March 30, 2017 – Riga – An AJC leadership delegation met with Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis and other leaders during a two-day trip to the Baltic nation’s capital.
This latest AJC visit to Latvia came immediately after AJC Central Europe, the global advocacy organization’s newest office in Europe, was launched at a gala evening in Warsaw, which was attended by over 500 government officials, senior diplomats, media representatives, and AJC leaders from across the U.S. and Europe.
Latvia is one of the seven countries in the region that AJC Central Europe is engaging. The others, in addition to Poland, are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakia. AJC delegations are visiting those countries as well, after a series of high-level meetings in Poland, where the office is based and led by Acting Director Agnieszka Markiewicz.
“AJC Central Europe enables us to deepen our engagement, at a critical moment in world affairs, with Latvia and other countries in the region,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who led the 30-member AJC delegation. “This vital area is important to the Jewish people, as it is, of course, to the United States and Israel. Indeed, the Prime Minister said that ‘Latvia’s relations with Israel are excellent, if not exceptional.'”
“To a large degree, the Latvians and the Jewish people should understand each other instinctively,” Harris added. “We have the same sense of vulnerability and the same enduring pride in our durability. When others discouraged it, AJC supported the rebirth of Baltic independence and accession to NATO. It was our expression of friendship and trust. Just think what the fate of the three Baltic states would be today were it not for their membership in NATO.”
During the visit to Riga, in addition to meeting with Prime Minister Kučinskis, the AJC delegation met with Speaker of the Latvian Parliament Ināra Mūrniece; Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis; State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Andrejs Pildegovičs; and Israeli Ambassador Lironne Bar-Sadeh.
Moreover, the group was hosted by U.S. Ambassador Nancy Pettit at her residence for a briefing and luncheon.
The delegation was joined throughout the visit by top leaders of the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia, with which AJC has maintained a longstanding and very fruitful association agreement.
Further, David Harris was hosted by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address diplomats, faculty, and students at the University of Latvia. Valdis Zatlers, the former President of Latvia, introduced Harris, calling him a “longtime friend.”
During the visit, among the principal topics discussed were: (a) Latvian-U.S. relations in the new political era; (b) Latvian-Israeli relations; (c) restitution of Jewish religious and communal properties from the wartime era; (d) developments in the European Union, including the United Kingdom’s action on March 29th to begin the process of leaving the EU; and (e) threats to national and regional security from the east, which are absolutely foremost on Latvia’s mind.
AJC engages with Latvian diplomats across the U.S. and Europe, and the global Jewish advocacy organization meets with senior Latvian officials each year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The last AJC visit to Riga was in January 2016.
In August 1991, AJC became the only major Jewish organization in the world to call for American recognition of the reestablishment of independence for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Two weeks later, President George H.W. Bush took that historic step.
Moreover, again uniquely in the Jewish world, AJC later helped in the effort to expand NATO membership to include the three Baltic nations, and welcomed the full integration of the three countries into the EU in the same year, 2004.