The former Latvian ambassador to the United States was shocked when French President Jacques Chirac told his country and other East European nations to “shut up” after they expressed support for the U.S. position on Iraq. “The last time we were told that, it was from … the Soviet Union,” Ojars Kalnins told Embassy Row on a recent visit to Washington.
Mr. Kalnins said Mr. Chirac has helped create a split between the new democracies of the former Warsaw Pact and France and Germany, the power brokers of the European Union and the two nations in Europe most opposed to removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by force. Mr. Chirac last month reacted angrily when 10 East European nations published a letter of support for United States, calling their position “infantile” and “dangerous.”
“They missed a great opportunity to shut up,” he said. Mr. Kalnins said the Eastern European nations invited to join the European Union were distressed by Mr. Chirac’s threat that they were risking their potential membership by acting “frivolously.”
“We were always told that the EU is a democratic organization with all members having an equal voice,” Mr. Kalnins said. “So what do we do? We speak out, and Chirac says we should shut up.”
Mr. Kalnins, Latvia’s first ambassador to the United States after the fall of communism, noted that he spent years trying to focus attention on his small Baltic nation. Suddenly, Latvia is all the rage. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga visited President Bush on Presidents Day last month, just after Mr. Chirac’s outburst, and won admiration from average Americans impressed by her stand against the French. The Latvian Embassy was deluged by congratulatory messages. “After all those years of trying to get people to know where Latvia is, all of a sudden we are a household name,” Mr. Kalnins said. The former ambassador is now director of the Latvian Institute, which promotes Latvian culture, and the Latvian Trans-Atlantic Organization, which is helping prepare Latvia for NATO membership.