year since 1985 the European Union designates two cities as European Capitals
of Culture, an honor that this year has been bestowed on Rīga, Latvia and Umeå,
Sweden. During the year Rīga will host a number of cultural events, kicking off
this weekend with all sorts of festivities.
idea to designate an annual Capital of Culture was that of former actress
Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart
Jack Lang. By highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and
raising awareness of their common history and values the designation serves to
invigorate the chosen cities, bringing socio-economic benefits as well. For a complete list of the more than 40 cities
designated thus far, click here, and for a general article on the events occurring
in Latvia this year, click here.
main event Saturday featured a human chain to transfer books from the old National
Library of Latvia to the newly constructed Gaismas
Pils (Palace of Light) National Library Building. The event was officially
identified as Gaismas ceļš – Grāmatu draugu
ķēde (the path of light – the chain of friends of books). In preparation
for the move, the books were cleaned of dust and placed into plastic protective
coverings, each individually labeled and classified.
14,000 volunteers signed up for 15-30 minute time slots, and between the noon
start time and 4:32pm when the last book reached the library, over 2,000 books traveled
to their new home. The first book to make the journey through Vērmaņa dārzs, down Brīvības iela and past the Freedom Monument, through Vecrīga and across the bridge to the new
library was an 1825 edition of the Bible. Awaiting the books’ arrival were
President Andris Bērziņš
and a host of other important Latvian and European persons.
human chain brought to mind the Baltic Way (Baltijas
ceļš), the peaceful political demonstration that occurred on August 23,
1989. Approximately two million people joined hands to form a chain spanning
over 370 miles across the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
These peaceful demonstrations were part of the road that led to renewed
independence in 1991, and though the circumstances were different, I have no
doubt that the participants of Saturday’s event hold just as much pride in
their nation and culture. I can only imagine the titles that passed through
Rīga’s streets on Saturday, the history and literary tradition that each
participating member held in their hands if only for a brief moment. Although
not able to participate in Saturday’s historic event, I wish to thank all those
who helped transfer our national treasure to its new home, and eagerly await
the chance to visit Gaismas pils for
view an album commemorating the occasion, click here. For
the LTV coverage of the inaugural festivities, click here.