Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bush Is Comming To The Baltics

Bush is coming to Riga in May. I'll try and get over there and blog some of the day's events. It should be interesting to compare his visit to one 11 years ago when Clinton came through the Baltics in July '94. I was helping out herding people and was close to the podium when he spoke. Afterwards, as he worked the ropeline, eyes a bit glazed, I could hear him greeting the locals, smiling, shaking hands, mouthing platitudes. When I put my hand out and said, "Welcome to Latvia from the Peace Corps," his eyes suddenly snapped alert at the sound of English and he said, "You know, you guys do really good work here, keep it up." I have a distinct memory of his huge hand and how soft it was. His grip wasn't firm, but I guess that comes from dealing with the thousands of handshakes he makes.

Later, I remember standing around under some trees with the embassy staff and other Peace Corps volunteers when Bill, Hillary, Warren Christopher, and David Gergen came over and spoke with us for a few minutes. As we listened, Gergen, who happened to be standing next to me said, "Gee, Riga is prettier than I thought it would be. I'll have to bring my wife over some time." I said I missed seeing him on the MacNeill/Lerher News Hour. He laughed and said that he had enjoyed his sparring matches with Mark Shields.

It was a nice moment on a beautiful day, and the feelings in the crowd were just electric, so happy were they to welcome a President of the United States to their newly free nation. It was a day of tremendous validation that echoes what is going on now as other countries reach out for freedom. I think these second and third waves will be messier, even bloodier, but in the end, the results will ultimately be the same.

It's funny how things work sometimes. I saw Al Gore quite by accident the following summer in Moscow as he and his buddy Viktor Chernomyrdin came through the Kremlin grounds, surprising all of us tourists. I've never seen a President in person in America . . . so there you go.


At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your description here is quite a bit different than when I saw Clinton in 1999 in Slovenia just after the NATO bombing of Serbia. The streets of Ljubljana were filled with police and soldiers holding AK-47s. The weather was unusually cold and rainy until noon the next day when he flew out. Then the guns and clouds cleared out and the sun warmed the city.


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