Four Latvian-Americans figured prominently as President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga bestowed the Order of Three Stars—the nation’s highest civilian honor—on five individuals in a May 4 ceremony in Rīga Castle, the president’s official residence.
Honored were community activist, writer and poet Dr. Andris Ritmanis of Portland, Ore.; economics professor Juris George Vīksniņš of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; community activist Juris Valainis of Chicago, whose work has included organizing a Latvian-language radio program, and Dr. Zigfrīds Zadvinskis, a community activist from Michigan who helped establish the Latvian Center Gaŗezers. Also honored was Otto von Hapsburg, a descendant of the famed Hapsburg dynasty who spent many years supporting the concept of a united Europe, including within it Latvia.
Ritmanis was singled out for a number of accomplishments, including helping to maintain the Latvian exile community on the West Coast and for his role in organizing the West Coast Latvian Song Festival, according to a transcript of the president’s remarks. In Latvia, Vīķe-Freiberga said, Ritmanis perhaps is best known as the author of the lyrics to “Palīdzi, Dievs!,” a song popularized by singer Ieva Akuratere during Latvia’s growing nationalist opposition to Soviet rule during the late 1980s. His daughter, Brigita, composed the music. Ritmanis was honored with the title Officer of the Order of Three Stars.
Vīksniņš, the president said, is in part to be thanked for the stability of the national currency, the lats. The professor, a specialist in monetary politics, became a key consultant in Latvia’s efforts in economic reform. Vīksniņs, also a member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, has in additional played a role in Latvia’s education reform, the president said. He, too, was named an Officer of the Order of Three Stars.
Valainis, Vīķe-Freiberga said, “is one of those community and cultural workers of whom the Latvian people can be proud, because he has spent his entire life dedicating himself to some community activity, not thinking about what he’ll get paid, but joining in with his own resources.” Among his major accomplishments has been the radio program for Chicago-area Latvians, an effort spanning more than 50 years. The program that currently airs on stations WSBC-AM and WCFJ-AM.
Zadvinskis, a doctor in Grand Rapids, Mich., has been involved in the Latvian community there and also has helped build Gaŗezers, where he served two years as head of its board of directors, according to the center’s Web site. The president noted his diplomacy skills in bringing together different elements of exile Latvian society to work for Gaŗezers.
The Order of Three Stars Commission named the five recipients already last year, but the honors were bestowed May 4 in commemoration of the day in 1990 when Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
The ceremony, however, also capped the commission’s work. Beginning this autumn, the Order of Three Stars and other honors will be bestowed by a new body. The parliament in March passed a new law governing medals and other honors, including the restored Viesturs military award.
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