Latvia's Free, but Her Press Isn't
Juris Kaza. Juris Kaza is a Latvian-American journalist based ., The Christian Science Monitor
THE honeymoon is over for freedom of the press in Latvia. Having closed Pilsonis (The Citizen), a sometimes stridently antigovernment newspaper, on Oct. 19, Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis's administration is now looking for ways to clamp down on the circulation of foreign newspapers seen as hostile to Latvian interests.
According to recent Latvian press reports, the Latvian Minister of Justice, Viktors Skudra, is distressed that there are no legal mechanisms for stopping the distribution in Latvia of the Russian newspaper Den, which has urged Russians in Latvia to engage in passive resistance in everyday life and deliberate carelessness at their workplaces in order to undermine Latvia's independence.
Mr. Skudra told Latvian journalists that he had asked the government to prepare "with all due haste" rules for the import and distribution of foreign publications in Latvia. It appears that the minister is looking for regulations similar to those used some years ago by Singapore to throttle the circulation of "undesirable" publications such as the Asian Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review.
Certainly, Den is not on the same level as these international publications. The organ of the Russian Union of Writers has not only attacked Baltic independence, but has, according to those familiar with it, published a steady stream of Russian chauvinist tirades, some of them anti-Semitic.
In the present political mood in Latvia, few Latvians and democratically minded Russians would mourn the banning of Den, but, then, struggles for the principles of press freedom in more or less democratic countries seldom involve the expression of popular or even fully rational opinions.
More alarming is what has happened to Pilsonis, the weekly newspaper of the radical opposition Citizens' Movement, which says it defends the rights of Latvia's prewar citizens and their descendants against what it considers a neo-colonialist government imposed to ensure that Latvia remains a de facto colony of Russia. The tone of Pilsonis is frequently strident, but it reflects the anger and frustration of many ordinary Latvians who see that little of the old communist system has been dismantled.
If nothing else, the banned newspaper was a vent for pent-up emotions that have been suppressed for 50 years, but it also has attempted to document corruption by local and national governments and to warn of resurgent Russian chauvinism and anti-Semitism.
The charges filed against Pilsonis stated that the paper "published materials hostile to the policies of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia and the Council of Ministers and inciting to defiance of the laws of the Republic of Latvia as well as the overthrow of the existing government." The petition went on to say that Pilsonis had violated specific chapters of the Latvian Law on the Press, which forbids incitement to violate laws or overthrow the government in terms that go overboard, by Western standards. …