Bush, in Latvia, receives Order of Three Stars

U.S. President George W. Bush, on the first leg of a four-nation European tour, received the Order of Three Stars from Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga during a brief ceremony May 7 in Rīga Castle. The order is Latvia’s highest civilian honor.

Bush arrived late Friday night, May 6, in Rīga. His visit to Latvia has riled leaders in Russia, where both he and Vīķe-Freiberga will be May 9 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe during Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

Bush’s visit to Latvia has become the backdrop for a simmering debate between Washington and Moscow. Before heading to Latvia, the U.S. president sent a letter to Rīga that reaffirmed the American position that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were occupied by the Soviet Union beginning in World War II until 1991. The Russian government in turn complained to Washington about the visit to Latvia, which Moscow frequently criticizes for what it sees as persistent violations of the rights of the country’s large Russian-speaking minority. During a May 4 press conference in Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied that the Baltics had been occupied.

Bush’s May 4 letter to Vīķe-Freiberga expressed support for her decision to participate in the May 9 event in Moscow. The presidents of Estonia and Lithuania refused Moscow’s invitation.

“During this trip, I will mark the sacrifice of America and many other nations in defeating Nazism,” Bush wrote in the letter posted on the Latvian president’s Web site. “In Western Europe, the end of World War II meant liberation. In Central and Eastern Europe, the war also marked the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the imposition of communism.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, questioned the definition of occupation.

“The term ‘occupation’ cannot be used for a legal assessment of the situation in the Baltics in the late 1930s,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said, according to a transcript posted on the ministry’s Web site, “because there was no state of war between the USSR and the Baltic states and no military actions were being conducted, and the troops were introduced on the basis of an agreement and with the express consent of the authorities that existed in these republics at the time—whatever one may think of them.”

The Order of Three Stars ceremony in Rīga Castle preceded the laying of a wreath at the Freedom Monument in downtown Rīga as well as a meeting with the presidents of all three Baltic states. First Lady Laura Bush, meanwhile, visited the Occupation Museum.

Security in Rīga’s Old City has been tight during the visit, according to local media reports, with the district declared a “no-go” zone, much to the chagrin of some business owners.

Bush also is to visit the Netherlands and Georgia.

Bush receives award

U.S. President George W. Bush listens as Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga describes the Order of the Three Stars during a May 7 ceremony in Rīga. Joining them in the presentation were U.S. First Lady Laura Bush and Imants Freibergs, Vīķe-Freiberga’s husband. (Photo courtesy Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

4 thoughts on “Bush, in Latvia, receives Order of Three Stars

  1. It is regrettable that the Russian authorities still insist that there was no ‘occupation’ of Latvia during the Second World War. The position of those observing from Britain is entirely at odds with the Soviet view. One cannot fail to wonder why, after hostilities had ceased, the Russians did not simply hand back the territories they had supposedly ‘assisted’ during the war. Imposing Soviet authority, dogma and (worst of all) complete control over all outside communications, press and travel cannot be thought anything other than either “annexation” or “occupation”. Which came first is arguable.Further: the question must rise in most Latvians’ minds why the authority of the Soviet Union caused so many Latvians and other Baltic peoples to be arrested, tried with biased judicial process and murdered, either directly through violence or through slow, inexorable and cruel deterioration in the Gulags. Such Russian ‘double-speak’ must be ignored. Until there is a full and frank admission by the Russian Soviet authorities that they occupied Latvia for over half a Century, and some public declaration made by them to that effect, Russia must remain held as criminally responsible for the abuse of Latvia and its citizens. More importantly, Russia must remain outside of the new relations Latvia has forged with both the European Union and the United States. Vladmir Putin et al might be wise to bear in mind the ‘Peace and Reconciliation’ effect in South Africa which now enjoys a better placing in World Affairs.

  2. I have to commend President Bush for his visit to Latvia in support of my father’s home country. It is not often that I agree with the polices of Mr. Bush, but his support of Latvia and her stuggle under Soviet occupation is admirable.

    I do not find it regrettable that Russian authorites have not come to terms with their “occupation” of the Baltic States during and after World War II. On the contrary I find it reprehensible.

    I moved recently, and while unpacking books I ran across one of my grandfather’s book “Baltic Youth Under Communism” which was published back in 1967. In his book he referred on several occasions that the Soviet’s presence in Latvia was an occupation by every definition.

    I also have visited The Museum of the Occupation in Riga, and spoke with several of my family members regarding Soviet rule. I was absolutely astounded with the stories. So what would you call Soviet rule if you do not call it an “occupation?” Holding hostage, captive, or prisoner?

  3. it is commendable that the Baltic political agitation and savvy has been successful to the point of educating Presidnt Bush & his team to be moved to make these declarations regarding the occupation and also admitting the West’s role in “selling out” Eastern Europe – trading our freedom for security. This is BIG. Now the next mission should be to agitate to change history textbooks in the West to reflect this viewpoint, much as the Irish are agitating to recognize the Potato Famine as genocide, or the Armenian push to recognize the genocide against them by the Turks. Uphill battle, as they all are, but crucial.

  4. I agree with most of the comments expressed above, but, it makes me feel ill whwn I hear President Bush call President Putin, a former KGB official, as “my friend” and refers to him by his first name, Vladimir. That guy simply can not be trusted – his distortion of SSSR treatment of the Baltic States is a proof of that and I wish President Bush would also see that.

    12 May, 2005

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