Women and Politics
Last week, I was surprised hear at least a few Lithuanian women tell me that they found themselves, and/or women in general, unqualified to get involved in politics or in higher management. I have not come across such conventional opinions in Latvia. One of this reasons may be that Latvia`s previous president was a woman. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, that`s her name, stepped down as recently as last summer, because her second and final term came to an end. However, she is still a very popular public figure and remains renowned for her political achievements.
Latvian presidents are not directly elected by the people. They are instead chosen by the parliament. Since Latvia has a multi-party system with a lot of different parties, the race for presidency is one of compromises. Candidates with purely political backgrounds are not likely to be selected because they can potentially bend too much towards the party they originally represented. Janis (31), who explains this system to me, calls the presidency of Ms Vike-Freiberga a lucky shot and tells me some more about her pre-presidential career.
`I am not a fan of politics but I like how our previous prime minister put Latvia on the world map`
Achievements and current outlook
Before being voted the new president of Latvia in 1999, Vike-Freiberga was not a well-known public figure. She served as Head of the Latvian Institute and from 1945 until 1995 did not even live in Latvia. She lived in Canada and was therefore considered by critics not to be sufficiently familiar with the Latvian culture. Janis nevertheless thinks she proved to be the right person at the right time. Vike-Freiberga put Latvia on the international agenda and manoeuvred the country into NATO and the EU.
When I ask about domestic policy, Janis explains me that a Latvian president can only exercise limited authority in that domain. He or she largely fulfills a representative role to the outside world. It is parliament who proposes and votes for new legislation, while the president is required to sign the bill in order for it to become valid. The president can not `make` legislation, but since parliament and president both need to agree to new proposals, the role of president is still a highly influential one.
Anrijs (28, photo) is not a fan of politics, but he thinks Vika-Freiberga did a good job. Her language skills and background of psychologist have certainly helped her to be a good diplomat. Anrijs claims to be insufficiently well-informed to forecast the achievements of Latvia`s new president, Valdis Zatlers, who entered office a few weeks ago. In the same way, Laura (24) thinks that the new president will have a hard time to perform at the same level as Vike-Freiberga did. The first scandals have already made it to the news: Zatlers admits to have accepted money from his patients during the time he was working as a doctor. Although this is common practice in Latvian healthcare, critics say they find it impossible to support a president who has been so closely involved with corruption in the past. Mara (21) thinks he will not do a good job, because `he doesn`t know politics` and because being a doctor doesn`t make you a good politician. She is not the only one to think about it that way - from reading the newspapers, this seems to be the general attitude. At best, the Latvians are willing to give him a chance.
Elina (22) makes a semi-serious joke when she says that being a woman helped Vike-Freiberga be a good politician. `She has proved to be a good leader who used her emotional involvement in the right way. Elina herself works in the city council of Sigulda and she thinks that women can perform at the same or even a higher level than men. She does admit that outside the political arena, some jobs may be found more suitable for men than women. Quickly adding that the difference may be due to the simple fact that more men are active in those jobs, and that men may feel more confident dealing with other men. In this way, the historical over-representation of men in certain areas of business still prevails. Still, feminism does not have many active supporters in Latvia. And for the new president, Elina is the so-manieth to tell me that Latvia will just wait and see what happens.
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