16 May 2007

Aleksejs Tapiņš -- An Interview

This is the second of a series of interviews inspired by the series at Siberian Light. My victim this time is Aleksejs Tapiņš, who runs the most prominent English-language Latvian blog, All About Latvia.

Unlike with Pēters Jānis Vecrumba, who has his history at his site, we don't know much about you. Tell us who you are.


I'm a 30-year-old Latvian citizen, a product of a mixed marriage
between a Russian woman and a Latvian man. I came to the U.S. to study
back in 1997. Graduated. Got married. Went to do some graduate work at
Michigan State University in 2001. Graduated. Got divorced. The
marriage resulted in a beautiful son, so I moved closer to her and my
son in the state of Indiana, where I currently live. Until very
recently, I worked at a local newspaper as a reporter.

Aleksej, when we spoke on Skype, my Transylvanian friend said that you sounded very American. One of the interesting things about you is that you now have three identities -- Latvian, Russian, American. How do you deal with that?

It's a constant fight. Depending where I am or what the question is,
each of these identities rears its head.

I consider myself a Latvian, but not in a sense of pure ethnicity. I
think you, Peteris, use the word Lett to describe the ethnicity. My
father is a Latvian, but I've never learned any folk songs when
growing up. Since my family life has been dominated by my Russian
mother, it's the Russian language that became my native language. I
consider myself a Latvian in the sense that I love my country and I
want life there to improve.

The Russian identity appears to be separated from Russia proper. I've
been to Russia twice in my entire life, both times on schools trips as
the Soviet Union was falling apart. My Russian identity may show
itself through the language or the accent, battling with my Latvian
identity for world domination.

The American identity shows up when it comes to solving problems and
identifying solutions to those problems.

Why do you blog?

I started blogging in March 2003. At that time, there were very few
sites devoted to Latvia in English. And I was tired of explaining to
people that Latvia was not part of Russia. You have to understand that
in 2003, Latvia was not a member of the European Union or Nato.

Since then, of course, motivation for blogging has evolved. At one
point, it's become a search for my own identity. Who am I? Am I
Russian/Latvian/American? I tried answering my own questions in hopes
to show what some Russian-speaking people in Latvia may be going
through.

Now, the main goal is to inform English-speaking people about what's
going on in Latvia through my eyes, but, once I arrive to Latvia after
10 years, it will become an eye-witness account of Latvian life.

You're "coming home" soon. Does it feel like you're coming home?

I'm feeling the whole spectrum of emotions: from anticipation to fear.
This period will be the longest period I will spend in Latvia since I
left the country in 1997. It's exciting and frightening at the same
time. I realize that things have changed; places have changed; people
have changed. And in a way, home the way I remember will remain only
in my memory. However, I feel a strong connection to the country. So
in a way, yes, it is like coming home.

When you write about Estonia, you obviously support Estonia. Is there any conflict with your "Russian side"?

No, none really. Even if I don't consider that it was mostly
Russian-speaking teens looting, I would condemn any kind of
hooliganism, especially in a country like Estonia. I don't care about
the causes, I don't care about the motivation. It doesn't justify the
public disorder we've seen a couple of weeks ago.

What became visible more and more is how the Russian government
operates the propaganda machine; how hearsay is presented as facts;
how wrong key elements of previous stories get repeated again and
again; how most journalists from Russia absolutely have no integrity
to stand on.

So, no. No conflict with my Russian side. I only had a couple of
typical heated arguments with some of my Russian speaking friends, who
don't get it. But that's nothing new.

You're a journalist. Do you believe in objectivity?

Absolutely. I believe in objectivity. I believe all voices are
important in the marketplace of ideas. Of course, some ideas get there
through twisted or exaggerated facts.

I also believe in a thing called truth. For example, if someone had
said the earth was flat, but the other person said the earth was
round, the latter view would get most coverage because it's the truth
based on evidence. Now there are some things we cannot know, but it
doesn't hurt to question. So objectivity to me doesn't mean pure
stenography; it means analysis and presentation of evidence to the
reader.

With Estonia one can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that majority
of those young people on the streets of Tallinn were ethnic Russians:
the police numbers suggest that. One can hear them chanting "Russia,
Russia" on the streets of Estonian capital. And one can draw the
conclusions of their allegiance. No pretext of discriminated Russian
minorities, no public relations shtick can cover that truth.

What are your hopes and fears with regard to Latvian-Russian relations, within Latvia?

The hope is that Russia will treat its neighbors not as a sphere of
influence through natural resources or propaganda, but rather as an
equal partner. That will include Latvia. And I also hope that Latvian
politicians will be able to stand up to Russia. In other words, I hope
for peaceful co-existence, pipe-dream though it may be.

What can we expect from All About Latvia this year?

Plans are many, but there's never enough time and resources. Either at
the end of this year, or probably in the beginning of the next year,
I'm hoping to start a weekly podcast with news about Latvia with some
guests and music.

I'm also planning to start a Russian-language blog on livejournal.com
to debunk the myths about Latvia in the Russian press both inside and
outside of Latvia, but that's really like putting a stick into the
beehive. So for now, it's just an idea.

Since I'm moving from Midwestern United States to Latvia, I hope
readers, who continue to visit the blog, will find more revealing
reportages about life in Latvia.

Welcome home, Aleks!

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello!

Thank you for a meaningful interview and answers.
I would like you to have a look on absolutely insane youtube video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFhrKHnLKWY

The video has generated massive discussion between several competent individuals and unbelievabely blind, i even cant find a word to characterise this video producer/poster.

18 May, 2007 06:22  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thank you for the link. YouTube limits comments to 500 characters, so my response was woefully inadequate -- but I rather doubt that responding to such mund-boggling agitprop is especially worthwhile.

/P

18 May, 2007 14:08  
Anonymous Ineta said...

Paldies for posting the article! Very interesting indeed!

21 May, 2007 22:08  

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