From the longing perspective of someone looking west, Latvia is so very European, a model to be emulated by countries like Ukraine, which, well, are not.
However, it's interesting to listen to Ukrainians talk about the cultural achievements of their former Soviet brethren. While I was in Riga, I had the opportunity to see the ballet Swan Lake with several Ukrainian colleagues. It was quite revealing.
I am an American Cretin. I admit this. My education was woefully lacking in the areas of classical music, ballet and opera. Blame not the carpetparents -- they tried to sow the seeds of high culture, but they fell on fallow soil. Thus, at my advanced age, I can appreciate little more than the spectacle of a ballet. I've seen the Nutcracker half a dozen Christmases at the Seattle Center, but so deep is my ignorance of the dance, I had to have my colleague explain the plot of Swan Lake. That's sort of embarrassing.
There's no arguing that Riga's a pretty small town, but keep in mind that Mikail Baryshnikov started his career there so it's not like they're taking off the farmers' daughters' clogs and replacing them with toe shoes. Over lunch, a Latvian colleague extolled the high quality of Riga's Russian-school ballet. The American cretin in me concluded that since Russians were good at things like ballet and shot put, this would be an excellent ballet.
I thought it was! I love shiny pretty things and the costumes and dancers were ever so swanny and shimmery. They hardly at all thumped around like elephants in tutus. Yay white swan! Boo black swan! I applauded at the all right times and comported myself with dignity.
To listen to the Ukrainians I was with, you'd think we'd watched a community theater production of Grease.
"Oh! These Latvians! Russians and Ukrainians would never use such costumes! We are classical. Latvians are...not."
"Oh! But those Latvian ballerinas are sow-shaped!"
"Oh! The lead ballerina was surely Russian. She was so much better than the rest of them!"
But this air of superiority hardly is limited to culture. I made an offhand remark to a friend about Misha giving those Russians a backhanded bitchslap and my Ukrainian friend, who's normally fully supportive of punitive measures against Russians, rolled her eyes and said "well, yes, but he is Georgian and you know what that means."
I wonder how Russians would respond if they knew Ukrainians (khokhols!) were inviting themselves to the cultural table of their slavic brethren.