City Symbiosis – Jelgava Latvia

Carmel Formalizes Sister-City Partnership With Jelgava, Latvia

Writer / Jeff Worrell
Photography Provided

Carmel recently became a home away from home for a visiting delegation from our newest sister city, Jelgava, Latvia. The mayor of Jelgava, along with other elected officials and government leaders from the central part of Latvia, spent an amazing 10 days exchanging ideas and learning as much as they could about governing a modern, central-Indiana community.Jelgava Latvia

The man who brought Carmel and Jelgava together is Carmel resident Andris Berzins. Since 1987 Berzins has called Carmel home, but his family has deep roots in Latvia, specifically Jelgava. That is most likely why Berzins has spent what observers believe is almost every waking hour serving his family’s homeland here in the United States with great distinction and honor.

Berzins started his distinguished career as executive director of the Latvian Community Center in Indianapolis. It was there he met the Latvian ambassador to the United States, who asked him to take on the role of honorary consul to Indianapolis. He said yes, and was on his way to making connections with government and business leaders, while assisting people from Latvia who were integrating into Indiana life. Mayor Brainard happened to be one of the government leaders Berzins reached out to, not realizing that someday Carmel would become the center of Latvian attention.

After Berzins was elevated by Governor Holcomb to the position of honorary consul for Indiana, he began discussing a more formal relationship between Jelgava and Carmel. There were so many similarities. Andris Ravins has been mayor of Jelgava for 22 years. The population is approximately 69,000. Their community has a new downtown that was rebuilt after sustaining extensive damage in World War II. In order to support the community’s focus on the arts, they built a beautiful performing arts center.

In June of 2022, exchanges began. The Carmel Fire Department Auxiliary coordinated the shipment of hospital medial supplies and scrubs to Jelgava for use in Ukraine. In 2022 the Gazebo was the site for a Latvian-themed Christmas tree display along with the other Carmel sister cities. The Jelgava and Carmel libraries have exchanged numerous books and cultural gifts.

In 2023 the exchanges ramped up, with Jelgava Police Chief Viktor Vanags and Carmel Police Chief James Barlow each sending two officers for two weeks of immersive training. Artists from Jelgava attended the Carmel International Arts Festival with the most recent exchange, with Jelgava government and city leaders staying in Carmel.

This month the American Latvian Association Congress held their annual conference in Carmel to honor the newly found, blooming relationship.

Berzins now helps to coordinate the Carmel sister program, helping the five sister-city organizations with growing their interactions. Berzins says there are more sister-city relationships in the works.

“Carmel is beginning to be viewed around the world as a multicultural community with an appeal to the international community,” Berzins says. “There are so many ethnic groups who live here, contribute to our community and send their children to our schools. It makes sense to celebrate that richness.”

And so we do.

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