“A gay club instead of the Russian theatre in Riga” or the power of imagination in Russian propaganda

The presence of Mārtiņš Staķis, the Mayor of Rīga, at the opening of the LGBTQ-friendly club Skapis has alarmed Kremlin propagandists. As on other occasions, they distorted the news and added completely fabricated claims to create more resonance. In this case, they claimed that Staķis, who allegedly inaugurated the “gay club”, has decided to close the Russian Theatre and rename Wagner Street (Vāgnera iela) because of its similarity to the name of a Russian combat unit. Neither Staķis nor anyone else is planning to close the Riga Russian Theatre, and no one is planning to rename Wagner Street.

On 7 March Olga Skabeyeva, one of the most prominent Kremlin propagandists, emphasised on Rossija1 that the Mayor of Rīga personally attended the opening of Skapis. She added that the atmosphere at the event was typically European – one of chaos and sodomy, and went on to say that:

“Here’s what else matters: the same Staķis is promising to close the Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre.”

The Kremlin’s Rossiya1 news broadcast Vesti reported:

“He was applauded when he announced that a new gay club was the result of two years of hard work. According to Staķis, this is just the beginning. Rīga has new priorities. In the future there will be more gay clubs in the city, but the Chekhov Russian Theatre will close. The demolition of the Pushkin and Mstislav Keldysh monuments is in the pipeline. In addition, the mayor has decided to change the name of the street named after the German composer Wagner.”

The Russian propaganda website Tsargrad, in an article headlined “A Rainbow Club Instead of the Russian Theatre. The Mayor of Rīga has Set the Priorities of the City” explains the decision behind renaming Wagner Street. The website says that Staķis has promised to rename it “because of the unpleasant association with the Russian private combat unit with the same name fighting in Ukraine”. As is well known, the Wagner Group is a private military formation whose mercenaries are taking part in the war launched by Russia in Ukraine.

Headlines on Russian propaganda sites: “The Russian Theatre Closes in Rīga Because of a Gay Club” and “A Rainbow Club Instead of the Russian Theatre. The Mayor of Riga has Set the Priorities of the City”.

In reality, Staķis did not talk about any new priorities for the city and did not say that there will be more gay clubs in Rīga. Nor is there any truth to the claims that Staķis or anyone else has decided to close the Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre or rename Wagner Street. “The Mayor of Rīga has never called for or planned anything like this and has never spoken about it. These are absolute lies. We don’t even have a clue as to what the origin of these lies might be,” Aleksis Zoldners, Staķis’ advisor, told Re:Check. The Ministry of Culture of Latvia also denied any plans to close the theatre: “The Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Drama Theatre is a limited company of the Ministry of Culture. There is no question of its closure or liquidation.” Re:Check also did not find that Staķis or any other officials had talked about the potential closure of the theatre and/or changing the name of Wagner Street.

The Rīga City Council has also not decided and in the near future does not plan to decide on the dismantling or relocation of the monument to Russian writer Alexander Pushkin and the bust of USSR academician Mstislav Keldysh. The Rīga Monuments Agency has suggested it, but Mayor Staķis has pointed out that this was just a recommendation and there will be no quick decisions on the question.

It should be noted that the Russian media “news” about the participation of Staķis in the opening of the club Skapis summarises almost all the main propaganda messages about Latvia and Europe in general. Consequently, they point to its alleged Russophobia, Nazi tendencies and disregard for history, neglect and turning away from the so-called traditional or family values.

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