Latvian authorities draw attention to extremism risks

Radical sentiments are growing in Latvian society, the State Security Service (VDD) stated earlier this week. Both the VDD and the State Police (VP) ask that attention be paid to signs of radicalization in others - both right-wing and left-wing extremism - and to report them in cases of increased aggression, Latvian Television reported on April 23.

Over the weekend, a group of skinheads were arrested by the State Security Service and the State Police after a cooperation effort to uncover crimes committed against people in Riga's Vērmanes Garden.

"They made men praise Adolf Hitler. To make a Nazi Germany salute. They used violence against that person at that moment. And all this was filmed on the phone and published on social networks," Linda Mocebekere, an inspector at the VP Criminal Police Department, said. "There are also attacks on people with dark skin, who, according to their subculture, are undesirable citizens in the Republic of Latvia. In other words, they believe that only white people can be in Latvia."

The signs of racist ideology left by skinheads can be seen in several places in Riga. For example, the "white power" sign, which a passer-by has tried to paint over.

A 15-year-old is also among those recently arrested. Neither the police nor the VDD would disclose approximately how many in Latvia are showing an increased interest in right-wing extremism and sharing their views on communication platforms.

"Although the threat posed by such persons to the democratic order of our country is currently assessed as low, the tendency of the number of supporters of right-wing extremism to increase poses risks to public security," the VDD said, adding that even one radicalized person can be dangerous.

The importance of public involvement in reducing extremism is highlighted by the VDD and the police, as well as by the President of Latvia.

"This has to be taken seriously. Of course, one thing is the Criminal Law and the penalties, but another is the discussion in society on how to reduce this, how to reduce the breeding ground for these extremist ideas in these very, very tense times. This is a work that we all have to do together. We have to somehow, together with you, the media, politicians, experts, try to understand what are the things that are contributing to this and how to reduce them. Nothing can be completely eliminated in any society. But it can be mitigated," President Edgars Rinkēvičs said in an interview on Latvian Television on April 23 morning.

When signs of radicalization are detected in a fellow human being, the first thing to do is to try, as far as possible, to find out the reasons for changes in behavior or appearance through a calm conversation. If the person is uncooperative and shows increased aggressiveness, the SSS should be contacted immediately. The service can be contacted by calling the 24-hour helpline 67208964 or by emailing [email protected].

This year, the VDD has already conducted talks in several hundred Latvian schools on the signs and risks of radicalization of young people.

The most vulnerable to radicalization are 12 to 17-year-olds, the police said.

"I believe that every parent should now pay attention to the behavior of their children. Maybe a child has shown a desire to dress in a certain way, a certain interest in a certain kind of literature," Mocebekere urged.

The VDD website contains information materials in Latvian on how to recognize right and left-wing extremism and what to do to prevent it from escalating into crime. 

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