Amb. Roland Lappuke (Ambassador-at-Large, Latvian Foreign Ministry)

23.09.2011 - Interview conducted by Zoe Bengerbi, Souad Amiri & Clara López Pruñonosa

Q1.This is the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, and today we are interviewing His Excellency, Ambassador Roland Lappuke of Latvia. So we’re going to ask you a few questions. The first question, I am interested to know as I have been to Latvia, and I saw a country that really wanted to strive to have its own identity, as a country that has disappeared and been occupied and I would like to know to you personally, what does it mean to be Latvian? And what do you think is an intrinsic part of Latvian identity, society and culture?

Well to be a Latvian citizen, it is an intrinsic part of the whole Latvian society to speak Latvian is to know its history, as genetically not everyone who lives in Latvia comes from that group. What the French would say ‘les Lettons de souche.’ I don’t know how you say people stemming from there? We have a lot of people who have arrived here during centuries and most of them identify themselves with the Latvian state, and want to be, or are Latvian citizen so it depends on what does it mean to identify yourself as Latvian. It's impossible to say because Latvians think very differently; we have a lot of parties and we have had people from all extremes and we have suffered from all ideologies, some speak Latvian. I feel sensitive to Latvian folk songs -they can even make me cry. I know a lot of songs in other languages but none of them have had this influence on me, so maybe this is it, this is the language I have heard when I was a young baby and lullabies and this is why I cry.

Q2. So, I would like to ask you since you have talked about the Baltic Sea region, so in comparison to the Mediterranean Region, is there any cooperation with, or are there any organisations which are acting to develop the region or is it not the same?

I think very often we are given as an example the Mediterranean Sea, we have, we come from the same mentality, and hadn’t there been a totalitarian fifty years we would have quite the same mentality, although most of it is Protestant in origin, the other part Catholic. But what does it mean? Eight countries around the Baltic Sea belong to the European Union, and only one does not belong which is Russia in two pieces, one in Kaliningrad and the other at St. Petersburg. Everybody understands if you don’t work together you are a loser, so if you want a win-win situation, well you have to work together -so yes we are working from the very beginning. So I would say within the Baltic States, we started more in the field of security already in 1993, but then it developed with the Nordic countries. Very often we have what we call the ‘5+3,’ 5 Nordic countries plus 3 Baltic countries, and then in the last years the European commission has come with the initiative of a strategy for the Baltic Sea region. And it is a precedent for the European Commission, because its not only a strategy concerning countries and the region, it is a strategy concerning countries and the region and different aspects, so even for them its an exercise that there are three, general directions, so there is a horizontal work also we are talking about the environment, we talking about education and we have actually a very strong cooperation; 2 days ago Riga participated just to listen to what we have done in the field of innovation. There is a very hard work being done, and very concrete work. Then outside the European Union we have a so-called Council for the Baltic Sea states which includes also Russia, and there its working especially if Russia is interested to participate, if not you can’t force on anybody.

Q3. As you said, the Baltic Sea country system can be done as an example to the Mediterranean countries, what mechanism can inspire the Mediterranean union to overcome the conflicts which it knows right now, and go beyond these conflicts to form a real union of cooperation

Well, what I know, and forgive me because I’m not a specialist, but I went and worked in Europe, and have also been non-residing ambassador to Morocco so I have some knowledge but it is not the knowledge of an expert. What I understand is that one of the obstacles for the cooperation of, lets say, northern Africa with the European Union is that in northern Africa there is not the facilitation of the cooperation because they are not able to cooperate with each other, so each of them is cooperation with the European Union, but you know there is conflict between Morocco and Algeria, Tunisia. In the new situation we don’t know anything because we don’t have even a clear picture of what will be the next government in Egypt and not talking about Libya. But more or less I think it is a what I see part of what I wanted to say in the principles somehow are clear; you want to cooperate and you look for the projects. This is the method which I think is the best thing you can have in politics, and I remember in the beginning of the union for the Mediterranean seat was not even the name, I don’t remember which ambassador of which country said what, but with regards to the project he said it's wonderful, it's something pertinent, and if you work properly on those projects, you’ll have money for them and things will develop. And when you cooperate, the ties are getting easier, let’s say, it’s taking off all the pressure, so the only way to make a progress is to do it, to cooperate. And you can have any pretexts for not being able to do anything, but even the real issue is you or yourself and the capacity of countries within … territory for example to cooperate. Well let's look at these issues separately, but we could still work. One of the projects I was mentioning, which is a pile of projects being copied, I heard, by the Mediterranean about how to deal with sea water, so its relevant. I mean everybody needs it and there is no reason in the world why you couldn’t do it in northern Africa, as well as in southern Italy etc.

Q4. You have described how the Baltic countries emancipated themselves from the Soviet Union, around 20 years ago, and how it was done in a peaceful and… really most of the people wanted to become independent and wanted to get rid of the Soviet Union basically, so you see that there was a lot of consensus among society, but 20 years after this you see there are countries like in Lithuania where the percentage of people that actually go and vote for politicians is quite low to compare to the other European countries, and I am wondering is this also the case in Latvia? And how do you educate your youth in the values of freedom and democracy?

For the last part of the question I can talk about me and my children otherwise it’s a long time since I have been to school, and what I have heard is Latvians are always complaining, so we are complaining as well for some kind of strategy for social integration, that we are the least educated in civic issues. Well maybe, but a week ago on the 17th we had the elections. These elections were not the ‘regular ones,’ we had elections a year ago when we had 66% participation (I don’t remember exactly), and then in-between the previous president called for a dissolution of the parliament in May. So if he calls for that the people have to go to the referendum, again 60% or 70% went, and 93% were for the dissolution, why? Because of some discredit of the politicians, because of mainly corruption. It was a [unknown word] against I would not say against the parliament, but against the oligarchy, which is too involved, let's say, in our politics. Now we have the elevations, 60% of the people came, 60% means actually more because of the fact that after the crisis and during the crisis, hundreds of thousands of Latvians have left Latvia. It is a wound that we have in our population, and I don’t know how we shall recover, but it is the case. So 60% of participation for me, means maybe 75%. Somehow the Latvian nation has never failed almost in all in elections, there was once for the European parliament for maybe 45% -so obviously Brussels seems farther away, and does not belong to our understanding or to our mental map. Latvia used the referendum to express themselves again for the dissolution and for the adhesion for Europe, -we’re the second most positive, believe it or not to adhere to Europe in 2003 after Malta, if you take mathematically the results. In the voting there is a consolidation of the party -somehow there is always one new party (and this is not of the president) to declare to announce the dissolution, but there are only 5 parties believe me is progress, and people have the possibility to cross if they like somebody, or to strike it out if they don’t like so there are three ways of voting; do nothing, so he has make a normal point, or one point more if there is a cross, and one point less if he is stricken out. Well a few ministers didn’t make it the party did but the ministers did not ,so would you say there is a lack of interest, they are following very accurately -I’m not saying each of them was properly evicted, but they make their choice, so of course when you ask them, when you ask Latvians (who are never happy) what do you think of the election they will say “here is nobody to vote for” but they voted and made a choice which is very relevant, very adequate and all those small parties, there were I think 8 more, had up to 2 points, so most of them under 1 point. I think is very mature, and a very decent result, I would say so. So I don’t know about Lithuania, but in Latvia, yes, we can always talk about the lack of maturity, a lack of knowledge, but at least there is no lack of interest people, if they understand they have a say, they punish.

Q5. I would like to ask you if you can describe to us the situation concerning cultural diplomacy in the Baltic Sea region. Are there any projects? Is the region somehow active in cultural diplomacy field?

Well, within the region we don’t have so many conflicts to deal with, so we don’t need… except let's say with Russia maybe which it should because its former occupying country etc. But we have a Russian theatre in Riga, and there is a lot taking place. There is not much ‘cultural diplomacy’ as I understood… I remember from the UNESCO, we don’t need it that much. I remember… the Israeli ambassador to Paris, he was I think director to the European museum in Brussels. He said “I don’t know what is dialogue or civilisations. I have less problem to talk to a moderate Muslim than to an American neo-conservative,” so my experience is that exactly the same, you can talk with any moderate people, from any religion. If you find a radical person whoever he is, whatever the ideology, there will be no dialogue. In our region, there is even nothing much to deal with. So there is, as such, a strong cooperation in culture, so this is diplomacy of course, as such, but there is nothing to regulate. For example in 2014, Riga will be European Capital of Culture, with Swedish city which is also part of it. So this is part of it, but in Latvia we don’t need a special policy it comes naturally, this would be my opinion, and even I would say even I was talking about Russia, you know in Latvia we have education in eight languages, so what more? We have classes also, not special schools, but classes for Roma. I’m not talking about the more that one hundred Russian schools and Jewish schools etc., so there is a tradition of dealing with minorities. A tradition which would be quite the contrast to what you have in France for example where there are no minorities. It's another tradition and what I have not said I have made very dense my speech may be too dense, but since 1561 the end of the Teutonic order in Latvia there hasn’t been any war until the Second World War, or war because of religion. So we have different languages living together, different religions, and that’s it. Until the Second World War there was no problem with it. We’re a northern people and a northern mentality, so cultural diplomacy, as answered by the Portuguese representative, I know Portugal very well, he said well, there is the European cultural diplomacy, and of course we do it.