Media note Latvia’s entry into European Union

Whether Latvia’s membership in the European Union will result in long-term benefits or a loss of economic and political independence may be an open question. But if nothing else, lots of people in Europe perhaps now know more about Latvia than they did before—thanks to frequent news media reports in the past several weeks.

Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and Web sites have been featuring Latvia and the other nine new EU members. During April, Latvians Online was contacted by several media representatives seeking sources for stories, including a British Broadcasting Corp. radio producer interested in what Latvian teenagers think of the EU, a journalist for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad wanting to interview a Latvian family, and Spanish magazine writer interested in who some of the top figures are in Latvia’s contemporary cultural scene.

The European Union expanded from 15 to 25 countries May 1 with the official entry of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Greek half of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Stories about Latvia’s place in the expanded EU were complemented by reports in some media about the Latvian team’s participation in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in the Czech Republic. Latvia also found itself the topic of stories dealing with continuing diplomatic troubles with Russia, including the recent tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats from their respective embassies.

The Danish Broadcasting Corp. is among those that sent reporters to Rīga to learn about the local population’s perspective on EU membership. Among those interviewed were writer Nora Ikstena, who was skeptical about the changes, and Member of Parliament Liene Liepiņa, who was more upbeat about prospects.

The British Broadcasting Corp. has featured a number of stories on television and on its Web site, including featuring President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga in an “Ask the Expert” piece, testing Internet surfers’ knowledge of Latvia with a 10-question quiz and offering a primer on the Latvian language.

The liberal British daily The Guardian, meanwhile, noted Latvia’s deep sense of nationalism—as expressed by hockey fans in a Rīga bar—and the enthusiasm many in the city feel about what a return to Europe means. Correspondent Jon Henley’s story also examined economic promise in Jelgava.

In Ireland, newspapers such as the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent have reported on planned festivities throughout the country, including Dublin and Drogheda, where particular attention is being paid to Latvian culture. Ireland currently controls the presidency of the EU.

“Lacplesis muss nicht mehr kämpfen”—Lāčplēsis no longer has to fight—declared the lead of an April 28 story in the German daily newspaper Berliner Morgenpost. After years of struggle, the Latvians and their mythical national hero have entered the safety of the European Union.

Online quizzes have been a popular way for many media outlets to introduce the 10 new nations. For example, the online version of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung offers a somewhat difficult 20-question quiz about the new nations. Among the questions on Latvia is one about the famous “Three Brothers” in Rīga.

Several media outlets supplemented their online news reports with “dossiers” listing basic information about Latvia. Some, however, provided outdated information, such as NRC Handelsblad, which still shows that Andris Bērziņš is prime minister of Latvia even though his adminstration came to an end in 2002.

Italy’s Repubblica daily newspaper also dug up some novel information about Latvia, such as the fact that Agnese Eiduka was named Miss Latvia 2003 and that among the most popular musical groups is Prāta Vētra. Another newspaper, Corriere della Serra, interviewed a 20-year-old student, Normunds Ozoliņš, to learn his thoughts about Latvia entering the EU.

The venerable Le Monde of France has offered reports on the EU and its relations with Russia, which according to one story is using the Russian minorities to exert economic and political pressure on the Baltic states. The daily Liberation in an April 27 story focused on Iveta Aleksejeva and Modris Pakalns, two Latvians who met in the popular Rīga nightclub Četri balti krekli, as a way to tell a story about expectations for the future.

Not surprisingly, outside of Europe little attention has been paid to European Union enlargement or to reports about specific countries.

Several Canadian newspapers featured Latvia during the past week, but that was mostly because Canada was facing the Latvians in the world ice hockey championship. The national daily The Globe and Mail presented a May 1 article, “The New Europe,” by John Weich. The story offers brief comments on each of the 10 new EU members. Drawing a comparison with tourism to Estonia, Weich notes that “Latvia hardly enjoys its northern neighbour’s popularity. Whereas Estonia is Scandi, Latvia is Slavic.” Statistics compiled by the two nations appear to support the writer’s contention: More than 3.37 million foreign visitors entered Estonia in 2003, while 2.52 million travelers crossed into Latvia. But more than half of Estonia’s visitors, 1.78 million, came from Finland.

Other newspapers in Canada, the United States and elsewhere largely carried wire service stories about the event, if anything at all.

Danish TV report

Danish television journalist Charlotte Harder reports from downtown Rīga.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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