Sex-ed group claims MPs "turning against democracy"

Papardes zieds – Latvia’s Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health – has turned to the public with an open letter, dated September 19, saying that members of the Latvian parliament are turning against the non-governmental sector and democracy in Latvia.

On September 6 Papardes zieds held a protest by the Saeima, submitting an open letter to the parliament and the cabinet, signed by the association's president Reinis Āboltiņš and board chairwoman Iveta Ķellea.

The letter asked to remove the controversial "morality norm" from the Law on Education, alarming MPs that pupils' knowledge about their bodies and sexuality is decreasing. The letter was signed by another 19 NGOs, including doctors' associations. 

The aforementioned law was adopted in 2015 after being pushed by conservative MP Jūlija Stepaņenko (she was elected from the ticket of the nominally social-democratic Harmony party). The law was introduced swiftly after parents came to the Saeima upon seeing educational booklets by Papardes zieds. The parents did not like that they mentioned homosexual couples.

Later on the Re:Baltica journalism center reported that a number of groups fighting for "traditional values" have, in fact, a close affinity to the Kremlin's policies. 

As a result of the law, a work group was set up, identifying 12 traditional "virtues" to be taught in Latvian schools. These are to be introduced into the curriculum within two years. 

Now, however, in a letter disseminated on September 19 Papardes zieds write:

"But instead of receiving a reply from the lawmakers, several MPs alleged that Papardes zieds is threatening national security and trying to meddle in the inner affairs of the Latvian state and the course of the Saeima election. Therefore several Saeima MPs, exercising a constitutional right, submitted a request to the PM asking whether Papardes zieds' activities and the funding we received is not a threat to the Constitution and Latvian independence," the letter says.

According to Papardes zieds, what has happened is an unprecedented case of MPs turning against NGOs and democracy in Latvia.

What the letter refers to is that a total of 11 MPs, most of them from Harmony but some from For Latvia from the Heart, spearheaded by Jūlija Stepaņenko, turned to the PM to ask to evaluate Papardes zieds' actions following the first protest.

Specifically, the MPs complain that Papardes zieds have received money from the Open Society Foundation funded by George Soros. The NGO received €61,529 last year from the foundation. 

It should be added that this and other conspiracies concerning Soros -- spread by a nominally social democratic party -- reflect a rhetoric characteristic of far-right groups. 

Papardes zieds stress, however, that their goal is to strengthen Latvians' knowledge about their health and their bodies, particularly among children and young people. The association says that this is a constitutional right corresponding to articles 111 and 112 of the Latvian Constitution guaranteeing a right to healthcare and education.

"The politicians' actions is an obvious example of a lack of understanding about the functions of civil society, including associations and foundations, in a democratic country and society. We ask MPs not to forego the rights solidified in the Constitution and instead promote the involvement of civil society in strengthening democracy," the letter says. 

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