Honourable President of Latvia,
Honourable Prime Minister,
Honourable members of the Saeima,
Ladies and gentlemen,
“Safeguard your country, nurture it, for you must remember – we are nothing without Latvia,” these words said by the first President of the Republic of Latvia Jānis Čakste, ought to be cherished deep in our hearts. They hold such profound significance; they mean that we ourselves are the essence of the state, that vigilance is rewarded, that we have a future if we continue to strive ever further instead of indulging in self-complacency.
A new state – Latvia – was born 93 years ago. This birthing was not easy. The Latvian state came into being amid a whirlwind of grim historical events, wars, revolutions and political change. But in spite of the immensely difficult circumstances, the founders of our country did not waver, there was no doubt in their minds about the correctness and importance of their actions.
They were united by the idea of Latvia’s statehood, and this idea lives on in our everyday lives, our work, in times of celebration and in our desire to make our country better. Regardless of the offices that we hold, our political differences and historical experience, we all recognise that our greatest value is a free nation under the flag of an independent Latvia.
Each of us understands the term “patriotism” differently, but it still unites us just like the crimson-white-crimson ribbons on our lapels. To be a patriot is to want to be among the people living in this country and to know that we share similar thoughts and feelings, to know that this land and this nation is important and meaningful not only for each of us individually but also for all of us together. The idea of Latvia lives on and gives us the strength to work for the sake of our state.
On Latvia’s birthday, I would like to remind us that we have inherited our state from our parents and grandparents. We must be thankful to them. The founders and shapers of the Latvian state were not strangers to us; they were our kinsmen, our forefathers. Latvia is a small country, and we must get along as a large family by accepting and understanding those who are different.
And as a large family, we must be able to inherit and pass on the ideas and dreams that inspired our forefathers. The Latvian state is not defined merely by its borders, Constitution or authorities. First and foremost, the Latvian state is its people who share the same history, culture, language, enduring values and vision of the future.
As I think of Latvia’s future, my heart is at ease. I attained this assurance during the first Youth Parliament organised in the Saeima. I met intelligent young people bursting with pride and fervour for their country, overflowing with ideas, and ready to work. They came to the Saeima with a variety of opinions and achieved “small victories”. These “small victories” in debates, work and everyday life are what make us strong. The Youth Parliament strengthened my conviction that Latvia has a gold mine from which new stars will soon arise on the horizon of Latvian politics.
A year ago, on this day while addressing the members of the 10th convocation of the Saeima, I reminded them that we represent the voters who have entrusted us with their hopes but have not waived the right to decide on how the elected parliament should work.
They exercised this right. For the first time in Latvia’s history, the parliament was dissolved, and a new parliament was elected in extraordinary elections. But is it any better than the previous one? Some parties who had lost public trust have left the political scene, whilst a new party has entered it. All this has happened much faster than usual.
Nevertheless, it seems that in these days we can clearly see that swift changes do not always bring about faster achievement of goals. At the same time, the decision of the people to dissolve the parliament has been a truly significant democratic experience that Latvia needed. It clearly showed that every person living in Latvia can influence political processes thus not only enjoy broad democratic rights but also assume great responsibility for decisions and their consequences.
Any innovation means change. And here I would like to share with you my observations. We all have an inherent contradiction – we long for change, but at the same time we resist it for fear that it will affect our comfort and well-being. Paradoxically, the desire for immediate change can coexist with internal resistance and distrust. It is possible to overcome this inherent contradiction either through competent political leadership or wider public involvement. I am certain that Latvia needs both.
With regard to public involvement, it should be stressed that Latvia’s parliament must be open to every idea and every person. Therefore, providing diverse opportunities for public involvement in politics will be an important task for this convocation of the Saeima.
Modern society wants not only to observe and evaluate the work of the legislature and the government but also to actively participate in political processes, make proposals, ask questions, come forward with legislative initiatives, participate in drafting and discussing laws; society also wants to be involved in selecting officials and exercising its right to vote in referenda. Nowadays these possibilities are increasing thanks to new technologies and new traditions of civil society.
We see daily evidence of this when collaborating with NGOs, social and other partners. I am really glad that the Saeima buildings are accessible to people with disabilities, that representatives of NGOs regularly participate in committee meetings, that the Saeima hosts strategic discussions on national development and annual foreign policy debates. We have begun to explore ways to expand public involvement in the legislative process by providing opportunities to submit collective legislative initiatives electronically.
It is important to discuss how society can influence political processes and participate in the legislative process more often than just once in every four years during elections. And it is the parliament where such active debates should take place.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The extraordinary elections and the government coalition negotiations clearly demonstrated yet another painful problem, namely, the divided language and information space which leads to attempts to use the language issue as a political tool and distracts attention from matters of genuine importance for Latvia’s national identity. Our country is and has always been inhabited by ethnic Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Russians, Poles, Jews, Roma, Ukrainians and members of other ethnic groups. We are all different; we speak different languages, and we probably have different cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, we are united by something important – a common vision of our Latvia.
The independence of the state proclaimed in 1918 was renewed in 1990 following 50 years of unlawful occupation. We have been shaping our society for 20 years on the basis of the principles of continuity of citizenship and the Latvian language as the only state language. These are the cornerstones of our identity.
Since we recognise language as an important component of each national culture, we have to respect the role of the Latvian language as the only state language in strengthening Latvia’s statehood and national unity.
The use of regional dialects should not become an object of political debate, especially with regard to the Latgalian language as an important bearer of national identity and local cultural traditions. Various dialects and vernaculars enrich our language, make it more expressive and vividly demonstrate its power. It is appropriate to mention here the words of the former President Jānis Čakste, who said that “The river Daugava does not divide Latvians!” We live on both sides of the river Daugava, we speak in different dialects and vernaculars, yet we are united. We are Latvians on both banks of the river Daugava.
Latvia has never experienced major social, religious or national conflicts. It has always been a peaceful northern state. During times of peace, Latvian families have always been able to feel confident about their future, to improve their lives; and only conflicts brought about by external powers have disturbed this peace. The ability to live in peace and with mutual respect to others is a value that is as crucial now as it was in 1918, when the Latvian state was founded.
We cannot afford conflicts because we know that states dealing with internal public confrontations experience downturn – living standards of their inhabitants decrease. Latvia is recovering from the global economic crisis, and we have to work hard to overcome this period jointly and as quickly as possible. Let us work together to protect what we have, and let us defend the feeling of security of our families and the future of our state against those who want to threaten them.
The Latvian statesman Kārlis Ulmanis has said: “What have you done for your part to strengthen Latvia’s economy and politics? Have you been merely criticising everything, looking for and counting actual or imagined mistakes made by others? Or have you worked with your brain and hands without being afraid of making mistakes or receiving criticism from others? Tell me what have you done?”
While celebrating the 93rd anniversary of the proclamation of the Latvian state, let us not only criticise but also appreciate and praise. Today I would like to pay special attention to the achievements in which Latvia can take pride both domestically and internationally. I am happy to note that Latvia is world-renowned as the motherland of excellent opera singers, conductors and choirs; as the birthplace of new theatre traditions and widely recognised documentary films. I celebrate each success story – and we witness them more and more frequently – when Latvian entrepreneurs manage to conquer international markets with new innovative products.
Thus we prove that the economic development of our country can be achieved through manufacturing and exports, and that strengthens our confidence in a stable and long-term increase in our country’s prosperity.
I am glad that Latvia’s Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, despite the complicated post-election situation, was able to take on the coalition negotiations and to gain support of the Saeima for his third successive Cabinet of Ministers. That guarantees continuity of the groundwork that has been laid and of the projects that are under way which have attracted the attention of global experts who point to Latvia as a successful example of overcoming the economic crisis. Latvia’s experience is important for many of our neighbours, and we should take pride in that, especially in light of how high economic issues are currently on the agenda of the European Union. Our achievements pave the way to our active involvement in high-level political debates, for in today’s world, it is no longer possible to isolate a country from global economic or political processes.
Today, on 18 November, several distinguished persons will receive the highest state award. This is the noblest way for a state to express its gratitude for special contributions for the sake of an independent and free Latvia. The highest state award reflects respect expressed by a sovereign state. It remains forever in one’s family as a token of gratitude for one’s contribution and as a reminder that both a heroic act and conscientious mundane work are our greatest gifts to our country.
This year, we are celebrating significant anniversaries of people whom we are proud of and who can be called the great minds of our nation. They are conductors the Kokars brothers, poet and journalist Knuts Skujenieks, poet Uldis Auseklis, stage director Oļģerts Kroders, as well as Latvian freedom fighter Gunārs Astra.
In 1983 in his Last Word Gunars Astra said: “I believe that this time will disappear like a nightmare. That is what gives me the strength to stand and breathe here.” These words came from the depth of his heart; they inspire and assure that true strength lies within us, in our faith and convictions.
This year marks the 20th anniversary since we have turned a new, clearly European page of Baltic history, which can hardly be regarded as simple. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have stood shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand on the Baltic Way, they have survived the barricades and sinister occupation forces; they have managed to form independent and democratic states.
We teach our children that in hard times people should cling together like fingers in a fist. And this is how we proved to the rest of the world that the unity of friendly countries can change the course of history and can overcome obstacles, political realities and mutual agreements of totalitarian regimes. We have learned from our experience that people who are united in the name of a common and just cause, people who dedicate all their spiritual and physical strength for the sake of a common purpose can put an inevitable end to violence and aggression.
Next week we will meet with our Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts in Tallinn, where we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Assembly. This is the right moment to remind ourselves that Baltic cooperation is a success story. This is a great value that should be cherished, remembered and developed further. We should communicate this success story to others as an encouraging example.
We no longer have to seek our own place on the map of the world or prove to anyone that we have a right to it. Our place has always been and will remain among the Western democracies and within the transatlantic family. Personally I am pleased to see that our cooperation with the Nordic countries is expanding steadily. This cooperation will play an important role in the following decade, and parliamentary collaboration will enable us to strengthen these ties politically and fill them with practical content.
Concerning foreign policy, the forthcoming Latvian presidency of the European Union in 2015 is among our highest priorities. During the current convocation of the Saeima, we will have to agree on our objectives and interests during our presidency. The presidency of the European Union should be viewed as another opportunity for us to use regional framework to influence global processes. It is a great challenge and responsibility. Our presidency will be an opportunity for us to put our concerns and priorities on the European agenda and to have Latvia’s opinions voiced not only within Europe.
In the context of Latvia’s foreign policy, one should stress the role of the negotiations regarding the European Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework that will take place in Brussels and other capitals of member states throughout the coming year. The previous convocation of the Saeima adopted two resolutions objecting to the current proposal. We will continue to insist on receiving more funding for the development of our country and for direct area payments to our farmers. This is our responsibility not only towards ourselves but also towards our children who will inherit our success or failure.
Ladies and gentlemen,
They say that a man’s strength lies in his determination to achieve his goals. The same applies to a state and a nation.
The history of the world shows that nations who have agreed on a common goal are the strongest and wealthiest. It does not matter how ambitious or unrealistic this goal is as long as it is genuine, as long as we truly believe in it and as long as we can pass on this belief to our children. For Latvia does not belong to us; it belongs to the children yet to be born – the children who will live in the country that we will have built, protected and perfected. I would like to believe that they will want to thank us – to thank us for Latvia.
God bless Latvia!