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Latvian Ambassador Talks NATO, Defeating Communism and the Future of the Baltic States

Ambassador Andris Teikmanis of Latvia sat down with me at his embassy in D.C. to discuss Latvia's history of triumphing over foreign oppression from the Soviet Union. The ambassador and I also discussed current threats to European security and possible NATO responses, while highlighting the special relationship Latvia has with the U.S. in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.

Gayle Trotter: Today I am speaking with Ambassador Andris Teikmanis of the country of Latvia.  I am so delighted to be with you.

Andris Teikmanis: I'm delighted as well.

GT: We're talking in the embassy of Latvia, which overlooks Sheridan Circle on Embassy Row where many of the embassies of different countries are located.  Your office is at the very top of the building, and you have a wonderful balcony from where you could stand out and address the American people. Is that correct?

AT: I could if I would be interested, but I haven't had an opportunity to address the American people. I think ambassadors are very shy so I'm better at looking at others, although I do have this opportunity here with this balcony.

GT: I have not yet been to Latvia, but I grew up during the Cold War and certainly Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were constantly in the news as part of the countries that were unfortunately under the control of the Soviet Union.  They did not have the type of freedoms that you now currently enjoy.  I'm curious: where were you when the fall of the Berlin Wall happened?

AT: I was in Latvia most probably when the Berlin Wall fell down, but I should say the changes had happened in Latvia already a year before the Berlin Wall came down.  In 1988, the popular movement started in Latvia.  We stood for, at that time, maybe not being able to pronounce “independence.”  It was a forbidden word.

GT: It was a forbidden word?

AT: Absolutely.  We spoke about more “serenity,” but, of course, everybody had a background idea.  We should move towards independence, back to independence because that's what we heard.  That's what every Latvian family, grandparents and parents, had told the children about the time before Soviet occupation, and we knew that our country had lived differently, and we wanted to come back to it.  In the late 1980s, it was when people made crucial decisions; they were on the edge, either now or never.  If not me, then who?  If not now, then when?  Of course I was, at that time, part of such a movement, and it was a crucial --

GT:  What was the name of the movement?

AT: It was the Popular Front.  It was a big change for me, plus a big change for many, many people in Latvia.