Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Commemorating the End of the Cold War - Aug. 11, 1999

Vaira Vike-Freiberga
August 11, 1999— Jyväskylä, Finland
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Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are approaching the end of a century marked by the unprecedented slaughter of two World wars, the horrors of the Holocaust, and more than fifty years of a "Cold War", during which half of the European continent languished under communist oppression.

Ten years ago today, the world watched in awe as a jubilant crowd attacked the visible and tangible symbol of a divided Europe. The infamous Berlin Wall, soaked in the blood of innocent people killed for the simple desire to cross it, had stood for decades as a physical embodiment of the "Iron Curtain", the metaphor so aptly coined by Winston Churchill in 1945.

Among the millions of people across the world who watched these events on television, none could have been happier than the Latvians, who had been making great strides toward liberation with their own "Singing Revolution". Here was a powerful confirmation that the "Evil Empire" was indeed crumbling. Here was a sign that the world was about to change.

While the Berlin Wall came to embody the divisions of the Cold War in popular imagination, the Eastern shores of the Baltic Sea represented a boundary which was just as real and just as ferociously guarded. It is quite fitting, therefore, that representatives of the countries concerned should come together today in celebration of the end of the Cold War.

I should like to offer my sincerest congratulations to the organizers of this historical conference at Jyväskylä University. Thank you for this remarkable initiative and for your wish to remind the world at large just how far we have come in those past ten years. The five presidents gathered here today represent five Baltic region countries with three different kinds of experience of the Cold War period. In the case of Poland, it was satellite status, for the three Baltic republics, it was complete incorporation. The flourishing democracy of our host country, Finland, was also seriously threatened exactly sixty years ago, when Soviet forces began a massive invasion of this peaceful nation. I should like to express my deepest admiration to the Finnish people for the courage, tenacity and determination that they displayed during the Winter War in successfully defending their country from this brutal attack.

Even as we are commemorating the tenth anniversary of the end of the Cold War, let us also remember, as a warning for the future, some of the antecedents of this long and costly conflict. The spring of 1945, which brought freedom to the Western half of Europe, brought fifty years of stagnation to the other half. Worst of all was the situation of the three Baltic States, which were wiped off the map as independent countries. For them, the Second World War did not really end until 1991, when they regained their independence.

But how was it, that the "Iron Curtain" was allowed to fall across Europe in the first place? I low was it, that the bloody conflict of the Second World War was immediately followed by the lasting confrontation of the Cold War? No doubt we could see in this a manifestation of Soviet imperialism and aggression. But we should also acknowledge, in all fairness, that part of the responsibility lies with the complicity of the Western Allies. The division of Europe into two opposing blocs, the untold suffering of tens of millions of people during half a century, all this could have been prevented. It could have been prevented, had the Western democracies not succumbed to a short-sighted and unjustifiable policy of appeasement toward the Soviet Union.

The tragic consequences of appeasement had already been demonstrated a few years earlier, when the Western democracies passively acquiesced to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany. Similarly, the blatant disregard of Eastern European interests at Potsdam, Teheran and Yalta only served to fuel, rather than quell, Soviet expansionist ambitions. It was in contradiction to all the principles set forth by the League of Nations. It dealt a severe blow to the social and economic development of the whole Eastern half of the European continent. It led to a costly and dangerous arms race that could have had irreparable consequences had a "Hot War" actually broken out.

The Cold War became possible only because the Western democracies decided that the values they upheld in their own countries need not necessarily apply elsewhere. The Western democracies capitulated to Realpolitik; they accepted Soviet terms, no matter how unreasonable and how illegitimate. They granted carte blanche to the Soviet leadership, thus submitting the Baltic countries and their Central and Eastern European neighbours to an oppressive reign of terror and military domination.

The attitude of senseless appeasement, which was the true precursor to the Cold War conflict, is illustrated by a note which Joseph Davies, an advisor to US President Harry Truman, handed to his leader at the Potsdam conference in July 1945: "I think Stalin's feelings are hurt, please be nice to him " Mr. Churchill is known to have expressed the very same attitude: "If Stalin asks for the Baltic States, let us give them to him".

The full cost of human suffering brought on by this diplomatic "niceness" still remains to be computed. We know that it was particularly severe in the three Baltic countries. The Soviet regime set out to erase their national identities on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Their very survival was threatened by a concerted and deliberate policy of Russification that lasted for half a century. In Latvia particularly, the mass deportations of Latvian citizens to Siberia was accompanied by a huge influx of Russian-speaking settlers from the far reaches of the Soviet empire.

In any normal country, the passage of time can be expected to lead to a growth in the population. In Latvia, however, the proportion of native indigenous Latvians dropped from more than three-quarters in 1939 to barely half of the population by the late 1980s. In seven of the country's largest urban centers, including the capital city, Riga, Latvians have become a minority in their own country. This extraordinary situation has few parallels elsewhere in the world. Restoring the use of Latvian as the state language and promoting its use in public life has become a real challenge, even as the Latvian state finances secondary education in eight minority languages.


The fall of the Iron Curtain did away with the information vacuum, the heavy censorship and the severe punishment of dissent. Today, the younger generations of Latvians are growing up in an environment of global information and communication technology. In Soviet times, a good command of foreign languages was of little practical use and could even put a person under suspicion. Today the people of Latvia are quickly mastering English and other foreign languages. The availability of written and audio-visual media, the Internet, professional contacts, and study exchange programs has become an essential part of their everyday activities.

Latvians have opened up to the world and are eagerly filling the gaps in their knowledge about it. Only ten years ago, traveling abroad was a privilege granted only to a selected few. Latvians are now free to travel, with few formalities, since there are only a few countries in Europe with which Latvia does not enjoy a visa-free regime. Because of the news blackout caused by the Soviet regime, the rest of the world has quite a few knowledge gaps about Latvia as well. In due time, this gap too will be filled, as Latvia to becomes ever better known.

The last formal page in the history of the Cold War in Latvia was closed very recently. Only last month the Skrunda radar facility was dismantled and Russian military personnel left Latvia ahead of the agreed deadline. The very agreement and its implementation represents a radical departure from Cold War thinking and marks the changeover to a new basis in Latvian - Russian relations.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

the late but not lamented period of the Cold War was not just about spheres of influence and military strategy, it was also about values and ideologies. Communism having abjectly failed as an authoritarian system, the whole of Europe is now free to embrace democracy as a basis for a civil society. In this context, it is evident that international relations must also follow the same ethical and moral principles. Smaller countries must be able to participate without restriction as equal partners in various international cooperative ventures, and they must never again be used as hostages in the power brokerage of larger countries.

The sad heritage of the past century reminds us that blatant violations of international law cannot and must not be tolerated. That is why Latvia has expressed its political and practical will to take part in crisis management operations in the unstable Balkan region. The recent tragedy in Kosovo clearly revealed that, once the world's democratic countries adopt a united position and display the political will required to defend fundamental human values, conflicts can be contained, bloodshed can be arrested and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted according to international law. One can only hope that the international community will be equally firm in the case of other conflict situations with increasing numbers of civilian casualties.

The most important gain from the end of the Cold War has been the growing importance of co-operation in an increasingly inter-linked world. One of the principles of the New World Order is the fundamental right of every sovereign nation to choose its own security arrangements. The foreign policy of Latvia translates this as a firm commitment to joining the NATO alliance. We see in this transatlantic structure a guarantee for a free, secure, stable and democratic world. The integration into NATO of the three Central European states, unimaginable only a decade ago, has been successful. We are committed to preparing ourselves in the best way possible for the next round of enlargement.

Latvia has put in place its Membership action plan and is committed to strengthening its own security. Latvian troops are volunteering to take part in international missions in Bosnia and in Kosovo. We feel co-responsible for peace on our continent and are willing to contribute to ensure it. We consider that NATO enlargement is not only in our own interest, but that of the Alliance as well, so that it can pursue its objectives and play a vital role in the security of Europe as a whole.

Most important of all, Latvia stands poised to be invited for accession talks by the European Union, a supranational organization that ensures prosperity, stability and security through integration and engagement. For Latvians, an invitation to negotiations in the last month of this century would represent the most fitting symbol that the Cold War is well and truly ended, and that geopolitical spheres of interest are well and truly things of the past. We would be particularly gratified for this to happen while the presidency is in the hands of Finland, a country for which we feel such close affinity and friendship in terms of our common values and goals. Our invitation at the coming Summit in Helsinki would show unmistakably that Latvia has rejoined the rest of Europe, and all the European nations from which it had been forcefully isolated for more than fifty years.

The positive assessment of Latvia's progress by the European Commission gives us grounds for optimism and the determination to keep moving forward. Latvia has been acknowledged as a functioning market economy, able to meet competitive pressures within the EU in the medium term. Latvia has been recognized as meeting all OSCE recommendations in the area of citizenship and naturalization. Latvia is eager to start the actual negotiation process and move along at an individual rate, based on our objective readiness and merit. We believe that this is the right way to ensure the quality of new members and consequently - an enlarged European Union that will remain effective and strong.

Soon we will start writing our dates starting with the figures 2 and 0 instead of 1 and 9. No matter what mathematicians tell us about how ordinal numbers are counted, that is the psychological moment when we will feel that the new Millennium has begun. Let us take this opportunity to make really serious New Year's wishes about Europe as we would like to see it in the next century.

For Latvia, we would like to see it overcome every last trace of its Cold War heritage, and catch up at an accelerated rate for all its lost time. We would like to see it become an equal, productive member of the European family of nations, a respected partner in common decision-making, and a valued contributor to the common cultural heritage. The Cold War is behind us. Let us celebrate peace. A divided Europe is behind us. Let us celebrate a Europe undivided and whole. We who live on the Eastern shores of the Baltic, we want to come in from the cold and warm ourselves at the hearth that is European civilization.

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