“Such small countries as Latvia and Israel have a chance to be big by creating a better world without racism, hatred, anti-Semitism and not ignoring individuals’ thoughts,” visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres said after a meeting with Latvian President Andris Berzins on July 29, reports LeTA.
Peres said that he had arrived in Latvia with mixed historical feelings. He felt positive about the Latvian Jewish community having a chance to develop its culture in Latvia, but also mentioned the tragic event of the Holocaust - Nazis and their collaborators murdering many Jews in Latvia. At the same time, it is necessary to be aware that these events belong to the past and focus must be on the future, said the Israeli president.
After a meeting with President Peres, President Berzins drew attention to a chance to take an example from Israel in economic matters, and mentioned the harsh times in the nation’s history. Berzins said that, similarly to Israel, Latvia should develop education alongside science to establish new and small companies. He mentioned the development of the agricultural sector as one of the best examples.
Berzins and Peres also discussed historical matters. It is necessary to act to prevent the harsh periods from repeating themselves, they emphasized. The Latvian president also wished the Israeli president success and good health. Latvian-Israeli relations have been excellent since their establishment 20 years ago and remain as such nowadays, added Berzins.
Leading up to Peres’ visit, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz worked to provoke and create controversy ahead of the trip. It claimed that Berzins had succumbed to Israeli pressure, and that he was reluctant to visit Rumbula Memorial together with Peres.
The newspaper wrote that Israeli Ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania Hagit Ben Yaakov recently put pressure on Latvia for Berzins to visit the memorial, though it did not mention anything from the Latvian Presidential Press Service, which pointed out that the claims made by the newspaper were untrue.
Haaretz reported earlier last week that the Latvian president, for nationalist and political reasons, was reluctant to attend the ceremony together with Peres. According to the newspaper, the Israeli Embassy to Latvia and several high-ranking officials told Haaretz that Berzins wished to avoid participating in the ceremony at the Rumbula Memorial, so that it would not look like Latvia is taking responsibility for collaboration with the Nazis in the killing of Jews in Latvia during WW II.
Berzins’ press secretary Liga Krapane said she was surprised that such incorrect information was reported by the Israeli newspaper, and that the president had never been reluctant to visit the memorial together with the Israeli president.
Meanwhile, Israeli Embassy to Latvia press representative Zelma Buile told LETA that neither the embassy nor the ambassador had commented to Haaretz regarding the matter.