Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 119

In her first statements to the country following her unexpected election as president of Latvia, the little-known Vaira Vike-Freiberga (see profile in the Monitor, June 18) outlined her policy priorities. She named accession to the European Union and to NATO as the uppermost objectives in foreign affairs and set for herself the task of securing accession to both of those organizations during her term of office–that is, by July 2003.

Vike-Freiberga is Latvia’s sixth head of state and the first not conversant with the Russian language. Having lived most of her life in Canada, and fluent in English, French and German, the president-elect has promised to also learn Russian, so as to read that country’s classical literature in the original and to understand the speech of Latvia’s Russian population. Vike-Freiberga described the effort to integrate that population as the foremost and most difficult goal of Latvia’s internal policy. She also stressed that loyalty to Latvia and acceptance of the Latvian state language are among the facets of that integration. To advance that goal, Vike-Freiberga intends to rely on two advisory bodies established by outgoing President Guntis Ulmanis–the Ethnic Minorities’ Council and the historians’ commission to study the effects of the foreign occupations of Latvia. Concerning the recommendations of Max van der Stoel, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s high commissioner on national minorities, Vike-Freiberga remarked that the high commissioner “tended to say: ‘Europe is me,’ whereas in fact Europe is not that uniform.”

Vike-Freiberga also intends “to find out to what extent economic interest groups affect policy, and whether the influence of such groups exceeds the bounds of what is permissible in a democratic society.” Some of Latvia’s major parties–including Latvia’s Way, leader of the current coalition government–are widely thought to be influenced by economic interest groups. Vike-Freiberga was narrowly elected as president with the support of the opposition People’s Party, of Fatherland and Freedom, a component of the coalition government, and of the Social-Democrats, who conditionally support that government (BNS, Radio Riga, June 18-19).