Aleksandr Gaponenko: How My Opinion On NATO Exercises in Latvia Made Me a “Threat” to National Security

On February 21st 2019 at 14.00 a hearing in the Vidzeme court (8 Abrenes Street) will be held [this article was written on February 16th – ed], where experts will try to prove that your humble servant is guilty of inciting national hatred against such an ethnic group as “American tanks“. The process was initiated by the leadership of the National Alliance party – Einārs Cilinskis and Gaidis Bērziņš.

Without waiting for the end of this process, National Alliance, in the persons of Edvīns Šnore and Aleksandrs Kiršteins, initiated a new trial against me, Aleksandr Gaponenko. I expressed my opinion about this process in a series of articles. I publish one of these articles below.

You know why…

Recently, the ruling elites of a number of Western countries have launched criminal proceedings against people who defend democracy and freedom. A significant number of human rights defenders have been imprisoned on charges of crimes against the States in which they live. Mostly these are people who just described the events happening around them.

The phenomenon of harassing writers and journalists is not new. In 1942, a well-known Czechoslovak journalist Julius Fučík was arrested for his journalistic activities. The national socialist authorities of the Czech Republic did not like the fact that he spread Communist views. In prison, the journalist wrote a book “Reports Written Under the Noose”, in which he spoke about himself, his arrest and being in prison, and about the people around him.

The main idea of Fučík’s book is expressed in the following phrase: “do not be afraid of enemies – they can only kill; do not be afraid of friends – they can only betray; be afraid of indifferent people — it is with their tacit consent that all the most terrible crimes in the world happen. … People, I loved you. Be vigilant!”

On September 9th 1943 Fučík’s was executed in a Berlin prison. Now the day of his execution is celebrated as the International day of solidarity of journalists.

I, Gaponenko Aleksandr Vladimirovich, am 64 years old, Russian, Orthodox, non-citizen of Latvia, author of 12 books, 500 articles, 6 documentaries, and a supporter of the fact that all people have equal rights.

On April 18th 2018 I left my apartment building in the center of Riga where I live to go to the shop – to buy cream for morning coffee. Children playing in front of the entrance, in the courtyard of the school, accidentally threw the ball near my feet. I bent down to pick up the ball and throw it back to the playground.

At this moment I was attacked by half a dozen armed men wearing black balaclavas, who knocked me to the ground, handcuffed me, beat me up, and dirtied me all over with black soil.

The frightened pupils who saw all of this started to shout: “Misters, why are you beating him? He just wanted to give us the ball back”.

An investigator from the security police approached and said that he had a warrant for my detention and for a search of my apartment. In response to the natural question of why I was arrested, the investigator dispassionately answered: “You know why…”

I said I didn’t know what the truth was.

During the search and interrogation I was handcuffed for almost twelve hours straight. During all this time they didn’t let me eat. They intimidated me by saying that I would spend the rest of my life in prison. What was happening was a violation of all existing police regulations. Everything was done specifically to psychologically break and force me to confess to committing mythical crimes. In protest against the arbitrariness of the security services, I went on a hunger strike and kept it up for a week in the prison where I was placed. Then my health became very bad and I agreed to eat slop and drink water from the tap – tea was permitted only once a day.

I learned only a year after my arrest what crimes I was accused of committing, having received before I was sent to court the materials of the criminal case brought against me.

It turned out that a number of people from the national radical “National Alliance” party wrote a statement to the security police against me. Chief among the signatories were the deputies of the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) from this party – Edvīns Šnore and Aleksandrs Kiršteins.

Edvīns Šnore is known for the fact that in 2017 he wrote in the electoral newspaper: “As the Minister of Public Affairs Alfrēds Bērzin̦š once said, if you put a Russian louse in a fur coat, it will be difficult to extract it from there. And indeed we see that the Russian-speakers who arrived at the time of the USSR, although they constantly scold Latvia, they do not leave.”

I did not like the comparison with a louse, because it followed directly from it that I could be wiped off the face of the earth in the same way that various harmful blood-sucking insects mercilessly are.

Following other people who are dissatisfied with this kind of classification of the Russian population of the country, I wrote a statement to the Latvian Prosecutor’s office with a request to stop the Deputy’s calls for the genocide of the foreign population. The Prosecutor’s Office referred the case to the security police for consideration.

The response of the security police to one of the complainants – Andrey Tolmachev – was the recognition of the statements of E. Šnore as being quite harmless and not inciting ethnic hatred (letter No. 21/2436-t/161 from 20.06.2017). The Saeima Ethics Commission slapped the wrist of the Deputy for making the aforementioned calls for the genocide of foreigners.

Another member of the Latvian Parliament, Aleksandrs Kiršteins, has also long been known for his Russophobic and anti-Semitic statements. On 29.08 2017 he taught the readers of his Twitter: “We need to learn from the Danes, and expel shitty Gaponenko, Linderman, Korenov, and Tyumen’s Buzaev to the country of their origin, where every house has its own pool”.

Before this, he taught how to build relationships with Russia, and, consequently, with its titular population – Russians: “either lick boots, or constantly beat in the face”.

I also did not like the statements of A. Kiršteins, and I publicly criticised him for Russophobia and anti-Semitism.

What did these people want, sending a statement to the security police on December 1st 2017?

They demanded to evaluate the “Volyn” feature film directed by Wojciech Smarzowski, which back then was then shown in cinemas in Riga, on the subject of whether or not it incites national strife and whether or not screening it threatens the existence of the Republic of Latvia. They mentioned that the movie “Volyn” is forbidden in Ukraine and demanded to forbid it in Latvia.

Acting deputies demanded to bring me to trial for coming to watch the “Volyn” movie and expressing my opinion about its contents during a discussion that was launched after its presentation.

Indeed, I praised Smarzowski for a well-made plot, a reliable picture of the situation, and for inviting great actors, cameramen, and costume designers to cooperate. I mentioned that the tragic situation in the history of relations between Poles and Ukrainians during the Second World War is depicted, and that the film touched me because I myself am a quarter Pole and a quarter Ukrainian. I condemned the genocide against both ethnic groups during the conflict in Volyn and said that it should not be repeated.

However, in their statement to the special service, the deputies could not retell the content of my speech after watching the film, because they themselves were not present at the presentation. The publications of journalists that were made after the presentation of the film were used for this purpose. How these publications reflected my interpretation of the qualitative characteristics of the “Volyn” film is unknown, because I have not read them and have nothing to do with them.

It turns out that the deputies of the Saeima, having personal hatred towards me for the fact that I did not agree to recognise myself as a louse, did not want to be constantly beaten in the face, and also did not want to be deported, decided to initiate a criminal case against me.

I.e., it was an evident act of revenge carried out by politicians against an opponent publicist with the use of the official position of the complainants, who put pressure on the special services. An act of revenge at this time bore an apparent ethnic motivation.

Three years before this, two other deputies from the same National Alliance party – E. Cilinskis and G. Bērziņš – already initiated criminal proceedings against me. The trial concerning this case is in its second year.

This address made by Russophobic and anti-Semitic (for some reason I was attributed to the Jewish ethnic group) deputies turned out to be enough for the security police to initiate a criminal case against me on April 4th 2018 under part 1 of article 80 of Criminal Law.

The first part of article 80 is formulated as follows:

For activities aimed against the state independence, sovereignty, territorial unity, state authorities, or the state system of the Republic of Latvia, if this activity is carried out in a manner not provided for by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia

Is watching a feature film “activity aimed at the destruction of the Latvian state”?

The Constitution of Latvia in article 100 says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, which includes the right to freely receive, possess, and disseminate information and express his or her views. Censorship is prohibited.

Banning watching this or that movie, and especially expressing a personal opinion about the contents of this movie is real censorship.

The security police, in principle, had no right to consider banning the screening or expressing an opinion about the content of any film, even if it was requested by the deputies of the ruling party, because this act is unconstitutional.

In order to resolve the issue of banning a film, like any other scientific or artistic work, it was necessary to abolish article 100 of the Constitution.

If article 100 of the Constitution is abolished, then the following has to be done:

  1. Create a register of forbidden films;
  2. Determine what interpretation of the content of forbidden films is unacceptable;
  3. Determine the norms of punishment for viewing films specified in this register.

Without doing all of this, the actions of the security police against me can only be called legal arbitrariness.

Meanwhile, the opinion of the security police was supported by the Prosecutor’s Office, which gave permission to pursue me in criminal proceedings. Moreover, this opinion was supported by the duty judge, who made the decision on my preliminary arrest for a period of 6 months, with the motivation “prevention of the commission of a crime”. They clearly had in mind the possibility of viewing other films and me expressing my opinion about them. The superior judge confirmed the decision to keep me in prison for six months for preventive purposes.

In this regard, how is it possible to answer the question of students from the neighbor’s yard “Misters, why are you beating him?”

Another deputy from the ruling party, Ainars Latkovskis, contributed to the pursuit against me. On April 12th 2018 he wrote on an official letterhead of the Seimas to the security police a request to bring me to justice for publishing a post on the Internet in which I expressed my concerns about the content of the upcoming NATO exercises in Latvia.

The reason for my fears was that military exercises had already been held in Latvia, during which methods of suppressing a rebel uprising with the support of Russia were practiced. The media pointed out that the rebels are definitely representatives of the Russian ethnic group.

Here is how the well-known political scientist and expert on American-Russian relations D. Simes describes the scenario of these exercises in the Latvian publication “LSM”:

“It is not at all difficult to imagine scenarios where a certain step of the US or Russia starts a chain of events that end in American and Russian soldiers starting to kill each other. Imagine, for example, the uprising of ethnic Russians in Estonia or Latvia, spontaneous or as a result of the instigation of the Russian security services; the brutal response of the weak police and armed forces; the appeal of ethnic Russians to Putin to stick to the doctrine that was declared by him during the liberation of Crimea — that he will come to defend ethnic Russians wherever they are attacked; the attempt to repeat in the Baltic States the hybrid war against Ukraine; and a clash with a battalion of 600 US soldiers on rotation in the Baltic States”.

Any normal person will be afraid of such a scenario of military exercises that involves an operation to neutralise the representatives of the ethnic group that they belong to. Any normal person will want to share their fears with other people and avoid possible death. These statements will always have an anti-militaristic character and will be directed against the danger of genocide.

My own post about a possible scenario of military exercises wasn’t read or analysed by anyone. The materials of the criminal case include distorted reprints of my post and the comments of other authors.

No one in Latvia has introduced a ban on discussing the content of NATO exercises. My assumption that the exercises will work on joint methods of action between the army and police forces for the neutralisation of conditional “rebels” was soon confirmed.

The “TVNET” website, for example, wrote that the scenario of the May “Hedgehog” exercise involves “light infantry and law enforcement units working on their interaction with the police and border guards concerning internal security tasks”

The Estonian “RUS.ERR.EE” website wrote about the content of the exercise: “We’ll work on how to quickly train Estonian Defence League members so that they can help with police actions. There will also be an international dimension, we will send a request for help to nearby states so that they send a rapid reaction police force. At the same time real raids involving police officers and Defence League members will take place”.

“On August 24, in the framework of the largest in the history of Latvia manoeuvres ‘Namejs 2018’, the Baltic military, together with NATO allies, practiced suppressing uprisings in the cities of Jēkabpils and Valmiera. According to the scheme of the exercises, everything had to start with authorised rallies that, however, when fed from the outside, will quickly develop into attempts to seize power”.

Could my remarks about the content of the film or the hypothesis about the content of future military manoeuvres destroy the state system, state administration, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Latvia? If we understand that the state is a machine of violence and it can only be destroyed by violence, then the answer is no.

And what damage could the expression of opinion by a private person cause? Putting under doubt the opinion of another person or group of persons, or the systematised opinion of somebody else – a doctrine.

The National Alliance has such a doctrine, and its leaders saw my opinion as a threat to their doctrine. However, instead of bringing stronger arguments and defeating me on the ideological field, the representatives of the ruling party resorted to using their power and used measures of force against me. They did it under the guise that the ideology of their party is the state ideology. However, in Latvia there is no officially adopted ideological doctrine and no legal norms that protect it.

It would be logical in Latvia to first approve an official doctrine then adopt laws that protect it, introduce a list of banned books and films, prescribe a procedure of repentance for heretics, and only then resort to more drastic measures.

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