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First Eurovision, now Europeade - it is now definite that in two years' time Riga will host one of the world's biggest folklore festivals. And with Latvia expected to join the European Union in that year, it seems that the country's cultural integration with the rest of the continent is more than keeping pace with closer economic ties.
First held in 1964, Europeade has become one of the main folklore events on the continent, aiming to promote peace and international cultural ties through dance, song and other artistic expressions. On Oct. 2, an agreement was signed between the Riga City Council and the International Committee of Europeade that will see 5,000 performers from 150 groups descending on the Latvian capital from July 21 to 25, 2004.
The festival was dreamt up in the 60s by Mon de Clopper, a Fleming who wanted to let the different regions of the continent express themselves without competing. According to current Europeade President Bruno Peeters, it is somewhat fitting that Latvia is the first country in Eastern Europe to host the event. Until 1990, only exile groups rather than home-grown artists from Eastern Europe were allowed to participate in the festival because, Peeters said, "We didn't want ambassadors of totalitarian regimes, we wanted representatives who wanted peace and contacts between human beings."
But after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Balts were among the first from the former Soviet bloc to start representing their countries. And Peeters thinks that their attachment to folk culture, which he described as "the real face of a community," gives them an insight into the event's importance that Westerners may miss.
"They rehearse three times a week, while we are lucky if we manage three times a month," he said.
He also expressed pleasure at the rejuvenation of Riga, describing it as, "by far the best restored city" he has seen anywhere in Eastern Europe.
Most of the hard work feeding 5,000 mouths and providing accommodation for the same number will have to be done by the Latvians. But Peeters is confident that, with their experience handling mammoth song festivals involving over 10,000 participants, Riga can handle it.