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A WELL-TIMED VISIT

  • 2005-03-30
News that George W. Bush has decided to visit Riga was welcomed enthusiastically throughout the Baltics, but it inevitably gave rise to a debate over choice. Why would the most powerful man in the world choose Latvia instead of its Baltic brethren?

Predictable as they were, comments from Baltic political analysts largely broke down into two camps: Bush chose Latvia as a show of support to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who has taken up the immense challenge of explaining post-WWII Baltic history, and in the process, confronted the Russian propaganda machine; or the U.S. president chose Latvia since the latter is the "weakest link" in the Baltic chain.

Perhaps, by way of analysis, it would make sense to rephrase the question: Why did Bush and Co. choose not to go to the other two Baltic countries? Well, in the case of Lithuania, the answer is obvious: the president was in Vilnius two-and-a-half years ago. This boiled the choice down to two countries.

Why not Estonia? After all, no sitting U.S. president has visited so far. The country has the highest standard of living among the three states, and former Prime Minister Mart Laar 's one of the first European leaders to introduce a flat-tax 's is popular in conservative circles in the United States.

Still, the honor went to Latvia. Keeping in mind Bush's other stopover, Georgia, the choice was most likely motivated by an urge to show the Kremlin that the United States of America is an indelible ally of Latvia and Vaira Vike-Freiberga. There is no doubt that Latvia is bearing the brunt of Moscow's propaganda attacks against the Baltic states, particularly now that Vike-Freiberga has made it her personal duty to remind the world of Soviet crimes and atrocities committed from the moment the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed in 1939.

Knowing Bush, as well as State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, the presidential administration wants to send an unequivocal signal to Russia's leadership that the United States supports Vike-Freiberga's history-clarifying enterprise and that nothing Moscow says or does 's including all the ranting and raving about Latvia's minorities 's will ever change that.

No less important, Bush's visit to the Baltics, which will no doubt include a speech condemning the aforementioned pact between two totalitarian regimes that carved up Eastern Europe, will be used to remind the world 's and Russia included 's of the horrors of Stalinism and communism. At a time when many Russians, not least of all those in leadership positions, are heaping praise on Stalin and turning a blind eye toward his crimes, a reminder from the U.S. president that much injustice followed the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany is in order.

With this in mind, it doesn't really matter which Baltic country Bush chooses. The main thing is that he is coming.