Monday 11 May 2009

Where I will be on EP election day (1): I will go to Daugavpils (Latvia)

In a guest post last week, I have asked the question: "Where should I be on election day?" and from the answers and proposals I got from bloggers and commentators on TH!NK ABOUT IT I have chosen...
Daugavpils (Latvia)
because the reasoning by its supporter, Anita Kalmane, was the most convincing and because there are additional reasons for me to go there (my full explanations at the end of the article).

I still have to clarify with my boss if and how long I can leave, but if everything goes as I would like it to go, I will arrive on Thursday evening (4 June) and leave on Monday morning (8 June) (with Saturday being election day in Latvia), which would give me three full days in Daugavpils.

Yet, it doesn't make sense for me just to go there. Since I'll only have a limited time available, this trip will need some good preparations if it shall be effective.

So here is what I need:
  • I will need to find an accomodation - privately or in an affordable ho(s)tel - preferably with a possibility to access a computer with internet.
  • If possible, I would like to speak to citizens, but also to local NGO people, town and election officials, party representatives, journalists etc. Since I don't expect people to be waiting for me, I'll have to make arrangements with some of them.
  • And in order to talk to people, I will need somebody - one or several persons - who could help me with interpretation (English, French, or German to Latvian, Russian and Belorussian).
I think I could manage to organise most of these things on my own, by using my private European contacts and addressing a number of persons and institutions in Daugavpils directly.

But if anybody has a good ideas or good contacts, I'd be more than glad to hear about them - in particular since I am doing this on my private budget, and any solution that keeps my expenses as low as possible would be appreciated.

As I have explained in my guest post, the goal of this journey is to give a special perspective on the last day(s) of the European Parliament election campaign and on the socio-political background of these European elections.

I want to report about my (train) trip, about the city of Daugavpils and about Latvia, about the people I meet on my way and in the city, about Europe as it is and as it could be.

I would like to connect European blogging with the European reality and I would like to show exemplarily how the local situation in Latvia relates to the European level and vice versa.

I don't know whether this will work out, but Europe and the European Union is also about taking some risks, taking the plunge into the unknown, which I am ready to do.

I will continue to report about my preparations in this blog, and anyone who would like to contact me in this regard can do this either in the comments or via [Julien Frisch]!


And here now the explanation why I actually decided that I would like to go to Daugavpils for the election day:

Anita has given the following reasons for me to go to Daugavpils:
In my opinion, you should go to Daugavpils - the 2nd biggest city in Latvia (although 8x smaller than the 1st biggest city, our capital Riga). Why? Because only 17% of the population are Latvians, the rest being Russians (more than half), Polish, Belorussians etc. It’s a very interesting city, where you can hardly hear Latvian language (although it’s the only official language in Latvia)…

So I think it would be more than interesting to speak with the inhabitants of the city - what do they think about EU, how do they feel as EU citizens, what will they vote for (most of Russian speakers vote for parties, which are presented by Russian speakers, but it will be much interesting to find Russian speakers who would vote for typical Latvian parties - what is their motivation?) etc.
Since these are European elections, this seems to be a very interesting perspective, one that is missing from the discussions.

Indeed, these elections are not only European because they involve European citizens of different countries and European citizens living in different countries, but also because they involve European minorities - recognised and unrecognised - that are part of the multicultural society of this continent.

Daugavpils looks like a good place to cover this aspect.

But there are also some more reasons for me to go to Daugavpils:
  • It is a town at the border of the European Union and the Schengen area, so I expect to get a special view on the role of the European Union and on Schengen.
  • This neighbour is Russia, and EU-Russia relations are a continuos part of the discussions on EU foreign policy.
  • I had thought so far that it would be impossible to go to Latvia by train, especially not without leaving the EU. But now I realised that I can actually travel there through EU territory with my favourite transportation, which I would thus like to do.
  • I have never set foot on Lithuanian soil, and I will have to travel through Vilnius, which I am very much interested to see.
  • Parts of my studies have been focused on the Baltic States, and I even did one of my oral exams on these three countries, so I am particularly interested in getting back to these issues.
  • Election day in Latvia is Saturday, 6 June, which would give me some room to talk to people on post-election day and to follow the coverage of the Europe-wide activities.


Josef Litobarski said...

Hi, Julien!

Do you know "Hostelworld"? It's a good website for finding cheap accomodation:

And, if you haven't tried "Couchsurfing" then now might be the perfect time. It's a great way to get in touch with locals:

Good luck!


Anita Kalmane said...

Hahaha, if there are any hostels in Daugavpils, then it's a miracle :) I have been there only once in my life (it's simply very far and I have no friends there, so no reason to go), but it's very different than the rest of Latvian cities. And at first - not so developed.

However, I'd agree with Josef to try CouchSurfing as you'd get more local experience in such a way :)

Furthermore, here is already one contact of NGO: Jānis Kudiņš (he is Latgallian, not Russian),, he is (at least he was last Autumn) the president of the Daugavpils University Student Union. My organisation was organising an event with their help, so you can mention my name & AEGEE and he should remember :) And he also speaks English and could give you more tips.
I have also some more contacts from Daugavpils, but those people currently live in Riga - however, if you want their contacts, lemme know.

If you want help abt the trains and/or buses and the prices, ask and I'll help with that as well :) Also u can consider hitchhiking, people are doing it in Latvia!

Although doing a research there will be very interesting, I'd suggest you spend 1 or at least half a day in Riga as well, it's beautiful and you will see the differences between people... :) Also you could contact EPIO Riga (European Parliament Information Office), my previous job, and they would be happy to assist you with any information you'd need (I can give you contacts as well)!

Furthermore, if you want to compare the situation in other Latvian cities, lemme know and I'll suggest where to go :)

And the last, but not least - on the same date, 6th June ,we also have our national elections, not only EP elections, so people will need to vote twice for two different things. A bit confusing, but for the observers even more interesting :)

Julien Frisch said...

Thanks, Anita, for the hints! I think I will come back to you very soon. :-)

In general, I will focus on Daugavpils, because this is the idea of this trip. I have already been to Riga before, so there is no particular need to go there this time.

And it looks like there is a hostel connected to the University, I'll have to check what they charge.

The transportation is also quite clear. Using the websites of the German railway company combined with the Latvian I have checked that there is actually a connection (since the train schedules are changing in Latvia in June).

Having the national elections (and also the local, if I am not mistaken?) at the same day is even more interesting, because it'll show how much the EU can outweigh the national level and how it will effect the turnout rate.

Anita Kalmane said...

Right, sorry - just local, not national elections, I mixed them :)

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

I live in Daugavpils (and was supposed to blog for "Think About It" but fell ill before the Brussels meeting). You might be able to stay with me. You can contact me through Skype via my blog, if you like.