Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of World Leadership Alliance-Club de Madrid (WLA-CdM), was the subject of an in-depth interview at BBC Radio for Her Story Made History, a programme that narrates the stories of remarkable women and the relationship between women and democracy.
The former President of Latvia told BBC host Lyse Doucet about her turbulent childhood: Her family had to flee Latvia in the 1940s as the Red Army was occupying the country, only to find themselves staying at refugee camps in Germany and Morocco. Aged seven, Vaira Vike-Freiberga wouldn’t see Latvia again until 1998, when she returned to the country aged 60.
As an exile in Canada, Vike-Freiberga went on to study Psychology, eventually becoming Doctor Honoris Causa. She lectured for 33 years at the University of Montreal, mastered five languages and published 10 books.
Shortly after Latvia recovered its independence, Vike-Freiberga returned to her country in 1998: “My parents never let me forget that I am Latvian,” she told Ms. Doucet.
Vike-Freiberga became President of Latvia the following year serving two terms. At times, her approval ratings soared to 85%. During her time in office, Latvia joined the European Union and NATO.
"I was somebody who was not interested in making money or anything like that, but simply in doing a job”, said the former President of Latvia, who also recalls her goodbye speech at the Latvian Parliament. Addressing the topic of corruption, the speech received a cold reception among many MPs. She felt it this way, explains the former President of Latvia, because she didn’t get the customary flowers after giving the speech.
Right after this event, Latvians spent days and nights assembling a vast sea of flowers in the shape of a sun. “A sendoff as no president has ever had”, said Vike-Freiberga.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga was also one of the 35 acting Heads of State and Government that gathered in Madrid in 2001 for the Conference in Transitions and Democratic Consolidation that led to the creation of WLA-CdM. She is the current President of this organization since 2014.
Lyse Doucet, BBC’s journalist who conducted the interview has also been previously engaged with WLA-CdM in 2005. She moderated the session Democratic Reform in the Arab World at our International Summit on Democracy, Security and Terrorism.
Listen to the full BBC interview.
Read more about Vaira Vike-Freiberga's story.