According to a report in the Baltic Times, seven foreign tourists have been arrested in Riga for damaging Latvian flags: The men were visibly drunk, and officers found more damaged Latvian flags on them, but the vandals had managed to throw some of the flags in the river. The young men have been taken to a police station, and are facing criminal prosecution for desecrating a national symbol.
In recent years the growth of tourism in Riga, fuelled by the availability of cheap flights, has sadly gone hand-in-hand with a rise in bad behaviour. Most notorious are the Brits and (to a lesser extent) Scandinavians, although in this latest case the tourists are said to be Spanish and Portuguese.
The most infamous incident occurred in November 2006, when a British man was arrested for urinating on the city’s Freedom Monument. One of Riga’s best loved landmarks, it was built during the first period of independence and somehow survived during the Soviet era (although a Lenin statue was placed nearby). People laying flowers at the base of the monument risked being deported to Siberia, and it is not surprising that it still carries a powerful symbolic charge. In March of this year, another British tourist found himself in trouble for urinating close to the monument while his friends took photographs of the act.
The British Embassy offers a series of very basic tips for those in any doubt about acceptable behaviour, but it really just comes down to a bit of courtesy. Clearly it hasn’t worked as in desperation the Embassy has more recently tried to ram the message home by handing out leaflets and beer mats (if anyone can scan one of those then let me know and I’ll post it).
All the signs are that this summer things will continue in the same vein, alienating people who actually live in the city – including the police. It is not entirely surprising that Riga’s police have a reputation for being less than fully interested when things go wrong for drunken groups (of which more another time…)
I hope that any of my readers living in (or visiting) the Baltics enjoyed last night, and want to wish them a happy Jāņi (Latvia), Jaanipäev (Estonia) or Joninės (Lithuania). If anyone managed to find one of those mythical flowering ferns, please let me know! For resort and hotel advertising try Luxury-resort-guide. I came across a traditional Latvian Jāņi song yesterday in the Rough Guide to the Baltic States, which makes clear the association of Midsummer festivities with the theme of fertility. It was translated by Valdis Muktupāvel.