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Photo: Theresa Eisenhut / www.youthmedia.eu, (cc-by-nc)
Typical Bavarian singing as found in "those small villages" in southern Germany. Is Europe a threat for such local cultures?

A conversation with Latvia's former Minister of Culture about national identity, heritage, and cultural protectionism.

E&M: Mr. Dālderis, how has the crisis hitting Latvia affected your work as the country's former Minister of Culture?

Dalderis: We reduced expenses for practically everything. But I am proud because we didn't lose anything, not a single Latvian cultural institution was closed. And this is very important. Almost every month we lose one language in the world. Latvian culture and language are in the happy position of having a state which protects 'Latvianness' and helps it to survive.

"Protecting 'Latvianness'" sounds as if you perceive any influence as a threat...

I am not such a nationalist. I am modern and I understand that the world should be open in terms of culture. No culture is better than another. Passing diversity on to the next generation is not just Latvia's responsibility, but everyone's. And culture is the only reason for nation states in Europe to exist. …

What problems are Europe's nation states facing in preserving their culture?

The biggest one is demographics, which is particularly serious for Latvia. How will the Latvian language and culture survive if we do not have enough members of our society? So what we have to do is develop a good immigration strategy. Immigration is not just about avoiding the bad people. It is about keeping the Latvian state in existence. Through immigration, and through integration. If everyone speaks Russian and Chinese it won't be Latvia anymore. If we didn't have our own language, we would already be part of Sweden, because this would be a perfect match in all other terms!

ints_dalderis_minister_sInts Dālderis

Ints Dālderis was Latvian Minister of Culture from March 2009 until November 2010. He is a member of the New Era Party and also an accomplished clarinettist. E&M had the opportunity to delve into his opinions on cultural diversity, soft power, and national identity during an academy of the institute for cultural diplomacy in Berlin.

So is your concept of cultural diversity in the world based on cultural homogeneity and purity within the nation state?

I am talking about integration, not assimilation. If there is something called Germany, it is very important to have a German language there, a German way of thinking, a German point of view. The nation should be a place where language and culture are cultivated. Not against anyone, but rather for them.

A Latvian way of thinking – what would that be?

It is of course hard to define, but nations do have a distinct character. Latvians are introverts, a bit slow. However, very talented. They have lived under the Germans, the Poles, the Russians, the Swedes, that's why tolerance in Latvia is traditionally high. Compared to the Germans or the French, who have had their own states for a long time, the Latvians, who have only been independent since 1991, don't have enough experience yet to rule their own country. In the financial crisis many didn't understand how money circulates in the economy, what real democracy means etc.

The Latvians, a bit slow in the uptake, but nice… What do you think a typical German is like?

In my opinion you have to go to the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. I have been there twice. This is the heart of Germany. In no other part of the world do people sit for seven hours and listen to slow music.

Many Germans would probably hesitate to call Wagner the heart of their contemporary country.

Take those small villages in Bavaria: Garmisch or Ruppolding or whatever it is called. These men from brass bands playing music together – fantastic! That is the real Germany! It would be sad to lose these traditions.

christianChristian

Diemer 

Aged 25 and originally from Leipzig in Germany, Christian has been an author with E&M since issue #5! He has almost finished studying composition, musicology, German literature and arts management and to him Europe is "one of the most exciting and multilayered (cultural) landscapes in the world!"

Where would you draw the line between fostering regional or national culture in Europe and cultural protectionism?

I will give you an example: Russia doesn't accept that Latvia is part of Nato, the EU etc, and some people there think that Latvia should be part of Russia. They pressurise us with soft power, for which they spend a lot of money. For example, if a Latvian TV company wants to buy the permission to broadcast a European movie, it will be very expensive. If it is a Russian movie, it is almost for free. They use culture as a weapon to achieve a political target.

Isn't fostering Latvian culture a political target as well?

Of course it is. And in the end it comes down to comparing two competing cultures, a perfectly positive thing… It may have sounded negative, but it is normal, it is the best way to reach the target. And even more: instead of actually making Latvians become Russian, it brings our two cultures closer to each other. In Riga this has given us an immense Russian band scene, which as a Minister of Culture I always supported.

The biggest value of the EU lies in its cultural diversity and its educational level.

You have talked a lot about how Latvian culture needs to be protected from being overrun by globalisation and cultural hegemony. Is it right that Latvia is part of the EU?

Of course it is right, it is the only way to survive in cultural diversity. Globally, the EU can compete as a serious player only if it is united as much as possible, economically and politically. But at the same time the greatest value of the EU lies in its cultural diversity and its educational level.

Is that your personal opinion or the opinion of the people of Latvia?

Many people in Latvia wouldn't agree with that. Many are looking for someone to blame in the crisis. They feel more Latvian than European, but they are in Europe.

Do they feel European in a way?

The youngest groups in society do. And seriously, no one would go back to the situation we had before we joined.

On the issue of language politics, see also this article from issue #2 of E&M.

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Photo: Diemer
Sharp! The former minister with E&M author Christian Diemer.

Interview by Christian Diemer.

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