Eastern European Time Zone UTC+02:00
Capital City Riga
National Day 18 November
ON ARRIVAL IN London in July, Latvia’s new Ambassador Mrs Ivita Burmistre had never seen London as empty and quiet. “But it is encouraging to see the display of solidarity and appreciation for health workers, who have fought heroically to save people’s lives,” she says. “We have to come together nationally and internationally to cope with the pandemic and overcome its grave consequences.” She comes to the capital with her husband and their 14-year-old son; their daughter remains working in Paris. A keen gardener, the Ambassador likes nothing more than sinking her fingers into the soil to unwind after a long day, and looks forward to visiting the celebrated Chelsea Flower Show.
While Mrs Burmistre was at high school, Latvia’s independence and “national awakening” had “an enormous impact” on her. As did her participation in “the Baltic Way, a peaceful mass demonstration when two million people joined hands to create a 600km human chain, uniting Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to demand the return of our freedom and democracy.” An economist by education, the Ambassador joined the Foreign Service over 20 years ago. Her professional journey has taken her to Washington, DC, where she dealt with economic and trade issues, to Geneva, where she served as Deputy Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation, to Paris, and now to London.
A stint as Director General of Economic Relations, Trade and Development Cooperation Directorate at the MFA provided a unique opportunity to lead the OECD accession process before 2016, and to work on trade and development cooperation during Latvia’s first Presidency of the Council of the EU. 2 June 2016 was a truly memorable day when Latvia’s OECD Accession Agreement was signed. “Standing behind my Prime Minister, I recall the feeling of pride as I saw the materialisation of three years of hard work. The benefits it brought to Latvia, our society, the public sector and businesses made it all worth it.”
Mrs Burmistre came here directly from Paris where, for the past four years she served as Latvia’s Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and to UNESCO. “Latvia supports promoting OECD standards and sharing OECD recommendations on the best policy practices beyond Member States, and I contributed to this work by chairing the OECD External Relations Committee. During my final months in Paris, there was an increased demand from Member States for exchanges on policy measures and their effectiveness in areas such as health, economics, finances, social issues and education.”
As Ambassador in the UK, she will continue the work of her predecessors to “maintain Latvia’s active and intensive cooperation with the UK in security, defence, and economic relations.” Her work will also involve significant cooperation with the local Latvian community to ensure that Latvian nationals continue enjoying their full rights in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement as EU citizens.” Major global themes of climate change, green growth, reducing inequality, digitalisation, gender equality, media freedom, and tackling disinformation will also occupy a significant part of the Ambassador’s agenda. She expects to “invest massive work and set ambitious expectations for COP26 in Glasgow and the UK G7 Presidency.”
On Covid-19, the Ambassador says “the pandemic has affected many areas of life and, despite efforts to curb it, unfortunately it continues to influence our lives heavily.” However, she says, “Latvia has approached the challenge with agility and innovation, building on the existing advanced digital infrastructure and literacy. Science-based decisions, effective and consistent communication, and tech solutions have led to society’s trust and compliance with the rules. As a result, the infection rate and Covid-19 related deaths in Latvia have so far been among the lowest in Europe.”
She continues: “The pandemic has been testing our resilience, but it has revealed many of our strengths. Latvia was the first in the world to introduce a publicly available European privacy rules compliant contact-tracing app: ApturiCovid (StopCovid). A nationwide hackathon provided many Latvian smart solutions, including being among the first to quickly scale up 3D printed face shields. Taking advantage of well-developed digital infrastructure, the Latvian Parliament quickly switched to becoming one of the first fully functional e-parliaments. With one of the fastest internet connections in the world and beautiful countryside, Latvia has swiftly transitioned to be a true remote working dreamland.”
On Brexit, Mrs Burmistre notes that “we must not lose sight of the broader picture as we work through the operational challenges. The EU and UK will continue to be neighbours. Latvia and the UK will remain like-minded partners and allies working together to defend democratic values, tackle global issues, and strengthen our security. We will continue to cooperate with the UK within international organisations. More effort will be devoted to maintaining bilateral dialogue, and regional formats, such as Nordic-Baltic Eight and the UK, will likely gain in practical significance.”
In 2018, Latvia celebrated the centenary of its statehood; next year will be 100 years since Latvia has been internationally recognised de iure. “We have learnt tough history lessons, and we know the value of freedom and democracy, and the rules-based international order. We are working hard, often punching above our weight, to make our contribution to support and sustain the democratic values and rules-based international system.”