After the stop in Warsaw, team blue embarked on a long journey by bus up north to the capital of Latvia: Riga. Latvia can be seen as a symbol of the revival of the Baltic States and for years it had one of the highest economical growth figures in Europe. In Riga, Diana – an experienced member of AEGEE-Riga – picked us up from the station. She organized an amazing session at the university with some of the Latvian candidates for the European Parliament elections. During this session, we discussed the position of Latvia in Europe and the challenges and opportunities for the Latvian youth. We asked the candidates why they got involved into politics and why they found it important to participate in shaping the future of Europe. Have you already considered who will be the best representative for you during the elections?
Reinis is one of the candidates for the EP elections and he represents the Union of Greens and Farmers in Latvia. He told us that one of his main drives to become politically active is to give young people a stronger voice in the political debate. While the Latvian and the European political spheres are mostly occupied by the older generation, he argued that the voice of young people is not sufficiently taken into account. By taking part in public debates and by having the courage to become politically active, youngsters can make sure that the European Parliament can have more young EPs and this will change the political landscape. This change is also visible within Reinis’ own party while it increasingly tries to get young people engaged and become candidates for political positions.
Oskars, the youngest candidate for the EP in Latvia, explained that his entrepreneurship and innovative ideas were the main motivators for him to become politically active. He’s involved in several start-ups and is convinced that the entrepreneurial spirit will be the solution to many problems that young people are facing today. He explained that the society and the economical context are changing and that more people will have to rely on their individual talents and passions. That’s why he wants to focus on creating a friendlier climate for young people that want to start a business. Give them the opportunity to fail on the road towards success and don’t make them afraid of taking risks. He told us that Latvia is already doing pretty well in this respect while some policies actively support the creation of start-ups.
Eriks, a candidate for the National Alliance in Latvia told us that he had always been interested in politics and history. He was greatly motivated by reading about the history of Europe and Latvia and realized that people are needed in order to realize this history. Thanks to this motivation, he became active in Latvian politics and is now ready to represent his country’s people in the European Parliament. When we asked him about his party, he first of all explained that although his party is nationalistically oriented it is not to be compared with nationalist parties in Western Europe. Though his party tries to preserve the Latvian culture and identity, it does not exclude any minority from its ideas and it supports the role of Latvia in the European Union. When we asked him about the first things he would actively work on in case he got elected he gave a very concrete answer: he told us that for his party, the two most important issues were to decrease the European dependence on Russian gas and to create a railway connection between the EU and the Baltic states. These two points would greatly benefit the Latvian people, according to Eriks.
The last speaker in Riga was Evija, who works for the Latvian NGO Transparency International. The main goal of the organization is to provide voters with more information about the people they will be voting on. It gathers information about politicians that voters ought to get acquainted with before they cast their votes. This information includes for example the criminal records of candidates or corruption cases that have been running against them. Moreover, it provides additional information like whether a candidate has switched parties in the past. By compiling all these data, Transparency International tries to make sure that voters have an idea about whether or not they have the chance of voting for a corrupt politician. Information is power and the power belongs to the voters.
With all these very interesting insights about the European Elections and the candidates for Latvia in mind, we had to leave Riga for the train to Belarus. At the station, we found a classic, very decent Soviet looking train with carpet on the floor and great service on board. We were ready to head for the very interesting destination of Minsk where we would discuss the ways of participation of the Belarusian youth.