Another year, another glorious gala dinner to celebrate and support independent journalism in the Baltic region.
This is the second year The Baltic Times has hosted the event, which was founded by Gene Zolotarev, the newspaper’s proprietor and chairman, to help support and nurture the next generation of journalists in the Baltics.
“The philosophy behind the event is simple,” noted Zolotarev. “I believe in the important role journalism plays in strengthening civil society, and I believe that good quality journalism cannot be conjured out of thin air. It takes years of training and support. A number of great journalists have come through our ranks over the years — Ben Smith, the editor and founder of Buzzfeed; Aaron Eglitis, one of Bloomberg’s top journalists; Ed Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist. This event is all about is making sure The Baltic Times remains an essential training ground for the next generation of journalists, just as it was for the last.”
The result of a merger between The Baltic Independent and The Baltic Observer in 1996, The Baltic Times is the only newspaper providing independent news in the English language from the three Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
The Gala dinner took place in the heart of the Latvian capital, beneath the chandeliers and amber tinted lights of the main Ballroom in Riga’s Grand Palace Hotel. Dignitaries, businessmen, journalists, and diplomats were there to show their support.
“In a region that is at the crossroads between two political systems, support for free and independent media is crucial as it has a critical role in upholding high standards of governance,” said the Austrian Ambassador to Latvia, Dr. Arad Benko, who was among many ambassadors in attendance.
Accompanying the sumptuous dinner were a number of high profile keynote speakers, flown in from across the world. Among them was Dr. Valdis Birkavs, a former prime minister of Latvia, now a member of the Club de Madrid, an exclusive gathering of the world’s leading statesmen. His speech delved straight into the geopolitical situation, and the challenges Latvia — and Europe — now face with a resurgent Russia in the east, and the ongoing migrant crisis to the south, threatening to undo Europe’s institutions unless its leaders adapt and show sufficient resolve
Following Dr. Birkavs was Elisabeth Braw, an award-winning journalist at The Economist, Newsweek, and The World Affairs Journal. Braw has also taught at the Reuters Institute of Journalism at the University of Oxford, and has reported extensively throughout the Baltic Sea region. She spoke about the challenges faced by journalists in the 21st century, and stressed the enduring importance of rigorous local journalism in today’s news cycle.
“Dreaming big won’t turn every young reporter into a Woodward or Bernstein, and indeed there will more likely be a lot of slogging in the local news department,” Braw said. “But that has great value, too, because if journalists don’t report on local corruption or potholes that are never repaired, who will? As Albert Camus said, a free press can be good or bad, but press without freedom can only be bad.”
Sponsoring the event was one of Latvia’s biggest banks, Citadele, which was the Gala’s Gold Sponsor. The Silver Sponsor was the up and coming company Icon Furs. Other supporters included Luxury Chocolate, Roma Riga Consulting and Fantini coffee.
Indeed, the evening provided a number of culinary treats for the guests. An adjacent room to the main dining room was decked out as a chocolate fantasy land by Luxury Chocolate, which provided guests with custom made gift chocolate and a delightful fountain of hot edible prime quality Belgian chocolate. The company occupies a niche making chocolates for product presentation, brand and product recognition, and promotion.
“Our passion is extraordinary chocolate and our business is printing your text, logo, photo messages directly onto chocolate using state of the art technology,’’ said Oleg Astakhov, the General Manager. “We use paint that is edible and made from natural ingredients making our products ready for consumption […] Apart from printing onto chocolate we can also make the chocolate itself the exact shape you need, even as complex as 3D.’’
The evening also saw a barista Italian atmosphere created by the Italian Adriano Carlesi of Roma Riga Consulting, who provided premium Italian Fazzini coffee products for the guests.
The proceeds of The Baltic Times Gala Dinner will go to assist young Baltic journalists – the winners of TBT essay competitions – as new aspiring beacons of truth and transparency in Baltic society.
Photos by Barbara Freiberga