President: culture no place for politics

President Andris Berzins spoke out in support of Latvia’s entry ban on three Russian entertainers Wednesday. Berzins told LTV morning news program Rīta Panorāma that cultural and business events should not be allowed to turn political, and he believes state officials have often acted “too softly” in the past.

The president expressed support for the entry ban imposed by Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkevics against the three personae non-grata, who have been long-standing VIP guests of the Russian-language New Wave festival in Jurmala.

They have also been outspoken and close supporters of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The three singers on Latvia's entry blacklist are Oleg Gazmanov, Iosif Kobzon and Alla Perfilova, better known as 'Valeriya'. The Latvian Foreign Ministry said they had been put on the list because they had "through their own words and actions contributed to the undermining of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity." 

Spokespeople for the banned pop-stars have expressed their outrage, and regardless of their forbidden status vowed to attend the festival, which has been held in the Russian-friendly beach resort town of Jurmala since 2002. If any of them with their accustomed entourages should nevertheless present themselves to Latvian Border Guard authorities, a brouhaha is all but guaranteed.

On Tuesday Riga mayor Nils Usakovs blasted the government’s move and claimed now to be compelled to attend Wednesday’s festival opening in a “protest of good-will” for Latvian-Russian relations.

Meanwhile, about sixty members of the Latvian NGO motorcycle club God’s Dogs staged a brief flash-mob protest without incident Tuesday at the Dzintari concert hall where the New Wave events are held, reports information agency LETA. Latvian Ukrainians' Congress activist Tatjana Lazda, carrying the Ukrainian flag, also joined the bikers' demonstration.

Latvia’s top composer and former culture minister Raimonds Pauls has acted as honorary local co-partner and a jury co-chair in the New Wave organization since its launch, suffering much criticism from fellow Latvians over his hobnobbing with Russia’s elite.

However, on Tuesday the 78-year old maestro told online tabloid kasjauns.lv that he “will not even be appearing anywhere nearby”, though he admitted he may watch some of the televised broadcast at home after working all day in his yard.  “God forbid,” he said, “going to Jurmala this time of year,” when the town swarms with people in the summer swelter.

To give an indication of why New Wave can sometimes offend Latvian sensibilities, the festival characterizes Latvia’s history in the following fashion on its website’s English-language page: “The country was a ‘breeding ground’ for the royal bride [of the] Russian Empire and one of the favorite places of the emperors.”

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