Vaira PaegleFellow for Democracy and Development
Vaira Paegle was born in 1942, in Nazi occupied Riga, Latvia. In the fall of 1944, as Soviet troops approached Riga, she and her parents fled Latvia. The next seven years were spent in Displaced Persons (DP) camps in the British Zone, in Germany. In 1951 she immigrated with her parents to the United States.
Mrs. Paegle grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, graduating from Concord High School in 1960. She graduated from Tufts University in 1964, with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in history and international relations, and received her Masters Degree from the University of New Hampshire, writing a thesis on Saudi Arabia – a study of the Ikhwan movement as an instrument of political organization and military power, now thought to have influenced al-Qaeda.
In 1968 she married Viesturs Paegle, a Latvian-American, and moved to Connecticut. They have a daughter, Laila Slesers, who lives in Manhattan. For the next 29 years she dedicated her life to public service, working for the Connecticut Department of Social Services, where she assumed various positions – policy development consultant, legislative liaison, administrator of such billion dollar programs as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid and Food Stamps and Director of Program Planning and Policy Development. Before retiring in 1997, she managed the Fraud Prevention and Recoveries Unit, receiving recognition for her work from the US Department of Agriculture and the Connecticut State’s Attorney’s office.
Mrs. Paegle always remained active in the Latvian-American community, assuming a leadership role in the late 1980's, as prospects for restoring Baltic independence increased. She was a member and later President of the Connecticut Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Alliance, and a Vice-President of the American Latvian Association. She was the first and, up to now, the only woman President of the World Federation of Free Latvians, an umbrella organization uniting émigré Latvians throughout the free world, and now working closely with the Latvian government on issues of common concern. As President, she was the first émigré Latvian to visit Latvians in Siberia, who were deported during Stalinist repressions.
After retiring from government service, she worked briefly on Barbara Kennelly's gubernatorial campaign before joining the People’s Party in Latvia and running in Parliamentary elections. She served three terms in the Republic of Latvia Saeima, during which time she was elected Chairwoman of the Foreign Relations Committee, then Chairwoman of the European Affairs Committee. She was head of Latvia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where she was elected Deputy Speaker, and, later, head of Latvia's delegation to the Euro-Med and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. For a while she was also Parliamentary Secretary ( i.e.Deputy Foreign Minister) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was the founder and chairwoman of the Women's Caucus in Parliament and a member of numerous Parliamentary Friendship Groups, with particular emphasis on Tibet and Taiwan.
In 1998, she was her party’s candidate for President of Latvia.
During her time in politics, Mrs. Paegle continued to participate in non-governmental organizations, as board member of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, founding member of the People's Party, founding member of the Association for Gender Equality, and co-founder of the Nordic Women’s Academy in Sweden –a yearly retreat for senior women politicians.
She has participated in various NDI (National Democratic Institute) projects, including working with parliamentarians in Kosovo, observing elections in Ukraine, training Iraqi women Deputies in Jordan, and Middle Eastern women politicians in Kuwait. Given her particular interest in the Middle East, she has participated in high level trips to Egypt, Jordan, Gaza and Israel as part of the EU peace initiative, meeting King Abdullah, President Perez and President Abbas.
Mrs. Paegle continues to work for greater women’s participation in politics, democracy development and on issues regarding political ethics and corruption, giving interviews in Latvia, and writing articles in newspapers and giving speeches.
Besides English, she speaks Latvian and German.
Mrs. Paegle resides in South Windsor, Connecticut.
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