Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
The Hon. Ints Dālderis (Minister of Cultureof Latvia)

30.07.2009 - Interview conducted by Diana Leca

Although Mr. Ints Dālderis was only recently appointed Minister of Culture for the Republic of Latvia, he is by no means a newcomer to his country’s cultural scene. A graduate of the esteemed Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, Mr. Dālderis joined the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra in 1999 as a clarinetist, and six years later became the institution's director. In addition to the National Symphony Orchestra, which he directed for four years, Mr. Dālderis also worked closely with the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, and the Nordic Symphony Orchestra. In 2006, Mr. Dālderis began making the transition to politics and became a member the National Board of Culture, as well as joining the Council of the State Culture Capital Foundation. On March 12th of this year, he was appointed Latvia's Minister of Culture.

Mr. Dālderis spoke at ICD's International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy about the uniqueness of Latvian culture, the power of music as a form of diplomacy, and the lessons other nations can take from the small but resilient Baltic country. Following his lecture, entitled “Diplomacy, Indifference or Tolerance: Latvian Experience of Cultural Power Distribution and Re-Distribution,” Mr. Dālderis was asked by ICD Founder and Director Mark Donfried what two words would best describe Latvian identity. His response: talent and tolerance. Mr. Dālderis granted ICD an interview and spoke about globalization's effect on Latvian identity, Latvia's cultural minorities, the role of music in promoting cultural exchange, and Latvia's new digitalization initiative.

In the face of increased globalization, has Latvian identity become more pluralized in your opinion or more fiercely protected?
That's a very difficult question to answer. In terms of globalization, it's a very real concern for us that the Latvian identity, and everything we understand to be included in that, survives. This is a very important issue for me. This is the reason we have an independent state; we're very strong on the position of survival. But, of course, at the same time we are not against other countries or cultures. In the end, we're all part of one big European identity. We have many different countries with their own heritages and languages, and we must be able to maintain our unique cultures and traditions in order to survive.

You mentioned in your speech that Latvia has a rich variety of minority groups, including a large community of Russians, and that tolerance makes up a large part of Latvian identity. Is meaningful intercultural exchange and dialogue occurring between the various cultural groups within your nation?

Those exchanges happen, of course. We have a very large group of national minorities and they have their own schools, their own arts, and so on. It's not as if we are all ethnic Latvians, rather together we are one nation with a number of unique ethnicities. As a nation, though, I believe we do think quite similarly. But it's not always easy because some people look to Russia as their motherland, rather than Latvia, which is normal, I suppose. On the other hand, sometimes you find that the younger generation actually feels more European than Latvian. For example, there are Russians living in Latvia and therefore living in Europe, who sometimes tend to feel more European than Russian or Latvian.

You were the director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra for four years. Could you expand upon what role music can play in promoting cultural diplomacy? Were there any specific projects that you worked on as director that you would like to elaborate on?

As the director, I had the chance to manage all of our programs. In every program, we had guest conductors, musicians, and soloists from all over the world. I am to happy to say that we had very good international connections. As the manager, I was able to travel to Berlin, to Vienna, and so on, to see what the classical music circles are like there. Many people also came to Latvia to find out how the orchestra plays and what the opera is doing. Every week we had new guests and made new connections with people. This exchange of musicians is very active, especially in the classic music field. I can't think of anything that compares to it.

As for your question about special projects, there were tours to Germany, Switzerland, and Japan. This is the uniqueness of classical music: you can play the same music in Japan or in Latvia and you can understand what it's about. That's because music—not just classical but also popular music—is a common language for people all over the world. I can understand this language; I can speak it. And that's a big advantage for me.

On this topic of the importance of languages, what is being done in Latvia to protect some of the endangered regional and minority languages, such as Livonian? Do you think that the promotion and preservation of linguistic diversity is an important cultural issue for Latvia?

Yes, of course, it’s very important. Especially for these languages, which are not widely spoken. The least spoken is Livonian, which is very old. It must survive, but the problem is that the Livonian language depends on the people who still speak it, and there are just too few of them. It’s not easy because you cannot force anybody to speak Livonian. Of course, we can help them through government support or organizations, but it's impossible to force them.

The Latvian language is also important because there are now perhaps only 1.5 or 2 million people in the world who can speak Latvian, and that's almost nothing [in comparison to other languages]. I think it’s very important that it survives because as I said, our language is a significant part of our national culture. In the last few years we have become very careful and very scared to touch upon such questions of national identity. Saying “I am German” or “I am Latvian” has become difficult. However, saying these things doesn't mean that we are against each other. I think it’s great that we can speak in English here and we are not going to fight with each other. I was in Bayreuth last week for a festival, a German arts event, actually, and I think this kind of thing is important because it is part of the special energy of this nation. I don't think the whole world should start to speak one language and do things in the same way—we would lose something very important.

Could you tell me a bit more about the “Latvian Cultural Heritage Portal,” one of the Ministry of Culture’s “Projects of the 21st Century?” How important is the digitalization of all of Latvia's archives, libraries, and museums in terms of making Latvian cultural resources more available to the general population?

That is a very interesting project. We have the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and also have a special state agency that deals with cultural information systems, which is doing the digitalization of all museums and libraries for us. It is a huge project because there is so much work to be done. With public libraries, there is a very good network—some 900 libraries—and they have a very high digitalization level. The Foundation donated 40 million USD and because of this, the Ministry of Culture was able to make broadband Internet available to all areas of the country. All 900 libraries in Latvia have switched to one network and have a common catalogue. It is one of the most successful projects of its kind in the whole world. In fact, interest in libraries in Latvia has recently increased by 80 percent!

Now even people from the countryside, not just those in Riga, have access to computers and libraries and they are coming together to meet and read books, watching Latvian films, and, of course, to use the Internet. It’s very interesting because it’s never been done in these areas before. It's also important for the older generation. It touched me deeply to see so many elderly people going to the libraries, learning how to type and to use the computers. This is a very special project and I hope it will help to make it easier for Latvians to connect with one another.

Thank you for your time, Minister Dālderis.