Q1. A component of this symposium has dealt with the ways in which music can be used as an instrument of cultural diplomacy. Having yourself had a distinguished musical career, what role would you say music plays in relation to soft power and cultural diplomacy?
Music is a universal language for the whole world. Music touches our souls. I think that many governments and leaders have used soft power and the power of music for different goals, but I think music is a very effective part of soft power. I have played all over the world, and as a musician I think that music is mostly used for good reasons. I am from a small country and not many people know about my small country and I hope that through playing my instruments and travelling with orchestra’s, that people see my country as musical. The image of a country is very important especially in this globalised world.
Q2. Latvia has a large Russian minority; by some estimates nearly one third of the population is of Russian descent. How well are Russian people integrated into Latvian society? What can be done to create a more unified Latvia?
The integration of the two cultures is not done very well. I think that this was a mistake during the 90s because it was tough time and i think that we didn’t take the time to organise our cultures and society. I think that we should take the time to make our society more united. The situation was very challenging then but we went through it without any trouble or any violence. There were some people in Russia who I think would have liked to have used this situation to make the Lativian government weaker, which is not the official point of view from the Russian government but there are people who want to restore the great power of the Soviet Union. The Russians who live in Lativia see themselves as Russian and not as European, but the younger generations are growing up feeling more a part of Europe but they still feel that their president is President Medvedev not the Latvian president. This is why i would like to see out society more united but it is not so easy, maybe with time, but i don’t know really what else can be done to help with integration. The government is talking about it a lot but we can’t use any power, we must show that to be a part of Europe which consists of many different states and cultures is a big advantage for them. This is the only way. The situation is not as sensitve of explosive as 15 years ago but of course we can still for some kind of way to make them feel more Latvian.
Q3. Latvia was one of the worst hit countries in the EU during the economic crisis; by some measures, the GDP of the country declined by 26.54% from 2008-2010. What kind of impact has this had on daily life? What measures are being implemented to combat this?
Last year we had the biggest financial crisis in Europe ever and it affected us all. Now of course the impact is very serious and has affected everyone’s daily life. Now the situation is more stable. The Ministry of Culture lost a lot of money during these times but it seems to be getting better. It was really a tough time for me because it was my first time in politics and I had to figure out how to deal with this and what decisions to make to survive. Five years ago Latvia was the fastest growing economy in the world and we fell the deepest because of the crisis. Unfortunately we are now back at the same point as we were five years ago. The infrastructure which was put in place is still there so hopefully we can build ourselves back up.
Q4. Latvia became a member of both the EU and NATO in 2004. What changes has this brought to the country? Has being a part of two such supranational entities brought about changes in the collective cultural identity of the people?
We see Latvia as a national country we are very proud and we are different but we are also Europeans. We are part of Europe but we are different. We have different values and traditions and cultures. As the Minister of Culture I am responsible for its survival.
Interview conducted by Hannah Moysey