The Rise of Latvia's Moral Guardians
Who are the people who run around forests with laser guns and defend "family values" in protests by the Latvian parliament?
Early September morning, when the majority of Riga residents were barely awake, about 40 adults and children -- mostly men and boys -- gathered at the clock tower near the central train station. Many kids came with their fathers. Shortly after 9 am, the group boarded a city bus to a forest on the outskirts of Latvia’s capital city. The bus took them to the vicinity of the Spilve airport, Latvia’s oldest airport now used mostly for training private pilots. The group took a sandy road and disappeared in the woods. They were met by a group of men who gave them instructions and handed out laser-tag guns. They spent the next few hours playing war. Much like in any laser-tag game, the main task was to hit the target sensor attached to an opponent's head. From time to time, shouts were heard to quit fooling around and aim straight for the head, instead of the body.
In photos published on Facebook, the participants look pleased. "A father, a son, a daughter = a brave family" reads the caption of one of the photos featuring a bearish father with his teenage daughter. The next photo shows a father in an Adidas track suit poses with his daughter, who looks like an elementary school student, and an even younger son, who seems as big as the weapon he is holding.
The event was organized by Saulus Seikis, a boxing coach, and his wife, Jelena Kornetova, an English-language teacher. They both are the founders of the nongovernmental organization called "Kin" ("Dzimta"), which made its first public appearance in 2013 during a protest outside the parliament building in Riga. The group also has held events in various churches and community centers. Both believe that in recent years, hiding behind gay and lesbian rights movements, different forces have been trying to break up the traditional family model with the aim of turning people into the manipulated "vegetables."
Three parent movement organisations have been formed in Latvia since 2013. They are "Kin", "Let's Protect Our Children" and "Our Children." The "traditional values", it turned out, is one issue that can unite ethnically-divided Latvia, where about 26 percent are ethnic Russians and even more people use Russian as their native language. Together, the three organisations lobby for changes in the laws to prohibit the "propaganda" of homosexuality, oppose adoption by foreign families, and fight against excessive power of the nation's social services.
Similar trends have emerged recently in Latvia's eastern neighbor, Russia, which put the defense of "traditional values" as one of its domestic and foreign policy goals. Since 2012, Russia has adopted four laws that aim to ban "propaganda" of same-sex relationships as well as child adoption by American families. In Latvia, as a result of these organisations' influence, the parliament adopted changes to the law that banned the use of school teaching materials that promote the immoral way of life.
In 2014, the movement "Kin" held a protest by the parliament, publicized by the media. One hundred men gathered by the parliament to hand out to each of the 100 members of the Latvian legislature invitations to a group's press conference, where they announced each MP's position on sexual minorities. As a result of this protest, one member of Harmony party, which draws on support from the Russian-speaking voters, introduced amendments that ban "promotion" of sex in schools. This was the first attempt to ban speaking about homosexuality in Latvia’s institutions of learning.
The group's public lectures went, however, less noticed, but were more aggressive. Their videos can be found on YouTube. In them, Kornetova tells stories of "juvenile justice." Customarily, this phrase is used to mean laws aimed at protecting children's interests, but the defenders of "traditional values" interpret it as a form of limiting parental rights. In the summer 2013, she spoke at a worship service of the mostly Russian-speaking "New Generation Church", which used to draw on support from some conservative Americans. Its leader, Aleksey Ledyaev was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006 hosted by the US President George W. Bush.
In her talk, Kornetova said that the children's rights protection agency going around schools, teaching what "evil and bad parents" were. Children must be taught not to trust "nice ladies" and never seek their help because then the children will be taken away from families, "will be put in a shelter", "given drugs" and mothers will not see their children for months and sometimes years, or even never. One should definitely not seek help of social services, she says, because this is the surest step to child removal from the family.
The hidden goal of the child protection services is to legalize the illegal child trade. Kornetova's presentation shows potential buyers of children: childless couples, especially those who are unable to conceive, same-sex couples and pedophiles. "And they want our children, who are beautiful and ecologically clean," she said during her presentation at the “New Generation Church” service.
Kornetova's husband, a short muscular martial arts expert named Saulus Seikis, gives a historical outline of how since the 16th century "the sodomy laws have entered the laws of the European Union and the international thinking."
The NGO estimates they have reached out to about 10,000 people through their lectures. That's what Seikis told a Lithuanian journalist who interviewed the couple last summer at the Re:Baltica's request. Seikis refused to meet with Re:Baltica, however he managed to answer some questions by phone.
Apart from the public education, members of the "Kin" organization focus on sports activities, such as laser-tag in the woods. Seikis is one of the heads of the "Muay Thai Academy", the martial arts sports club, and he also manages a kickboxing amateur league. His wife, Jelena, also works in both places. In the beginning of the 2000s, Seikis was the vice president of a group, supporting youth sports, "Taisnība", which can be translated as either truth or justice. It included 13 different sports federations. The group once held a congress "Parents against Drugs", children camps, and a tournament "Ring Kings".
Seikis believes it's important to teach kids discipline, physical resilience and the ability to organize themselves.
Shooting competitions in the woods he called "an interactive game", which is the same as a computer game only with an added value -- kids actually run and exercise.
The group also organizes children's camps in eastern Latvia, where they offer similar competitions. Apart from drawing and singing, these children also learn to walk in ranks, take part in a parade, and shooting with pneumatic weapons. The latter activity is led by Eduards Ludzitis, a former policeman, from the youth military camp "Specnaz," a Russian word used for special purpose military units in the post-Soviet space. In the largest Russian-language newspaper "Vesti Segodnya", Ludzitis compared “Specnaz” to the Latvian army Youth Guard but without "excessive patriotism."
Seikis says the camps don't have a military orientation. The weapons are not real. "What kind of aggression or violence? This is ridiculous," he tells Re:Baltica.
The annual financial report of the NGO "Kin" show that their income is low -- almost 2,000 euros in 2014. The donors are mostly the founders themselves. Kornetova says that the organization employs around 10 people, "a computer specialist, a video specialist, and an analyst who can write articles." Most of the employees are volunteers, compared to "grant-guzzlers", such as an organization that educates students about safe sex called "The Fern Flower".
"They think that all our girls are sluts and sleep with boys at the age of 10," says Kornetova. "It's all sponsored by the Soros foundation and other suspicious organizations that openly say that we need to reduce the population."
Another "grant guzzler", according to Kornetova, is "Dardedze Center", which helps children who are victims of violence, one of the oldest organizations in Latvia. The center, Kornetova says, is part of the "corruption scheme" since social services "with sticks and blackmail" drag parents to their courses to make them "stop being violent." In fact, she says, "the fact of violence" is fabricated, created by the "drones" at the social services. Kornetova believes that a parent has a right to "slap a child on the bottom" as a form of discipline if it done with "good intentions." "There is a distinction between the violence is needed for child's instruction and when it is a form of ill-treatment. They are completely different things," says the defender of "family values."
Recently, the NGO "Kin" grew silent. Seikis says that for a successful campaign, it's necessary to have political support. They are working on it, but he will not say with which politicians. "That's a business secret."
We will protect our children
Along with "Kin", a signature drive to organize a referendum against “gay propaganda” in 2013 was organized by "Let's Protect Our Children," another parent organization.
Its founders are three pro-Kremlin activists. One of them, Vadims Gilis, wrote a draft law on the autonomous status to the Latvian border region where many Russians live. The name of the real leader of the organization, a former National Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Linderman, is not found in the organization's documents. He explained to Re:Baltica that this was a conscious decision, so there wouldn't be problems with the organization registration. Linderman, who is a Latvian non-citizen, organized a failed referendum on the official bilingualism in Latvia and is often seen by the Latvian authorities as a proxy for Russia, a charge he denies.
Linderman says that the idea for a referendum against “gay propaganda” encouraged similar developments in Russia, which adopted similar laws. The main reason, however, was the rapid spread of "gender policies" in Europe and America. It was promoted by liberal politicians and "Obama now in America is a representative of this movement." "As a well-known politician in Latvia," Linderman presented his opinion on “gender policies” also on the Russian TV channel TV-Center, which is owned by the city of Moscow.
Apart from the "juvenile justice," the defenders of traditional value focus also on genderism. In their interpretation, it means that "a gender is a social choice, not a nature's determination," Linderman says. "Family", another organization that pulled its weight behind the signature drive, claims that as a result of policy of genderism "will gradually be developed into non-gender human beings" in order to create individuals with an "undefined gender."
In the academic literature, however, the word "genderism" means quite the opposite: a belief that only two genders exist and one's sexual identity is connected to one's biological gender.
In their campaign for an anti-gay referendum, the three groups cooperate more closely. Linderman has met with Seikis many times to discuss 'technical issues'. Both are just acquaintances.
"Family" has mobilized Christians in ethnic Latvian churches, actively encouraged by the Latvian Christian Radio. Andris Dedzis, a former politician from the ruling party Unity has actively been collecting signatures in the Talsi region, in western Latvia. He collected 2,500 signatures. He said he learned of the campaign from social networks and only later realized that the campaign is spearheaded by Linderman. Both men met one time when Linderman took a bus to Talsi. Dedzis said he didn't care who started the campaign, because the main thing was "the word of God." He was convinced of seriousness of the situation listening to the "Kin" lectures.
The signature campaign drive faltered when it became known that it was backed by Linderman, who is seen by the ethnic Latvians as a Kremlin proxy and a Moscow agent. Out of 30,000 needed signatures, the groups have collected 13,250. According to Linderman's estimates the campaign cost around 7,000 euros, paid mostly by private businesses and individuals directly for services, which is why this amount is not reported in the annual reports.
As a friendly family
“The association "Family" does not like that we speak Russian, this is why we are not in one organization," says Kornetova. "We don't have any disagreements," she says.
Up until the creation of new parent movements in 2013, "Family" was the most influential NGO supporting traditional and Christian values, which successfully lobbied its interests in parliament. The association combines 14 smaller NGOs.
"Family" lobbied the introduction of the mandatory consultation for women prior to abortion. The group also organized a conference in parliament about "family values", both organized with the support of the right-wing National Alliance. The association is also involved in a working group at the ministry of education to draft guidelines that would help determine what kind of teaching materials comply with moral education in schools.
The association was founded in 2008. Last year, the financial documents show, its income was 34 euros. In 2013, the income was 8,200 euros. The amount was part of the grant, co-financed by the Norwegian government, to promote policies of gender equality. Soon, however, Norway demanded that the NGO pay the money back since it concluded that the work of the organization goes contrary to "the fundamental values such as gender equality and sexual orientation," said the ambassador of Norway to Latvia at that time, Jan Grevstad.
Even before this article was published, "Family" released an open letter, alleging that "Re:Baltica" is part of the EuroGender Network (we are not and we learned of the existence of this network from the letter -- the editor's note) and asked rhetorically if we would support also paedophilia legalization in Latvia.
Another group that found a listening ear in parliament is called "Our Children". It lobbies the right-wing National Alliance's sworn political enemy – the left-wing party Harmony. "Our Children", who split up from the "Kin" group in 2014, seeks to fight against "sexualization" of children and "juvenile justice" issues abroad. The group attracted most attention in a case of Laila Brice, a Latvian mother, whose two-year-old child was taken away by social services in the UK in 2010 and forced into adoption because the child was left alone at home in unsanitary conditions. In addition, a year earlier, the mother was detained by the police for public intoxication with her little child.
The member of parliament and a sponsor of the moral upbringing legislation Julija Stepanenko also introduced a declaration against forced adoption of Latvian children abroad. The declaration largely holds a symbolic value because it is not legally binding abroad.
The founder of "Our Children" Alla Sprisevska calls a forced removal of children from their families a form of "juvenile fascism". A word "fascism" is often used by the Kremlin propaganda in reference to the Baltic states and Ukraine.
Sprisevska describes her colleagues as "people with a soul" who understand that "a battle between the light and darkness is taking place at a high level." Mostly her colleagues are women. The most active one is a IT specialist Irina Smorigo, who has enraged in a number of foreign forums to share horror stories about the "juvenile justice" abroad.
Other active members include a housewife Tatjana Pecurina - Berzina and a "child psychologist" Tatjana Zacepina.
Sprisevska is a wealthy woman who was once named one of the richest women in Latvia. She is the largest stockholder in a transportation company "Astramar Transport". The company's turnover in 2014 was 3.6 million euros and its profit was 400,000 euros. She says she partially sponsors the protests by "Our Children." The annual financial reports of that organization are not found in the databases.
To the meeting with the Lithuanian journalist this summer, Sprisevska brought along books that, in her view, confirm the deliberate early sexualization of children. A similar list of literature is posted on the "Our Children" website.
Sprisevska shows the World Health Organization (WHO) sexual education standards, which is used by nearly all "traditional values" defenders. The material, published in 2010, intended for professionals who reached an appropriate level of education. It includes a table of what happens with a child at a certain level of his or her development. The section devoted to children from 0 to 4 years old says, "masturbation at an early age." A widely distributed myth that the WHO teaches children to masturbate came from this little phrase.
Finnish child psychiatrist Raisa Cacciatore, who took part in the working group that developed the WHO standards, explains, "Child mastrubation is completely different from adult masturbation. Child has no sexual/erotic intentions or images." In one Finnish study, 71 percent of surveyed child day care professionals observed children masturbating openly and 82 percent observed children exposing their genitals. The most common situation when masturbation occurred was when the child tried to fall asleep,” she says.
The association "Family" presented its own interpretation of the WHO guidelines in a letter to the members of parliament. "The guidelines emphasize that 'sexuality is a central part of human life'". This quote is taken out of context, as the WHO guidelines indicate that sexuality in this context should be interpreted in "the broader context", not simply as sex.
All described organizations believe that schools should not talk about sex. Instead, they should teach love and values of forging relations. Sex education should be left to the family because every child develops differently. One cannot or should not automatically divide kids in their age groups, as the WHO standard recommends, they say.
The WHO document, however, argues the opposite: talking to children, one must take into account not only the child's age, but also the level of development, "because not all children develop at the same pace." However, this part has not been translated into Latvian in a document published on the website of "Our Children." Two more details were left out of the translation: a part of how to properly read the table and the explanation that "a child sexuality differs from an adult's in many ways."
Written by Inga Spriņģe, Re:Baltica
Edited by Sanita Jemberga, Re:Baltica
Translated into English by Aleks Tapiņš
Researcher Gundega Tupiņa