Diplomat Jānis Ritenis dies at age 82

Jānis Ritenis, who spent much of his life in exile in Australia only to become Latvia’s first ambassador to Denmark and subsequently the Minister of Welfare, has died in Latvia. He was 82.

Ritenis was born in 1925 in Dobele, Latvia.

From 1989 to 1990 he led the information bureau of the World Federation of Free Latvians. In 1990, as Latvia was increasingly pushing for independence from the Soviet Union, he established a representative office for his homeland in Denmark.

In November 1992, Ritenis became Latvia’s first ambassador to Denmark.

Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, in a statement issued July 13, lauded the work Ritenis did in the area of foreign affairs.

“Latvia has lost a bright man of state,” he said. “The Latvian exile J. Ritenis’ investment is among those that in a very short time allowed the renewal of a fully functioning, professional foreign service.”

Ritenis was elected in 1993 to the 5th Saeima as a candidate of the Latvian Farmers’ Union (Latvijas Zemnieku savienība), but from 1994 until his term expired in 1995 was an independent deputy. While in the parliament, he served on the Justice Commission and the National Security Commission.

He served as Minister of Welfare from July 1993 to September 1994 in the government of Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs. In a 2005 study of Latvia’s welfare policy, Feliciana Rajevska noted that Ritenis attempted to introduce a pension plan in Latvia based on the Australian model. His attempts met with resistance within the ministry and in the parliament. As a result, Ritenis grew unpopular as a minister.

Subsequently, Ritenis became a state secretary in the Foreign Ministry and later became chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials for the Council of Baltic Sea States..

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

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