Primer on the Latvian Presidential Elections & Some (Heavy!) Summer Reading Recommendations
I’m currently on a bus to Klaipeda, the gateway town to the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO site. The Spit is a strip of land that is three miles wide, and is covered in sand dunes. Half of it belongs to Lithuania, and the other half belongs to Russia’s Kaliningrad region. The part that belongs to Lithuania is 50 km long, and I plan to bike it this weekend. I was really torn about doing this trip this weekend, because it’s the EuroPride Parade and the closing concert for Pride Week, which I’m sure would have been a lot of fun. While many European cities host some sort of pride event, Europride is a pan-European event. This is the first time Riga is hosting the event, and only the second time it has been in Eastern Europe.
But visiting the Spit is one of my top tourist goals in the region, and if I didn’t go this weekend, I would not have had the time to go otherwise. It’s crazy to think that time has gone by this quickly! I’ve been really busy since I wrote my last post, and I will do my best to catch you up on everything.
At the start of June, the Embassy got its second Canadian intern. She’s a student from UofT, and is here as part of the EU study tour program. She is very nice, and it’s been great having another Canadian around. There have been a lot of events that have kept us pretty busy.
For instance, Latvia held their presidential elections this month. The Latvian President is more of a figurehead, with some selected duties, whereas the Prime Minister and Parliament make most of the important governmental decisions. As a result, the elections for President are done via secret ballot by members of the Saeima, the Latvian Parliament. In order for a new President to be elected, they must receive at least 51 votes. If no candidate gets 51 votes in the first ballot casting, they eliminate the candidate with the fewest ballots and repeat the vote. If no majority is determined between the final two candidates, then the parties can put forward new candidates and have another election 10-15 days later.
As you may have guessed, this can be a very long, drawn out process. Voting started at 10 am, and was still going on when I left at 5 pm, with the election heading into its fifth round of voting. In the end, they elected a president in one day of voting. I spent most of the day watching the elections, getting commentary from one of my colleagues who knows the names and biographies of almost everyone in the Saeima. Her knowledge of the people and history never ceases to amaze me, and I am eternally grateful that she takes the time to explain cultural and political nuances to me.
Additionally, the Embassy had an important visitor this month: Mr. John Ruffolo, the CEO of Omers Ventures, who was voted Canada’s most powerful businessman 2014 by the Canadian Business Magazine. During his visit to Riga, he spoke to representatives from the information and communication (ICT) sector about why Canada is a good place to invest, the investment lifecycle and how to further grow and develop Latvia’s ICT sector. Prior to his arrival, I knew next to nothing about ICT or venture capital. I listened to him present to three different groups, and I learned something new every time. For lack of a better expression, it was pretty freaking cool to spend a whole day with such an experienced, successful person.
I’ve also been attending a number of small conferences. This week alone I’ve been to four. One of them was a discussion with the authors of the Atlantic Council publication “Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine”. These authors amassed open source information (selfies and other photos) and used geomapping to show that Russian soldiers were in Ukraine. The presentation was brilliant, and did an excellent job of explaining their methodology. You can also watch Simon Ostrovsky’s report, where he uses the same methods to track one of the soldiers himself.
Recently, the Canadian Embassy helped to sponsor an art exhibition featuring two Canadian artists in the context of EuroPride. I attended the opening, and it was nice to see a good turnout. Pride doesn’t have a great history in Riga; unfortunately when the marches first started about 10 years ago, there were large, violent protests against the event. Although the number of protesters has decreased over the years, the march has remained heavily guarded.
Learning about this turmoil was a reality check for me. Coming from Canada, where LGBTQ people are becoming more and more accepted, it is easy to forget that this is not the case for many people around the world. My hope is that this year’s march will bring more support and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Latvia.
In reread-ing this post, I realize that it sounds like I spend most of my time out of the office. I swear this is not the case! For every event I attend, I write a report. I also use these events to try to bolster the Embassy’s social media footprint. If you are interested in what we are up to, you can follow us on Twitter, @CanadaLatvia. Additionally, I am researching and writing reports based on requests from various departments.
In my spare time, I’ve been reading the Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, which condemns the Canadian Government for committing cultural genocide. I’m ashamed to admit that I knew almost nothing about Canada’s residential schools and our Aboriginal population before. This report has given me a better understanding of our country’s history-and it’s terrifying.
I’ve spent the better part of my evenings this week contemplating what my life would have been like if I had been ripped from my parents at 6 or 7 years old, and sent away to a school where I wasn’t allowed to speak my native language, and regularly subjected to punishments and abuse. There are no words to describe how terrifying the thought is, never mind what it must have been like for people who lived through this experience. This is another document I highly encourage people to read.
I’m continually in awe of the fact that I have the opportunity to experience all of these events, and have the learning opportunities that come my way. I’m doing my best to take it all in stride, the good, the difficult, and the depressing. I mentioned a learning curve in my last post. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be climbing that curve for the next two months, and probably the better part of the rest of my life. However, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Until next time,
*The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not reflect those of the Canadian Government.*