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Monday 17.02.2020 | Name days: Konstance, Donats
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Latvian president’s heritage – «inspiring» speeches and non-citizens’ children

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIf anything is clear about presidential elections in Latvia it is that Raimonds Vējonis will not remain the country’s president. Failing to secure support from political parties represented in the Saeima, the president announced his decision to not stand candidate for a second term.

During Vējonis’ term as president Latvia has seen two government’s rise, KGB bag opened, Latvia’s centenary celebrated and discussions were held in regards to refugees. BNN offers a look back at Vējonis’ accomplishments in the past four years.

«Boy from Madona»

Vējonis, born in Russia, started his political career in Madona. He later moved to Ogre. As a person he was simple in his political career and as President of Latvia.

Shortly after his election Vējonis announced he does not want to live in the president’s residence in Jurmala and wants to remain in his apartment in Ogre. He did not organize and inauguration party and promised to actively communicate with residents on Twitter.

Only one promise of all of them was upheld in the end.

In 2016, Vējonis left Ogre in favour of the residence in Jurmala. Even his Twitter page posts only official announcements and congratulations addressed to Latvian athletes.

Embarrassments also surfaced now and again during official moments. For example, during his speech at the Song and Dance Celebration, Vējonis congratulated Latvia with New Year’s. His English language skills were not exactly excellent either. His foreign Language skills even ‘earned’ him a sketch by Saturday Night Live about the meeting of Baltic leaders with US President Donald Trump in 2018.

One undeniable positive aspect of Vējonis’s personality is his calm approach to work. He was a welcome change after a president who promised to use fists and did not stand out much with bravado.

«Spine!»

Perhaps it was something that stuck with him from his time as Latvia’s Defence Ministry, but Vējonis spent a lot of time speaking about Latvia’s defence, outlining accomplishments and pushing Latvia towards better results. But for the most part Vējonis avoided voicing heavy criticisms, as his speeches were more declarative than acting.

Latvia’s president was not a great orator, his words and thoughts never rose above speeches of ranking average officials and maintained a speaking style typical for the 21st century. ‘Knowledge is power that cannot be taken away.’ ‘Our aspirations and work are the most beautiful gift.’ ‘We are one of the rare nations that have their own country.’

It can be said that

Vējonis’ statements are the offspring of poet Kornēlija Apškrūma and Paulo Coelho. Yes, everything is correct and well-spoken, but it is unlikely he will be quoted by future generations.

In important topics such as asylum seekers and KGB bag’s opening, Vējonis did not offer any clear and confident opinion that would help direct public discussions. Instead the president mostly stood on the sidelines.

When he was expected to show strength to define the anger coming from society, he said every involved person should consider their role in discussions and explain to society their actions. This kind of behaviour from him was observed in relation to «oligarch talks’ in Ridzene Hotel. At least, according to the president, these talks were ‘unacceptable’. You don’t say.

The president was expected to «show some spine» on 13 July 2017, when people came to Riga Castle in reaction to published transcripts from those talks and the lack of a response from Vējonis.

He also denied having knowledge about talks in the hotel when he was chairman of the Union of Greens and Farmers and proposed Aivars Lembergs as a candidate for the post of Latvia’s prime minister.

Sitting at the same table with Ainārs Šlesers

In 2017 a wide resonance in society was caused by a documentary from public broadcaster TV3 programme Nekā personīga that mentioned how Vējonis sat behind the same table with infamous Latvian businessman and ex-politician Ainārs Šlesers during his visit to Dubai. The ex-politician wanted to inspire Arab businessmen by making it seem like he has contacts with very influential people.

Vējonis denied knowing that he would sit at the same table with Šlesers during his dinner with Saudi Arabian businessman Khalif al Saif.

The photo showing them sitting together was published on social media by former official of the local embassy Rūdolfs Brēmanis, who shared business interests with Šlesers and Andris Šķēle.

Falling ill

Vējonis moved to the president’s residence in Jūrmala after he ended up in hospital in 2016. At first it was nothing more serious than the president falling ill to some virus, as nothing more was revealed about his condition at the time. Later, however, it turned out the president is seriously ill and it may have very serious effects on his health.

Perhaps public concerns about his health gave him strength. During his recovery after the surgery on his heart, Vējonis still followed the government formation process and even performed his duties while hospitalized.

Political roots

During municipal elections in Latvia, UGF presented itself as the president’s party. In 2017, Vējonis asked them to stop doing that.

Vējonis’ ties with UGF cast a shadow on him, as people suspected that he may be influenced by suspended Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs.  When pressed if he would pardon Lembergs if the decade-long criminal case ended with a guilty verdict, Vējonis said no. This matter was not mentioned again because court debates have only just commenced, and it does not seem like they are close to ending.

It is worth mentioning that Vējonis was elected President of Latvia thanks to votes from Harmony. Although UGF has always denied having sympathy for this party, their ‘friendship’ is undeniable when you look at their work in the parliament.

In spite of the fact that Vējonis maintains political neutrality in his post, his statements in regards to the regional reform, people’s elected president and transparency in state administration, were more or less aligned with UGF’s values.

Behind closed doors

Although publicly Vējonis proposed forming a country ruled by law and praised transparency, this position of his was not reflected a whole lot in action.

For example,

He spoke against open presidential elections, saying that it would be an imitation of activity, adding that such voting would not contribute to transparency.

In 2017, Latvia did not welcome the decision to keep wages of employees of State President’s Chancellery a secret. This decision was backed by the argument that revealing his information would invade the privacy of personal life.

Diena newspaper revealed that the employees of the State President’s Chancellery are often paid bonuses and that this is explained by typically formal excuses, such as ‘bonus was paid in accordance with successful accomplishment of duties’. Diena allowed that after bonuses were ceased in spring of the same year bonus amounts were simply added to employee wages.

Nation’s cohesion

One of the main characteristics of Vējonis’ presidential term was the desire to unite the nation on a national level. The president comes from a Latvian-Russian family and this did bring benefits at first, as his family situation served as a symbol to unite these two nationalities.

In his speeches he stood in favour of uniting these two groups of residents in Latvia. Perhaps the most noteworthy step towards this was his proposal to abolish the practice of giving newborn children of non-citizens their parents’ status.

In 2017, Latvia’s 12th Saeima rejected this proposal. The president later submitted this proposal again to the13th Saeima. Time will tell if the president’s proposal turns into law. He will have been replaced by a new president by the time this topic becomes clear.

New Unity and Attīstībai/Par! have already voiced support for the president’s initiative, whereas National Alliance ‘All for Latvia – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK’ opposes it.

What will the future bring?

There are three presidential candidates at the moment – European Union Court of Justice Judge Egils Levits, UGF’s picked ombudsman Juris Jansons, and KPV LV internal opposition candidate Didzis Šmits.

Vējonis has yet to announce any plans what he plans to do after stepping down as president. It is known, however, that he will not get a state-maintained apartment. However, he will be paid a bigger pension.

Vējonis turns 53 this year – not exactly an age to engage in peaceful everyday pastimes and nurturing grandchildren.

At the beginning of his presidency Vējonis said due to youth the political elite may have to tolerate him a long time. Four years later, this prediction seems less believable.

It is common knowledge that Latvia’s president enjoys gardening. This is where his environment education and love for nature surfaces. Likely Latvia’s political arena will have to make do without him.


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