Rīga Conference 2008 "Europe Whole and Free: 90 Years in the Making", October 31- November 2, 2008, Rīga

179 experts of international politics, academics, politicians, representatives from non-governmental organizations, commentators and journalists, as well as 85 international and Latvian media representatives took part in the Riga conference, organized on the eve of Latvia's 90th anniversary. In their discussions the participants attempted to estimate the impact of the Western democracy model in the world, analyze the roots and consequences of the Russia-Georgia conflict, look into decisions by which NATO is going to mark its 60th anniversary, into the options for future relations of the West with Russia, the prospects for the European Union in 2009 and into the future as envisioned by the European democracies.

For the third year in a row, the Riga Conference braught together international politics experts, thus taking forward the tradition established by the NATO Riga Summit - to hold an international debate on security of the transatlantic community and on foreign policy issues.

The Conference was being organized by the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation (LATO), the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia and the Commission of Strategic Analysis under the auspices of the President of Latvia. The conference was supported by the Soros Foundation Latvia, the Riga City Council and the International Consulting Company Oxford Analytica.

Ojārs Kalniņš, Director of the Latvian Institute:

The 3rd Riga Conference demonstrated that Riga is not only a good place to discuss the future of Europe and the Transatlantic relations, but in this particular point in time, a very appropriate one. While a wide range of international security issues relevant to NATO and the EU were touched upon, the dominant - and most timely - issue of the two days was the recent Russia-Georgian conflict. Clearly, the participation of the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili provided valuable first-hand information and real-time relevance. The addition of the Latvian and Estonian presidents, as well as experts from the region, enabled participants to broaden the topic from 'what really happened' to, 'what could happen next.' Interventions by Ed Lucas of the Economist and US Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, among others, enabled the participants to understand these topics in several critical dimensions. As in previous years, the Riga Conference lived up to its name as one of Europe's more important annual gatherings of international policy decision-makers.

Andris Sprūds, Associate Professor at Rīga Stradiņš University, Deputy Director of Latvian Institute of International Affairs:

Riga conference has become a trademark of Latvia's political, diplomatic and intellectual integration within the Transatlantic community. The venue brings together distinguished decision-makers, diplomats and intellectuals for a frank and invigorating exchange of ideas on the most urgent and important international issues. The future of Euro-Atlantic unity, relations with neighbours such as Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, the Baltic cooperation- challenges that will remain on both political and academic agenda for some time to come. And Riga conferences, if not always providing straight-forward answers, reflect wide-ranging approaches and contribute effectively to endeavour to arrive at common understanding and strengthen regional and Euro-Atlantic cooperation.

Jan Havranek, President, Euro-Atlantic Club:

This year, one topic clearly dominated the conference discussions - Western relations with Russia. My sense was that the European delegates were a little more "traumatized' by the current state of affairs more than their American counterparts. However, we didn't find a common solution on how to deal with Russia post Georgia. How should we deal with the strategic dilemma? Russia is pursuing an assertive, if not aggressive, foreign policy, while being utmost dependent on European commodities market. We are experiencing very turbulent times in international affairs, and the Riga conference allowed us to reflect critcially upon these issues.

LATO and Riga conferences have provided for such a great networking opportunity since 2006. Having organized several conferences myself, I know how much effort and hard work LATO has put in. I am very thankful to the organizers that I could be here, and I am a proud member of the rich Riga network.