Two men were left to burn after a homophobic resident of their apartment complex allegedly lit them alight. (Stock photograph via Elements Envato)
In Latvia, two men were set alight in a suspected homophobic hate crime – exposing the fault lines in a republic that resists recognising LGBT+ people.
According to local newswires, a scuffle allegedly broke out between a homophobic man and two men living in the same apartment block in Tukums, a historic town of red-brick builds and wood-carding mills.
On 22 April, one of the two men were doused in flammable liquid before being set alight. As the flames engulfed him, another man desperately tried to put them out, getting burnt himself in the process.
The attack has drawn rage from not only LGBT+ activists groups, long frustrated by the open hostility from social conservatives they face in the republic, but Latvia’s president, too.
In a Twitter statement on Saturday (24 April), president Egils Levits sought to stress that “there is no place for hate in Latvia”.
“If it is confirmed that the Tukums offender’s motivation was hate toward a group of society,” he wrote, “it exacerbates their guilt.
Naidam Latvijā nav vietas. Ja apstiprināsies, ka Tukuma noziedznieka motivācija ir bijusi naids pret kādu sabiedrības daļu, tad tas pastiprina viņa vainu. Latvijas sabiedrības vērtība ir iecietība, un šāda naida izpausme vienlaikus ir noziegums pret sabiedrību.
— Egils Levits (@valstsgriba) April 24, 2021
“A value of the Latvian society is tolerance, and this expression of hate is a crime towards the society as well.”
Men, burned alive by homophobe, encounter indifference from Latvia police
The victims claim that their attacker lived in the five-story apartment complex with them. He had long threatened and jeered at them, they claim.
Both men were burnt in the ensuing fire, with the first victim sped to a burns centre in Riga, the capital of Latvia, for treatment.
But when telling the authorities about the incident, they only encountered indifference.
“We reported these threats to both the police and the neighbour’s workplace, but there was no reaction,” the second victim told Tukums Independent News, a local newspaper.
“We had to wait for someone to be mutilated or killed.”
The Tukums District Police Department confirmed to the outlet that “two people have been injured in the fire” and an investigation has been launched.
Anger and shock quickly mingled among Latvian advocacy groups. Mozakia described “brutal, incomprehensible attack” as a “possible hate crime” in a Twitter statement.
Calling for the Latvian State Police to intervene, the LGBT+ rights group added: “The current homophobic attacks and incidents are a clear result of the hatred-based policies of some politicians and organisations.”
Indeed, Latvian lawmakers have increasingly sought to make the depth of disgust they feel towards LGBT+ folk perfectly clear.
The Latvian parliament, the Saeima, overwhelmingly voted to tweak the constitution to define the family strictly as a “union of a male and female person“.
It was a move that added to the already long list of woes for queer Lavvians. Living in a country that refuses to recognise neither marriage equality or civil partnerships, or enshrine same-sex couples with the right to adopt or any legal protections for that matter.