Honourable President of Latvia,
Honourable Prime Minister,
Honourable members of the Saeima,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Every day we are on a search and on the way, a way which is full of responsibilities, worries and challenges; nevertheless, there is faith in our hearts that the way will always lead us back home.
My people are my home, said Latvian poet Andrejs Eglītis. Searches, doubts and a never-ending way always take us home – back to our people, back to our state. 18 November is a day for returning, a day when doubts are put aside, searches slow down, and we realise that we belong to Latvia.
Today we celebrate the 94th anniversary of the free and independent state of Latvia. I call on all patriots of Latvia to keep the feeling of belonging and togetherness of 18 November locked deep in our hearts so that neither doubts nor flattery nor fear can suppress it. Because the way back home – back to one’s people and back to one’s state – is not dependent on the will of external powers, nor does it have to be sought far away. It is always with us and always within us.
It is said that God tests and teaches those whom he loves the most.
For Latvia, the recent years undoubtedly have been full of difficult experiences and lessons. Confusion of values and ignorance of laws of economics led us into a deep economic crisis from which we managed to emerge only due to a clear political vision and solidarity of the entire society.
However, there are still challenges ahead.
Latvia is just recovering from the crisis.
Many people have lost their jobs, many have become indebted or are struggling to keep their businesses and to find ways to provide for and educate their children. People are seeking opportunities outside Latvia, and each day brings new evidence that the post-crisis situation is extremely complicated.
Indicators of economic growth are clearly improving. From being a country which was hit by the economic crisis the most, we have already turned into a country with the most rapidly growing economy in Europe. But people will enjoy the fruits of that only after a while; that is a law of economics. However, more alarming than statistical data are those signs which are harder to measure but which are equally significant in determining the survival and development of our nation – such as trust in our state.
Increasingly often people notice inequality in society, the contrast between abundance and poverty. This fuels scepticism towards the state which seemingly neglects social justice.
The post-crisis problems and life stories of desperate people are real. They are serious and they are many.
Inequality within society really exists, many families suffer from economic hardships, and many people live on the verge of poverty. Low incomes prevent people from living in conditions that are considered at least appropriate in their community. From not having a penny-pinching life. From setting a table for celebrations. From enjoying the culture of which we are rightfully proud.
There is no simple or quick solution to these challenges. Nevertheless, I would like to encourage everyone – don’t give up, don’t lose your eagerness to act; let us fulfil our duties to the best of our ability, and everything will turn out right. Our paralympic champion Aigars Apinis believes that in order to achieve goals and attain high results, one has to work hard. His life attests to that.
A lot of efforts have already been made to develop the national economy, to improve the demographic situation, to stimulate employment and to build up Latvia’s reputation in international markets.
In the budget for 2013, for the first time in the last four years, we finally can afford to raise the expenditures for health care, creating jobs, developing the Latgale region and raising salaries of teachers by correlating the quality of work with the increase in remuneration.
The salaries of teachers at music and art schools were also raised. Pensions will be indexed in 2014. The asset declaration, which is an essential tool for strengthening the economy and the rule of law, was introduced. A list of trusted enterprises was established. Minimum wages have to be raised further, and continuous reduction of the tax burden should be pursued. These and other steps are being taken for the sake of Latvia’s stable and predictable development.
As a result, our national economy has been growing for eight consecutive quarters. This is irrefutable proof that the strategy and solutions chosen are correct and effective and that Latvia has taken the path of stable growth.
However, the development of Latvia as a democratic state depends not only on its economic success. A strong democracy is also characterised by a high level of civic participation, a developed political culture and the rule of law.
I have always stressed the significance of an open parliament and civic participation not only by cooperating with non-governmental organisations on legislative issues and socially responsible projects but also by encouraging young people to display initiative and get involved in processes of national importance.
Latvia needs active and educated people who love their country and who in the future will be competent and courageous enough to assume responsibility for shaping it.
This convocation of the Saeima succeeded in undertaking initiatives that are vital for strengthening and fostering the rule of law and that could not be launched in the previous convocations. One of the most vivid examples is the Law on Declaring Assets and Unreported Income of Natural Persons.
Another important achievement of the 11th Saeima is the abolition of the secret ballot for electing most of the highest public officials.
The legislative, executive and judicial branches must never cease to strengthen the judiciary. In a state governed by the rule of law, everyone has to be sure that a right to a fair trial is a fundamental right not only guaranteed by the Constitution but also existing in reality.
Excessively lengthy court proceedings are a major reason for the criticism of our judicial branch. It is in the interest of the entire society to have access to a high-quality and speedy trial; therefore, the 11th Saeima has already adopted a number of amendments to procedural laws that will speed up court proceedings and will prevent attempts to deliberately prolong them.
This work will be diligently continued while bearing in mind that improvements in the judiciary should not jeopardise or undermine the independence of the judicial branch.
It is said that a small child’s laughter always brings joy to a family. I would even say that the future belongs to countries where parents are willing to have children and feel confident about their ability to provide for them and raise them.
In recent years there have been many discussions on how to improve the demographic situation in our country.
Demography is not only about benefits. Improvement of the demographic situation requires a holistic approach. Nonetheless, state-guaranteed benefits play a significant role in increasing the birth rate because at the early stage of parenthood they are a safety net for many parents.
Therefore, as of the beginning of next year, new parents will receive higher parent’s benefits that will serve as an impulse for demographic improvement in Latvia. Moreover, a new baby-sitting benefit will be introduced along with other measures that promote a higher birth rate and support parents.
At the same time, I invite you to look at demography from a broader perspective. Planning and giving birth to a child are only the first steps in improving the demographic situation. It is also crucial to ensure accessibility to nurseries, schools, high-quality education, health care and social services, as well as economic stability of the family, jobs and state support in case of unemployment or illness.
The demographic situation will improve if comprehensive support and security are ensured from the moment a child enters this world until he or she has grown up, acquired an education and is able to become a member of society, develop a stable career and establish his or her own strong family.
Therefore, the only answer to the question on how to improve the demographic situation in our country is this – the overall growth of Latvia.
How often do we stop and think that the country as a whole is made up of every individual, every step, every action? My steps? My actions?
We can transcend ourselves, look into our hearts and find a way to our people and our country; we can raise Latvia with our very own hands. I am addressing not only the entrepreneurs, teachers, medical doctors and all the other people who work hard, pay their taxes, take care of their children, have faith in their country’s future and have gone through this long journey of economic recovery side by side with each other. I am addressing us – the politicians – as well.
Members of the Saeima,
The Latvian people have endured and are still enduring difficulties in fulfilling their obligation to their state. The question is: Are we fulfilling ours?
The questions are: Can we in the complicated post-crisis situation create something enduring to achieve full economic recovery? Can we restore justice, the rule of law, security and trust? Can we keep the quality of parliamentary debates from becoming a political circus? Can we ensure that the legislative process is not overshadowed by next municipal elections or referendums? Can we keep from succumbing to provocations and from creating them ourselves?
Indisputably, the main mission of the parliament is to debate and create laws based on these discussions. Parliamentarism as a form of governance entails the existence of diverse opinions and the ability to reconcile of all of them most effectively. I assume that diversity of opinion is a treasure yet to be fully appreciated by our society, and we still need to learn how to take proper advantage of it. It is not to be suppressed but rather channelled in a constructive, result-oriented direction, and that requires experience which we sometimes lack.
Frequently parliamentary debates and diversity of opinions are replaced by political populism, which is more than merely word wars, eloquence or striving for short-term popularity. Unfortunately, the consequences of political populism last much longer. Eventually they are revealed leading to political instability and causing distrust among society.
Therefore, I expect us to have a professional and constructive debate about joining the euro area, which is an important issue related to the future development of our country.
Joining the euro area is a strategic goal for Latvia. More precisely, it is a means to enhance stability, increase investments and generate prosperity. Membership in the euro area is of geopolitical significance for us because it is a clear sign of belonging to the Western world and its values. For the Baltic States, the euro is also a symbol of security, and careless populist playing with it may be dangerous.
Macroeconomic data show an increasingly optimistic view of Latvia’s internal readiness to introduce the euro. The time has come to dispel misconceptions and to explain without overwhelming emotions, how the introduction of the euro will affect the lives of each and every one of us.
It is time to abandon the fear that introduction of the euro will lead to the loss of our national identity; on the contrary, it will become ever more pronounced and recognisable when euro coins displaying Latvian symbols will be used throughout the euro area, be it in Lisbon, Paris or Tallinn. If society is informed and knowledgeable, then declarative and oversimplified solutions do not work.
Latvia has been a part of the European Union for eight years already, and the euro is an integral symbol of this Union. In view of the fact that our ancestors have endured so much cruelty and historical injustice, we must take pride in our achievements and do our best not to waste them. It is the responsibility of every European, every one of us, to ensure that future generations can live in peace, harmony and prosperity.
Good things are easy to get used to. Peace in Europe has become such a natural state of affairs that it seems it has existed forever. But history proves otherwise. We are living in a unique era – never before has peace in Europe lasted this long.
Upon the foundations laid by those who first envisioned European integration, three generations of people in Europe have built a unique cooperation model that replaces war with peace, hostility with solidarity, deathly peril with human rights.
It is not in vain that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union, thus honouring it for transforming Europe from a continent of war to one of peace. This prize is a reminder to the European Union that it must do everything it can to safeguard its achievements and move forward; at the same time it is a reminder of what would be lost if the union were to disintegrate.
It must be emphasised time and again – fundamental values are and always have been the key to unifying Europe.
Peace, democracy, solidarity, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance – today these values seem so self-evident, but sixty years ago confidence in them was not strong. During these decades, the realisation of the vision of Europe as a continent of peace has required political willpower, as well as general public support. During the 50-year-long unlawful occupation of Latvia by totalitarian regimes, the dream of returning to Europe was the driving force for our pursuit of freedom.
Therefore, today we must not underestimate the role of Latvia in Europe and the common destinies of European nations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is not a secret that apart from financial, economic and debt-related problems, Europe is currently experiencing a political crisis as well. Constant difficulties make us stay alert, think and take action.
In the cross-fire of ideas and visions, we must find the golden mean, a framework for future development. Important matters are being discussed at the moment – including a banking union, review of the founding treaties, a two-speed Europe and even a federation of sovereign nations. Undoubtedly, not all of these proposals are in Latvia’s interests, but the viability of the European Union definitely is.
Therefore, Latvia has to be active in the upcoming discussions on the future of the European Union.
Negotiations over the next EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework have reached the final stage. We have done a lot to convince other EU member states that unfairly distributed direct payments which distort the market are not acceptable and that cohesion funding is an important instrument for further development. We must stand up for the national interests of Latvia and the interests of our farmers because they are crucial for the growth of Latvia.
This year we have started to prepare for Latvia’s presidency of the EU. It is important but not compulsory for a parliament to take part in defining and implementing the priorities and the agenda of the presidency; thus everything depends on the willingness and readiness of the parliament itself.
The Saeima is willing and ready; it has already participated in a round of discussions about the priorities of the presidency in which many members of the general public were involved; moreover, presidency-related issues have been one of the main topics in the annual joint forum of the Saeima and NGOs.
The EU member states traditionally define their presidency priorities on the governmental or parliamentary level, but Latvia stands out in this regard because it allows other groups of society to participate in this process as well, and the Saeima has had an important role in that.
I want to stress that Latvia is free to define specific and concise priorities that both reflect the interests of all inhabitants of the EU member states and serve the interests of our country and region. It is clear that this will not be an easy task; therefore, Latvia’s presidency has to be smart, our approach has to be creative, and we must seize this opportunity to show Europe and the rest of the world our priorities regarding the development of the European Union, as well as the richness of our culture, the beauty of our nature, and the quality of our achievements.
Wise is he who learns at least from his own mistakes. Today we are worn out after the crisis, and our weariness is manifested in different ways. This is why we have to frankly acknowledge what were the main reasons that led us to the crisis and brought us to the current situation.
Juris Rubenis, a Latvian Lutheran pastor, has pointed out that the crisis can be mainly attributed to immoderateness and greed. He has also given advice on how to get over it. He suggested that “the threats of the crisis can be managed and the suffering can be mitigated if we take advantage of the opportunities offered by the crisis. How can we help our country? The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. Each of us can give our country a better, more empathic, more honest, more loving and wiser person. The person any of us can become.”
It is true, no one and nothing will rescue Latvia if it does not rescue itself. It is that simple and complicated at the same time. If we lose confidence in ourselves, the ability to move forward, to manage and govern, if we lose our will to live in Latvia, our story will come to an end. If we become paralysed by unimportant controversies and post-crisis exhaustion, the prophecies of our foes will come true.
But why would we tear apart the solid foundations of our state? Why would we give up dreams that will definitely come true? Why would we put at risk our state and its very foundations when certain groups of society shamelessly challenge us to a game of misinterpreted democracy?
Take a look at different nations throughout the world and compare them to Latvia! We have achieved a lot together! We have seen and experienced so much! We have founded and renewed our state. We have no reason to disparage ourselves. We know the value of peace, freedom and democracy, and we most definitely know their price.
Democracy is being tested every day. Just as during the occupation and the years of regaining of our freedom, also today unity, the spirit of solidarity and putting Latvia’s objectives before our personal ambitions are the principles of utmost importance. Likewise, a strong democracy cannot last without fundamental values such as respect, tolerance and non-violence.
However, the greatest treasure of a democratic state is its people who are free to shape their own future and future of their state. But that is true only if each of us assumes his or her share or responsibility. Words carry great power. Whether uttered by a politician from the rostrum of the Saeima, an activist in a demonstration or a reader of a website who wishes to leave a comment – with our words we are all building the environment we live in.
Hate begets hate and fuels destruction. Giving in to anger and emotions is the easiest way, while engaging in dialogue and listening to one another takes much greater effort. Each of us has to work on ourselves. Especially a public person bears a great responsibility.
The ability to live in harmony is a great value that has to be nurtured. This is something we can work on. There is no division between us and them. There is one people, one Latvia and one common future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
“I’m just doing my job,” this is what I was recently told by a winner of Ieva’s Heart award. One could not have put it better. Indeed, we do not always have to look for heroes or accomplish great deeds. We all contribute to the development of a stronger Latvia. And we have good reasons to be proud of our people and our accomplishments.
Our world-renowned opera singers, our Olympic and Paralympic athletes, teachers, entrepreneurs, farmers, medical doctors, police officers and students – they all contribute to building a better Latvia through their honest attitude and daily work.
It is we, our sense of statehood and the steps we take on a daily basis that shape what Latvia will be on her 100th anniversary.
I wish to see a strong, developed and competitive Latvia with people living in prosperity and harmony, a country where more children are born. The only country in the world where the Latvian language is spoken, where Latvian culture and traditions are cherished and where the national identity flourishes. I wish to see Latvia with the rule of law and democracy rooted deep within her society.
When I think of the centenarian Latvia, I see strong and prosperous families, educated and competitive people, new jobs and developed entrepreneurship. I see people returning to a Latvia which is capable of developing with the help of its own people and their talents. I see people committed to preserving the fundamental values of our state for the sake of the generations to come.
Devotion to our state, ambitious goals, honest attitudes and duties fulfilled conscientiously – these are the gifts we can dedicate to our state every single day.
God bless Latvia!