A draft five-year program to help preserve Latvian diaspora communities and to foster repatriation to Latvia has been released for public comment by the Minister for Special Assignments for Social Integration Affairs in Rīga. The plan foresees spending more than LVL 300,000 annually (about USD 560,000) on a variety of efforts at cultural maintenance.
“Considering that Latvians living abroad are an integral part of the Latvian nation, the diaspora nowadays has an important role of promoting Latvian culture and traditions on a world scale,” states the plan, which is titled the Latvian Diaspora Support Programme. “It has great potential in creating a positive image of Latvia abroad.”
A variety of activities, from funding the work of Latvian teachers, to supporting mass media in the diaspora, to providing communities with folk costumes, would be supported under the program.
The program has been in the works since December, led by a committee that includes representatives from the World Federation of Free Latvians (known in Latvian by the abbreviation PBLA), an official from the Latvian embassy in Moscow, as well as several ministry and other Latvian government officials.
Latvian organizations in the diaspora have been strong supporters of various activities in Latvia, but it has only been in the past several years that the Latvian government has begun to back cultural maintenance work abroad. A number of ministries have funded activities in the West, while the Minister for Special Assignments for Social Integration Affairs has aided Latvian communities in Siberia.
The diaspora support program would be overseen by a coordinating council that would be advised by the PBLA and that would report to the Cabinet of Ministers at least once a year.
Although relations between Latvians in Latvia and those in the diaspora have in the past been strained, the time for the support program may be ripe, Andrejs Berdnikovs, an official with Social Integration Affairs, told Latvians Online.
“In Latvia currently there is a fairly favorable climate for advancing this program,” Berdnikovs said. “It is favorable both among the political elite and the public.”
The draft program outlines five areas that need attention:
- Activities aimed at “preserving and developing ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identity.” These would include such activities as support for teachers in and clergy visits to Siberia, as well as increased funding for summer schools and camps such as 3×3.
- Developing and serving the information needs of the diaspora. For example, the program calls for aiding mass media in the Latvian diaspora, as well as creation of a unified database of Latvian organizations.
- Fostering links between diaspora communities and the homeland through publication of booklets about the diaspora and convening of a conference on issues facing Latvian society and the diaspora.
- Promoting Latvia’s image abroad by supporting Latvian culture, traditions and art. Activities would include organizing “Latvia Days” in the largest diaspora communities, as well as providing communities with folk costumes.
- Facilitating cooperation between the diaspora and local governments and institutions in Latvia.
Latvian communities abroad have until July 26 to comment on the draft plan. Comments then will be reviewed and a final plan submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by Aug. 1, according to a press release from the Minister for Special Assignments for Social Integration Affairs. Government ministries and civic organizations then will have another two weeks to make official comment on the program, after which it is expected the plan will be approved.
Comments may be directed by postal mail to the Secretariat for the Minister for Social Integration Affairs, Elizabetes Str. 20, 2d floor, Rīga LV–1050, Latvia; by e-mail to email@example.com, or by fax to +371 7365335.
Berdnikovs conceded that the time for comment may not be sufficient, but said that delaying approval of the program may not be practical.
“Some representatives from the Latvian diaspora admit that it must be accepted as soon as possible,” he said, “because many Latvians abroad are very disappointed in their fatherland, and thus the situation has to be improved soon.” —Andris Straumanis
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