on the infrastructure and kindness of your fellow citizens for you to get through your day?


Religion


In Latvia religion is kept separately from the politics. However, there are pockets of examples where it has made its way into it… Nevertheless, there are powerful figures in the religious landscape of Latvia who preach of how there was only *a man* and *a woman* created and therefore only union between these two is worthy of God’s approval and love; and anyway, HOW do these people reproduce?!


Two things I want to say about this. Firstly, so God made us all equal and we are all children of God and yet God becomes very particular of who he accepts and dismisses when he finds out their sexual orientation… Secondly, on *HOW* a same sex marriage can create a family when they cannot reproduce. Well, same way as a hetero family who CANNOT conceive. Do both of these cases not call for the same outcome?


All in all, this is another devastating example of the double standards that live in every single department of our society. How we argue and push our point of view across with absolutely no grounds or lived experience, simply based on how we have been socialised and what we’re taught to believe.


Let me tell you, we are a branch of the animal world, and as you don’t see monkeys playing with lions, we also like to stick with the ones who look, think, talk and act like us. Inclusion is an advanced activity for those with a highly evolved emotional intelligence because. It does not just happen. We do not "just do it" naturally. It is something we have to do consciously and proactively.


Standing up to injustice will cost you. It will cost you the comfortable place you occupy in this broken society. However, it is needed for you to shuffle in your seat, wake up and contribute to creating a society that does not harm just the ones close or near you, but EVERYONE. You do not need to become a father of a daughter to *suddenly* be against sexism or misogyny. You can and NEED to do this work today!


For anyone who want to (and can) read the original article, you can find it here:





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