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Change, Change, Change

November 4, 2008, the day Barack Obama was elected president, was, as U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Charles Larson said, "an historic and exciting day." It was a day that turned the world upside down. Not only for me, a U.S. citizen, but for countless others, holding their breath for change in the world.

Although it is still too early to see what kind of change the Obama administration will bring, one thing is for certain. Change is already here.
Change, however, is not going to find much of a home here in the Baltics. And this is a good thing. It was also expected that not much foreign policy would change with regards to the Baltics. This could be said about many small regions around the world, however, the Baltics play an important role in American policy, and have been on the forefront of both presidential candidates minds since the beginning.

But why the Baltics?
Early on in the election campaigning process, the three countries knew that there were Baltic insiders in both McCain and Obama campaigns. Even Hillary Clinton, on a famous visit to Estonia in 2006 held a vodka drinking competition with then Senator John McCain on a congressional visit. Though the word is still out on who the winner was, a cook at the restaurant Gloria in Tallinn hosting the delegation said that Clinton did quite well.

Historically and also recently, the Baltics have been important due to their proximity to Russia. Russia has to go through the Baltics first to get to the rest of Europe. When war broke out in Georgia, internationally, many drew comparisons between the two regions, wondering if the same thing could also happen in the Baltics. This also drew the attention of Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. In the first of three presidential debates, McCain took a stronger stance against Russian aggression, saying more protection was needed to protect and support the "fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe, you know, the Estonians, the Lithuanians and the Latvians."

Obama, in the second debate on Oct 7, was quoted as saying, "We've got to provide moral support to the Poles and Estonia and Latvia and all of the nations that were former Soviet satellites. But we've also got to provide them with financial and concrete assistance to help rebuild their economies."

The color issue
The issue that everyone has been talking about is also the most visible, skin color. Former Latvian ambassador to the U.S., Ojars Kalnins also noted that the color of Obama's skin also has to be taken into account. "Obama is dark-skinned and it is a signal that the U.S. does not exist as a racist country any more," said Kalnins.

It's surprising to most people how pleased citizens seem to be with the election of an African-American, considering the history of racism still prevalent in society today. Every Latvian I've spoken with has seen the election of Obama as an exciting thing. Not only that, but many of them voiced their surprise that all of a sudden, they viewed the U.S. in a new light.
Viktors, an employee at the Latvian Occupation Museum in Riga enthusiastically said that "Obama is giving hope for a lot of people all over the world."

Many people even thanked me (on behalf of my country) for "finally making the right decision."
Janis Klavins, a history student, said that he liked Obama "because he is not another Republican who ruled the White House for  the last 8 years. I expect him to be more open to countries with whom Bush made very bad relations such as Muslim countries.  I think the world could be a better and safer place if the U.S. weren't so aggressive against the Mid-East region."

But Klavins has high hopes as well. "I'm expecting Obama to break this ice between U.S. and Iran. If the West in general and the States in particular are very negative and aggressive towards Iran, which makes Iran come closer to Russia."
The Baltics too have high hopes for President Obama. As a senator this year, Obama remained highly active in his support of the Baltics and even co-signed on a Senate resolution in Sept. outlining the illegality of the Soviet occupation of Latvia.  

"Barack Obama is a friend to Latvia as he has earlier voiced his support to Latvia. One of the proofs for it is his participation in initiative for the US Senate resolution to Latvia's 90th anniversary, underscoring the illegal occupation of Latvia," said President Zatlers.
The former Latvian ambassador to the U.S., Ojars Kalnins, voiced similar opinions and told reporters that this presidential election with the victory of an African-American Democrat is a historic event not only in the US, but also to the world.
"Obama represents the new generation. It was needed in the U.S. because people were dissatisfied with politics. Now Americans expect a new approach and vision from Obama," said Kalnins.

Kalnins concluded by saying he believes that Obama's victory opens up new opportunities for forming relations with the world. "The U.S. has a new start," he said.