Honourable Mr President,
Honourable Prime Minister,
Members of the parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Latvia is fast approaching its centennial. Today we celebrate our country’s 98th birthday.
98 years ago, the Latvian dream of statehood came to life. World War I had just ended, but our statesmen, cherishing their nation, had the knowledge and skill to place Latvia on the world map as an independent nation state.
The state of Latvia was not founded by chance or coincidence. The Latvian people had nurtured their desire for freedom for hundreds of years.
Throughout the centuries, the emerging Latvian nation was strongly influenced by Western civilisation. And the Western-born notion of the right of self-determination of peoples gained resounding support in Latvian hearts.
This notion flourished in the early 20th century. In different parts of Latvia, economists and teachers, lawyers and poets, army officers and students assembled with one goal in mind – to build a country of their own!
As we near Latvia’s centennial, we have closely analysed the historic events that led to the creation of our state and nation.
One such turning point was the first Latgale Latvian Congress in Rēzekne, which proclaimed that the Latvians of Latgale, Vidzeme and Kurzeme were a single people and that Latgale must unite with the other regions of Latvia.
In the spring of next year, we will celebrate the anniversary of this event in the very heart of Latgale – in Rēzekne.
Next year will also mark 100 years since the convening of the Latvian Provisional National Council in Valka. This Council postulated the main political objectives – to unite the territory of Latvia, create an independent state and convene the Constitutional Assembly.
Western European democratic values were at the heart of the state of Latvia 98 years ago and remain so today. That is why Latvia was founded as a democratic republic, which embodies the Latvian nation’s desire for its own state, as well as ensures equal engagement of all citizens in its governance.
In other words, Latvians shaped themselves into a nation over a long period of time. The state of Latvia was founded as the sole locus for Latvians and other ethnic groups to thrive and develop throughout the ages. This principle is enshrined in our Constitution.
Latvia is our cherished treasure.
Latvia has been the subject not only of many dreams, but also many wars. Living on the border between the West and the East, Latvians have grown to be good warriors. The War of Liberation and both world wars prove it.
Today we still have the best soldiers; they are courageous, intelligent and ardent patriots of our country.
Latvia’s independence is unimaginable without its soldiers and national guards.
Thanks to them we can be secure about our Homeland.
We have been a member state of NATO for 12 years. Our membership in the alliance not only ensures our own security, but enables us to also contribute to the strengthening of the collective defence capabilities.
We have strong and trustworthy allies.
This we have witnessed not only in words, but also deeds. At a time when the Kremlin is flaunting its military might in our region and escalating threats, reinforced NATO presence is the main means of deterrence.
NATO’s multinational battle groups will arrive in the Baltics in the spring. We thank Canada, which will lead the battle group in Latvia.
At the moment the government is actively preparing for hosting NATO forces. As the host nation, we should provide more than just infrastructure – barracks, roads, warehouses. We must also ensure public support and welcoming attitude towards the soldiers who are here to protect us.
I am certain that we will succeed in these tasks. Latvia has an excellent relationship with Canada, and we share heartfelt people-to-people contacts.
The fact that the United States of America – our main strategic partner – will remain on Latvian soil is of paramount importance. We are grateful to the United States for its unwavering commitment to NATO
Latvia and the United States have developed close ties, we share common values and an extensive agenda for addressing common security challenges. And we have much work ahead in implementing the NATO Warsaw Summit decisions.
Like never before our citizens expect the European Union to play a major role in their security and safety. Within the EU we should intensify our efforts to protect external borders, combat terrorism, counter hybrid threats and address energy security.
Security is the focus of the Baltic States’ cooperation as well. As long as we stay united, we can withstand geopolitical challenges. Close cooperation with our Baltic and Nordic partners is equally important. In this complex situation we must devote all our efforts to ensure that the European Union emerges from it stronger than ever before. Because a strong Europe means a strong Latvia. The future - stability, peace, democracy and prosperity - of our region, Europe and the whole Western world is in our own hands.
We have already shown that we can achieve great things if we work together.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In his address to the Constitutional Assembly on 18 November 1920, Jānis Čakste said: “The state of Latvia has grown out of the unanimity of the Latvian people, it has become strong through the unanimity of the people of Latvia, and it will flourish and prosper through unanimity.”
Today, it is crucial that we stand united on basic issues – to maintain Latvia as a single entity, an indivisible set of values.
We cannot permit Latvia to become fragmented. We must preserve and strengthen the centripetal force due to which our state was founded and lives on.
Today, people in Latvia are aware of their individuality more than ever before, and they assert their rights. Various social groups – based on vocation, interests or sectoral organisations – have learned to protect their interests. The active civic involvement is clearly visible now that the parliament is examining next year’s budget.
However, as we each defend our own interests, let us not lose sight of the bigger picture, of our preeminent objective – the state of Latvia.
It is unanimity that is needed in order to build something.
Tearing something down does not require concerted effort.
Therefore, let us not allow anybody to incite one region against another, Riga against the rest of Latvia, or Latvia against Europe and Western allies!
One may ask whether Europe even has a future, whether the Western model of democracy has not exhausted itself. Will the European Union survive the internal struggles, populism and the migration crisis?
Dear members of the parliament,
Globalisation leads to an increasingly technical, bureaucratic and dry democracy. Nowadays it takes increasingly deep knowledge to make political and economic decisions.
This may lead citizens to believe that participation has become excessively convoluted. That it has become more difficult to understand political decisions.
This impression leads to a widening gap between the state power and a part of society, and the society embarks on an isolated existence.
People may find it easier to accept those who send them simplified messages that require no engagement. Those who make tempting yet unrealistic promises.
Today we are witnesses to populism having become a cheap weapon that brings short-term political victories, however, these are always followed by a rude awakening.
This is why we must talk to each other and to the society; we must tell the truth and substantiate it with facts.
Because at the end of the day, the reality will show what is what. Our common achievements will matter the most.
We must talk to each other and explain our positions instead of isolating ourselves and serving narrow interests. This is the best approach when it comes to countering disinformation, rumours and populism.
This approach helps people to be informed, to understand each other, to create common ambitions and jointly achieve them.
This is especially true in the current state of hybrid war which is built around the information war.
However, the uncertainty imposed on our society through lies and misinformation can be dispersed.
We all must be more critical towards the information we receive; we must learn to distinguish truth from lies, recognise the attacks on our state and Western values as a whole.
Latvia’s belonging to the Western democracy and the European Union means that we are part of the free world. We cannot afford to waste our historic gift – the years of peace and democracy in our own state.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Latvia is constantly developing and growing into an ever more beautiful country. The regions at times surpass the capital city in their tidiness. People work really hard, and their efforts are not left unnoticed. Their work brings immense satisfaction.
We have a rich cultural life, advanced information technologies, exceptional scientists, innovative producers, talented youths.
At the same time, many tasks remain to be done. We must repair our roads, promote entrepreneurship and implement a variety of reforms.
We must create an environment that supports the creation of new jobs; we must ensure accessible health-care services and high-quality education.
Above all, we must invest in our people. We must fortify the people’s faith in our state!
We must continue addressing several painful challenges.
People are less permissive of various manifestations of corruption.
Society expects the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) to clearly define its priorities and to show tangible results, so that it is able not only to detain the “big fish”, but also has the skills necessary to gather all the evidence for prosecution.
On a positive note, the government has a plan for substantially reducing the shadow economy. The plan includes combating undeclared salaries in the construction sector, limiting cash transactions, monitoring suspicious bank transactions, and other measures.
The competitiveness of our economy and its attractiveness in the eyes of investors largely depend on the effectiveness of our judicial system. The Saeima is currently working on improving the insolvency proceedings. The legal framework must promote honest business practices.
The budget for the next year includes a substantial increase of funds for social protection, including pensions and social benefits. Latvia spends more than a third of its budget on social protection.
It is great that additional 19 million euros are earmarked for addressing the demographic situation. However, the demographic programme has to be expanded even further so that we have more families with three and four children in Latvia.
We are really proud of the younger generation! Our youths are patriotic, enthusiastic, smart, and open to the world around. Our students bring home medals from international competitions. However, we must understand that education reforms are essential. Education must have a strong focus on excellence and efficient use of resources. We have to make a very clear choice – either we implement reforms or risk backwardness.
Dear compatriots in Latvia and in faraway lands,
What would become of us without our own language, culture, history, family roots and traditions? What would our life be without Latvia’s nature and its change of seasons?
Let us imagine a family reunion. Consider people from different generations, different walks of life and of different opinions coming together. We may seem different, but deep down we are acutely aware of the strong invisible thread that holds us together.
We recognise the traits, features, dispositions and experiences that we have inherited from our ancestors. We also see how we pass them on to our children and grandchildren.
We are well aware that each and every one of us is very important.
We will not stand against one another. Instead, we will support one another. We must reach unanimity when it comes to important matters.
This is how we grow stronger.
At this time of celebration, let us have a deep look inside of ourselves. Am I the kind of person who wants to pursue the path of least resistance, who runs from hardship and avoids responsibilities? Or am I somebody who is prepared to take a difficult path, but one that leads to fulfilling my destiny? Am I ready to realise my full potential?
These endless choices form the bedrock of our state.
Our ancestors made their decision 98 years ago. More than 25 years ago, the people of Latvia made yet another choice. Now, we are the ones to lead the path chosen by the people.
In a couple of decades our work will be scrutinised. Did we manage to stand up for our state? Did we manage to reach unanimity on the important matters? What did we do to make a better future, to make our people proud of us? We are the ones who are currently leading Latvia towards its centennial.
Holding on to Latvia is the only way for us to be one with its past, present and future.
The state of Latvia cannot exist without us. We are Latvia, and Latvia is us.
Let us make Latvia eternal!
God bless Latvia!