Inese, thank you very much for having agreed to give an interview for the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. The LAPAS Association has been established in 2005 and consisted of various organisations. What are your current projects, and what was the aim of creating the Association?
LAPAS was created, when Latvia joined the European Union. We needed to change our thinking in the terms of a developing country and to start to help others, because we were in a specific position now. And I would say that more than 10 years we have been working with different development cooperation projects, mainly with Eastern Partnership countries, as it is it also the priority of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also with global education, ie we try to localise global issues. For example, recently we had a project on global tax. We tried to explain to people how their shopping habits, whether it is local products or multinational company, influence their life, etc. And of course, as a national platform, we work with advocacy issues. Mainly it is about global development, migration, how decisions in the European Union influence other countries.
I wonder how you can combine all those topics and how can you keep people and organisations involved in the work of your association…
We moved actually away from traditional thinking to be a platform, which works just on advocacy. We defined ourselves some 5 years ago as an ideas’ community, because we think that ideas are the ones, which keep people together. If we trust in the same values, then it is easier to find common words, regardless of whether we are representing a Christian society, the conservative views or quite liberal views. As all of our member organisations work on better future or more equal world with less income inequality and less poor people, I think that this is what brings us together and, even if not everyone is involved in our daily activities, we feel the common spirit of our organisation.
We are talking now at the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk, where the Forum for Young Professionals “Europe lab” has just ended. What have you worked at, at your workshop – a city development hackathon, and what inspirations did you get from the participants?
In our workshop, we were focusing on a specific job. It was trying to feel the city of Gdańsk and – based on experiences and knowledge of participants – intervening in the city and giving some feedback for the city development. I must say that was really inspirational also for myself, because we had a really professional group working on different topics in different countries. For example, we had a project idea about the urban future. We talk a lot about the past, about now, but we leave out, how this past and present will influence our future. Well, perhaps, we talk about that in more general terms, but we do not have any tools to come together and do that on a daily basis in different communities. I am amazed about this project, which is called “Imaginarium”. Besides, we had good ideas about local identities, about the cities located at the rivers and about the meaning of the water in public and private spaces. Many questions were actually raised by participants and debated in our workshop.
You yourself moved from Rīga to Limbaži now, a small town to the north of Latvia. Which inspirations do you bring back to the capital or vice versa?
I really just had experience living in cities before. That is why it is very surprising for me, how things look completely different from the surface, when you pass by, and how they look, when you are actually integrated in local communities. Let us take the concept of time as an example. In bigger cities, people are usually late because of traffic jams and for objective reasons, but in smaller settlements, they are actually always before time. Such concepts actually bring me new ideas for my organisation, when we plan communication. Indeed: When we communicate with people, we usually live in some sort of a bubble and communicate with people we are more comfortable with. But this experience, local experience, brings me forward new perspectives, how we can localise issues more and more from a global perspective.
The LAPAS Association has been a member organisation of the EU Russia Civil Society Forum for a while. Why is it important for you to be in the Forum?
LAPAS is actually a member organisation in several platforms. Yet, this forum somehow brings us the feeling that the cooperation between the EU and Russia is needed, the format we work and the ideas we work on. And I think participation in some networks is more personal rather than a formal thing. Now, when I was also in this workshop, I was really interested to learn from different experiences and that we could speak a common language – not just technically meaning Russian or English, but also common understanding about the issues, about the needs, about the challenges. I think that there are many topics we could work on together – not just urban development but also, for example, social entrepreneurship, which is a new thing in so many countries.
Which challenges do you see in the EU-Russia relations now?
There are challenges for civil society not just in Russia. Maybe, they are more visible in Russia because we know it better, as we have lived and worked nearby. But as my work is concerned with global issues, I can say that this civil society space is diminishing not just in Europe, in Poland, in Hungary, but also in other continents. At the same time, I feel that spirit of civil society is growing, because we have more information tools and actually nobody can stop that. If you look, for example, at Oxfam research, it is that fewer and fewer people, who own resources of the world, but at the same time they do not own resources like information flow and people power. I think that in a way we can see that it is more challenging but I can feel that, on other hand, it is becoming better to start not just to think but to do things.
What would you like to wish to the Forum’s member organisations?
To continue with their ideas about doing and people power. In the civil society, we talk very much, develop concepts, etc. but in our organisations we always try to focus ourselves on that we need to act. We need to go out of our bubble, as we did in our workshop here in Gdańsk, to look from different perspectives, to do something really practical. It might be a small thing as collecting or drawing, but doing I believe is what brings us forward – not just talking.
Thank you very much for this interview, Inese.
The interview was recorded by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum on 30 July 2017 at the Forum for Young Professionals “Europe Lab” in Gdańsk, Poland.