Latvia

Ausma Kantāne-Ziedone

I know that we cannot exist without Europe. We would be gone on the second day. Everyone understands that much; that such a small country cannot exist without Europe. All three of us [Baltic states] couldn’t. It is good that there are three of us. We would be swept away if we were alone.

Interview by Ilze Seipule

Ausma Kantāne-Ziedone is a Latvian actress and politician born in Riga on 10 November 1941. She was one of the leading actresses at Dailes Theatre in Riga, having played 76 roles from 1963 to 2001, but also worked as a teacher of body and speech culture at the Riga Dome Choir School.

According to Ilze Seipule, who interviewed her in January 2020, Kantāne-Ziedone always led a publicly active and opinionated life. Between 2002 to 2010 she was active in Latvia’s political scene, serving as a member of the 8th and 9th Saeima (parliament of the Republic of Latvia) for the political party New Time.

Ausma Kantāne-Ziedone was married to the late Imants Ziedonis, one of the most significant Latvian poets, writers and creators of Latvia’s self-awareness as a nation. 

In the wide-ranging interview in January 2020, Ausma Kantāne-Ziedone spoke with Ilze Seipule, a cultural manager currently based in Riga, about her diverse career as an actress, the historical developments in the Baltic states, her political engagement and the power of art and culture for the creation of freedom.

Interview Highlights

Childhood

There wasn’t much we could afford. I had never eaten chicken. There were these guts and pieces at the market – head, neck, wings, legs, stomach and heart. The big chickens were sold separately, we couldn’t dream of those. I said: “Mum, get those guts”. And there was a lady standing before us who gave my mum some money and said: “Here, buy it for that child if she wants it so bad!” So, yes, poor, very poor. Although, when I was already married to Imants1, his mum in Ragaciems was boiling chicken. She cut the head off and threw it away.
“Oh, my”, I said. “Don’t throw that away! That’s edible.” “What, the head?”, she replied.
“Yes, the comb, the wattles, it’s crunchy and so tasty!”
And his mother looked at me and thought: “Oh, poor child, where has she lived and what has she eaten?!” Yes, well, it was tough. 

 1 Imants Ziedonis (1933 – 2013) was a Latvian poet, writer, publicist, author of short prose, translator, script writer. One of the most noticeable Latvian authors of literary tales, significant public worker during the Singing Revolution, member of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia. Life partner of Ausma Kantāne – Ziedone.

Work

“If you were twenty again, would you go on to become an actress?” – No, definitely not. Pardon me, but an actress is like a prostitute. You can never perform what you want. The director tells you: “I don’t see it in you, no. You see, here is Anna and here is Ilze. They can, but I don’t see it in you.” Another director would see it [in me], but he doesn’t, so you can go shoot yourself. What can I do?! It’s a horrible dependence on what work they give. And then they give it to you but don’t know how to help [direct you]. If the director gives it [a role] to me then I think it is because he sees something in me: “That actor has a different colour. Look at him! I should get this out of him. I have observed something in him, how he looks at this and I’m really interested in this side of him. So, I give him a character that will bring out certain qualities.” But for us [at the time] it was: “Well, this one goes to her!” On the surface, on the surface. So, when I finished, they asked me: “Are you not coming back to the theatre?” I said: “No, it’s not interesting to me.” If there would have been a director that said: “Ausma, come, let’s do a piece.” I would have gone.

On the Baltic-European relations

Fine, we don’t bring as much money to the table as others, our payments are smaller. But as a citizen of the European Union, I feel that if only they were honest and would truly understand that it is a rainbow after all and that we will lose one of its colours here. The same way that the animals are dying out, pandas are dying. If you don’t give some extra money to that panda, it will die out. And if a panda becomes extinct,  then so can a Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian. Even so, I stand for the European Union as the only possible way for our survival. 

Political awareness

[When I served a term in parliament] I was one of the first to say that my concern is the children. I was in the cultural committee, nothing [interesting] there. Artists don’t want anything, they don’t need any laws, just money, more money. Māra Zālīte  said: “They are total idiots. They don’t understand a single thing. Those artists are unimaginable.” I said: “Māra, I completely agree with you. I am leaving for the social and work committee.” Because you can’t do anything in the cultural committee. Then they all cursed me. I said: “Sorry, but I am in Saeima. I pass the laws. I am not the money. Go ask for it from the ministry. I am not the money, this is not the place to ask for money, dear friends! You don’t know what it is I do here.” Then I went there. [I achieved that] mothers were now paid child support for a year and a half, before it was one year. Back then I said: “Dear friends, we have now decided that a mother can stay home for a year and a half. But who will pay her for that year and a half?” My law was passed in the first reading.

On freedom of expression

As soon as we put in some subtext, the hall was full. Were they coming to see theatre in Soviet times? They came looking for that subtext and that sense of community. Basically, as soon as these times [Latvia was a part of the USSR]  were over, the theatres were empty. And we didn’t know what to perform. Until then, we were always playing subtext. Now that they could all go out in the streets and talk; they’re not interested in theatre anymore. I think nobody needs that “real art” anymore!? Then the art was a secondary thing for them. I had a flash before my eyes (laughs). See, it’s all the other way around from what I thought. […] Also, in art. You know when you can call yourself an artist? When you show how you think. Everything has been thought of in the world. The ancient Greeks already thought of everything. There is nothing new you can think of. But you can have that small “how”. Bend that big truth a few degrees. And then you see, oh, that’s interesting! I hadn’t thought of that!

The views expressed in the interviews are those of the interviewers and interviewees and do not necessarily reflect those of Arbeit and Europa.

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