Townterview With Latvian Youth, Hosted by LTV
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Excellent.
MR. GESTE: -- that we all know and will be happy to sing especially for you, honoring your 100th visit. So everybody, let’s stand up and show Mrs. Clinton how we greet people we love here. One, two, three.
(A traditional Latvian greeting was sung.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, that was wonderful. (Cheers and applause.)
MR. GESTE: Welcome to Latvia.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, thank you. If I’d been born Latvian, I could sing. (Laughter.) That was so nice. Thank you, Lauris. Thank you, Janis. And thanks to all of you for being here. I’m very happy that my 100th country was Latvia, because I have such a great admiration and incredible sense of friendship and solidarity with your country, and so it’s a perfect time to be here.
MR. GESTE: And I want to say as well that we are – there are many people joining us now live on Latvian television as well and Latvian radio, so welcome to them. And I have to ask you first, this 100th visit, was it on purpose or happen by an accident that you are here in Riga now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have been wanting to come back to Riga ever since I was here 18 years ago on July 6th, before many of you were born by the looks of the audience, with my husband, when he spoke in Freedom Square, where I just was. And you cannot imagine how often we talk about how beautiful Riga was and what a great set of memories we have.
So it was a little bit by chance and a little bit by planning, but it was a great – what we call serendipity, the fact that Latvia could be the hundredth country, and at nearly the same time of year as I was here with Bill when we were really celebrating the independence and freedom of the Baltic people, and no place better to do it than in Riga.
MR. GESTE: That was year 1994, right?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, indeed.
MR GESTE: And at that time we were just at the beginning of a really challenging journey.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GESTE: Now we are a member of European Union, NATO. We have been a close ally to United States in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, we plan to join euro in 2012. What were your thoughts back then in 1994? Did you really believe Latvia will succeed?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I really believed it, but it was going to be up to the Latvian people, because obviously those of us who had followed Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia for many years, as I did, starting in high school – I had a social studies teacher – and this shows the influence of teachers – who was very much of an anti-Communist, pro-freedom, pro-Baltic freedom person, and he even formed an organization to educate those of us who were interested in what was happening in the Baltic countries. And so I’ve been thinking about – and of course I grew up in Chicago, where there are so many Latvian Americans, so I knew Latvian Americans, and I followed the history of your country. And after this, I’ll be naming a street in honor of Sumner Welles, who was the American diplomat who said the United States will never recognize Soviet domination of Latvia and Estonia and Lithuania.
So when we were able to come, the year after really so many things were happening in the world because my husband became President in 1993, the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. It was all very new, but it was exciting. And yet, I knew, because of the history of my own country, that the path forward would be challenging. You don’t wake up one day and say, oh, guess what, we’re free and we’re going to be able to do all these things and – no, I mean, it took hard work. And the most recent years of economic hardship that you’ve gone through but came through with real resoluteness and sacrifice, I think reinforced the faith that so many of us have in Latvia’s future.
And one of the reasons I wanted to come to this great university and have a chance to meet with young people like all of you is to hear directly about what you think about your country’s future, about your own future, because the work I do is mostly about your future and what comes next in the world.
MR. GESTE: Exactly. I have a ton of questions here, but I guess you’re the guys who should ask questions right now. So I hope for tough questions maybe as well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
MR. GESTE: You don’t mind any question?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ve been asked probably anything that you can imagine – (laughter) – in 20 long years of my --
MR. GESTE: Is there a question you ever expected to be asked but never --
SECRETARY CLINTON: I wouldn’t tell you, Janis. (Laughter.)
MR. GESTE: That’s all right.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ll see if it happens today.
MR. GESTE: Okay. So do we have any questions here, guys?
MR. REINIKS: Yes, we do. There is one person in the middle.
MR. GESTE: Over there. Yeah.
QUESTION: So my name is (inaudible). I’m the young member of Latvian parliament. So, your excellence, today I think when it’s still strong economic crisis, we have one serious problem: the rate of losing the young generation – losing the hope among young people that their country will prosper in the future. I asked young people from Latgallia, it’s the specific region of Latvia, the most depressed and economically undeveloped. They wanted to know how the success of other countries and their economies looks like to implement the best model at the home (inaudible).
You have given a lot of time to develop different programs for the exchange students. In one of your speeches you said that young people from around the world are welcome in the United States to learn about American life and share perspectives from their own countries. So, Your Excellence, what is your opinion? Is it important to participate in host families and exchange programs for Latvian youth? And how United States will help to expand each (inaudible)? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me congratulate you on being a member of the Latvian parliament at your young stage in life. I think the more young people that are involved in the political process, running for office, working for government officials, trying to develop civil society, all of that is really important, so I really applaud you.
You asked two very important questions as well. On the first question, let’s think about what creates economic activity in countries around the world right now. There are many countries that are coming into the global economy that are engaging in mass production, giving people jobs in textile factories and other kind of manufacturing factories. Those jobs are unlikely to be coming to Latvia or the United States. Those jobs are going to go where the standard of living is much lower, where there’s a huge pool of labor. However, high value jobs – high value manufacturing, high value internet, software, production, technology – those are the jobs that are going to seek a place like Latvia, because of the high standard of education and the extraordinary commitment that has been shown by the Latvian people to work through difficult times, which goes with an expectation by the outside world that this would be a good place to invest.
So I think there are really five things. First, you have to make sure there are no barriers to investment, to starting businesses, to growing businesses, under the laws, customs, or attitudes in Latvia. And that’s something that you have to do as citizens working with members of parliament in the government. How hard is it to start a new business in Latvia? And it’s hard. There are still barriers to starting those businesses. The more barriers you can tear down, the more young people will feel empowered to engage in economic activity.
Just driving around Riga, which I think is such a beautiful city, there are so many buildings that are underutilized. They’re attractive buildings; they’re not being well-utilized. So that brings me to my second point. I believe that governments should work with private landlords and businesses to open up more places for young people to work and live, for creative people to bring their energy and their dynamism into areas. So when I was a senator from New York, for example, I worked to help create – take an old factory in Buffalo, New York, and to turn it into living and working space for artists, for designers, for musicians, for people who then began to create economic activity in the area where they were living, which then had spinoff effects, so that another person would say, “Well, we’ve got young people now living here. Maybe they need a coffee shop. Maybe they need an internet cafe.” So the second thing is be creative about how to use the assets that are already existing.
Number three: I think it’s important to find ways to give access to credit to young people – microcredit, small business loans. These are devices that we’ve used in our country and in other places that have really worked, because a lot of people, young people, people particularly in rural areas who feel kind of cut off from what’s going on, they may have a great idea, but they’ve got no way to translate it into action. So there needs to be some effort made to get access to credit and then to help people – again, I’ll focus on young people because I think that is the future – how do you do a business plan? What’s a realistic projection of what kind of business you could start or grow or partner with? And there’s a wonderful group of researchers in the United States who write about what’s called the creative class – internet entrepreneurs, artistic graphic designers, people who are creating value because of their intellectual abilities. And so more of that has to be done.
Fourth, I would say that the more Latvia can be open to the outside world, the better. How do you brand yourself? How does Latvia present yourself to the outside world? Well, first of all, you now have a great story to tell because you have demonstrated that through sacrifice and tough decisions, you’ve been able to survive this economic downturn. I mean, there are people who talk about Latvia all the time, whether you know it or not. I mean, Latvia, I think, is Chancellor Merkel’s second favorite country in Europe. (Laughter.) Well, use that. It’s a great selling point. It’s a great branding device to tell the rest of the world Latvia is open for business; we know how to run an economy, we know how to balance our budget, we know how to make tough decisions, and we’re now stripping all the barriers to doing business.
And I guess finally, using higher education, using a university like this, using more places to study, because so many of the jobs of the future are being created now. And the skills – you need to have the skills to be able to attract and keep those jobs. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, but it takes people working together to present an agenda and a plan and then push it through.
MR. GESTE: Is Latvia really open for businesses? Because we are always complaining we are looking forwards for investment flows from United States as well, but still it’s not in the amount we would like it to be. So what are the reasons for that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but I think that part of it is you have to – if I were – I would visit with some of the experts, researchers, scholars here at the university and elsewhere who are teaching business courses or finance courses, and I would study your laws. I would study your national laws and your local laws, because everybody everywhere has obstacles. There are also groups that look at business climate around the world and rank countries. I don’t know where Latvia ranks, but wherever you rank, try to figure out how you can do better and go up the ranks. What is it that an outside investor is seeing that is perhaps tipping the balance against Latvia?
Now I believe, though, in this world today, as tough as the economic times are, you can’t just wait for investment. You have to go out and make the case for investment. So today, in meeting with the President and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, we talked about some things we can do to try to bring more attention to Latvia from American businesses. So there’ll be an American business delegation coming here in the next couple of days. There’ll be an American congressional delegation coming.
So don’t just wait. Have an affirmative agenda. And, as you know, what’s called the Northern Distribution Network, which is the way we ship goods to Afghanistan – Riga is a central part of that. Well, what more could be obtained from that? What more could you do? And the other area that I think holds great promise is energy independence, renewable energy. You’ve already done some of that, but there’s more to be done. Energy efficiency, retrofitting buildings so that they don’t waste so much energy is like money in the bank. Using biomass – you have these beautiful agricultural grasslands, you have a lot of biomass that can be transmitted now or transformed into energy.
I just think that you got to be creative as you think about what can position Latvia – because what you want is for people around the world to say, “Latvia has a really booming internet business. They’re doing software in Latvia,” or “Latvia has a really interesting new approach to biomass for clean energy.” You need to be branding yourselves. And look, Latvians are smart people, and you are the people who I think have the future in your hands, but it’s going to take planning and thinking through how to present yourself to the rest of the world. And we’ll try to help in any way we can. But ultimately, the people who sell it are the people of Latvia themselves.
MR. GESTE: So let’s be creative here and let’s ask some questions as well. Oh, a lot of questions. Let’s just – if we can have a mike over here to the gentleman in the front row.
QUESTION: Dear Madam Secretary, my name is Caspa Zalasis (ph) and I’m representing the only LGBT organization we have in this country, so I would address you the question not only as a U.S. Secretary of State, but also as a number one LGB right – LGBT rights advocate in the world: What would be your message to Latvian politicians in order to improve the LGBT situation in this country? And also, the message for the young LGBT people in this country? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it really goes along with what I’ve just been saying. In today’s world, in today’s economy, you don’t have a person, a mind, an idea to waste. Whether it’s women who are marginalized and left out of society in a lot of places in the world, or whether it’s the LGBT community or any other marginalized group, that is like putting a big drag burden on your economy, because you’re saying, “There are people we don’t want to participate, that we don’t want to be part of our society, so we’re going to marginalize them, discriminate against them, maybe even drive them away.” I mean, I could sit here and, for an hour, tell you about the leading LGBT business people, artistic people, creative people, corporate executives – I could give you a long list – in the United States.
So the first point I would make is use the talent of every person you have. The second point is human rights should be human rights for everyone. And I travel the world over, as you know. I go to some places where women are considered less than fully human. I go to some places where people with disabilities are just totally written off. I go to a lot of places where the LGBT community is not only discriminated against, but subjected to violence and terrible abuses. Or I go to some places where a certain tribe or a certain religious sect or whatever is viewed as somehow outside of the human rights definition. It’s 2012, and if we’re going to really have freedom, it has to be freedom for everybody. When my husband was here 18 years ago, he had a line in his speech that freedom without tolerance is freedom unfulfilled. And I see that everywhere.
And I guess the final point I would make – because I have been a champion of women’s rights, of the rights of the people with disabilities, of the LGBT community, for my adult life – and I would say you don’t have to like somebody in order to respect them, in order to give them their human rights. And for me – (applause) – it’s all about are we going to live together on this planet we share or not? Are we going to create space for people to be themselves or not? I mean, I look out at this audience and there are different hairstyles and different modes of dress, and you’re all kind of displaying, in a way, who you are, what your identity is, what you think about yourself. And I believe that each and every one of you should have the right to fulfill your own God-given potential.
So I would hope that whether it’s in Latvia or anywhere else in the world, your freedom was so hard fought that you would not engage in discrimination against any part of your society. And that, of course, includes the LGBT community.
MR. GESTE: I have to say that there are people following us on Twitter and Facebook as well. And Lauris is in charge of that. (Laughter.)
MR. REINIKS: Yeah, I have a couple of questions here. This one comes from a Fred Pekoff (ph). And in less than two years, our national currency, which is lats, will be replaced by euros. So that’s what his question is about: If you were prime minister of Latvia, would you be for or against Latvia’s entry into the EU and accept the euro?
And the second question is: How is the United States being influenced by Eurozone expansion? Is it a threat for the U.S. economy? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great questions. Well, I actually talked to the Prime Minister about this today because I know that the policy has been to favor entering the Eurozone and adopting the euro. But I think he said very clearly, look, we’re still watching this. On balance, there’s a lot of benefits that would come to Latvia as a small country being part of a more integrated economic whole, but we have to see what happens with the euro. And I think that’s exactly the right position. So I’m not going to second-guess your elected leaders. That is for them to decide. But I thought the Prime Minister was absolutely sensible in saying advantages, but we have to wait and see what’s going to come of the next year as we watch the developments within the Eurozone.
The United States strongly supports the Eurozone, just like we strongly support the EU. We believe that the Euro-Atlantic alliance that Latvia and the United States are part of is the cornerstone of global prosperity, freedom, democracy, human rights, the values that your parents and grandparents fought for, died for, yearned for, and that we hold very dear. So we are strongly supportive of the EU. We are doing everything we can – obviously, it’s not our decision – but to support decisions within the Eurozone that will sustain the euro as a global currency.
And so we don’t worry about the effects on our economy. In fact, the stronger Europe is, the stronger that the Eurozone is, the stronger the European economy is, that’s good for us, because you’re our number-one trading partner. We trade back and forth across the Atlantic. We actually want to be closer. We want to do more together. Because when I look around the world, I think that Europe and North America are truly the cornerstones of the kind of world we’re going to have. And we have to fight for that. And we consider the EU and Europe as our partners.
MR. GESTE: Thank you. So, questions from your guys, somewhere probably at the back, maybe?
MR. REINIKS: Here.
MR. GESTE: Okay, there.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Kristovs Blaus (ph). I work together with some young other people. We started to work two years ago to change our country, to make it more inclusive, to make it more open, to let people participate in politics. So we built an online initiative, (in Latvian), which is actually one of the best in the world right now. Also we’ve heard from President Obama, a United Nations conference about open government. And so the system lets just anyone start up an idea online, and other people sign it and you get your idea into parliament’s agenda.
So I was thinking, as you’re doing a lot of work with these youth advisory councils, and as they’re opening offices right now in Europe – the first was in Riga – we have a proposal. Maybe Latvian system could work together with the Youth Council Network to empower people, young people from all around the world, to take part in local politics.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I love that idea. And --
QUESTION: Great. What is the next step?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Where’s my – (laughter) – where’s our Ambassador? (Laughter and applause). Okay, stand up. See the woman over there? Look right over there. Ambassador Garber – I want you to find her afterwards, and we will work with you, because this is music to my ears.
Look, I have been in politics for a very long time, and I’m well aware of the fact that for some people, politics is not interesting, or distasteful, or corrupting, or whatever. But in a democracy, it is how we make decisions together. And the failure to participate at whatever level – most minimalistically, voting – all the way to trying to organize, as you’re doing online, is so important.
I’ll tell you a very quick story. When I went to Egypt after Tahrir Square, after this amazing revolution started by young people, driven online, putting their lives literally on the line, I was so impressed because I was just convinced that they were going to follow up on what they had done. But what did I find? I found that they were rejecting of politics. They basically said, “Well, we did the revolution; somebody else can do the politics.” I said, “But you don’t understand. It will be hijacked. If you don’t participate, it’s not like somebody else is going to withdraw. They will fill the vacuum.”
Well, of course, fast forward, there was an election where the candidates didn’t necessarily represent everybody who had been clamoring for reform in Egypt. And now I’m reading online and elsewhere they’re saying, “Well, maybe we should have done politics.”
So not everybody wants to do it, not everybody is suited to do it, but support these kind of efforts. And here in Latvia, you have an opportunity to help shape the future, and then out of Latvia, a global platform to try to find ways to convince young people to participate.
So I want you to see the Ambassador. We will follow through because we’re trying – I started a lot of work in the State Department around the idea of internet freedom because those of you who have studied the United States – we have a Constitution, we have a Bill of Rights, and one of our most sacred rights is the freedom of expression. Another is the freedom of assembly. Well, people are assembling no longer in squares or on street corners; they’re assembling on the internet, where they’re expressing themselves. And what we have been trying to do is to help spread the tools, the social networking tools, the internet tools and expertise, so that more people can do what you’re doing.
And I can’t stress too much how important it is because the internet is still largely the province of young people like yourselves. And it is a way of building grassroots movements, of influencing decision making, of making your views known that I think is still not adequately utilized by young people. So let’s work together.
MR. GESTE: We will follow this, too, so just let us know when the meeting will be held. (Laughter.)
I see a couple of hands back there, so --
QUESTION: Dear Madam Secretary, my name is Ivars and I represent the international nongovernment organization named JCI. You mentioned education standards and business activity. I lately pay a lot of attention to education issues. Current education system was invented centuries ago and is outdated today, what results in high unemployment among young people around the world. However, changes initiated by governments are very slow. What are your ideas and suggestions? What can young, active people do to change this situation? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Another really important question, and one of the areas where we’ve done a lot of work with Latvia is education exchanges, and we want to continue that. I signed today an extension of the Fulbright Program with the Foreign Minister. We want to expand more exchanges, have more Latvian students. I’d love to see some American students here at the university. I’d like to see – oh, we have an American student here. Excellent. So I want to see more and more student exchanges.
But the question you ask is really a structural question, and I must say it’s a question we’re debating in the United States a lot, because I think it is fair to say that the current system of education is basically derived from the old industrial model – the time of day and the summer break, the modeling of somebody standing in front lecturing to students. All of that has a place still, I think, but that can’t be the only model, because the world is moving too fast.
So here are some things we’re trying in the United States, for your consideration. We are emphasizing what are called charter schools or magnet schools. Now, what are they? Well, we want to get more kids excited by what they’re learning, and we want frankly to get more of their parents involved in education so that they support their kids when they’re studying. So we have specialty schools, like if you’re really interested in math and science, you might be able to go to a math and science magnet; if you’re interested in the creative arts – you’re a dancer, you’re a singer, which all of you are, or an artist in some other way – you would go to a magnet school for that; or if you just want a different mode of studying – you want smaller class size, you want open classrooms. I mean, there’s just all kinds of educational ideas out there.
So we’re trying to – and this is one of President Obama’s real objectives – is to generate more models of education, more models of schools, because we can no longer say one model works for everybody because that’s obviously not true.
We also think there’s real promise in online learning, in distance learning. This is particularly happening at the university level now. Stanford University is putting courses online, and some of their courses have 100,000 students around the world. And you get the very best person in the United States in nuclear physics or fusion or anthropology or whatever it might be.
So I think, again, the internet is not the answer completely, because I still think face-to-face interaction is an important part of anybody’s education, but it needs to be integrated into a different model of what we think about for education. So I highly support sort of the purpose of your question, which is to stimulate debate about different kinds of models. Now, what can you do? Well again, you need to try to open up your systems for some freedom to experiment. And some experiments will fail. We have some charter schools that have had to be closed down. They were poorly run, they had poor results, the kids didn’t learn anything. But we have had others that have really succeeded.
So part of this is to try to persuade the people who run the education system in Latvia, as we have to persuade people who run it in the United States. We have to try different things. And hold us to a high standard, find out whether the kids are learning, whether they’re enjoying education or just going through the motion, and then let’s try these different things and do a kind of a survey online and open up maybe some sites here in Latvia to solicit ideas about what people think could work.
And then if you can get even a little bit of permission, get some young people together. Most of the best schools that we have started have been started by young people. And we have this other program called Teach for America, where really highly educated, very high-performing college graduates go teach in the schools for a year or two. And they often go to the poorer schools, the most difficult schools. Then they have come out and they’ve said we want to start our own school. So there are things that we’re doing that maybe you could borrow from, and I’m sure there are other ideas that you just have to get online and start a conversation about and see whether you can get the permission to try some different things.
MR. GESTE: I will allow to ask you a question shortly. Just I have to ask you a question as well; otherwise my chief editor wouldn't understand me. (Laughter.) It’s all about news sometimes as well.
There is in a spotlight right now and there is this issue about Jewish property restitution, and we had some theories going around the country according to your visit, so maybe you could clarify it here right now. Was really this an issue why you came to Riga or not, and what was your message to Latvian authorities?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it certainly wasn’t why I came to Riga. I came to Riga in part to demonstrate our full solidarity and partnership with Latvia. And we raised many issues of concern to both of our countries and then more regional and global issues. But I did raise this, and just now in our press conference the Foreign Minister and I were asked about it.
And for us in the United States, this is not just an issue in Latvia, this is an issue that I have discussed in a number of different countries in Europe. And it really goes to how to just kind of make the historical records finally closed. Latvia suffered so much. It suffered under the Soviets. It suffered under the Nazis. Latvians suffered. Jews who were in Latvia suffered. People really had a terrible time, and I am well aware of that. It was just a terrible tragedy. And I know from my own reading of history that the amount of terrible abuses that were – it was like equal opportunity abuse on everybody in the country.
And so you’ve done – the country has done so much of that work. You have done a lot of the restitution and compensation for the Soviets and the Nazis, but there’s this one category left, which is so-called communal property that had been owned by Jews collectively – schools, synagogues, community centers. And it’s a piece of unfinished business, and it’s just something that somehow you have to work through your political system. And it would be the end of this tragic saga that so many Latvians experienced over those years.
But I think that the broader reason for coming, which is for me to really thank Latvia for all the cooperation and partnership we’ve had and to work on some of these issues we’ve been talking about – investment, business, what we’re going to do in NATO. We’ve approved this Baltic Air Policing Mission so that you can have more of a sense of security about NATO coverage, and just a lot of things that are of bilateral interest. And talked about the economy, which was very much a national mission but which has international consequences because of how well you’ve done, and that was one of the issues that was raised as well.
MR. GESTE: Well, allies expect to decrease the amount of operations in Afghanistan starting from 2014. How would you evaluate? Was this mission successful really?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, personally I believe it was. And I believe it was for several reasons. I mean, the jury will still be out about what happens in Afghanistan, and we have to figure out how we can help support the security of Afghanistan after 2014. And Latvia has made a very generous commitment of aid to the Afghan National Security Forces.
And we have to figure out how we can help them create an economy, because for 30 years – first because of the Soviet invasion, then because of warlords, civil wars, then because of the Taliban – I mean, their economy was decimated. I mean, Afghanistan used to be the – it was called the Garden of Central Asia, just miles of orchards and beautiful gardens, all of which was just decimated over 30 years of war.
So we’re working to try to help Afghanistan move forward. But if you look at what we accomplished: Number one, we drove al-Qaida out of Afghanistan, which was using Afghanistan as a safe haven to launch attacks against the United States, Europe, places in Asia like Indonesia; we were able to drive the Taliban out, which had been keeping the people of Afghanistan, particularly its women and girls, in total oppression. Girls weren’t allowed to go to school. And when we all went into Afghanistan in 2001, there was not one single girl in school anywhere in Afghanistan. I mean, that’s just astonishing to me. And there weren’t very many boys either.
Now there are more than 7 million kids in school, many thousands of students in the university, about 40, 45 percent of whom are women. We’ve made great progress though on education, on healthcare, on helping them set up a government, on figuring out how to incentivize an economy and the like. I don’t want to oversell it, because I think we made great progress, but they have a long road ahead of them, which is why it’s important that the international community stay involved, which is why I’m pleased that Latvia is going to be part of that.
But someone told me, Janis, before I came in, that you’ve been to Liberia, another country devastated by civil war –
MR. GESTE: Yeah. Another one. Exactly.
SECRETARY CLINTON: -- and when you have had a terrible war like Latvia experienced in World War II, like Liberia or Afghanistan, I mean, picking yourselves up from that is so hard. And Latvia had a vision of freedom, had an education system and an educated population. These countries don’t have either of those. So imagine how much difficulty it is to come back from what they’ve experienced.
So I think it’s important that we recognize that, given the way the world is interconnected now, we are all at risk from the failures of states to govern themselves. We’re all at risk from non-state actors like al-Qaida who take up residence in ungoverned spaces. So that’s why I think it was important to do, and I think it had a very positive outcome. But more to come.
MR. REINIKS: Thank you. Let’s continue with the questions and then – there’s a question in the second row.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Antonia Inashula (ph). I’m the leader of the youth organization Petroitova (ph) and also the member of this new project, the Youth Advisory Council. And I would like to come back a bit to education because it’s really important for the youth -- young people. And I would like to ask kind of more advice from you experience, I know you finish – you hold a PhD degree --
SECRETARY CLINTON: A JD degree. A doctor of law.
QUESTION: Doctor of law, yes. And I would like to ask advice for youth people: How important education is may be in the politics, especially in the active work maybe in the international relations and especially in the local maybe politics? How – and also how high level of education it have to be? It have to be international education or it have to be enough of masters or bachelor or it have to be PhD? It’s very important also for us. And maybe I will use the opportunity and also ask the second advice: How to be the women in politics? And as you as one of the most powerful women in politics in the world, what is your advice to the young politicians and to be a woman also? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first on the education issue, I received an excellent education at – in public schools where I grew up, in a women’s college called Wellesley College outside of Boston. And then I went to Yale Law School and got my law degree. So I’m someone who really believes that pushing yourself, challenging yourself educationally is the best preparation for whatever might come next in your life, because I could never have predicted I’d be sitting here in Riga as the Secretary of State. So you had to be prepared and then take advantage of opportunities when they were offered.
However, there’s a big caveat that I want to add. I think in many places in the world today, including in my own country, there’s a mismatch between the jobs that are available and the skills that those jobs require and the education that people get. We have a lot of college graduates who have degrees in a lot of different subjects but don’t have job skills. And we have a lot of jobs that pay good money, in technology in particular, that don’t have enough people or applicants because they don’t have the skills. This is a real problem in many economies around the world right now.
Now one of the ways we tried to fix that in the United States – and this is another idea for you to look at from the education system – is we have two-year colleges called community colleges. And we educate millions of people to get their nursing degrees, to get their technology degree in areas where there are jobs. And so they get a two-year degree, not a four-year university degree. And I know that in a lot of countries, that’s viewed as somehow less worthy than a college degree – a four-year degree.
But I think in today’s economy having a flexible education system – because a lot of our people go to two-year colleges then they go on to four-year colleges later – I think helps fill the gap as to what kind of skills are needed in the workforce. And remember, if you have an open, flexible economy – you’ve got somebody like Bill Gates who dropped out of Harvard. He never finished college, but he had a good idea, went to his garage, and created something called Microsoft.
So there – people get to their educational and professional missions in different ways in our country, and I think the more flexible you can have your education system, the better it is in today’s economy.
Talking about women in politics – look, I think that there’s still a double standard that exists. It’s harder for women; that’s just a fact in every society and culture I’m aware of. And you have to, as one of my first lady predecessors, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, you want to be a woman in politics, you have to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros, because you will be criticized for everything. And you just have to accept that. That just kind of goes with the territory.
But look at – I mean, here in the Baltics, you have a very dynamic woman who’s the President of Lithuania, right? You’ve got women in high positions in Europe and across the world now. And some of them are conservative, some of them are liberal, but every one of them shares the same ambition and passion to make a difference and to be successful in politics. And you won’t know whether you could be successful until you get out there and try, and you have to be prepared for a lot of difficult challenges if you’re out there in the political world – in any democracy I know of, anywhere at all.
MR. GESTE: Well, I bet there are challenges for men, too, aren’t there? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there are. (Applause.) There are, Janis. But it’s rare that you see a male politician’s hairstyle described, clothes described, whether or not they have children they take care of. (Applause.) I mean, look, life is hard for everybody these days, men and women, and we all have our different challenges, and I think men have a different set of challenges, which I’m happy to talk about, but if you’re talking about women in politics, the facts are indisputable – it is harder. And I don’t want any young woman who’s here not to go in with her eyes wide open about what lies ahead. And I encourage you to do it, because it’s a great way – like the young woman back there who’s in the Latvian parliament – it’s a great way to make a difference for the issues you care about and the values you believe in. So don’t be discouraged; just be aware of what lies ahead.
MR. REINIKS: So let’s move to this side, probably a question over there. Yeah. You raised a hand. Yeah. Can we have a mike there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. First of all, thank you. My name is Maria (ph). I’m a representative of Latvian (inaudible). Thank you for the opportunity to have such great discussion. And, Ms. Clinton, my question is related – I know as I see you have a visit not just to Latvia but to Russia as well. And I want to – my question is related with the Latvia and to the Latvian independence from Russia. We are dependent regarding the energy, regarding education, infrastructure, logistics, of course, and maybe it’s a bit slows down our development towards the Western Europe – towards the West. And my question is: How optimistic and how hopeful that a small country like Latvia could be independent from Russia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think Latvia’s doing a pretty good job being independent. (Applause.) I think there are some additional steps that you should consider taking. And in no particular order, I would put energy independence at the top of the list, I guess. Because the more independent you are, the more you control your own destiny. And that’s why we talked earlier about renewable energy. I think you need to work hard to be integrated into a Baltic European electricity grid. You need to take steps that will give you control over your own energy destiny.
Because look, Russia has a huge supply of hydrocarbons, and that is a fact and it’s one of their great assets. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t drive a hard bargain and there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to move as much as possible to have a diversified energy supply so that you are not, along with other countries in Eastern and Central Europe, really subjected to commercial or political pressure that would come because you need the energy. So everything Latvia can do to become energy-independent, I think should be pursued as vigorously as possible.
I think it’s also important to fully integrate in all your Russian-speaking Latvians, to have everybody feel like they’re Latvian, that they are focused on the future of Latvia. With any group of people, there will be some who may not wish to be, but I think outreach and integration and looking at a national identity is really important for Latvia’s future so that people are first and foremost Latvian.
I guess the third thing would be what you need to do to just make it clear that your independence, your sovereignty, is non-negotiable. It is something you have fought, previous generations have died for, and you are going to jealously guard it. And if you see signs of interference, call them out. I mean, if people are trying to influence your politics, influence your media, make it public. Get on the internet. Make everybody who has access to the internet in Latvia aware that this may not be on the level, so to speak, that there may be other agendas behind it that have nothing to do with the well-being of Latvia.
So those are some things that are fully within the – I think – the reach of Latvia, both your government and your people, and I hope that it is pursued. Because you want to be a good neighbor. You want to have good relations with Russia. That’s your reality. But I think it’s important to be very strong and independent in having those relations. And I think that that’s where you are in terms of the 20-plus years of your independence, and now you just need to keep taking the next steps so that it’s absolutely irreversible and totally defensible.
MR. GESTE: But now, after Putin’s return to Russia, what should we expect from Putin’s Russia? Do we have to be afraid of Putin’s Russia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I hope not. But that’s why I think I would – if I were a Latvian politician of whatever political belief or whatever party, I would work together to have what I would call a freedom agenda, a consensus in the country on energy security, on independence of the media, on making sure people had a good awareness of what was going on in the rest of the world. I would look to make alliances with my neighbors and even further afield to open up more markets so that you were not totally dependent to the East.
It’s been my experience that most Russian leaders admire people who are strong, and Latvia has shown a lot of strength. Getting through this economic crisis was very difficult. You’ve done it, and I think you should be very proud of it, but you still have work to do. And I think rather than worrying or being anxious, just get to work and have an agenda of actions that will speak louder than words, and then figure out how to manage any of the challenges that come.
MR. GESTE: We are slowly running out of time, so questions from you? Probably back there, which is – which row?
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Artemis Douglas (ph), and I would like to ask a more economic-related question. You know there are different views on whether Latvia has overcame the economic crisis. And one view is of Christine Lagarde, the IMF director, who said that the way of Latvia beating the crisis should be taught and should be implemented by other leaders. And other views, such as The Guardian reporter, they say that this is a very big problem and this is very – and that it’s very bad for Latvia to do it that way. Because after 20 percent fall in GDP, we experienced a 2 percent rise, and whether we could call it a success – so the question is whether you consider Latvia to be out of the crisis, and why.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think you are out of the crisis, but I don’t think you’re out of trouble, because I think there’s more work to be done. But I definitely believe you’re out of the crisis. And last year your growth was 5.5 percent. This last quarter is 6.9 percent. Your adjustment, the difficult decisions that you’ve made, bringing down your deficit-to-GDP ratio, have all been good results of the hard decisions. But your unemployment rate is still too high, and some of that has to do with the failure to open up the economy and reform.
I mean, you’ve dealt – if I were to describe this, I would say you’ve dealt with the government budget side of the ledger, but you need to deal with the open economy competiveness reform side of the ledger in order to drive employment even more than you have. The IMF is a pretty tough taskmaster, and I think that what Christine Lagarde said is true. And it is also an increasing lesson that people are looking to, to say, “Okay, how did Latvia do it?” Because remember, many of these decisions are very hard politically, and what you’ve seen is, even as Greece tries to do one one-hundredth of what Latvia has done, governments fall, they have a lot of problems.
You guys stayed the course, and that is what has to happen. You’ve got to build confidence in markets. You can’t be jumping all over the place. You had a program, you followed it, you reelected the Prime Minister who imposed it, because you decided you were going to stick to this course. So it worked. Now is there more work to be done on the competitiveness side, on the employment side. And so I think you have to take a look – as I said at the very beginning – at what kind of laws need to be reformed, what kind of openness needs to be created within the economy. But overall, I think it’s considered a success by most observers.
MR. GESTE: I have now to allow to speak Lauris as well. (Laughter.)
MR. REINIKS: Oh, I’m okay. (Laughter.) A question from the Twitter: What has been your biggest challenge as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my goodness.
QUESTION: Signa (ph) wants to know.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think there are two big challenges. I mean, one is the time in which I became Secretary of State, in the middle of a global economic crisis, during the Arab Awakening. There is just so much happening in the world right now – the rise of the so-called BRICs, the countries that are growing their economies and expanding their reach in the world. I mean, it has been a momentous period of change. So having this job at this moment when there are no rules, there are no guidebooks, it’s not like, okay, we know we’re against the Soviet Union, that’s where we stand and we’re going to be as vocal and strong as we can. This is like playing multidimensional chess with 10 different players at the same time. It’s just extraordinarily difficult to create the policies that are in time to meet the quick-moving events of the world. But it’s also exhilarating. I mean, it’s a time that you are part of history. So for that, I am very grateful.
Secondly, it’s just – you have to travel so much. You have to be there. It’s odd that in a world where we can talk to anybody in virtual reality – you can get on Skype, you can do what we call SVTCs, where we have people sitting all over the world. You can communicate with anybody anywhere just about. You still have to show up. I mean, there’s nothing that substitutes for face-to-face encounters, whether they’re ones that are largely positive like my visit to Latvia, where we’re talking about what we’re doing together, or where they’re very difficult, where people are being killed, conflict is raging, people are being discriminated against, and the like; and you have to deliver some very tough messages. So the personal stamina that is required in today’s world in a job like this is quite an experience.
MR. REINIKS: All right, then. The next question is from myself.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, Lauris.
MR. REINIKS: This morning, I read on CBS News that you are the most travelling Secretary of State ever. That is really great job that you are doing, but that also must be very exhausting. What do you do when you have a chance to do nothing? (Laughter.) Like, sit down? Like now, you are relaxing. You are running through Riga today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
MR. REINIKS: It must be exhausting, too. But now we are sitting in a very relaxed atmosphere. What do you do when you have spare time, free time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I --
MR. REINIKS: As a lady?
SECRETARY CLINTON: -- catch up on my sleep. (Laughter.) I like to go for long walks. I’m not home very often, but when I am, my husband and I take our dogs and go for very long walks in the – we have these great nature preserves near where I live in New York. We go to the movies – the more mindless, the better. (Laughter.) I like to read things that are not coming to me in great big briefing books filled with facts, statistics, and difficult decisions.
So I don’t – go out to dinner with friends. I mean, things that are part of what I would call normal life, because I spend an enormous amount of time on an airplane. Last week, I went to the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil. I was gone for 36 hours, and I spent 22 hours on an airplane. So it – when you get a moment to just breathe, I like to be outdoors. That’s my favorite thing to do, my favorite place to be. So it’s just how you keep yourself sane and keep yourself healthy, which is part of what goes with this job in these days, because you have to have the physical energy to do it.
MR. REINIKS: Thank you.
MR. GESTE: Yeah, but I’m really sorry to say, actually, we’re around out of time. And time flies really fast.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It does. It does indeed. Indeed.
MR. GESTE: A lot of questions here, and I guess you had a lot of questions, too, which probably we will have another chance to ask you some day else.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would love that. I really – I am a great admirer of what you’re doing and trying to do here. And I want you to succeed, but I also want you to recognize that success takes time. Keep being part of making it happen. Don’t get overly anxious or impatient. If you’re interested, go back and read some of our history, because we certainly had a lot of difficult issues to deal with. When our Constitution was written, it did not include me. I was not considered a citizen or a voting person. Didn’t include African American slaves. It didn’t include men – white men who didn’t own property. We had to fight a civil war. We had to amend our Constitution.
So democracy takes a lot of perfecting. And we are living in a time, partly because of the internet, where everything moves so fast. But human nature doesn’t necessarily move as fast, and political systems certainly don’t move as fast. So I hope that all of you who are here today will find a way to really make your contribution. Whether it’s in politics or business or academia or the arts or civil society, NGOs, whatever it might be, I hope you will find a way to really help secure, deepen, broaden Latvian freedom, prosperity, and success. And I want to come back and see the progress that you’re going to be making sometime in the future.
So I want to thank Janis and Lauris for doing this today.
MR. GESTE: Thank you for coming. (Applause.)