Sandra Kalniete was born in a Siberian village in 1952 to Latvian parents who had been banished by the Soviet regime. After Stalin's death, she and her family were allowed to return to Latvia in 1957. Kalniete went on to study art history, but has devoted her life more to politics and diplomacy than to art. She was an early fighter for Latvian independence in the 1980s and early 1990s, and served as Latvian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva (1993-1997), to France (1997-2002), and to UNESCO (2000-2002). In 2002 she became Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2004, she was appointed the first Latvian Commissioner of the European Union.