(To be checked against delivered speech)
Opatija, 20 October 20
Working session 1: Culture and conflicts
Thank you Mr (Ms) Chairperson,
Since ancient times Latvia has had multiethnic society and has developed traditions for co-existence of people belonging to various nations. The most typical among these is mutual tolerance and democratic public sentiments. Latvia has never had ethnic conflicts. And we are convinced that such are not going to arise in the future, since a long experience allows finding solutions of the respectful co-existence.
Frequently the culture of the majority nation in its native country is in a more favorable position, at least because of its scope and spread, than minority cultures. It is quite natural, since there is no other place for it to develop. However, our experience thus far shows that in order to safeguard and develop culture in its diversity it is important to move from the policy of equal treatment to the policy of active support in the field of minority culture.
The most recent data on population structure in our country were published at the beginning of October. Latvia has a population of 30 nations, out of which 58.5% are Latvians, but the largest minority group is Russians - 29%. We are convinced that culture is diverse in its manifestations and that the contribution of each minority nations in the totality of culture is awaited for and deserve to be promoted and supported. Therefore social integration, including integration within civil society, is one of the priorities of Latvian government, manifested in the social integration programme, supported and funded by the government, in the establishment of the position of the Special Minister for Social Integration Affairs and his Secretariat. The Social Integration Fund has been functioning for two years; its task is to co-ordinate the funding of Latvian and foreign donors. In the first half of 2002 the funding was allocated specially for ethnic integration.
The national program Culture, which is the state culture policy till the year 2010, alongside guarantees for the development of national culture and creativity, strategy for heritage protection envisages also activities for social integration. The basis for them is the safeguarding and development of minority cultures, and they guarantee the continuity of the diversity and richness of Latvian cultural landscape. More than 6000 public organizations, in one way or another connected to minorities, have been registered in Latvia. Approximately 200 of these are directly involved in cultural issues, culture societies have been established, national schools opened, periodical editions are published.
Culture exists not only within the traditional environment, but also in media space and digital environment. Important support is rendered also in this sphere - the state budget funds special broadcasting in Russian, as well as several TV programs. The oldest Russian theatre outside Russia is found in Riga, this will be its 120th season. This theatre, as well as the Russian groups of two other theatres is funded by the state. Out audience no longer feels surprised on seeing a Latvian actor playing the leading part in the production of Russian theatre, nor on seeing a Russian actor playing in Latvian performance.
Social integration has been set the task to promote a full-fledged culture environment for all the nations living in Latvia. The Ministry of Culture and the Culture Capital Foundation, which is founded by the state - presently supports several minority culture projects, being aware of the importance of their presence in the total Latvian culture scene. This is support rendered to various amateur groups for participation in festivals, for publishing books and periodicals in national languages, etc. Ethnic minorities receive also the support of local authorities. Since the autumn of 2003 the Ministry of Culture has become the institution responsible for the cultural associations of ethnic minorities. It allows better perspective on multicultural development, to find a balance between the national culture and the manifestations of diversity of ethnic cultures, which does exist in multiethnic society.
Recently during the 32nd General Assembly of UNESCO our state expressed its support for the drafting of the Convention on Culture Diversity, which under the conditions of globalization holds special importance, as it promotes strengthening of tolerance and respectful attitude towards the different. Latvia also proposed to organize in Riga in 2005 an International conference devoted to the protection of intangible cultural heritage.
I would like to use this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the Cultural policy and Action department of the Council of Europe, which has fostered the long-term drafting of the declaration on Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Prevention, as well as to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia for this excellently organized conference.