The major responsibility for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage lies with the Ministry of Culture and its subordinate institution, the Centre for Arts Education and Intangible Heritage (CAEIH). It is the main national body responsible for: implementing national cultural policies and programmes in the field of intangible cultural heritage; consulting with municipalities and communities; carrying out documentation, information and popularization activities and raising awareness about projects; and organizing the main nationwide celebrations and festivals. The Centre cooperates with national and local government institutions, research institutions, educational establishments and non-governmental organizations. The Ministry of Education and Science and its subordinated institutions – the National Centre for Education in particular – are also deeply involved in the safeguarding process, namely in relation to the education and transmission of traditions among children and school pupils. Institutional cooperation on the implementation of the Convention is actively encouraged and supported, on a continuous basis, by the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO. An important role in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in Latvia is played by the 119 city and municipal authorities that provide organizational and financial support to various groups of intangible cultural heritage practitioners (including municipally-established artist collectives) in their efforts to safeguard their intangible cultural heritage. Partnerships have been forged between state and municipal institutions and non-governmental organizations, local communities, individual bearers, formal and non-formal educational institutions and organizations. Civil society and non-governmental organizations are increasingly involved in the decision-making process for the implementation of cultural policies in Latvia. For instance, the Folklore Society of Latvia is a comparatively new non-governmental organization made up of intangible cultural heritage professionals and practitioners. Its purpose is to promote and support the activities of ethnographic ensembles, folklore groups, folk storytellers and musicians and other intangible cultural heritage practitioners in Latvia. One of its tasks is to maintain an active dialogue with state and local government institutions on matters related to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.
New legislation dedicated to intangible cultural heritage is planned under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture with the broad participation of other ministries (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Economy), governmental institutions, academic institutions, various associations (the ‘Aprika’ folklore association, the association of ‘Latvian Countryside Women’) and individual experts (linguists, folklorists, economists, etc.). Once the Intangible Cultural Heritage Law has been adopted, CAEIH will have overall responsibility for inventorying and other safeguarding actions.
As for training future cultural professionals, the Latvian Academy of Culture offers a Bachelor degree programme on traditional culture and folklore with a special focus on intangible cultural heritage, as well as post-graduate courses. The Latvian Culture College of the Latvian Academy of Culture prepares professionals in cultural management, library sciences, dance management and cultural tourism, promoting tangible and intangible heritage through both theory and practice. The University of Latvia also offers undergraduate and post-graduate study programmes in folkloristics as well as cultural and social anthropology, and the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music provides training in ethnomusicology at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Finally, the CAEIH fosters lifelong learning in various domains of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, as well as raising the professional competences of educators working in this sphere.
The main documentation institutions for intangible cultural heritage are the following: the Archives of Latvian Folklore; the Institute of Latvian History, the University of Latvia (especially the Department of Ethnography); the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia (collects documents and preserves folk monuments along with evidence of the way of life and culture of the rural population); the National History Museum of Latvia (the largest repository of Latvian material culture); the National Library of Latvia (provides access to collections in digital form, which are physically stored in different library collections throughout Latvia); and the Centre for Scientific Research of the Latvian Academy of Culture (documentation from its research projects).
As yet, no inventory has been established in Latvia although the new Law on Intangible Cultural Heritage will establish one. There have nevertheless been some initiatives since 2006. These include a Digital Culture Map used for the identification and promotion of intangible cultural heritage at the regional and community levels (e.g. developing various regional and local databases and registers of regional and local values with community participation websites for some communities). The latest version of the draft law of December 2011 proposes, as a compromise, an outline for the establishment of three lists of intangible cultural heritage: (1) an inventory of intangible cultural heritage; (2) a list of traditional economy; (3) a list of culinary heritage. The Centre for Arts Education and Intangible Heritage will be the main body responsible for overseeing the maintenance and continuous updating of the intangible cultural heritage inventory. As demanded by individual domestic producers and micro-entrepreneurs and in order to balance the various interests surrounding intangible cultural heritage, the inventory will incorporate intangible cultural heritage values as stipulated by the Convention as well as the certification system for traditional products.
The main criteria proposed are: (1) the element of intangible cultural heritage is recognized by an individual, group or community; (2) the element of intangible cultural heritage possesses cultural, historical, artistic, social, linguistic and scientific value; (3) the element of intangible cultural heritage is based in the tradition and transmitted from generation to generation; (4) there are tradition bearers who know the element of intangible cultural heritage and can ensure the safeguarding of relevant skill(s) and knowledge and its sustainability. The law requires that a nomination for the inventory be developed and submitted with the participation and consent of the individuals, groups and communities concerned. The law does not reflect the viability of the element of intangible cultural heritage, the format, regularity with which the inventory is updated or other aspects. It is foreseen that these elements will be defined in a subsequent by-law by the Cabinet of Ministers on the Inventory.
Various measures to ensure the recognition of, respect for and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage have been implemented, such as a large-scale intangible cultural heritage safeguarding project from 2009 to 2011. The project is entitled the ‘School of Traditional Skills’ and is aimed at promoting various manifestations of intangible cultural heritage and their practitioners to the public. In order to promote intangible cultural heritage in its context, the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia presents the artefacts and buildings of traditional life in an open-air exhibition in Riga, as well as in two in situ museums.
As far as education is concerned, Latvia has been active in introducing the teaching of intangible cultural heritage into schools; an appropriate methodology is still being developed, on the basis of experiences gathered. The National Commission for UNESCO has chosen the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage as one of the themes offered to the network of the UNESCO Associated Schools. As a result, since 2008 schools in different regions of Latvia have been working to identify, research, document and master the traditions in their local surroundings. Intangible cultural heritage is also addressed through non-formal extracurricular activities, such as folk group rehearsals, master classes and camps during school holidays, student science fairs, field studies, thematic events, etc. For adult education, the School of Folklore of CAEIH provides classes in traditional music, folk costumes and their wearing traditions, mythology, annual celebrations and family feasts, folklore, etc. The School of Dance of the Centre has a professional in-service training programme for the leaders of the folk dance groups.
With regard to bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, Latvia has entered into partnership agreements with Egypt (2005), Bulgaria (2005), Mexico (2005), Turkey (2005), Poland (2006), Moldova (2006), Peru (2007), Brazil (2008), the People’s Republic of China (2010), Flanders (2011) and the Belgian French community and the Walloon government (2011). These address questions related to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, including: the exchange of information, the sharing of documentation, participation in educational and cultural events; scientific cooperation; and the exchange of experiences between traditional cultural groups, craftspeople and non-governmental organizations, etc. Regional cooperation is mainly based on the shared tradition of the Baltic Song and Dance Celebration. Generally, international cooperation in the field of research is led by different research institutes as well as individual researchers. Recently, there has been more active international collaboration among researchers focusing on various aspects of intangible cultural heritage.
Latvia has one element on the Representative List: the Baltic song and dance celebrations (incorporated in 2008, together with Estonia and Lithuania, after having been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003). These are seen as a cornerstone of Latvian national identity and, historically, as a form of non-violent protest that encourages the transmission of traditional cultural values, promotes interest in associated intangible cultural heritage and tangible elements and ensures the sustainability of inherited values. A Programme for the Safeguarding and Development of the Song and Dance Celebration Tradition 2008-2013 has been adopted with such aims as: improving the knowledge and skills of young people; providing education and training for leaders of artistic groups; ensuring the continuity of the Celebrations; promoting documentation and research and its accessibility; and developing international cooperation.
During the preparation of the Report, five regional discussions were organized. These gathered together local cultural leaders, representatives of municipalities, cultural centres, and non-governmental organizations as well as active members of communities, from each cultural region of Latvia. A separate national consultation was also organized with non-governmental organizations. The consultations were organized as an open debate among the regional stakeholders on: the sustainability of the tradition; the main challenges; the primary changes they have observed; and the key conclusions, needs and proposals. These debates informed the preparation of the Report as well as serving as a basis for the development of other programmes and the organization of the upcoming Celebration.