Address by Ināra Mūrniece, Speaker of the Saeima, at the Saeima ceremonial sitting of 4 May 2021 in honour of the 31st anniversary of the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia

(04.05.2021.)

Honourable President of Latvia,

Honourable Prime Minister,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Honourable Ministers,

Excellencies,

Dear people of Latvia,

 

On 4 May, we celebrate a historic occasion like no other. This day marks the fulfilment of a dream cherished for decades by several generations of Latvians – to regain our independent state.

On this day, the events deciding the fate of our country were close to everyone’s heart. The convictions, faith, and pride of each individual came together and succeeded in changing the reality – within a moment, the suffocating fog of occupation had lost its power over our people. Freedom was in the air! Such is the power of the people when they feel that they form part of something bigger and stand for a common goal.

The politician, lawyer, diplomat, and writer Miķelis Valters once wrote that along with the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia in 1918, the suprapersonal entity that is the state took root in the lives of Latvian people. It came with the idea that having one’s own state marks a high stage in the development of a nation. That only in our own country can we truly grow.

On 4 May 1990, Latvians were able to return to their state. Our people gained their footing. Since then, we have grown and changed our mind-set in a way that only free people can. Now, we live in the second century of our own Latvia.

 

Honourable madam Velta Čebotarenoka,

Honourable Members of the Supreme Council,

On 4 May 1990, encouraged, supported, and inspired by the people of Latvia, 138 Members of the Supreme Council voted in favour of restoring the independence of the Republic of Latvia. Thank you for your courage and your vote!

The vote and the documents adopted on 4 May changed our reality. They gave us freedom and determined the future course of our nation and state – the return to Europe, to the Western cultural and geopolitical space, to democracy. To a reality shaped by free people in a free country.

This process was completed on 21 August 1991, when the Supreme Council adopted the Constitutional Law on the Statehood of the Republic of Latvia. Only then could we put a de facto end to the half century of the Soviet occupation and fully continue the once interrupted course of Latvia's independence. This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of these events.

These and several other historic decisions were made in rousing times, during the Third Awakening. Latvia of that time was truly different from the one we live in today.

The atmosphere was uplifting, but also infused with danger. The part of the population illegally brought to Latvia during the Soviet occupation did not want the see the State of Latvia restored. Their representatives in the Supreme Council were bitter opponents of independence, strongly supported by the occupying military forces and a large network of power structures in all spheres of life.

Let us remember that the proportion of Latvians in their own country in 1989 was only 52 %.

It took confidence and courage to vote in favour of the restoration of Latvia's independence and to start leading the process of change in the country. It also took an unwavering agreement on a common idea and a larger goal.

Today, many of us still remember the slogan of the Awakening era – barefoot but free! Some may mock this idea, but, taking a deeper look, we realise that it stood for the willingness to sacrifice oneself and remain committed to ideals. It was a testament to the people's self-respect and belief in ourselves and our strength.

We longed and thirsted for freedom – freedom that would be denied to Latvians if we did not have our own country, Latvia. Nowadays, it seems self-evident: we determine the life of our country, we uphold the sovereign power of the nation, we communicate in the Latvian language, and we represent ourselves in the world with our knowledge and talents.

However, freedom is like a fire that must never be allowed to go out. We must take care of it ceaselessly.

In today's Europe and also Latvia, people are given a lot of freedoms. All boundaries seem to have fallen. Yet freedom, one of the fundamental values ​​of democracy, cannot exist without shared responsibility or without distinguishing between the rights of individuals and the need to protect “the rights of other people, (..) public safety, welfare, and morals”. This is also stated in our Constitution.

This year, we have been witnessing a clash between the understanding and expression of freedom in the form that we enjoyed in the previous decades and the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reality we live in has undeniably changed. However, let me be clear: neither our personal nor our sovereign freedom have been lost. Only our accustomed lifestyle has been affected.

Paradoxically, while we cannot meet each other as often, we have to think more about our compatriots and the society as a whole, and how to limit the spread of the virus.

It is important to understand that the foundations and values ​​of our country are not and will not be violated. We need to protect them, and we are protecting them.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Democracy can withstand many attacks, but we must take great care of what is called the immunity of democracy.

We are currently experiencing a surge of elaborate cases of deception at home and around the world. People’s perception, understanding, and attitudes are being manipulated. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a stream of disinformation, or infodemic, which abuses the uncertainty caused by the COVID pandemic to spread anxiety, fear, and outright nonsense.

However, virtual reality remains virtual. It can be greatly affected by technologies. The actual reality is determined by actual people. Unfortunately, at the moment, our opportunities to meet face to face are limited, and we are much less likely to experience the exchange of energy and emotions in person, to witness other people’s natural reactions and presence. Therefore, all available methods need to be used and strengthened to distinguish genuine news from manipulation.

The geopolitical ambitions of those behind the malevolent infodemic are broader and deeper: to destabilise the work of Western institutions, the ideological and political course of the West; to create a chaos in which nobody and nothing can be trusted any longer.

We must speak frankly. Large-scale, targeted deception campaigns are being carried out with increasing intensity. We recently experienced one such case when an impostor presented himself and talked to Members of the Saeima as the head of the regional headquarters of Alexei Navalny.

I would also like to remind you of the wave of disinformation that took over the Czech Republic and its social media when it held the Russian intelligence services responsible for the explosions in an ammunition warehouse in 2014, and consequently expelled Russian diplomats from the country.

In the meantime, Ukraine is experiencing extreme military threats from Russia, and it seems that only the strong admonition from many European Union and NATO member states has helped to at least somewhat diminish the tension, for now.

In such times, it is important that the military cooperation of the Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia – is more active than ever before. It allows us to feel united. The continued support of the United States is essential for the security and defence of the Baltic States. The transatlantic link is indispensable to European and global security.

 

Dear people of Latvia,

At present, it is of utmost importance to safeguard public health and human lives.

The efforts to stop the pandemic are very much alike in most parts of the world.

History has shown that the only solution is the so-called herd immunity and mass vaccination.

According to different sources, the first vaccinations in different parts of Latvia were carried out to prevent smallpox. In 1785, the pastor of Rūjiena Parish Gustav von Bergmann is said to have vaccinated against smallpox around 12 000 people in the surroundings of Rūjiena.

In 1957, mass vaccination against poliomyelitis or polio was initiated in Latvia. The tuberculosis vaccine also prevented the death in many Latvian families.

It is regrettable that, in the 2020s, mass vaccination is still threatened by misconceptions and lies about the composition and effects of vaccines.

False information must be countered by facts.

If we look at the European Union, the facts show positive trends in the fight against the pandemic. The European Union was united and demonstrated solidarity in the procurement and distribution of vaccines. Europe has treated any alarm about the quality and possible side effects of the vaccines very responsibly.

The European Union has made major decisions to support people, companies, and member states in order to save businesses and jobs.

It is the health care workers that have carried the world on their shoulders through this crisis. Throughout this difficult time, Latvian medical professionals have demonstrated admirable dedication, flexibility, and wisdom. We sincerely thank you for everything you have been doing for over a year now. Thank you for your skills, devotion, patience, and endurance! We admire you.

 

Dear colleagues,

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Saeima and the Latvian government have made necessary decisions. The decisions regarding restrictions were made to ensure access to adequate healthcare for every person in Latvia during the pandemic. To protect the health of all members of the society.

For governments, however, the pandemic presents an entirely new, unparalleled challenge. For this reason, some decisions work, while others, as circumstances change, turn out to be less effective.

We are trying to find solutions that are the most effective and useful for our society. And we fix them, if necessary.

If we look beyond social networks, we find that most people in Latvia make their real‑life decisions based on common sense. Generally, people try, to the best of their ability, to limit the spread of the virus. At times, over the long winter months, the patience of some people may have grown thin. Some people may have been more concerned about their personal interests. However, on this day of celebration, I sincerely and warmly thank all the people of Latvia for their resilience and responsibility.

 

Dear people of Latvia,

In these challenging times, many of us find solace in exploring and discovering Latvia. We have begun to appreciate the beauty and value of our own country, and we support our industrious and creative people who have not given up, but are trying to continue doing business in small towns and rural areas.

The state provides various support mechanisms, trying to reach as many people as possible, to aid those who have found themselves in a difficult situation due to the pandemic.

But what future trends can we expect? What should we prepare for, what should our focus be?

One of the qualities of our people is our deep love for nature and our close connection with it. Here in Latvia, we are used to living in a relatively clean, green, and healthy environment. People often protest against entrepreneurs who want to build pig farms or small factories, fearing that it may cause environmental harm.

Unfortunately, in reality, climate change and environmental degradation pose an existential threat to the entire planet. Latvia is not removed from this reality.

The European Union has chosen the track of its Green Deal, aspiring to become the first climate‑neutral bloc in the world. By taking smart steps, Latvia has an opportunity to become a successful participant in the new economic era. We must create a modern economy that uses resources efficiently and is based on innovation. This will help us preserve the natural treasures of Latvia and implement a more just social policy as well.

 

Dear compatriots,

Nature is not the only treasure that needs our utmost care and protection.

Our special treasure is the identity of our people, which is succinctly formulated in our Constitution. Our identity has been shaped by Latvian and Liv traditions, Latvian folk wisdom, the Latvian language, universal human and Christian values. This is the basis of our personal  and national identity.

Our official language – the Latvian language – manifests the essence of our nation, and it is the language we all use to communicate. A national state ensures the perpetuity of its language, establishing it as a cultural treasure of the world.

Just as we must always keep alive the flame of freedom, we must also protect, preserve, and develop our language.

The future of the Latvian language is being shaped right here and right now. Every single day, we must acknowledge the threats posed to our language by global challenges. Every single day, we must seek ways to strengthen our language in every aspect of life, to ensure its preservation and pass it on to our children.

Dear parents and teachers! Encourage your children and students to speak Latvian every day! Show them how rich, powerful, and vibrant it is! The Latvian language is an embodiment of our self‑respect and continuity.

 

Dear compatriots,

Family is and will remain the greatest treasure of every person and the entire society.

The meaning and importance of family have not changed. A child is brought into this world and given a start in life by mother and father. Family provides the meaning for continuing one’s lineage.

Unfortunately, the year of the pandemic was challenging for families. Remote work and online education put the resilience of children and adults to the test.

The life of our children, teenagers, and young people has been put on hold. The stage of growing up would normally involve making friends, falling in love for the first time, spreading one’s wings, and making life goals. Instead, young people are facing complex circumstances.

We greatly appreciate the ability of teachers in Latvia to rapidly adapt their lessons to the digital environment and continue their work remotely, providing the necessary emotional support for their students as well. Their contribution is nothing less than a valorous feat.

It is with joy that I can say that the state has allocated special financial support to meet the needs of children and seniors. Already starting from next year, new state support for families with children will come into effect, as the child care benefit for each child will increase significantly.

Children are not just a source of joy and continuation of ourselves. Children are the life and future of Latvia.

 

Dear patriots of Latvia of all nationalities,

31 years have passed since the adoption of the 4 May Declaration.

Our regained Latvia is a reflection of us all – created by the common values of our society and our ability to fulfil our civic potential through the development of our country.

It is us who have defined the moral horizons of Latvia today. How far and wide do they reach?

Have we learned to strike a better balance between personal and national interests?

On our own, we are alone, unattached, unsupported, and weak. When we are focused on our personal needs, we risk giving away our votes to the populists, enticed by their simple and seemingly generous promises.

Our true power lies within connections with other people, with the Latvian language, with a common goal, ideal, a shared dream. This is how we become stronger and change the reality – make it better for ourselves and those around us.

Today, on this day of celebration, we can appreciate the progress made by Latvia since 4 May 1990. We have made it happen both individually and together.

Although we have encountered difficulties along the way, our experiences and accomplishments renew our enthusiasm and faith in the future of the state of Latvia.

Let us congratulate each other and our beloved Latvia on the anniversary of the restoration of its independence!

 

Long live Latvia!

God bless Latvia!

Sestdien, 22.janvārī