“A drunk British soldier beat a Latvian in Old Riga,” “A British soldier has been detained for a brawl in Riga,” “Police have detained a misbehaving British soldier” – these are the headlines you would have seen in the Latvian press of late. For young Latvian Aksels Aizkalns, the visit to McDonald’s ended in an attack by a British soldier and a broken nose. Some mass media in Latvia and the UK reacted by blaming “pro-Russian activists” for attempting to discredit a NATO soldier.
But in an interview to Delfi.lv, Aizkalns said that when he entered McDonald’s on that day (Nov 2, 05:50 PM), he saw there some 30 British men, who were celebrating something and were already well drunk. Aizkalns joined the queue and was going to buy a warp, when two of the group approached him. One of them grabbed his tie and asked, “Where did you get this tie?”. Aizkalns was asking the British to give him some space, when another man from the company approached. He was so drunk that Aizkalns was first unable to understand what he was saying. He was about to answer when he heard the following phrase, “I’ll count to ten and if you’re not gone by then, I’m going to punch you in the face.” The other two began laughing. Aizkalns was puzzled. “I thought perhaps it was some joke or perhaps that man had eaten something wrong.” “Why would you punch me?” I asked. . “Cause you are full of bullshit,” one of the British men said. The others began laughing again. Aizkalns was dumbfounded. He was standing where he was, not knowing what to say or do. All of a sudden, he found himself surrounded by the men and the next moment his nose was bleeding.
“I am writing this not to tell you about my broken nose. The reason is that the next day, when I was getting ready for surgery, I received a message from my friend, which contained a link to a Telegraph.co.uk article headlined ‘Russian Pro-activists attack British soldiers in Riga.’ The first thing that came to my mind was perhaps they are talking about those very soldiers, but when I started to read, I saw that they were talking about my incident and that very McDonald’s where after beating me, those 30 British men were yelling, ‘We are British soldiers!’. Reading further, I realized it was about the incident with me, but the story in The Telegraph was “a bit modified,” or truly speaking, it was a blatant lie. It was like one more punch in the head for me. When I imagined how many people were reading that lie at that moment, I realized how easy it has become nowadays to manipulate the crowd,” Aizkalns said.
Very soon, he saw copies of the article in the Latvian press. “Delfi, Tvnet and Apollo just copied the article without caring to find out what had actually happened. They just took Telegraph’s words for granted. My friends tried to tell the people the truth by posting comments at Delfi’s portal, but the comments were deleted. It lloked like we are too few on the side of the truth, but we wanted to shed light on the propaganda. Noteworthily, I was at the surgery at that moment. How did they manage to get the information so soon? I do not think one should go too far looking for the answers. In the comments to the article on Delfi, we saw comments about ‘the Russian anarchy’ and ‘Putin’s plans.’ And I realized that we are just robots! We trust everything we hear from the press! We eat whatever they in the politics give us! This article was a vivid example of how one can kindle hatred and spread a lie. Just imagine that each second article may be as ‘objective’ as this one,” Aizkalns says.
Many people were surprised to see Aizkalns’s story at Delfi.lv, but since it was published in Latvian only and since the British press refrains from making it known to its readers, people in Great Britain still believe that what happen in Riga was “a pro-Russian provocation against NATO soldiers.”