Capitalizing on Rīga

Don’t expect Rīga to be completed if it becomes a European Capital of Culture in 2014. According to legend, Rīga can never be “finished,” or it will sink to the bottom of the Daugava River.

But you can expect the unexpected in 2014. That’s because Rīga’s successful candidacy for this prestigious honour was based on an ambitious cultural programme that carries the provocative title of “Force Majeure.” If you’ve only seen this term in legal contracts, get ready to expand your cultural consciousness. The French term refers to an “overwhelming force” or an extraordinary event that occurs beyond all normal expectationns. As the name alone implies, the creative minds behind Rīga’s application are definitely aiming for the extraordinary.

In its application, Rīga said it would focus on culture as “the spiritual and intellectual dimension of mankind, manifesting itself through any form of human activity, and expanding the understanding of culture through liaisons with other spheres of life. It is a liaison between generations, traditions and the digital world, it means overcoming historically established barriers.”

You can find out more about the project on the Web page, Rīga has four years to prepare and you will no doubt be hearing a lot more about it in the future.

Rīga was chosen by a jury representing various European Union (EU) institutionns, including the European Parliament and the European Commission. Clearly the Rīga application, which offers six intriguing thematic lines, was impressive and original. But what else could have made the Europeans decide in favour of Latvia’s bustling Baltic Sea capital?

I assume some of them have already been to Rīga at least once. It’s an experience you don’t forget, especially if you didn’t know what to expect before you arrived. If the jury members were fans of the game Monopoly, they may have been swayed by Rīga’s selection in 2008 to become one of the world’s 22 most popular cities to be included in World Edition of the game, called “Monopoly – Here and Now.” Rīga garnered the second highest number of votes after Montreal, and thus won the honour of becoming the “Park Place” of the new global game.

Then again, they may remember the Rīga NATO Summit in 2006, when 26 national leaders met here to decide the future of transatlantic security. U.S. President George Bush liked the city so much, he came here twice.

But that’s all history, and the only thing more interesting than Rīga’s storied past is its promising future. Back in 2001, Rīga had the biggest birthday party of its life when millions of Latvians celebrated its 800th anniversary. In 2014 and Rīga will be 813 years old, and it looks like all of Europe (and beyond) will be celebrating with us (just in time for Latvia to take over the presidency of the European Union in 2015).

As for the legend mentioned earlier, as far as legends go, it really is true. According to a 15th century chronicler of Latvia, a fisherman once got lost in the Baltic Sea and encountered a huge sea monster.

The monster asked where the fisherman was from, and he answered, “Rīga.”

So the monster asked, “Is Rīga finished yet?”

The fisherman said, “No, not yet. We’re still building it.”

“Alright then,” the sea monster responded, “but when Rīga is completed, tell me, and I’m going swim into the Daugava, slap it with my tail and sink the city to the bottom of the river.”

So we can assure the EU and all our international friends that in 2014, when Rīga becomes the European Capital of Culture, it will be ready for you. But if any sea monsters ask, tell them it’s still a work in progress.

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