Balkans envoy praises Latvia's ethnic mix

  • 2000-11-30
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Speaking at a conference on the role and responsibility of the press in new democracies on Nov. 24, Karl Bildt, the United Nations' special envoy to the Balkans and a former prime minister of Sweden, applauded Latvia as a meeting place for people of different cultures.

Compared to a century ago there are far fewer such countries in Europe in which large numbers of people from two or more ethnic groups live side by side, he told delegates. Latvia shares this feature with Belgium, Bosnia, Estonia and Macedonia, he said.

Like U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who made a speech in Tallinn in January, Bildt evoked the history of multinational trading cities in the region, cities which were "zones of creativity which turned into zones of conflict," he said.

"The future of peace and prosperity in Europe is linked to how we handle the challenge represented by the meeting of different cultures and nationalities. Confrontation or creativity is the essential question in all countries. There are both problems and possibilities inherent in Latvia's situation, with its unique national combination of citizens. This makes Latvia one of the most important countries for Europe's future. To be a state with several nations is to live with constant problems, but you can also continue Europe's renaissance, unleash a new era of creativity. The possibilities in this situation are far greater than the problems."

It is easier for the media to incite hatred than to create trust, he told delegates.

"In the Balkans, I've seen the best and worst of what the media can be. Building trust takes time, understanding and sheer personal courage."