Director Kārlis Anitens: The virus has clouded some people’s thinking

"We praise the freedom fighters who have laid down their lives so that we could have our country today, but at the same time we are now beheading culture, and that is criminal. It's not always about money, and Latvians are patient, but... Cutting off the head to save someone - then in the end what's the point of saving someone?” - director Kārlis Anitens asks rhetorically. Today we are talking about the deplorable situation of culture in the state of emergency set by the government.
13.11.2020. Elita Veidemane
©Ģirts Ozoliņš/F64

You are a playwright, director, screenwriter...

Yes, a little bit of everything. In today's harsh rhythm, it's even better if I can write and compose myself, rather than have someone else do it. Then I direct my own composition and lead it all to the end.

That was possible some... ten months ago. Now it's all over.

We are talking on Lāčplēsis Day, it will soon be November 18, and every year we work for at least six months, sometimes even longer, in preparation for this big holiday. Now... Now I can't even honestly say what I'm going to have to do on November 18th. Something will still happen. In digitized form.

There is absolute chaos in the field of culture today. Someone can call and say: hey, you can do this and that for tomorrow? Well, the professionalism is high enough that in the event of an emergency, we can also manage something of semi-decent quality. But in general, it is clear that the quality of a cultural process aimed at encouraging society to think will decline. You cannot manage to create something in high-quality lightning quick.

Sometimes it takes at least a couple of months to understand and figure out how to do it. But if you have 24 hours until everything has to start... Then there are careless solutions. Now, looking at the current state of culture, I have doubts whether anyone will even need the fruits of this culture at all...

Rather, it can be called a culture of survival.

Exactly. On these holidays, we chant the words: our country, the purity of the spirit, patriotism... But I have a feeling that all this - out of ignorance or stupidity - has been pushed off somewhere. In the spring, I had a seminar on cultural inventory, I visited 18 municipalities, and already at that time I was asked: how long can a dance group cancel rehearsals but still really exist? We can say that the rehearsals are virtual and digital, but that is not possible. Everyone - dance groups, choirs, amateur theaters, masters of arts and crafts - they will disappear. Even jewelry groups are forbidden to operate. Okay, we stop everything and everyone for a month, we also close the schools, maybe then we break the spread of the virus. But as long as you allow some, but not others, nothing will change. I think that cultural institutions exceedingly tried to follow all the epidemiological rules - set up plastic walls between the seats, introduced a personalized tickets and so on. I think nothing will end on December 6, but for me - for us! - a clear answer is needed: what should be the conditions for life to return? Why, for example, is air traffic allowed, but we are not allowed to go to concerts? In the Constitution I doubt that much is written about traffic, but there is about culture. It seems that the virus has clouded some people’s thinking... But I don't think anyone wants to destroy culture because of evil reasons. Rather, there are no people in that representation of rulers who are able to slam their fists on the table and say: guys, we can’t do that! After all, culture is the cornerstone of our nation!

Somehow it keeps being forgotten...

In addition, in the spring, four billion euros were given to our country. Couldn't they give at least half to that very health care - just do what is necessary! Then at least we should not sacrifice everything else, including culture. Now it is definitely not cool that statesmen are saying: we will not support those who do not look like they will survive! If someone maliciously skipped work and said - give me money! - such actions, of course, should not be supported. We praise the freedom fighters who have laid down their lives so that we could have our country today, but at the same time we are now beheading culture, and that is criminal. It's not always about money, and Latvians are patient, but... Cutting off the head, to save someone - then in the end what's the point of saving someone? Artistic and cultural values ​​- they are strong, but very fragile. As if made of porcelain. If you throw a cup of porcelain on the ground, it will shatter. And right now I have the feeling that this cup is in a free fall. Will anyone catch it before it hits the ground? If no one catches it, it will be too late...

Do you feel support from people?

I have received both support and a derogatory attitude, like, just go and work.

Oh, so cultural people don't work?

I have already answered that. First of all, it is my job to drive the cultural process, to shape it, and I have been doing it for many years, without counting the hours. Sometimes it has been the case that I have missed months of seeing my children grow up because I am preparing for a major cultural event. And I'm not someone afraid to get my hands dirty either: I've spent my childhood in the countryside, I know how to cultivate the land, and now when I'm sad, I go to the forest and clean the forest, felling old trees. But the state urges: re-profile! But what will come in my place? In my opinion, culture is an area in which life experience is needed alongside education. Our greats - Rainis, Aspazija, Brigadere - they knew how to put the power of thought into one sentence, but they did not do it at the age of 20. When life experiences work together with education, this tandem can influence people's thinking, and this is the main task of art and culture. If we all leave... I still feel like a patriot of our land, and it is important to me that my children grow up to be upstanding Latvians, and culture plays an important role in creating upstanding Latvians. So I hope that common sense wins and someone grabs the falling cup. Somewhere I read Europe's recovery plan after the covid, and it was written there that culture should create two percent of the gross product. It seems that in our national strategy there is zero percent in culture... Culture is constantly in the role of stepchild, and then it is no wonder that disgusting comments are written on the web - it is the result of contempt for culture. The director of a House of Culture must also be a manager, a lawyer, a public relations specialist, an accountant and more, his salary is laughable and no one can expect to receive an excellent result. I was a teenager when you and your Awakening colleagues fought for us to regain an independent Latvia, I was thrilled - yes, something big is happening! At the time, it was a purposeful force for culture - writing, singing, and the art of speech - to help achieve great goals. And perhaps culture was even one of the most fundamental cornerstones in achieving them. Now we have such cultural palaces - theaters, museums, concert halls - but do we have culture in the country as a whole?

But we have a Minister of Culture!

He herself is from one "palace"... Margarita Vilcāne once said something like this: a person who realizes himself in the field of culture cannot be an accountant, a financier and something else at the same time, because, for example, her task is to sing and with this song to help move culture. Therefore, I have a question: is our Minister of Culture Nauris Puntulis in the right place? Can he represent us all, us people of culture? There are many tens of thousands of us. He is a good singer, but... Everyone should self-critically evaluate their activities, because being the Minister of Culture, they have to know not only their "palace", but also, for example, the problems of the Krāslava House of Culture. When the question of the construction of Riga concert hall was topical, I had only one question: who would sing there? Let's look at the continuation of covidmess, see if it even makes sense to build another concert hall.

Maybe that cup has already fallen.

Right. We already have several large concert halls. How are things for them? Very difficult. But I - and many of us - need to have the Minister stand or fall for the industry. For doctors today, everyone is falling and advocating, and rightly so, but I think society should stand or fall for all the important industries. And without that serious basic thing - culture - we will not manage without it. Imagine a world without culture... It's horrific.

World without culture, Latvia without holidays...

They are not saying this directly - do not celebrate. But they do say: don't go to put down candles, don't gather, don't... Then maybe let the rulers come up with suggestions - what to do so that at least something stays in the heart? Every night and every morning listen to instructions to wash your hands? Every day find out how many are infected with covid? Maybe find a way to sow at least a little light in people? If we are told "no" for everything, then we have to think - what will be given to us instead?

You said some time ago: we are being kept as tethered dogs.

Nothing has changed today. Something will be supported, something will be compensated, some kind of downtime benefits... But at this point it would be wiser if the state gave tasks. For example, if you are a screenwriter or a playwright - write a script or a play. The state will pay you for it. When will those scripts or plays be realized - that is another matter. But you'd be working, you would receive royalties for it. Are you a writer? The state asks you to write a book and pays for it. And so on. All of this can be stored in the National Library, and it would be interesting for researchers many decades later to explore what creative people once thought. But we are offered only competitions in the State Culture Capital Foundation (SCCF). One author wins, the others can starve. The position of the country is obviously like this: a person of culture must be poor, only then he can claim something. But it is much more valuable to keep people of culture at a certain level and employ them, than to organize competitions through the SCCF.

Yes, no one organizes competitions for ministry officials, money will fall into their account on a certain date no matter what.

Of course. If one does not believe that professional cultural people really do create something, one can google and learn everything about them. But fraudsters, of course, must be sifted. And I still don't want to be in a tethered dog situation all the time, when I have to look at what I can and can't do, what the SCCF will or will not offer me. If my industry is closed now, I have no way of proving that I will pull through to "justify" the funding given.

Nor is anyone going to ask you to prove anything. The rulers really don't care what you think.

This is very sad. From those high windows, of course, it's hard to see what's going on down in the forest meadows if you don't walk on those meadows. But the state must not be judged only in numbers, the state is still a living formation consisting mainly of people. There is territory, there is language. But the key is still people trying to do something. You can, of course, lament that there are fewer and fewer people in Latvia, but then why are there fewer of them?! The answer should be given by those who rule. But this situation, in which they are not responsible for anything, is extremely convenient. I am told: political responsibility exists! What does it mean? It unfortunately does not mean anything. Political responsibility was when the members of the Supreme Council voted for the Restoration of Independence on May 4, 1990, when people outside the walls of parliament were waiting for the result. But now... Now there are only a series of stupid reforms. Now we are reforming education, taxes... Remember, during school we had those constructors, we screwed them together, but they usually got loose, and now, watching the "reforms", it seems to me that nothing is screwed on at all, everything fits just "kind of", everything is wobbling - just like in that constructor... And no one is responsible for it.

On the other hand, the attitude towards people is ironically strict: let’s punish, let’s not allow, let's increase taxes!

I was particularly outraged by what Minister Reirs said: “If a person earns 200 euros, he or she must be in the scope of social services. Maybe they need help, social correction, treatment for addictions if someone can't get a job, so that they would be at least at the minimum level of pay." What the minister said means that he has absolutely no understanding of what is happening in the endangered sectors. If I do not earn anything in November and December because nothing is happening, will I need social correction? Maybe the minister himself needs social correction?