New Iron Lady’s Hero in America Latvian President Tough on Iraq

By Peter Worthington
Toronto Sun February 21, 2003

During this week’s controversy over possible war with Saddam Hussein, anti-war protests and France’s threat to veto UN action against Saddam, Americans have discovered a new hero.She is an unlikely hero, but here nonetheless.

Vaira Veike-Freiberga, was elected president of Latvia in 1999 after she revoked her Canadian citizenship. On this visit to meet President George W.Bush, she is being compared to Margaret Thatcher–America’s favourite British PM of the Reagan administration. America has fallen for her.

All week, President Vike-Freiberga has been wowing them on TV talk-shows. Whereas most of foreign leaders give careful, qualified answers to hot questions, not thins no-nonsense 64-year-old redhead who was educated at the University of Toronto and was a psychology professor at the University of Montreal.


When she returned to visit her native Latvia in 1998, she had no idea she would be running for president “otherwise I’d have taken more than two suitcases,” she said.

Her husband and two grown kids closed up their Montreal home after the 100-seat Saeima (parliament) elected her to head Latvia’s 2.5 million people.

American talk show hosts and phone responses aren’t used to political leaders who say what they think and don’t hedge. She’s an outspoken supporter of President Bush’s efforts to bring Saddam to heel–or go to war.

She explains that she comes from a country that has lived under oppressive dictatorship and knows that you cannot bargain or give in to people like Saddam. She has little patience with the anti-war elements, who never known dictatorship. They should smarten up.

So there.

She was seven years old when her family fled Latvia to escape the Soviets. She lived first in Germany, Morocco, France and Canada and is fluent in Latvian, English, French, German, Spanish and some Portuguese. She doesn’t (yet) speak Russian, which 40% of Latvians do.

One of her first Thatcher-like moved in office was to reject language law legislation to make Latvian mandatory for all businesses. “Too intrusive, ” she said, possibility recalling Quebec’s language laws that make English a crime in certain circumstances. When the Russians started to lean of Latvia, V-F leaned right back and would have none of it. She explained that Russia is “extremely unpredictable…not verity stable and its democratic basis questionable. It must come to terms that we are no longer a Soviet republic but a sovereign state.”

But it’s her unqualified support for Bush and his efforts to disarm Saddam that has won her fans. Before being elected as nonpolitical president (Latviia has had eight governments since independence in 1991) President V-F didn’t dabble in politic. Certainly, her adamant stands on foreign affairs owe nothing to Canada, unless it’s appreciating what not to do.

Ironically, Canada is perioulsly close to being regarded by Americans as France is–despised by many Americans who see France betraying its longtime ally over Iraq.

Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh is scathing about France: “How many Frenchmen are needed to defend Paris? Dunno, they”ve never done it.” Fox News Bill O’Reilly, whose TV talk show has passed Larry King Live, urges Americans to boycott Canada, not visit or holiday there, because he feels Canada is dragging it feet in the war against terrorism and because it supports France.

Pro-America rallies are now planned across the country in response to the anti-war protests last weekend.


What’s working in Bush’s favouur is that “peace” protesters do object to what Saddam Hussein has one to his oppose, or oppose the bio-chemical weapons they insist he doesn’t have.

Significantly, polls show over two-thirds of Americans support against Saddam–roughly the same percentage that polls how Canadians oppose the war.

If only we, instead of Latvia, had Vaira Vike-Freiberge in charge perhaps Canada couldn’t be the wimp of the western world.