For those of you who do not follow Latvian politics: a new government is expected to be formed this month. One of the candidates for Prime Minister's office, Mr Zalāns, has given an interview to the weekly Privātā dzīve, in which, among other things, he declared his dislike of Riga. Riga, according to Mr Zalāns, is unjustly presented as an ideal by many Latvians, while in reality it is not human-friendly and is full of traffic jams.
On traffic jams, one cannot help agreeing with Mr. Zalāns. And still, I suspect I am not the only person for whom open contempt of Riga seems incompatible with the duties of a political leader for this country. Just like the open contempt for public media which Mr Zalāns demonstrated in the same interview.
Riga is not merely the engine of Latvia’s social and economic development. It is the core around which the culture, politics and society of Latvia as a civilised nation have developed. While the concept of Latvia emerged in the 19th century, Riga is 800 years old. Riga merchants sent their goods on Hansa ships to Lubeck and Bruges at the time when England and France were still engaged in the Hundred Years’ War and not all of the Bysatine Empire was conquered by the Ottomans. Riga has seen the Reformation, Enlightenment and a number of regime changes and every time provided political and intellectual responses to the challenges of history. Here, Herder picked some of his quaint ideas on national cultures, Wagner composed music and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa married Licy Wolff.
Recently, an international expert has recommended the Latvian Institute to promote Latvia in the world by branding and promoting Riga, because it is the better known of the two. And in some circles, both at home and abroad, it is not associated primarily with stag parties, cheap beer and traffic jams. But that, perhaps, is something that Mr. Zalāns still has to learn.