President of the Republic of Latvia (1999-2007)
Date and place of birth:
1 December 1936, Riga (Latvia).
Vaira Vike was born on 1 December 1937 in Riga, Latvia. To escape the Soviet occupation, her family fled the country on 1 January 1945 and became refugees. Vaira began her schooling in refugee camps in Germany and continued in French Morocco, first at the elementary school in Daourat and then at the Girls’ College Mers-Sultan in Casablanca.
After arriving in Canada in 1954, she had to work for a year in a bank, and then entered the University of Toronto, obtaining a B.A. (1958) and an M.A. (1960) in Psychology. While studying, she worked as part-time teacher in a private girl’s school and Spanish translator, and afterwards as a full-time clinical psychologist at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital (1960-61). Resuming her education at McGill University in Montreal, she earned a doctorate (Ph.D.) in experimental psychology in 1965. She speaks Latvian, English, French, German and Spanish and understands Italian and Portuguese.
Professional experience and political career:
From 1965 to 1998 Vaira Vike-Freiberga pursued a professorial career at the Department of Psychology of the French-speaking University of Montreal, where she taught psychopharmacology, psycholinguistics, scientific theories, experimental methods, language and cognitive processes. Her experimental research focused on memory processes and language, and the influence of drugs on cognitive processes. At the same time she did scholarly research on semiotics, poetics and the structural analysis of computer-accessible texts from an oral tradition -- the Latvian folksongs (Dainas). Between 1965 and 1999 she authored 7 books and about 160 articles, essays or book chapters and has given over 250 speeches, allocutions and scientific communications in English, French or Latvian, as well as numerous radio, TV and press interviews in various languages.
Since 1957, she has been actively engaged in community service, focusing on questions of Latvian identity and culture, and the political future of the Baltic States.
Dr. Vike-Freiberga has held leading positions in national and international scientific and scholarly organisations, as well as in a number of Canadian governmental, institutional, academic and interdisciplinary committees, where she acquired extensive administrative experience. Recipient of many medals, prizes and honours for distinguished work in the humanities and social sciences.
In June 1998 she was elected Professor emerita at the University of Montreal and returned to her native land, Latvia, where on 19 October the Prime Minister named her Director of the newly founded Latvian Institute.
On 17 June 1999, Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected President of the Republic of Latvia by the Parliament (Saeima). In 2003 she was re-elected for a second term of four years with 88 votes out of 96.
She has actively exercised the powers conferred on the President by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and has played a leading role in achieving Latvia’s membership in NATO and the European Union. Invited speaker at numerous international events. Outspoken pundit on social issues, moral values, European historical dialogue, and democracy.
She has been a member of the Council of Women World Leaders since 1999, a regularly invited participant to the World Economic Forum (Davos) and to the annual meetings of the American Academy of Achievement since 2000.
During her presidency, she authored and published an additional three scholarly books, plus one book containing her numerous speeches and invited addresses between 1999 and 2007.
Since the end of her presidency in July 2007, Dr. Vike-Freiberga has been actively participating as an invited speaker at a wide variety of international events. A founding member of the Club of Madrid, she is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and honorary patron of several Foundations. She was a member of the Support Committee of the 2007 European Book Prize and an honorary patron of the Paris Colloquium on the Teaching of European literatures. During the Spring semester 2008 she was an invited Senior Fellow at the Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
She was chair of the European Research Area Board Identification Committee (2008), chair of the Review panel of the European Research Council (2009), and since December 2007, vice-chair of the Reflection group on the long term future of the European Union.
Dr. Vike-Freiberga and Dr. I.Freibergs have founded a company “VVF Consulting” that offers consulting services to public and private organizations.
Medals and honours:
Dr. Vike-Freiberga has received many medals and awards, including the 2005 Hannah Arendt Prize for political thought, the 2007 Emperor Otto Prize for contributions in defining European identity and future, and the 2009 Hayek Medal for promotion of freedom and free trade. She has been awarded 37 Orders of Merit and 16r Honorary Doctorates. Four biographies about President Vaira Vike-Freiberga have been published (in Latvian, English, French, Finnish, Italian, Russian and Spanish), and a full length documentary film “The Threefold Sun” in 2008.
Family and recreation:
Since July 1960 married to Dr. Imants Freibergs, Professor of Informatics at the University of Quebec in Montreal until 1999, and 2001-2009 President of the Latvian Information and Communication Technologies Association (LIKTA). Their son Karlis lives in Riga, Latvia, and works as a speechwriter and free-lance translator, editor and journalist. Their daughter Indra is Director of the Latvian Investment and Development Agency Representation Office in London, UK.
Among her hobbies, the President enjoys reading, crosswords, nature walks, gardening, swimming, and needlework, as well as the company of a dog and a cat.