Former NATO PA Vice-President and Head of the Latvian delegation Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš passed away on Thursday 14 October 2021.
The Assembly mourns his loss deeply. “I am profoundly saddened. Ojārs was a friend and a role model for many of us. He was a deeply committed Atlanticist and embodied the transatlantic bond through his own personal story of exile, his fight for Latvia to free itself from Soviet occupation and his commitment to build a better future for his country and its people in NATO,” President Gerald E. Connolly (United States) stated.
“We will miss him greatly. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, relatives and friends.”
The Assembly is indebted to Mr Kalniņš for the important contributions he made to its work. Mr Kalniņš first joined the Assembly in 2011 and had led the Latvian delegation ever since. He was one of the leading members of the Political Committee. Having served as its Chairman in 2015-2018, he had just been elected General Rapporteur at the Assembly’s Annual Session in Lisbon earlier this week. He was also a Co-Chair of the Ukraine-NATO Interparliamentary Council – the Assembly’s platform for dialogue and cooperation with the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine - and a member of the NATO PA’s informal support group for the Crimea Platform. As such, he represented the NATO PA at the Crimea Platform Summit at the end of August. Having experienced the Soviet occupation of Latvia, he was a strong supporter of Ukraine and Georgia as well as a powerful advocate for the continued non-recognition of Russia’s illegal and forcible annexation of Crimea.
Mr Kalnins was elected Vice-President of the NATO PA in 2014 and served on the Assembly’s Bureau until 2016.
His colleagues and friends in the Assembly valued and respected Mr Kalniņš’ clear-headed, calm and thoughtful approach to challenges facing the Alliance.
Mr Kalniņš grew up in Chicago after his parents fled Soviet-occupied Latvia. In parallel to his successful advertising career, he was active in various Latvian-American organisations, raising awareness of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and building support in the United States for the continued non-recognition of their annexation.
Following the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr Kalniņš served as Latvia’s ambassador to the United States and Mexico from 1993 to 2000. In 2000, he was also one of the founders of the Latvian Transatlantic Organization (LATO) – the Latvian chapter of the Atlantic Treaty Association.
Mr Kalniņš was one of the most active promoters and architects of Latvia’s membership in NATO in 2004. He was first elected to the Saeima in 2010, where he served as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee until 2018.