Prof. Ilga Kreituse: to establish oneself and understand one's purpose in life
As a historian, Professor Ilga Kreituse's strength is her logical thinking. Combining it with the directness she is renowned for, as the dean of the Faculty of European Studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU), the professor has navigated it through the ups and downs throughout its development. She took over the faculty from Professor Ilze Ostrovska in 2008 when it was in its prime, and passed it on to Professor Andris Sprūds as a stable and mature structural unit. The professor admits that it hasn't been an easy decade, but her inherent stubbornness ensured that the course that had been set, was maintained.
When did you start working at RSU? And who invited you?
I have worked all my life as a teacher: at Riga State Gymnasium No.1., Riga Secondary School No. 3, at the Humanitarian Private Gymnasium. That's why, quite often, I hear „Good afternoon, teacher!”, when I'm walking down the street, and it makes me feel younger. [Laughs] After my work in the Parliament, I continued my work as an educator (at the University of Latvia, among other places). Then I met my old acquaintance Ilze Ostrovska in an interview. [She was the dean of the RSU Faculty of Social Sciences at that time – editor's note]. She asked, would I like to lead the RSU Department of Political Science. I had previously worked at RSU. The module I taught as a parliamentarian, I recall, was called „Current affairs in Latvian politics”, regarding this, Ilze said that I was the first parliamentarian who was able to present the entire module, not just a few lectures. I thought – it's worth a try! And that's what I've been doing for 16 years now. Unbelievable! It's because of Ilze that I started working at RSU, and everything that happened since was because of her as well. Later she said that we're not going to be able to exist and develop independently. It fuelled my stubbornness and, as a result, we still exist. [Laughs]
How did things evolve while you were the dean?
I took over the faculty in 2008 without any Master’s programmes. Both Master’s study directions – politics and economics – as well as the doctoral study programme, were created under my leadership. The number of study courses and topics, as well as the lecturers, have changed during these ten years. I must say that I've always paid attention to student opinion. For example, surveying had already been introduced in Professor Ilze Ostrovska's time.
Prof. Ilga Kreituse (first row, centre) together with her colleagues from the Faculty of European Studies Department of Political Science at the RSU 2018 summer graduation ceremony.
What were the greatest difficulties the faculty had to face during these ten years?
The most complicated was the period when there was talk of annexing us into the University of Latvia. I greatly appreciate that the educators believed in us and remained with us, although it was not our decision to make and at one point, nothing was clear.
However, there are still difficulties in social sciences in Latvia. One of the most important problems is the lack of financial and other kinds of support. In my opinion, the political science and sociology study programmes are being eliminated purposefully. However, it is important that we educate young people, who are capable of thinking and have analytical minds and who will be able to notice the mistakes of the government and will not be afraid to talk about them.
In addition to what has already been discussed, what, in your opinion, is the main advantage that RSU provides to its students?
First of all, it's the ability to work with the material. Secondly, the discipline that is determined by the module system. If the student slackens off even for one month, that's it! It means that he'll have the next chance only after a year. Both these factors result in relatively sound knowledge.
The RSU experience brings people together. It was always important for me to let a student know that a teacher is also a human being and that, in the event of any problems or obstacles, he must come and talk to us individually. I have had a number of different cases. For example, I've lent money to students who I believed in very strongly, so that they can finish their studies. I'm not bragging, I'm just trying to point out, how close the relationship between the students and teachers at RSU can become.
Prof. Ilga Kreituse at the RSU Scientific Conference 2016.
What are your feelings as the 20th anniversary of Social Sciences approaches and the Alumni event on 19th October?
I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel proud that our graduates are highly respected and work in 22 countries around the world and that the number of our graduates – which is a couple of thousand – is greater than the population of some Latvian regions.
On the other hand, it makes me think about the passing of time and feel nostalgic about the road travelled. I feel a certain emptiness and sadness, but it is a benevolent sadness – like a mother who accompanies her child for the last time before they start their studies somewhere far away.
People often point out your capacity for work and colourful personality that leaves an impression on others. Where does your bright personality come from?
I was born and lived in Tērvete, in Viesturmuiža, until 1959. And also, later, when our family moved to Jūrmala, I spent all my summers in Tērvete, at my grandmother's and father's sister's house, who was a stablewoman in the Gredzens kolkhoz. The people from Tērvete are unique people. They have always been proud of their area and have always been taught to get used to hard work. On the one hand, we say that Zemgale is the granary of Latvia, but, on the other hand, I remember those fields of clay soil with endless furrows of sugar beets that I helped to weed in spring. This helped to build my character.
Tērvete is a good place to get a solid foundation in life and understand who you are and what you must do in life. I, for example, realised quite early on that I'm not going to be a great farmer. I don't mind milking a cow or weeding, but I can't say that it's something I strive for. Father's relatives, who stayed to manage the household in Tērvete after we moved to Jūrmala, called us layabouts.
In 2016, at the RSU Christmas event. From the left: the secretary of the Department of International Business and Economics Liene Štoka, the secretary of the Department of Political Science Ilze Speķe, Prof. Ilga Kreituse, the secretary of the Department of Political Science and the Department of the International Business and Economics Sandra Alksne
You became "a layabout" after weeding beet furrows in the clay soil, but when did you get hooked on history?
There was a time, when I would have laughed out loud, if someone had told me that I'll study history. I was part of the Latvian handball team at school. As a junior I even got to the national team, thanks to the fantastic coach at Ķemeri school, Līgonis Zatlers – Valdis Zatlers's father – who was able to make me excited about this sport! Our school was small (a class of 13 pupils), and, after my return from training camps, my physics, chemistry and mathematics teachers worked extra hours with me, until I had solved all the equations that I had missed. I graduated with an average grade of 4.75 and it was clear that I will study one of the hard sciences. I chose biochemistry, but I didn't finish these studies, because... I didn't pass the sports exam. You need a special talent for that! I got in an argument with the coach, and, since the coach's husband was the vice-rector, I didn't finish the university on the first attempt. When my brother applied for his second degree in the Faculty of Law, I joined him. I picked my subjects randomly. I didn't want to study the same specialty as my brother, but I wanted to have similar exams. I chose history. But there's still something from the hard sciences in me. I still look at history from a mathematical modelling perspective. That's how I always viewed history and, perhaps, politics, as well, – as an interaction of two variables that affect the third invariable parameter. Actually, all things can be measured, also in social sciences. If you have a model, data and numbers, then no one can discredit your hypothesis.
I can't resist asking you one final question: how long have you had your renowned sharp tongue?
[Laughs] You see, each person has their own personality and rigour that they carry with them throughout life. Perhaps, that's the reason it was hard for me in politics, because these compromises, that quite often simply meant surrendering, made me feel uncomfortable. That's why I thought about it quite a lot – why should I feel uncomfortable? Of course, one shouldn't insult the other person, which I may not always be that successful at, but why are people afraid of the truth?
Maybe it's not right for a political scientist, but I believe that people have a certain mission and that their personalities are determined by their zodiac sign. You can silence yourself slightly, but you can't change yourself completely. I feel better if I speak my mind rather than smiling falsely and pretending to be something I am not. Not everyone can be a ray of sunshine! Everyone is different. I haven't sharpened my tongue on purpose. That's just my character. [Laughs]
I have had to suffer for what I have said, but it's important for me to feel good about myself. And this type of harshness can yield good results. For example, one of the greatest compliments that I've received, was from a Master’s student, who said that she was so afraid to come to me and ask for academic leave that she just finished her Master's thesis and graduated. [Laughs]