I’ve belatedly realized that discussing the Latvian free speech crisis in the context of a post on democracy promotion misses the forest for the trees. And while I don’t want to inflate the severity of the issue, throwing an economic pessimist in jail for speaking truth to power fundamentally undermines the principle of free, unfettered discourse. Even if you think certain communal restrictions on individual speech are warranted, economic forecasting is one issue that demands vigorous public debate.
As I wrote earlier, I was lucky enough to visit Riga several times as an undergraduate. It was a lovely experience, and the country’s recent history – from de facto Soviet colony to a vibrant, independent nation – is absolutely inspiring, which makes this recent turn of events all the more disheartening. Here’s the original WSJ article on the crisis, as well as Clay Risen’s commentary for TNR. Apparently, a Latvian pop star was also detained for making disparaging remarks about the country’s financial woes.
For more English-language commentary, here’s an excellent blog on the Latvian economy whose author also posts at a Fistful of Euros. Juris Kaža, a Latvian journalist, recently started an indispensable blog that follows the government’s free speech crackdown. Pēteris Cedriņš’ excellent site also features a good round-up of English-language commentary. These two posts from All About Latvia were particularly informative.
In most cases, drawing attention to free speech restrictions in a foreign country is a futile effort, but my own experience suggests that Latvians value their nascent democratic institutions and aspire to full acceptance within the Western community of nations. Given these sensitivities, an uproar among American and European media outlets might actually deter the Latvian Government from pursuing its absurd restrictions on freedom of speech. If you’re so inclined, I heartily encourage you to make some noise.