By Indra Ekmanis
In a celebration of family and new contributions to the field of Baltic studies, UW Baltic scholars and interested community members gathered at the Seattle Latvian Center Sept. 28 to honor Prof. Emeritus Gundars Ķeniņš-King and his recently published book, Nation-building in the Baltic States: Transforming Governance, Social Welfare, and Security in Northern Europe.
The program included a musical introduction and talks by co-author David E. McNabb, professor emeritus at Pacific Lutheran University, and Guntis Šmidchens, head of the Baltic Studies Program at UW. The book maps out the transition from Soviet vassals to modern European states for the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It capitalizes on the expertise of its authors, both of whom have spent considerable time in the Baltic region.
The son of a prominent family, as a young man, Gundar emigrated from Latvia. Gundars changed his name from the Latvian “Ķeniņš” to the American translation of “King” as a safety precaution during his service in the Korean War. As he built his illustrious professional and academic career — and political retribution for his family was minimized — he began to readopt the Latvian portion of his name. He is the author of many articles and books, holding a PhD in business from Stanford, Dr. Habil Oecon. degree granted by the Latvian Science Council and Dr. of Science degree awarded by the Riga Technical University. He has been influential across fields, and many of his accomplishments continue their living legacy today.
Ķeniņš-King was the founding president of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, a critical organization that brings together scholars of the Baltic region in all academic disciplines. He was also instrumental in bringing educational opportunities and business acumen to the newly independent Latvian state in the 1990s. Ķeniņš-King developed Latvia’s first MBA program, working with Riga Technical University and University of New York at Buffalo to found Riga Business School. In 2006, he was awarded the Latvian Three Star Order by President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. According to the President’s press release, “Gundars Ķeniņš-King has played an invaluable role in explaining the key principles of free market and capitalism and the related ethical considerations behind them to students, teaching staff and society.”
Ķeniņš-King co-author, David McNabb, became interested in the Baltic economic and political transition as a result of his close collaboration with Ķeniņš-King. While working elsewhere in Europe, McNabb accepted an invitation from Ķeniņš-King to visit Riga, Latvia. McNabb says he fell in love with the Baltic States, and consequently became a visiting professor at the Stockholm School of Economics-Riga. McNabb has also filled a similar role at the American University in Bulgaria, University of Maryland University College-Europe, and the University of Washington-Tacoma. A current adjunct professor at Olympic College, McNabb has published eight books and nearly 100 articles and papers.
Ķeniņš-King and McNabb’s collaboration in Nation-building in the Baltic States spans a 20-year research period. It is a forthright and critical analysis of both the successes and failures of the post-Soviet transition in the region. The authors home in on economic, social and political indicators of change, unapologetic in their assessments, particularly in regard to policy errors and lingering challenges. Importantly, the work does not assess the distinct countries as a single unit, nor do they equate failings in a single area with the failing of the state. Instead, they work on a more nuanced analysis that sets a baseline and is approachable, but leaves room for further study of the issues and the region.