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Latvia and Lithuania: two Baltic sisters but with superiority issues?

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Danute Domikaityte (R) of Lithuania in action against Anastasija Grigorjeva (L) of Latvia during their semi final bout of the women’s wrestling tournament at the Minsk 2019 European Games in Minsk, Belarus

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Latvia and Lithuania have long been dubbed «two Baltic sisters» due to their intricately intertwined history, but sisterly unity is more and more tested by ardent competition between the two. In Lithuania, we just need all to admit it, we are convinced that it is us, not Latvians, who are better, smarter and, well, just cooler folks on the whole. Yet can Lithuanians overcome their haughtiness and think of anything where Latvians, not Lithuanians, seem bigger achievers?

Latvia is Lithuania’s best neighbour ever?

The Baltic News Network (BNN) spoke in Lithuania both to Latvian- Lithuanian relation pundits and ordinary johns in an attempt to hear some unbiased opinions. To sum up the amateur survey, the words of Arvydas Juozaitis, Lithuania’s former plenipotentiary and extraordinary ambassador to Latvia, who is also known for his book about Latvia, «Riga: The Civilization of Nobody», are particularly noteworthy: “Lithuania cannot even dream of having a better neighbour than Latvia, but, yes, superiority issues occasionally pop up.»

Latvians’ national identity is stronger

«What I envy is the extremely strong national idea that Latvia is engulfed with on many levels, on the political level, too. Look, they have a very strong national party, the National Alliance, officially the National Alliance «All For Latvia!» – «For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK» (Nacionālā Apvienība) that has gained tangible political influence – the party is in the ruling coalition now. I just frankly cannot see a situation where a national party would be allowed to be part of a government in Lithuania. The Conservatives, who rode the national tide back in the early 1990s, have drifted towards the interests of big capitalists,» Juozaitis emphasised. «A Latvian national youth party is doing well in Latvia too, which, again, would be unimaginable in Lithuania,» he added.

According to Juozaitis, who is seen as the best expert on Lithuanian and Latvian relations, history and culture, Lithuania ought historically to be «endlessly grateful» to Latvia for the return of Palanga and having the current Lithuanian border stretching till Būtingė, a settlement close to the border.

«If Latvians had gotten very stubborn in 1921, when the territorial exchanges between the-then Latvia and Lithuania were taking place, they just could keep Palanga and Nemirseta (the latter is a small village on the Lithuanian Baltic coast – L. J.). I am pretty sure that, without Palanga in our hands, our chances to retake Klaipeda (known as Memel during in the interwar period – L. J.) would have been very slim,» the expert concluded.

Latvians cherish their traditions more earnestly

Juozaitis believes that Latvia’s culture traditions as part of the cultural heritage and the national narrative are cherished better and more profoundly.

«In Lithuania unfortunately we see a rapidly deteriorating Lithuanian language and the formidable expansion of English. National Eurovision Song Contest and even our national children song contest Dainų Dainelė are teeming with singers singing in English. As a matter of fact, we tend to look down upon our national song festivals, sneering at the participants. In that regard, Latvia has retained much more respect and passion to their national song festivals,» Juozaitis underscored.

As the presidential candidate, Juozaitis has significantly emphasised necessity to bolster Lithuanian and Latvian cooperation.

«If we both were driven by true unity and cooperation, we could tackle old and new existential and geopolitical challenges well better. We need to move from the romantic unity of our two nations to a very concrete model of bilateral relations, which would envision giving the existing interparliamentary institution big authority in moving further our mutual relations,» he called during his presidential campaign last spring.

Latvians are good sport managers

What do ordinary Lithuanians like about Latvia? Where do they believe Latvians outdo Lithuanians? The question asked by BNN caught many off guard, with the most emphasising ostensible superiority of Lithuania.

«I personally like the Latvian approach towards sports. They have strong sport organisations on both national and local levels. Latvian football clubs have accomplished more on the top-tier European football stage and, without saying, Latvian ice hockey traditions are a lot deeper and stronger than in Lithuania,» Romas Zubernis, a former football owner and entrepreneur now, told BNN.

Latvian citizenship law is tougher than Lithuanian

For Gintaras Tomkus, publisher of a daily newspaper in Klaipėda seaport, Latvia is an example of a once major economic power. «I marvel the importance Latvia has had as part of the Russian empire and during the interwar. My grandfather would go to work to Latvia, as it was paying bigger wages then,» the told BNN.

«My admiration for Latvia also rises from its ability to make smooth transition to 1990 independence restoration. What they did was huge considering the complex ethnic issues they had in the early 1990s,» Tomkus said. «In terms of our citizenship laws, Latvians’ law is much tougher, leaving fewer loopholes than ours. This also earns my respect for Latvians,» he added.

The prominent Klaipėda man regretted that Lithuanian schools do not offer Latvian classes. «They should be mandatory. It is abnormal when our children know more Polish or even Japanese words than Latvian words,» he added.

Latvians are better at organising their cultural events

Vita Petrauskienė, a culture executive, praised Latvians for what she called «strong expressions and manifestations of national identity» in Latvian ethnic culture.

«To me, Latvians seem to be prouder of their national costumes and the cultural heritage on the whole.  Unlike in Lithuania, where all of that is often deemed relics of the past and therefore are unworthy of cherishing, their national song festivals are huge, encompassing everyone. Besides, in the terms of communications, Latvians outdo us in sending messages about their cultural events. They do it engaging more various platforms, both traditional and digital. No surprising that attendance of their cultural events is higher than of most cultural events here in Lithuania,» she told BNN.

Riga restaurants serve larger dinner plates

Erenestas Doržinkevičius, a well-known sambo and wrestling coach in the resort of Palanga, could not think of anything where Latvians would hold an edge over Lithuanians, but noted humorously that Riga restaurants serve larger food portions. «For the price I pay in Vilnius, I get considerably more in Riga,» he said smirking.

Journalist praises Pape for its affordability

Journalist Alvydas Ziabkus told BNN that noticeably nicer and more modern Latvian border towns drew his attention on his recent trip to Liepaja and its surroundings.

«Generally speaking, our roads are kept better, but Latvians have recently improved the quality of their regional roads a lot,» Ziabkus noted. He also praised Papė, a Latvian resort village at the Lithuanian-Latvian border, for its affordability. «It has become a major destination for Lithuanians owing to the fact that it offers the best price -quality ratio,» he accentuated.

Latvian banks issue loans easier

For entrepreneur and financier Evaldas Petrauskas from Klaipėda county, Latvian banking sector is not only about money laundering and bank shutdowns.

«Yes, they are dealing with many problems related to huge amounts of money held in Latvian banks by non-European citizens, but Latvians are a whole lot more flexible in issuing loans for businesses. Besides, their bankruptcy procedures are easier and more applicable than ours,» the businessman told BNN. «In Lithuania, only Šiaulių bankas is more eager to deal with small and medium-size businesses. The Scandinavian banks are too choosy who to credit and who not,» he underscored.

Latvians go by economics, not by politics

Vidmantas Jankauskas, a well-known Lithuanian energy expert, had to scratch his head for a moment before answering the question where Latvians outdo Lithuanians.

«In most cases, Latvians lag behind us when it comes to dealing with energy issues. I am surprised that, with the huge green energy potential they have, the level of their employment of solar and wind energy is far from being impressive. But Latvians are smarter on energy issues – in dealing with them, they go by economics, not politics like us. I have in mind their decision to purchase Belarusian electricity (Lithuania has outlawed electricity from the Astravyets nuclear power plant – L. J.) Thence they can have more accessible energy sources at the end of the day,» the expert told BNN.

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