Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Born:December 1, 1937 (age 84)
Career:President of Latvia, 1999-2007
Education:B.A. and M.A., University of Toronto
Ph.D., McGill University

Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga was president of the Republic of Latvia from July 8, 1999, to July 8, 2007, the first female president of Latvia.

Vike-Freiberga was born December 1, 1937, in Riga, Latvia. To escape the Soviet occupation, her family fled the country on January 1, 1945, and became refugees. She began her schooling in refugee camps in Germany and continued in French Morocco, first at the elementary school in Daourat and then at the Girls' College Mers-Sultan in Casablanca. After arriving in Canada in 1954, she worked for a year in a bank, and then entered the University of Toronto, obtaining a B.A. (1958) and an M.A. (1960) in psychology. While studying, she worked as a part-time teacher and Spanish translator, and afterwards as a full-time clinical psychologist at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital (1960-61). Resuming her education at McGill University in Montreal, she earned a doctorate in experimental psychology in 1965.

From 1965 to 1998, Vike-Freiberga pursued a professorial career at the University of Montreal, where she taught psychopharmacology, psycholinguistics, scientific theories, experimental methods, language and cognitive processes. Her experimental research focused on memory processes and language, and the influence of drugs on cognitive processes. At the same time she did scholarly research on semiotics, poetics and the structural analysis of computer-accessible texts from an oral tradition -- the Latvian folksongs (Dainas). During this period she authored ten books and about 160 articles, essays or book chapters and gave over 250 speeches, allocutions and scientific communications in English, French or Latvian. She has also given numerous radio, TV and press interviews in various languages, and is a member of the Writers' Union of Latvia (2004). Since 1957, Vike-Freiberga has been actively engaged in community service, focusing on questions of Latvian identity and culture, and the political future of the Baltic States. She has held prominent positions in national and international scientific and scholarly organizations, as well as in a number of Canadian governmental, institutional, academic and interdisciplinary committees, where she acquired extensive administrative experience.

In June 1998, Vike-Freiberga was elected professor emerita at the University of Montreal and returned to her native land, Latvia, where on October 19, the prime minister named her the director of the newly founded Latvian Institute. On June 17, 1999, Vike-Freiberga was elected president of the Republic of Latvia. She played a leading role in achieving Latvia's membership in NATO and the European Union. An outspoken pundit on social issues, moral values, European historical dialogue, and democracy, she was awarded the 2005 Hannah Arendt Prize for political thought.

A member of the Council of Women World Leaders since 1999, Vike-Freiberga is regularly invited to participate in the World Economic Forum (Davos) and the annual meetings of the American Academy of Achievement. Since 1999, she has received many medals and awards, twenty-seven Orders of Merit and ten honorary doctorates. She was named special envoy on the reform of the United Nations in 2005 and was an official candidate of the Baltic States (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania) for the position of secretary general in 2006.