What do you think of when you think of the Baltics? Is it midnight sun, warm weather, bright colours, jazz, flamenco and festivals? Probably not. However, summertime in the Baltics contains all of those things and more. After a long and intense winter, the Baltic countries–Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia– celebrate their summer in style, making sure to enjoy the fleeting season to its fullest, marking it with holidays, festivals, music, food, and dancing. Eastbook.eu takes a photo tour of this vibrant time in the region, and why it has implications beyond…
The month of June is greeting by the Baltics with a series of festivals and celebrations taking place across the region. In the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, a month-long festival of arts, music and dance kicks off June 3rd. The festival is a highly prestigious one, attracting the support and talents of world-famous performers, and a major destination for tourists and music-lovers in the summer season. The importance of the Vilnius festival is multifaceted, channeling the power of the arts not just as an expression of beauty, but also as an essential vehicle for creating unity, celebrating diversity. As the Festival’s official ethos explains:
“Since the first Vilnius Festival in 1997 its primary idea has been to promote the historical and modern assets of world culture in society. Cooperation between Lithuanian and foreign musicians has fostered the creation of a multicultural music scene in Lithuania, as well as mutual tolerance and trust, and the discovery and support of new artistic forces. The organizers of Vilnius Festival seek to reflect the cultural experiences of different nations and eras in the festival program.”
The festival offers the chance to share some of Lithuania’s culture and heritage with its European counterparts, as well as countries even further afield, a feature for which the Festival boasts:
“Thanks to its cooperation with well-known Lithuanian and foreign performers, its common projects with Lithuanian, Italian, Polish, German, French, Croatian, Slovenian and Swiss festivals, and its active involvement in programs of cultural tourism, Vilnius Festival has dispersed far and wide the liveliness of Lithuania’s culture, as well as the works of contemporary Lithuanian composers and a reputation for professionalism among its performers.”
The benefits of such cooperation are far-reaching, enhancing not only understanding and appreciation for Lithuania’s cultural beauty and richness, but also for respect for the nation at the international level, as the festival’s organisers explain:
“The cooperation of Vilnius Festival organizers and performers with world-renowned musicians has accelerated the acceptance of not only Lithuania’s musical culture but also its political activities in the international realm. The support of these musicians for Lithuania’s intention to integrate to the EU was raised not only by artistic acts but also by official documents. The active participation of Vilnius Festival in programs of Lithuanian cultural tourism and its close cooperation with diplomatic missions of foreign countries has generated high interest among foreign guests and tourists in both this event and Lithuanian cultural happenings in general.”
Lithuania’s role as an integral player in Europe and in the EU is increasing, as next month the Baltic country will step into its role as the EU Council Presidency for the second half of 2013. It is the first of the Baltic nations to do so, and its stay in power is already being heralded as the largest administrative load ever carried by a Council Presidency. To top it all off, Vilnius is hosting the next Eastern Partnership Summit in November, being tipped as the biggest EU event of the year.
Lithuania’s geography and common history with its neighbours makes it a key axis point for enhancing cooperation and cultural exchange with the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. Lithuania is perhaps most well-placed to aid in bridging the gap between Belarus and the European Union, as Lithuania still relies upon on-going trade with the country, otherwise shunned by the EU.
Lithuania, particularly Vilnius, benefits from a large influx of Belarusian tourists every year. In this way, the Vilnius festival offers an internationally important attraction for tourists, as a meeting place for people otherwise at odds, and gives the city the benefits from international sponsorship and World Heritage funds.
173 kilometres north-east, in Daugavpils, Latvia, the first week of June is also festival season, with the city’s annual “Праздник города”, or City Festival. The festival is very different in nature from Vilnius’–not dotted with large, prestigious events throughout a month, but hosting simultaneous activities daily, showcasing local talents, crafts, small businesses, markets and concerts. Each year, the festival has a theme, for 2013 it was “My City Daugavpils – the City of Opportunities”–devoted to entrepreneurs and local businesses:
“The municipality is thankful to entrepreneurs for their work, investments and work places. Achievements of the entrepreneurs have a great importance for development of the city”, emphasizes Žanna Kulakova, the chairperson of Daugavpils City Council.
During the first half of the week, starting on June 3rd, the festival visits each neighbourhood in Daugavpils, building a stage in the centre of each locality and holding concerts for the local people, by the local people. The rotation of the activities means that each neighbourhood is celebrated, is actively a part of the city’s festivities, and is made accessible to all.
During the latter part of the week, the larger festival activities begin in the centre of Daugavpils–again with stages dotted across the centre of the town, surrounded by markets and attractions. In another effort to make the festival open to all, the city makes all public transportation free, and extends the hours during which the transportation runs.
The festival hosts a wide range of local talent and events, including school performances, singing and dancing of all varieties and age groups , local crafts, and other ceative groups and artists from Latvia,Lithuania,Belarus,Russia and Sweden.
Eleonora Kleščinska, the head of Cultural department of Daugavpils, explained that the city festival is one of the main cultural events of Daugavpils and each year it shall become even more magnificent and interesting in order to attract more city guests. This year, one of Latvia’s biggest bands “Brain Storm” held a free concert in the city’s “Unity Square”–an event which locals deemed particularly unique, as it united both Latvian and Russian residents, of all ages.
This year’s festival offered an important opportunity to increase tourism in the region, and by dedicating the event to entrepreneurs and small businesses, the city of Daugavpils was able to benefit from the event at a grassroots level. Local businesses in the city stayed open until early hours to benefit from the wave of visitors.
The theme of “opportunity” is an important one for most Latvian residents, as unemployment is an on-going concern for the country, and many young people leave the country to seek opportunities for work and a higher quality of life elsewhere. Though Latvia is being lauded as one of the current success stories of the EU, a nation which has a quickly growing economy and a swift recovery from the economic crisis–it is an appraisal which many local people do not feel is reflective of the reality.
The minimum wage in Latvia is the lowest in the Baltic region, at a staggering 285 euros per month. The decision of Daugavpils’ municipality to make transportation free, and to bring the festival spirit to each residential area in the city in turn, demonstrated the meaning of opportunity for many–giving equal chance to each resident to take part in the celebration, and growth of their city.
A taste of Latvian music…