RIGA -- Former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga showed that retirement hasn't mellowed her one little bit when she used the occasion of a NATO-sponsored summit on Oct. 15 to hit out at "stingy and suspicious" countries within the European Union who exhibit "a curious blindness at what happens next door" [in Eastern Europe].
Vike-Freiberga's broadside was all the more unexpected since just a few moments earlier she had been fulsome in her praise for the EU's "slow development of basic humanistic principles" based on the idealism of its founders.
However, when a fellow panellist suggested that many people in Western Europe feel that the economic costs of further enlargement may outweigh its advantages, Vike-Freiberga roared into life.
"This reminds me of a story by Latvian writer Karlis Skalbe called 'The Country of the Fat Pigs'" Vike-Freiberga said, using all her folkloric skills to tell the assembled ministers, presidents and dignitaries about the self-satisfied, insular land of the fat pigs, who are so lazy that they lower the sky in order to hang their spoons on it.
"To some extent, the EU has developed in a series of countries into countries of fat pigs," Vike-Freiberga said, before moving on to make further references to Dickens and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which "abandoned countries to their fate."
"Forgive me for being so frank and brutal," she added.
Vike-Freiberga was the second Latvian speaker to cause murmurs within the impressive setting of Riga's Maza Gilde, which is staging the two-day event. Earlier, the Ministry of Defence's State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics gained everyone's attention when he compared the effects of "cyber attacks" such as those expereinced in Estonia in the wake of the Bronze Soldier riots to "the full scale bombing of a city."
Nor was Vike-Freiberga the only speaker to show off her learning by making literary references. When the subject of debate inevitably turned towards dealing with Russia, Martin Butora of the Slovakian Institute for Public Affairs recounted that on his recent visit to Moscow, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had asked Vladimir Putin how it was possible to understand Russia.
According to Butora, President Putin had responded by quoting the nineteenth century Slavophile poet Alexander Tyutchev: "Russia is baffling to the mind / Not subject to the common measure /Her ways - of a peculiar kind / One only can have faith in Russia."