It's not often that a senior government minister in a European Union member state makes an overtly racist joke on live TV, still rarer that he keeps his job and indeed escapes any sort of censure after doing so.
But that’s what happened when Latvia’s interior minister, Rihards Kozlovskis, quipped back in May that a trouble-making citizen should be shipped off to a Caribbean island. “If we still had Tobago, maybe we could send him there!” Kozlovskis said. At the time, the interviewer didn’t challenge the statement, and, a few hours later, the minister issued a vague apology and that was the end of that.
Tobago, an island in the Caribbean, was briefly an overseas colony of the Duchy of Kurzeme during the 17th century. Kurzeme is today the westernmost region of Latvia.
The man Kozlovskis was joking about is Beness Aijo, a Latvian citizen and self-styled revolutionary who had just been arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the state. In an unusual twist for Latvia, where ethnicity is of such paramount importance it is included in passports, Aijo is black.
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Mike Collier is a journalist based in Latvia.