New President in Latvia: #proudtobegay in Latvia

Edgars Rinkēvičs becomes Latvia’s first openly gay president. Same-sex marriage is still banned in the Baltic state.

Edgars Rinkēvičs smiles for the camera

Latvia’s former foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, becomes the new president Photo: Roman Koksarov/ap/dpa

RIGA taz | It took three ballots before Edgars Rinkēvičs was there: on Wednesday, the 49-year-old was elected the new president of the Baltic state with 52 of the 100 members of the Latvian parliament (Saeima) voting. He was proposed by the right-wing centrist Neue Unity party – the strongest force within the governing coalition, which consists of three parties. Their junior partners did not support the candidacy, but two parties from the opposition camp did.

The main topic of conversation in Riga on Wednesday was that Rinkēvičs is Latvia’s first gay head of state. In 2014, when he had been foreign minister for three years, he was in a tweet openly revealed his sexual orientation for the first time. Legal regulations for all types of partnerships must finally be created in Latvia, and he is ready to fight for them. “I know mega hysteria is starting now but #proudtobegay (proud to be gay).”

Two weeks ago, Rinkēvičs felt compelled to comment on his private life again. “I am free. My relationships haven’t lasted long enough to really form a partnership. I’m saying this now to avoid speculation on the subject,” he said.

Rinkēvičs was born in Jurmala. He holds a degree in political science and a master’s degree from National Defense University (NDV) in Washington DC. In the 1990s, Rinkēvičs worked for Latvian radio, then he was hired by the Ministry of Defence, where he became Secretary of State in 1997. In 2002/2003 he was deputy head of the Latvian delegation that negotiated NATO accession, and from 2008 to 2011 he was head of the Presidential Chancellery. In 2011, Rinkēvičs became foreign minister.

The Ukraine war is likely to shape Rinkēvičs’ tenure

In 2021, Belarus launched a criminal case against Rinkēvičs for inciting national hatred. He helped ensure that the official Belarusian red and green flag was replaced with the red and white flag of the opposition during a presentation of the flags of all participating countries in a sports competition in Riga.

In autumn 2022, at a conference in Riga, Rinkēvičs announced that he would not renew residence permits for Russians, but would limit them. In fact, Russians fleeing the mobilization are not opposed to the war in Ukraine. If that were different, they should protest against the Russian state power. In any case, their admission is a security risk for Latvia.

Russia’s war against Ukraine is likely to have a significant impact on Rinkēvičs’ four-year term. But there are other fields of activity for him. The Latvian parliament has still not ratified the Istanbul Convention against violence against women. Opponents see this document as a kind of backdoor to, they say, make LGBTQ and gender issues socially acceptable. There are no registered partnerships so far. The constitution also needs to be revised on this issue: Same-sex marriages are prohibited.

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