What are the ministry's priorities for this year?
Our priorities are to continue projects that have already begun. But among these, one of the biggest projects is to strengthen the expansion of regional and ethnic culture. As we join the European Union, many have a fear that we might lose our identity, a fear further propagated by the spread of globalization and the threat of losing what it is that makes us unique. Because of this, we have dramatically increased funding for the expansion of ethnic culture. In 2003, we funded 266 such projects in all 10 [EU candidate] counties, which was much more than the year before.
Other priorities include the renovation of cultural institutions, such as libraries, and heritage objects, which we hope to fund partially through EU tourism funds.
What types of projects do you fund in the countryside?
Much of this work is done side-by-side with municipalities. Nonetheless, we believe that municipal museums, libraries and cultural centers have a right to state funding. We have just completed a project for the acquisition of new books in rural libraries; now we are working on museums, and in the future we hope to fund the renovation of cultural centers.
So what would you tell a person living in the countryside who has no access to the theaters, operas and museums in the cities about the Culture Ministry's role in their lives?
I would say that these 266 projects to strengthen regional culture are designed specifically for them. If in the past there were accusations that money simply sat in Vilnius, now those accusations cannot be defended as the results all of our competitions and funding projects are publicized on our Web site, and one can instantly see how much money goes to each region and city.
However, I also want to emphasize that much depends on the initiative taken by individuals themselves. People in the countryside are dancing, singing, acting... There's one festival called For the Farmers held in Rokiskis, which will have its 20th anniversary this year. It's difficult to find such a long-standing festival in Vilnius or Kaunas.
Lithuania's participation as guest of honor at the 2002 Frankfurt Book Fair was hailed as a major success. Have you seen any positive effects for Lithuanian literature that build on this success?
I have to say that I have. I was very proud that such a small country with so few funds was so greatly received. Authors who were translated for the fair are being recognized. More generally, people noticed that there actually is something worth reading coming out of such a small country. Perhaps because of this we have received invitations to participate in the Les Boreales festival in France and the Goteborg Book Fair.
In your opinion, what exactly is Lithuanian culture?
That's a really good question. There's a lot, but I think the most important thing about Lithuanian culture is its language. The preserved nature of the language, our traditions, the specificities of regional differences, our ethnic treasures that have been passed on for generations. Our culture is also the way we adapt to the modern world; our modern art is often considered to be the highest quality in the region. So our culture is everything, beginning from ancient history and culminating in the present day.