On Wednesday, February 22, 2023, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Latvia to the United States, H.E. Mr. Māris Selga, visited the Hoover Institution Library & Archives. Research fellow Bertrand Patenaude hosted the ambassador's party in Hoover Tower, where items from the Library & Archives' special collections devoted to key moments in the history of Latvia and the Baltic states over the past century were presented. Ambassador Selga, who happens to be a trained historian, was a well informed and appreciative guest.
Among the highlights on display were photographs and documents related to American food relief to the Baltics administered by relief workers of Herbert Hoover's American Relief Administration in 1919 and 1920. The papers of one American relief worker, Thomas J. Orbison, include artworks by grateful Latvians delivered in thanks for American food relief as well as a letter of appreciation from Kārlis Ulmanis, the first prime minister of independent Latvia. A highlight of the diplomatic papers among Hoover's holdings is the collection of Voldemars Salnais (1886–1948), Latvia's ambassador to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark in the years 1937 to 1940, as war clouds gathered over Europe. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 spelled the end of Latvia’s independence. Ambassador Selga was shown the private photo album of Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, containing remarkable photographs of his visit to Moscow to sign the non-aggression treaty, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The treaty's secret protocol led to the Soviet annexation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.
One of Ambassador Selga's diplomatic forerunners was Alfreds Bilmanis (1887–1948), who served as Latvia's ambassador to the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1935 and as ambassador to the United States from 1935 to 1940. As the United States refused to legally recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states, Bilmanis continued to represent Latvian interests in the US. He was later viewed by many within the Latvian diaspora and within Latvia itself as an important spokesman for Latvian national aspirations during a time when the country no longer existed as a legal entity. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 brought the return of an independent Latvian state.
Ambassador Selga was accompanied by second secretary Gints Zadraks and by Laura I. Ramanis, Honorary Consul, Republic of Latvia, Northern California. During the visit, the ambassador and his colleagues were given a tour of the Tower galleries, both the Herbert Hoover Room and the temporary gallery, where the exhibition Bread + Medicine: Saving Lives in a Time of Famine tells the story of America's relief mission to Soviet Russia during the Great Famine of 1921. Of special resonance for the ambassador was the fact that the unofficial treaty of August 20, 1921, between Herbert Hoover's American Relief Administration and the Soviet government which made possible this remarkable rescue operation was negotiated and signed in the Latvian capital, Riga.