Two Latvia-born men, both of whom immigrated with their families to the United States and became champions of freeing their homeland from Soviet rule, have been named this year’s winners of the World Federation of Free Latvians Award.
Paulis Lazda, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, and Uldis Grava, now a politician in Latvia, share this year’s honor. The federation (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA) announced the awards Nov. 3.
Lazda is perhaps best known for his work initiating the Occupation Museum of Latvia in Rīga, as well for establishing a study abroad program that has sent dozens of American college students to Latvia for a semester.
“The Occupation Museum has become for its visitors the best documentation and explanation of the history of Latvia’s occupation,” the PBLA said in its announcement. “The museum has been added to the Latvia’s diplomatic protocol and its visitors include accredited ambassadors to Latvia, embassy staff and foreign delegations, including government officials and heads of state.”
In recent years Lazda has been responsible for the museum’s traveling exhibition, often traveling to venues to introduce the material.
Lazda, 67, arrived in the United States in 1950. He received his doctorate in history in 1987 from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has previously been honored by the Latvian Academy of Sciences, which in 1998 granted him an honorary doctorate; by the University of Latvia, which in 1999 also granted him an honorary doctorate, and by the Latvian government, which in 2000 awarded him the Order of Three Stars.
Grava is a rarity among Latvian community activists, the PBLA said, noting his untiring and successful work. The association credited him for bring professionalism to the organizations he headed, which helped those groups expand their financial base.
Grava joined the board of directors of the American Latvian Association in 1962. From 1970-1972 he was the organization’s chairman. In 1972 he helped found the PBLA and became its first chairman. He left his stamp on both organizations.
“Among Uldis Grava’s innovations are the decentralization of work, delegation of responsibilities to section heads and the confidence to take a role in world politics, as well as successfully finding the means to expand the Latvian community’s financial support of new efforts,” the PBLA said.
Grava gained wide media notice in 1973 in Helsinki, Finland, when as a member of the Baltic delegation to a conference on European security he confronted the Soviet Union’s foreign miniser, Andrei Gromyko. The Baltic delegation was arrested, an action that gained it and the Baltic cause media exposure.
Grava also helped found the Latvian Freedom Fund (Latvijas Brīvības fonds).
Grava, 67, also came to the United States in 1950. Educated at Columbia University in New York, he worked for the Newspaper Advertising Bureau for many years. In 1993, he became head of Latvian bureau of Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany, and later in Prague in the Czech Republic. In 2002, he moved to Latvia and became head of Latvian State Television for three years. Grava then joined the Jaunais laiks (New Era) political party and now serves on the Liepāja City Council.
Grava also is a recipient of the Order of Three Stars as well as other honors.
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