“Latvia never lost its independence, but regained it in 1991.”
We had a delightful trip to Latvia, a nation which has a remarkable history of success, survival and revival. As a Finn who was born in 1970, there was very little I knew about Latvia in the old days, during an era when former Soviet Union still exercised its occupation and bluntly put, brutal violence towards this fine Baltic country; the Iron Curtain shaded, in all of its evil might, an entire nation and culture from the outside observer. During a certain time of this brutality, the Latvians themselves represented only a little more than 50% of the population.
Thus I did not really know what to expect from the trip, as this was the first time for both of us. Having met Latvians already in Helsinki, we had however noticed their professionalism and warm spirit, combined with what I would like to call classic European civilised manners. Latvians are, in a word, approachable.
But the country itself still remained somewhat a mystery, and despite our – prior to travel – frantic Internet searches and reviews of articles, blogs and online publications, we were left with the most rudimentary questions still open: what is it like being in Latvia, hanging out in the Old Town of Riga, riding the tram, going to the supermarket – in other words questions familiar to all, who are about to embark on a trip to a country previously unseen.
Little did we know. Perhaps I was in particular worried about potential Soviet era – damage still to be seen, after all, 1991 is not that far behind us. Not just in the physical sense, but what would the Latvian identity and national heritage, along with culturally significant dimensions and surroundings of everyday life, appear like to the visitor? Little did we know. Latvia never lost its independence, but regained it in 1991.
Upon arrival, we could get our first glimpses as the Air Baltic jet was descending over the Riga Bay and the city itself, with its surroundings emerging beneath us. We could immediately spot one of the Riga landmarks, the Riga Central Market which itself qualifies for a full day of enjoyment for the traveler, and of course the Riga city landscape with its outstanding architecture, both modern and historical. River Daugava welcomed us with sparkling reflections of sunlight. This was, as we later discovered, a sign of days to come.
There was a fairly tight schedule over the duration of five days, including excursions to locations well outside Riga, and from early on in the mornings until late evenings we enjoyed the hospitality of Latvia, kindly supervised and organised by LIAA (Investment and Development Agency of Latvia) as well as LIVE RIGA (The Riga Tourism Development Bureau Foundation). With LIAA we became connected earlier this year, during an event held in Helsinki, Experience Latvia.
Latvia is in good hands. It is in Latvian hands. I was delighted to experience a nation which had gone through such difficult times, yet it had not only retained its identity – it had in fact become a significant player in the European part of the world, in fields ranging from business, art, culture and collaboration (this year Latvia holds the EU presidency). My fears were all pointless.
Today, Latvia is a strong European nation with a clear direction. Did you know that in Latvia, senior management positions are held by women (44%), highest proportion in Europe and second highest in world? Or that a significant part of the buildings in Riga reflect the Art Nouveau architecture (in fact considerably more than in the rest of the world)? For more information about Latvia, please visit www.latvia.eu.
Finnish people in particular would benefit from traveling to Latvia. It turns out that there are surprising connections between Latvia and Finland, not just in the business but also in the cultural venues. For example, Teuvo Tulio (Theodor Antonius Tugai, 23 August 1912 – 8 June 2000), a well known Finnish film director and actor, has in fact Latvian roots! His influence is still prevalent in the Finnish film industry, including and reaching up to contemporary directors such as Aki Kaurismäki.
After the trip I clearly had two things in my mind. First, Latvia is a country that made a very positive impression on us, and we will certainly return. Second, I became interested in the Latvian history and discovered this web site: latvianhistory.com, which not only provides for a wealth of information but also a gem by Maris Goldmanis, namely the freely available E-book “Latvian History: An Outline”, which I warmly recommend as a source of gaining insight into the past and present of Latvia.
In regards to today’s tensions in the Europe, I came to a conclusion that no-one could “import” – free or forced – anything to Latvia that the Latvians were supposedly not capable or willing to accomplish or acquire. In fact Latvians clearly have a very good grip on their heritage and are making excellent results in being Latvia, and the people, Latvians. It is impossible to better that. This applies to all Baltic states and in general, to all sovereign nations. Hear this, presidents of big countries?
My better half will soon provide for more comprehensive articles and photography about our wonderful days in Latvia in her blog, while I continue to learn about Latvia, write my little short stories in Finnish and likely with the help of Rozentāls-seura r.y., in particular try to get my hands on in Latvian literature. I have also learned three words in Latvian: