Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Amb. Ilgvars Klava (Ambassador of Latvia to Germany)

27.07.2009 - Interview conducted by Gráinne Toomey

Ambassador Klava’s postings abroad have taken him to Latvia’s embassies in Austria, Belgium, and Germany. From 2004 to 2007, he served as Political Director at the Latvian Foreign Ministry, and was appointed to the post of Ambassador to Germany in 2008. Mr. Klava was a participant at the International Symposium for Cultural Diplomacy and granted the following interview to ICD News. In the interview, he spoke about intercultural initiatives between Latvia and Germany, Latvia's cultural diversity, and the role of small nations in the European Union.

Are you enjoying the International Symposium so far?

Yes. It’s my first time attending this kind of seminar. I did not participate in all of the lectures, but the presentations I did attend, like that of Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga, were very intellectually uplifting.

Can you tell me about some cultural initiatives between Latvia and Germany?

With regards to culture, 2008 was very active. This year is a little quieter because we are under financial constraints, but last year we organized the German-Baltic Culture Year. The events took place in all three Baltic countries, as well as in Germany. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra went to Riga and correspondingly, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra came to Germany. There were a variety of events, such as exhibitions and performances by Latvian choirs and musicians. A concert was also held on Latvia's National Day here in Germany in November.

Cultural events, of course, promote the image of the country. We have some very noted opera singers in Latvia, such as Elina Garanca. An opera festival takes place every year just 40 kilometers outside of Riga in a regional town and a lot of people come from abroad to attend. That too creates a positive image for the country and the culture.

How does your country deal with domestic internal cultural groups and diversity in Latvia?

There are lots of activities going on regarding this. The government is not involved so much, apart from working with larger-scale music festivals; rather, it’s NGOs and private initiative groups which are promoting these activities. In the areas of pop culture and modern music, classical music, and ethnic music, there are many activities being organized by smaller organisations. For instance, pop singers from all over Europe come to the seaside town of Jūrmala for the ‘New Wave’ competition, a week-long event which is held annually. Participants include members of ethnic minorities in Latvia from the Ukrainian and especially from the Russian communities. So this is a good platform for cultural exchange. Also, we have cultural activities on a local level which correspond with historical dates, religious holidays and public celebrations—for example, the anniversary of the founding of a particular city.

I was interested in what Former President Vīķe-Freiberga said in her speech about small nations and the part they can play in the EU. Do you have any thoughts on that?

We have a voice in the European Union, despite our status as a small nation. I think we would be at a greater disadvantage if we weren’t in the E.U. today. Our inclusion in the E.U. affects our everyday lives, and because of it we have to change and adapt. This element of change applies, for example, to economics and also to production and industry, because there is a lot of competition in these fields. We have to find our own specific niche inside the European Union with respect to what we can produce, how we can cooperate with other countries, and where we plug-in, so to speak, in terms of production chains.

How has the Latvian public reacted to European inclusion?

In general, the public response has, of course, been positive. But we are a highly individualistic nation and historically, Latvians are very critical about what their government does. However, E.U. membership has brought us a lot of benefits, including improved funds for infrastructure, as well as opening doors for the younger generation. Not only are young people now able to travel all around Europe, but they also have the possibility of receiving their education abroad, and that's very beneficial. Also, we have to enrich ourselves intellectually, by looking around at what's going on in Europe. I think it’s very important to modernize our country after 50 years of Soviet domination, in order to bring it up to speed with the rest of Europe.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview.