Sunday, January 11, 2015

Things to Think about in 2015

The website LatviansOnline recently published an excellent article by journalist Kārlis Streips. He wrote about what Latvians can expect for this year. Much of the article focuses on geopolitical issues, but the last several paragraphs have wonderful suggestions for Latvians living outside of Latvia. These recommendations are so good that I'm taking the liberty to re-post the three paragraphs and add some of my thoughts below that.

What can you do if you live in Chicago or London or Perth or Walla Walla? If you are religious, pray for Latvia. If you have the wherewithal, you can help financially. The Vītols Foundation, for instance (, administers hundreds of scholarships to help needy students pursue a higher education. You can set up one of your own if you wish.

But above all, come visit! Not right now. It’s sloppy and messy outside with snow and especially slush. But think about it during the summer. I know that the American Latvian Association will once again be running its “Hi, Latvia” programme for American Latvian teenagers. I know this because one of my nephews will be one of those to take part. Why not come along with your kid? If you’ve never been here, I recommend it. Architecture fans will be agog at the variety of architectural styles, particularly Art Nouveau, that can be seen in Rīga. Countryside types can visit hundreds of guesthouses and inns all across the country (see for a list). It is a sad fact that during the summer, most of Latvia’s cultural institutions are shut down, but if you come in the spring or the autumn, there will be hardly an evening when you will not be able to attend a world-class theatrical or musical performance of one type or another. Come. You won’t regret it.

And keep on reading “Latvians Online.” Keep on reading Latvian news portals. Be up on what’s going on here, particularly if you are a citizen of the Republic of Latvia and plan to or have been taking part in elections. All of us have only these 64,569 square kilometres (almost precisely the same size as West Virginia in the United States) of cherished motherland. For all intents and purposes, the fact that ours is the independent Republic of Latvia is something of a miracle. It could all have gone differently both in the early 1920s and in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We can all work to make it a better place. Of course, that is easier done if one actually lives here (in September it will be 25 years since I fetched up on these shores – where does the time go?), but, as noted, there are things that you can do, too. You can polish up your Latvian language skills, for instance. Yes, it’s not the easiest language in the world what with all of the cases and declinations and diacritical markings and what not, but knowing Latvian will allow you and your friends to talk about Americans or Canadians or Australians without them knowing what you’re saying. That’s something. And definitely make sure that your kids learn the language. Three hours on Saturday at the local Latvian school and six weeks at a summer camp won’t do the trick if you don’t lay the foundation at home. Perhaps one day your children will want to live and work in Latvia. That won’t work without the language. Don’t deny them the opportunity.

Happy New Year, everyone! It is wonderful that our country is free. (Karlis Streips, from

I completely agree with Streips on all of these points. Last year's trip to Latvia was the best way imaginable to reconnect with my Latvian roots. While many people travel to Latvia in the summer, I second Streips' recommendation to do so in the spring or fall - May and September in particular are excellent months from both cultural and weather standpoints. Just taking a look at the Latvian National Opera's website one sees that April features 22 performances, May contains twenty, while June has only thirteen.
Park in front of Latvian National Opera
He also mentions trips organized by the American Latvian Association (ALA), and I can sincerely endorse those. ALA organizes three types of trips every summer: "Sveika, Latvija!" is for Latvian-American teens who have just graduated from a Latvian weekend school in the U.S. and speak Latvian; "Heritage Latvia" is for an English-language trip for teenagers of Latvian heritage; "Hello, Latvia!" is an excellent choice for adults interested in visiting Latvia on an in-depth guided tour. Having served as a chaperone for a "Sveika, Latvija!" trip a number of years ago, I can attest to the fact that these are incredibly well-developed tours that show the participants almost all corners of Latvia, and teach the participants a great deal about the country's history and culture.
National Theater in Riga
Streips' statement "Don't deny them the opportunity" is apt, as sadly I know too many Latvian-Americans whose families did not teach them the language -- and often those individuals grow up to question their parents' choices.

Meanwhile, if you live in the New York area, do check out some of the many Latvian artists who will be performing on your city's stages this year! The Wall Street Journal had an article about the talented Latvian performers who are singing at the Metropolitan Opera.

Another person looking forward to this year is the new European Union Ambassador to the United States, David O'Sullivan. He held a Twitter chat in which many people asked politically or economically oriented questions, while I asked about cultural and informational events. The entire chat can be seen here on Storify. My question and his responses are at the very end.

While I have much to think about over the coming months (as I do every year!), I have not made any specific resolutions, knowing that those are too easy to break. I have, however, set a goal of reading 21 books; at the end of 2014 Goodreads notified me that I had read (or more correctly: reviewed on their site) nineteen books, and that number seemed too low to me. Just an explanation as to how big a bookworm I've been known to be: when I was in upper elementary school, it was not unusual for me to hide a novel in my lap while sitting at my desk in school! Thus far I'm on book three, although in all fairness books one and two I'd begun in the previous year!
Roberts' Books in Riga
By the way, if you are ever in Riga and find yourself in need on an English language book, Robert's Books is the place to find. It is clearly the place where many bibliophiles shop, as a bulletin board in the shop displayed postcards loyal customers had sent from far-flung vacation locales, as well as a note penned on a napkin that a disappointed shopper had left on the door: "It's mean to be closed when people want books. You know what? I'll...I'll come again next week. That'll show you!"


  1. Thanks, Daina, for the great blog, and thanks for citing Kārlis Streips and his comments on what we can do to help Latvia in 2015, which included a reference to the ALA trips to Latvia which I organize. Traveling to Latvia is a great way to help – to support the economy, and to support the politics of freedom and Western values, which are under siege, given what is happening in Latvia’s neighborhood. It is also a great way to restrengthen one’s Latvian roots. To check out the ALA trips, go to the ALA Website and look under „What You Can Do – Visit Latvia”

    1. Paldies, Anita! I agree that traveling to Latvia is a good tangible (and fun!) way to help. Taking along non-Latvian family and friends if possible is also great in terms of educating more people about Latvia's history and place in the Western world.

  2. I think any time of year is good for a visit - even winter! Between the opera, ballet and symphony, museum exhibits, and cafes on every block, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Riga, rain, snow or shine :-)

    1. Generally I agree, although as someone who doesn't care for the cold, I prefer the warmer months. I have, however, visited Riga 2x in March - thanks to inexpensive flights.


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