Address by the Minister of Culture Nauris Puntulis on the occasion of the forum: Evaluation of the Latvian Centenary Program and Proposed Events for 2020
11th of December, 2019
Dear participants and guests of the Latvian Centenary Forum!
The hundredth birthday in the life of an individual and a country are similar, but by their nature quite different events. Celebrating the anniversary of an individual, we look back to the past - to the achievements of a life that has come to an end. As we celebrate the anniversary of a country, we can’t draw a line because the country is a continuum, it’s as old as ones who created it - the centenarians who have already made their contribution, and those who have just been born and will form their own country - Latvia - in the future. What’s important here is the realization that we’re all - every one of us – the protagonist - and this idea is expressed in the chosen motto of the centenary of Latvia: I am Latvia!
Already in the planning of Latvia's Centenary program, it was important not only to organize grand celebrations, but to be able to convert them into an investment in the future, in this context, less in the material but more in the spiritual sphere of society – in peoples’ civic consciousness, in the moral and intellectual quality of the community.
Every member of the population of Latvia was invited to lend a hand. It was important to address a negative perception that had taken root in certain sections of the community "I love this country, but I don’t love the state", to erase the apparent conflict between "me" and "the state", demonstrating that a democratically built independent state is nothing external to me, rather, a structure and organization formed and moulded by its citizens, civil society. The ambitious goal and objective of the Centenary program has been to encourage every single resident of Latvia to become aware of themselves as a part of Latvia, to instil in each the belief that - if we want a better Latvia, we must start with ourselves by making a contribution to this common goal.
We have been living with the slogan "I am Latvia" for three years now, and that is sufficient time to evaluate how successfully this slogan works and whether it has resonated in the community.
The fact that we view our centenary not as a single event, but as a process involving and engaging many, enables us to talk about its long-term impact.
Looking back at what has already been done, we can assess and evaluate whether the path and direction was right, and also see where the result isn’t as good as was hoped. For example, if we’re thinking about a sense of belonging to Latvia as a whole, there’s still a lot to do, especially with regard to the closer involvement of minorities in the centenary formula "I am Latvia".
Latvia's Centenary program, and especially the budget, has been the subject of much debate. Was Latvia's centenary budget an extravagance at a time when there are so many urgent medical, educational and social needs? There is no contradiction on this account if we look at our country in the long term and in a positive direction. Almost half of the centenary budget is devoted to a new programme, “The Latvian School Bag” which covers all Latvian students and is an investment in their personal development.
This initiative has received recognition in a study conducted by the Latvian Academy of Culture, the results of which will be presented at the forum today. In it, more than a quarter of respondents cite "The Latvian School Bag" as a project that should be continued, although its true results are hard to evaluate as the project has only been going for a year. Latvia's centenary achievements can also be seen in the arts field. The significant contribution to the development of the Latvian film industry is particularly noticeable - we are enriched not only with good films, but more importantly, Latvian cinema goers have regained their faith and interest in Latvian cinema. That means that alongside the creative forces, economic forces have also been engaged and they will strengthen the state budget.
In a similar vein, Latvia's centenary series of historical novels has returned a good portion of its readers to Latvian literature, while participation at the London Book Fair has attracted the interest of international book publishers. All these initiatives have received a great boost by Latvia's Centenary program and have therefore demonstrated the need for a sustainable long-term policy.
In today's forum, it is important to identify and highlight all the things and processes that have been set in motion by Latvia's Centenary program in order to not only continue a successful start, but to consolidate and increase the positive effect already created.
It is equally important to share reflections with our closest neighbours, Estonia and Lithuania, to hear their experiences and insights on the positive results of their centenary. We therefore warmly welcome our Estonian and Lithuanian colleagues today and look forward to their reports and insights.
I’ve heard whispers that we are already tired of celebrating. Is it even possible to maintain an emotional high for five years? This, too, has undoubtedly been a challenge for the creators of Latvia's Centenary program, yet the answer to such sceptics is, in my opinion, a resounding - yes, it is possible. That’s because the program has its own dynamism, is multi-layered and multidimensional in its aims and themes and focuses on a different theme and keyword every year.
This year, the Year of Heroism, is a good example. The focus was on Latvia's freedom struggles, their complicated history, heroes and events. We had a chance to re-live them, both in the reconstructions of events in Liepaja, Cesis and Jelgava, and by watching the emotionally powerful movie Blizzard of Souls. With more than 120 thousand viewers in less than a month, it broke all cinema attendance records since independence was regained.
The keyword for 2020, FREEDOM - opens up a new page in history and the present as we think about the future of Latvia. It offers us a vital question - How clever and profound have we been in using this gift our ancestors fought to provide - the free and independent Latvian state? It will be the year in which we will be able to reflect on our recent history - the Re-awakening of 1990 with its goals and hopes. Are the hard-fought ideals of the Re-awakening the same as the ones we live with today?
Next year, as we celebrate the centenary of the Constituent Assembly, we will, for better or worse, be putting past and present Latvia on the scales. This will be our chance to reflect about freedom as our duty and responsibility, to think about the role of ideals in today's political reality, about how to strengthen civil society in Latvia and promote true democracy in our country in the future. These are the essential tasks that Latvia’s Centenary program sets out for us.
May today's forum give us insights into both our accomplishments and our ongoing efforts to build a better Latvia, an eternal Latvia!