RIGA - The May 4 Independence Day celebrations were a surprising success, event planners and participants said.
"We were all very pleased and surprised that so many people turned out. Not only did the day fall on a free day when many people go out of town, but the weather also wasn't the greatest," director of the Idea Institute Project, Sandija Martinsone, said.
The success of the event was surprising considering that last week a survey was released stating that the Latvian population was reluctant to take part in national holidays 's especially the May 4 events 's but far more likely to celebrate pagan and traditional holidays.
Representatives of both the Ministry of Culture and the Institute of Ideas said they took the results of the survey into consideration and made some last minute changes in the program, including more audience participation events.
The new event lineup, which cost a total of 100,000 lats (142,000 euros), resulted in a record number of people attending the May 4 celebrations.
In an uncharacteristic public relations move, President Zalters went around and shook hands with hundreds of the events participants after laying a flower wreath at the Freedom Monument. This was greeted with mixed reactions, from excited young children giving him hugs to an older woman emphatically telling him to "fire Saeima" (parliament).
One of the most successful activities was the "Give Latvia the gift of flowers" event, in which people arranged flowers in the shape of Latvia's four regions. The four flower arrangements were then combined to make a floral map of the country.
"I think we were so successful this year because people were more involved. We had people calling the day before to ask where they could bring their flowers. We had people waiting in various gardens so they could put their flowers in the region they were from," Martinsone said.
"We also planned events in each of the gardens in Riga 's one was more oriented towards teens, one for children, and one for everyone else. [There were also] main events held by the Freedom Monument. We had children's pop groups, national music star Andris Erglis and others performing," she said.
There were sing-alongs planned with music from the late '80s and early '90s and folk songs that everyone could sing along to.
Even tourists took part in the celebrations. Jonathan from Sweden said he couldn't have picked a better time to visit, even though it was completely by accident.
"Now I know why the call it the land that sings. I've never heard so much singing in one day," he said.
Martinsone said this year was special because of the sold-out Song and Dance Festival to be held this July.
"People wanted to see choirs perform the songs, even though they couldn't get tickets for the actual event. The fact that all the concerts on May 4 were free was a huge factor in the [large] amount of people, especially older ones, who turned out."