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Latvia Stands Up for Its Rights

(Washington, DC--March 7, 2003) Speaking in the wake of French President Jacques Chirac's public criticism of the Vilnius-10 statement endorsing the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein, Latvia's leading image-maker told a RFE/RL audience last week that Latvia can best promote the trans-Atlantic partnership by actively contributing its ideas to policy debates.

Ambassador Ojars Kalnins, a former Latvian Ambassador to the United States and currently director of the Latvian Institute in Riga, said that Latvia "cannot afford to be intimidated by criticism," particularly as it approaches full membership in the European Union. By preserving "Latvia's voice and Latvia's identity," Kalnins said the country will make a positive contribution to Europe's development as well as the U.S.-Europe relationship.

While European Union membership is important for Latvia, Kalnins said, "our European neighborhood is uncertain" and our "political and moral alliance with the United States is equal to, if not more important," than the European one because "no one did more to support Latvian independence than the United States." Kalnins said he expects Latvia to have to walk a "tightrope" between the U.S. and European interests for the foreseeable future.

Chirac's statement of February 18, in which he says that the states of Central and Eastern Europe "missed a good opportunity to keep quiet," was also a "boost to the Euro-skeptics in Latvia," Kalnins said. "Fear motivates the Euro-skeptics" he explained, who believe that Latvia's identity will be submerged by a European identity -- that 12 years after the restoration of independence, the dictatorship of the Soviet Union will be exchanged for one dominated by Paris and Berlin. Kalnins believes, however, that Latvia can best reintegrate into Europe by defending its interests from inside the European Union.

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