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Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga

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Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
President of Latvia
In office
8 July 1999 – 8 July 2007
Prime Minister Vilis Krištopans
Andris Šķēle
Andris Bērziņš
Einars Repše
Indulis Emsis
Aigars Kalvītis
Preceded by Guntis Ulmanis
Succeeded by Valdis Zatlers
Personal details
Born Vaira Vīķe
(1937-12-01) 1 December 1937
Riga, Latvia
Political party Independent
Spouse(s) Imants Freibergs
Children 2
Alma mater University of Toronto
McGill University

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (born 1 December 1937) was the sixth President of Latvia and the first female President of Latvia. She was elected President of Latvia in 1999 and re-elected in 2003.

Dr. Vaira Freiberga is a professor and interdisciplinary scholar, having published eleven books and numerous articles, essays and book chapters in addition to her extensive speaking engagements. As President of the Republic of Latvia 1999–2007, she was instrumental in achieving membership in the European Union and NATO for her country. She is active in international politics, was named Special Envoy to the Secretary General on United Nations reform and was official candidate for UN Secretary General in 2006.

She remains active in the international arena and continues to speak in defense of liberty, equality and social justice, and for the need of Europe to acknowledge the whole of its history. She is a well-known pro-European, as such, in December 2007 she was named vice-chair of the Reflection group on the long-term future of the European Union. She is also known for her work in psycholinguistics, semiotics and analysis of the oral literature of her native country.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Professional life 2
  • Presidency of the Republic of Latvia (1999–2007) 3
  • After the presidency 4
  • Medals and honors 5
  • Family and personal life 6
  • Selected works 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life and education

Vaira Vīķe was born in Riga, Latvia. At the end of 1944, as the second Soviet occupation of Latvia begun, her parents escaped to Nazi Germany. There she received her first education in Latvian primary school at a refugee camp in Lübeck, Germany, where her baby sister died.[1] Then her family moved to Casablanca in French Morocco[1] in 1949. In Morocco she attended French primary school at Daourat hydroelectric dam village where she learned the French language. Vaira then went on to attend Collège de jeunes filles de Mers-Sultan in Casablanca. In 1954 her family moved to Toronto, Canada, where she completed high school.

Vaira Vīķe attended Victoria College of the University of Toronto, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1958 and a Master of Arts in 1960, in psychology.[2] She worked at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce as a teller and part-time as a supervisor in Branksome Hall Boarding School for Girls. In 1958, being fluent in English, French, Latvian, Spanish and German,[1] she worked as a translator and the next year went on to work as a Spanish teacher for grades 12 and 13 at Ontario Ladies' College. Upon completion of her master's degree, Vīķe became a clinical psychologist at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital in late 1960. She left in 1961 to resume her education at the McGill University in Montreal while also lecturing part-time at Concordia University. She earned her PhD in experimental psychology under the supervision of Donald Hebb, graduating from McGill University in 1965.

Professional life

From 1965 to 1998 Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga pursued a professorial career at the Department of Psychology of the French-speaking University of Montreal, where she taught psychopharmacology, psycholinguistics, scientific theories, experimental methods, language and cognitive processes. Her experimental research focused on memory processes and language, and the influence of drugs on cognitive processes. At the same time she did scholarly research on semiotics, poetics and the structural analysis of computer-accessible texts from an oral tradition—the Latvian folksongs. During this period she authored ten books and about 160 articles, essays or book chapters and has given over 250 speeches, allocutions and scientific communications in English, French or Latvian, and gave numerous radio, TV and press interviews in various languages.[3]

During that period Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga held prominent positions in national and international scientific and scholarly organizations, as well as in a number of Canadian governmental, institutional, academic and interdisciplinary committees, where she acquired extensive administrative experience.[4] She is the recipient of many medals, prizes and honours for distinguished work in the humanities and social sciences.[5]

In June 1998 she was elected Professor emerita at the University of Montreal and returned to her native land, Latvia, where on 19 October the Prime Minister named her Director of the newly founded Latvian Institute.

Presidency of the Republic of Latvia (1999–2007)

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, 2007.

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga became President of Latvia in 1999. Although not a candidate in the first ballot, she was drafted by the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) and was elected to the office of President of Latvia on 20 June. She was sworn in on 8 July. Her approval rating ranged between 70% and 85%, and in 2003 she was re-elected for a second term of four years with 88 votes out of 96.

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at the NATO Summit in Riga 2006.

She actively exercised the powers conferred on the President by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia. She also played a leading role in achieving Latvia’s membership in NATO and the European Union. She was an invited speaker at numerous international events (such as the joint session of the United States Congress,[6] in June 2006), as well as an outspoken pundit on social issues, moral values, European historical dialogue, and democracy. During her presidency she regularly visited towns and villages to meet her constituents in person, and received many thousands of letters yearly from Latvians.

In April 2005, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Vīķe-Freiberga as a member of his team of global political leaders helping to promote his comprehensive reform agenda.[7] In September 2006, the three Baltic States officially announced her candidacy for the post of United Nations Secretary-General.

After the presidency

Since the end of her presidency in July 2007, Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga has been actively participating as an invited speaker at a wide variety of international events. She is a founding member and current President of the Club of Madrid, founding member and Co-Chair the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and honorary patron of several Foundations. She was a member of the Support Committee of the 2007 European Book Prize and an honorary patron of the Paris Colloquium on the Teaching of European literatures. On 14 December 2007 she was appointed Vice-president of the Reflection Group on the long-term future of the European Union. In 2008, she became a member of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation. During the Spring semester 2008 she was an invited Senior Fellow at the Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She was chair of the European Research Area Board Identification Committee (2008), chair of the Review panel of the European Research Council (2009), and since December 2007, vice-chair of the Reflection group on the long-term future of the European Union. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has also been appointed on the Advisory Board of European Association of History Educators EUROCLIO. In October 2011, she was made chair of the European Commission High Level Expert Group on Media Freedom.[8]

She was a candidate for the first permanent President of the European Council. Herman Van Rompuy was eventually chosen for that position. Vīķe-Freiberga has said that under the Lisbon Treaty and beyond, a federal Europe is desirable.[9]

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga is a member of :

  • the Global Leadership Foundation, an organization which works to support democratic leadership, prevent and resolve conflict through mediation and promote good governance in the form of democratic institutions, open markets, human rights and the rule of law. It does so by making available, discreetly and in confidence, the experience of former leaders to today’s national leaders. It is a not-for-profit organization composed of former heads of government, senior governmental and international organization officials who work closely with Heads of Government on governance-related issues of concern to them.
  • the Fondation Chirac's honour committee,[10] ever since the foundation was launched in 2008 by former French president Jacques Chirac in order to promote world peace. She also participates as jury member for the Prize for Conflict Prevention[11] awarded every year by this foundation.
  • the Nizami Ganjavi International Center Co-Chair. Located strategically in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, the NGIC inspires leaders all over the world to address critical to global governance and peace. Based on the ideals of love for humanity, courage and ethics of the great Azeri poet Nizami Ganjavi, the Center attracts attention and has an impressive network of leaders from all walks of life. Its vision is to become a global center for discussing global issues affecting peace in open and creative ways, as a nervous centre between East and West, between world religions and cultures.
  • Vaira serves on the Leadership Council for Concordia, a nonpartisan, nonprofit based in New York City focused on promoting effective public-private collaboration to create a more prosperous and sustainable future.
  • Vaira is the Member of Board of Thinkers of Boston Global Forum[12]

Medals and honors

Vīķe-Freiberga has received many medals and awards, including the 2005 Hannah Arendt Prize for political thought, the 2007 Emperor Otto Prize Prize for contributions in defining European identity and future, and the 2009 Friedrich-August-von-Hayek-Stiftung for promotion of freedom and free trade. She has been awarded 37 Orders of Merit and 16 Honorary Doctorates. She is a member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an associate member of the Académie Royale de Belgique.

Four biographies about President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga have been published (in Latvian, English, French, Finnish, Italian, Russian and Spanish), and a full-length documentary film The Threefold Sun in 2008.

Family and personal life

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga is married to Imants Freibergs, formerly a professor of computer sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal. He was the President of the Latvian Information and Communications Technology Association (LIKTA) while his wife was President of Latvia. The couple met at the Latvian Students Club in Toronto. They have two children, Kārlis and Indra. Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga and Dr. I. Freibergs have founded a company “VVF Consulting” that offers consulting services to public and private organizations.

Selected works

  • Vikis-Freibergs, Vaira (ed.) (1989). Linguistics and Poetics of Latvian Folk Songs: Essays in Honour of the Sesquicentennial of the Birth of Kr. Barons. McGill–Queen's Studies in Ethnic History 4. Kingston, Ont.: McGill–Queen's University Press.  
  • Vike-Freiberga, Vaira (2000). Latvia's Place in a New Europe. European Essay 13. London: Federal Trust for Education and Research.  
  • Melngailis, Emīlis (2005). Vīķe-Freiberga, Vaira, ed. Saules balsi: Latvian Sun Song Melodies (in Latvian and English). Riga: Karogs. [15] 

See also


  1. ^ a b c Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a Canadian-European, The Economist, 21 August 1999
  2. ^ (English) "Curriculum vitae of Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (until 1999)". Chancery of the President of Latvia. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  3. ^ [5]
  4. ^ [6]
  5. ^ [7]
  6. ^ (English) Vīķe-Freiberga, Vaira (June 7, 2006). "Address to joint session of the United States Congress". Embassy of Latvia to the United States. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  7. ^ (English) "Latvian President named envoy to help promote Annan's reform agenda ahead of UN summit". UN News centre. 12 April 2005. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  8. ^ "European Commission – Press release Digital Agenda: high-level group to discuss freedom and pluralism of the media across the EU". 2011-10-11. Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  9. ^ Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (2009-11-21). "Focus on the big issues, not the bananas".  
  10. ^ Fondation Chirac's honour committee
  11. ^ The jury for the Conflict Prevention Prize awarded by the Fondation Chirac
  12. ^ [8]
  13. ^ Portuguese President's website
  14. ^
  15. ^ (English) "Summary of publications by Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga". Chancery of the President of Latvia. Retrieved 2007-09-03. 

Further reading

  • Torild Skard (2014) 'Vaira Vike-Freiberga' "Women of power - half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide", Bristol: Policy Press ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0
  • Vitols-Dixon, Nadine (2005) [2006]. A Life's journey: Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, President of Latvia. Riga: Pētergailis.  
  • Čaklais, Māris (2003) [2003]. Izaicinājums (in Latvian). Riga: Pētergailis.  
  • Cimdiņa, Ausma (2001) [2001]. Brīvības vārdā (in Latvian). Riga: Jumava.  

External links

  • Website of Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
  • Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga on Official website of the Chancery of the President of Latvia
  • Cosmopolis interview with President Vike-Freiberga
  • A Campaign of the World Federalist Movement
  • Site in support of her candidature to head the European Council
Political offices
Preceded by
Guntis Ulmanis
President of Latvia
Succeeded by
Valdis Zatlers
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Wim Kok
President of the Club of Madrid
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