Like-minded people and opponents,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
First of all, I would like to thank the authors of this inspiring video. I know it took a lot of effort.
I would like to draw attention to the determination on the faces of our predecessors in the historical shots of the film. Their purpose is clear. The idea of an independent, democratic, free, powerful, and prosperous Latvian state radiates from their focused gaze, from their firm, unbending posture.
The question is what can we learn from them. For example, the importance of not losing clarity about the great goal to be achieved. The importance of not getting lost in the trifling matters of everyday life or the imitation of the pursuit of a goal.
One hundred years ago, in this building, our predecessors set themselves the goal of shaping a free and democratic Latvia. And they chose the path of parliamentarism. A difficult, complex, winding, and steep path, but ultimately the only correct one. A path that has largely determined who we are, what our country is now and what it will be like a hundred years from now. A country where we can decide our own fates, make our own choices, make mistakes and correct them, too.
A democratic state. It may seem obvious, but it is particularly important for us to remember the meaning and value of democracy in these times, when we see the enormous damage that authoritarian regimes inflict on the world. Although some may find parliamentary democracy unstable and vulnerable, I consider the opposite to be true. History has shown that it can prevent countries and nations from running into such quagmires of extremes or wrong decisions that are at times impossible to escape.
Nearly 1000 Members have served in the various convocations of the Saeima. So, not just three, five, or ten leaders, but a thousand men and women of Latvia, different in age, experience, and profession. Different in their views and convictions. Representing different voters. All of them forming a tightly woven, multi-coloured, and multi-layered political fabric that, while reflecting Latvian society, concurrently has been forming it, influencing it, and shaping its future.
Each era and stage of our country's development has had its own struggles and challenges. Each Saeima has had to deal with them. Each Saeima has considered that the moment in which it is acting, the tasks it has to face, are historic. And for good reason.
Big nations may not understand it, but for us Latvians, every moment is historic. A continuous historic moment for at least 100 years. We are strong and we take responsibility because we have to protect our country every day. And now we know very well who our friends are and we also know who our enemies are. But it is obvious that, both a hundred years ago and today, the greatest challenge to Latvia is posed by the Russian political regime.
Latvia began the 20th century with the conviction that we had to free ourselves from Russia’s influence. Unfortunately, also in the 21st century, this question remains relevant: how to put an end, once and for all, to the misery and destruction that the Russian regime is wreaking on the world? History shows that for at least the last 100 years, every incarnation of Russian political power—be it communist, monarchist, red, or white—let us be honest, has always been aggressively unfriendly to an independent, free Latvia and to the idea of democracy as such.
A particularly heavy blow for Latvia was the dark and barbaric Soviet occupation of Latvia that lasted for 50 years. Fifty years of life brutally taken by the communists from several generations of Latvian people. As Gunārs Kusiņš rightfully noted during the discussion that took place an hour ago, they had also erased convocations of the Saeima because without that interruption, this would not be the 14th Saeima, but rather we would have had around 30 convocations behind us. Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, Russian war crimes in Ukraine, genocide, terrorism against Ukrainian civilians have hopefully finally opened the eyes of everyone in the world making it clear what the Russian regime is really like. At the moment (and for Latvia this ‘moment’ has stretched over 100 years), Russia is spreading its dark imperial gloom which can only be countered by a firm wall of unity and solidarity of the entire free and democratic world. Latvia and the Baltic region, together with Ukraine, have a special mission in this respect. Supporting the Ukrainian people and preventing the world from falling into the grey zone of compromise. Our own history is the best textbook for those who doubt, are fatigued, or have fallen into the trap of imperial narratives.
As the events in the film unfold, it becomes apparent that the idea of a free and democratic parliament—the Latvian parliament—is a living organism that is in constant evolution. One could say, the Saeima is never finished. It keeps on growing and developing. First, the Latvian Provisional National Council. Then the People's Council of Latvia. Then the Constitutional Assembly. And then the Saeima. It has been changing and learning. Over time, the electoral procedure, the length of convocations, even the voting age have changed. It has never been disconnected from social processes, the party system, and civic activism.
Times change, but the idea remains the same, and it lives on and develops despite the difficulties it must overcome on its way. The idea of people's power, of the right to one's own opinion, ideas, and convictions.
I firmly believe that the 14th Saeima will also dedicate itself to strengthening Latvian democracy, building trust and engagement of society. But it is clear that we have to earn the respect. Both by taking reasonable, fair, and understandable decisions, and by respecting the voter, the citizen of Latvia. And by respecting each other in the Saeima. We must set an example ourselves.
There is a place here for direct and clear language, for open discussion, and for reasoned arguments. Everything that helps to arrive at the best solution. But there is no and will be no room for self-serving arguments, rudeness, or intolerance. I would like to wish that all our energy, all our, so to say, steam, goes into moving our country forward, and not just into loud whistling.
We are destined to be the guardians of Latvia for at least the next 4 years. Also the guardians of the Constitution and parliamentarism. I therefore call on you to reflect on our special role in these circumstances.
In Latvia, decisions are taken by the Saeima. That was also stressed by the three constitutional law experts during the discussion one hour ago. So, in Latvia, decisions are taken by the Saeima, and, however obvious it may seem, we have to remind ourselves of this from time to time. We, Members of Parliament, have all the powers and all the responsibilities—for security, for the competitiveness of the economy, for an educated and healthy society, as well as for crisis management. We are the ones here who are responsible for making life better for the people of Latvia.
Let us not hide the fact that, in recent years, instead of the Parliament, one or another government has played a larger role in Latvian politics. For a long time, the Saeima has been somewhere in the blurred background behind the figures of prime ministers and at times presidents, letting the thread of management and control of processes slip out of its hands. This eventually led to serious errors in public administration or to the inability to take decisions within a reasonable timeframe, to the loss of popular trust as well.
The job of MPs is not just to approve a government every four years and spend the rest of the time voting in favour of the decisions it takes. While this may seem politically convenient and comfortable to some, it does not absolve us of our responsibility to the people of Latvia. It is our duty to lead the country every day and to use all the instruments of power at our disposal. To shape Latvian politics—that is our obligation.
Times of crisis often call for quick decisions. But the speed of decisions must not come at the price of their quality. In times of crisis, all branches of power must be in a single chain of responsibility. That is why we need to work hand in hand with the government, effectively complementing, improving, and monitoring its decisions. We, the 14th Saeima, its Members, must be the safest link in this chain—the foundation on which to build, in terms of security, the economy, education, and health. We have to be a Saeima on whose values and patriotism Latvian people can safely rely.
I am confident that the 14th Saeima will be professional enough to engage more vigorously and more sharply in shaping the political agenda. It is true that we represent different parties and various views, but our diversity, our distinct life experiences, and our varied knowledge should be used as our strength. We must remember every day that every decision that we make has consequences. Consequences that affect every citizen of Latvia, fundamental processes of the future of the country, the course that our country takes.
We must implement the ideas that enable the people of Latvia to live in a successful, competitive, just, and modern society. A wise, strong, modern, values-based, and united Latvia is particularly important in today’s rapidly changing world and amid global challenges.
Our experience shows that good ideas always find their way. Many of us here have been in both the coalition and the opposition, so we know how difficult it is to ever accept the loss of authorship of ideas. At the same time, we know that it is rewarding to see the benefits that their implementation brings to people and to the country.
As we enter the second centenary of the Latvian parliamentary tradition, I am convinced that the 14th Saeima will bring a qualitative and professional breakthrough in the growth of the Latvian parliamentary tradition.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the previous leaders of the Saeima for their hard work, skills, and consistency in steering the ship of our parliamentary democracy. It continues its journey safely into its second century.
When our colleagues in distant future will watch a historical film at the ceremonial sitting of the bicentenary of the Latvian Saeima, I wish for the 14th Saeima to be remembered with a good word and for its productive four years in skilfully steering the Latvian state through difficult times—towards a safe, wise, and prosperous future. May this Saeima be remembered as having strengthened the fundamental values of Latvia that were carved in stone by Jānis Čakste—our first President and head of the Constitutional Assembly—Freedom, Independence, Democracy.
Congratulations to everyone on the centenary of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia!