Honourable President of Latvia,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear fellow countrymen,
November is a fateful month in the destiny of our state. Every November, we commemorate our heroes – those who fought for Latvia’s independence. With gratitude we celebrate the anniversary of founding of our state. In November, we think about our state more frequently and profoundly. We assess and reflect on what has been done for her sake.
This year, the essence of the state of Latvia has been discussed more than during the entire previous decade. In 2014, both internal and external processes caused significant changes in Latvia’s society – changes in our self-esteem, as well as changes in our attitude towards our past and the state. Therefore, we can regard this year as a turning point. This is the first celebration of the proclamation of our state since the Constitution was amended to make the continuity of our state more obvious and to reveal more profoundly the foundations, the purpose and goals for the existence of the state of Latvia.
The Constitution states: “The state of Latvia, proclaimed on 18 November 1918, has been established by uniting historical Latvian lands and on the basis of the unwavering will of the Latvian nation to have its own state and its inalienable right of self-determination in order to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian nation, its language and culture throughout the centuries, to ensure freedom and promote welfare of the people of Latvia and each individual.” End of quote.
The statehood of Latvia and our Constitution are interrelated. Our Constitution is derived from our statehood, and now it steers our statehood.
Currently, the proportion of Latvians in Latvia exceeds 62%, and it is increasing. However, the ratio of the titular nation and ethnic minorities is not a matter of arithmetic. Latvia, like the majority of European states, was founded as a nation state. However, the national identity of the titular nation shapes the content and forms the culture of the state.
The state can exist as along as its people want it to exist or, in other words, as long as the people have a strong desire for their own state. It is a nation’s political choice – to exist as a titular nation with its own language, culture and collective memory, and to desire its own nation state.
With this strong desire we as a society that is united by belonging to Latvia have become stronger, more cohesive, more similar in our understanding of the events of our past and feel the ground more solid under our feet. Although the armed and ideological conflict which has flamed up nearby is also a threat to us, we are looking to the future with greater trust and self-confidence. We are ready to withstand hardships, if such should arise, because we know that by keeping our stars brightly shining we will survive.
At the time when the state of Latvia was founded, in his book Little Notes Latvian poet Kārlis Skalbe wrote: “People already love Latvia. Anyone who tries to cut its roots will be rightly hated and despised.” Skalbe also asks his fellow Latvians: „Don’t you feel that in these days your own personal concerns yield to something else close to your heart? Those are concerns about Latvia. The times are developing your love for Latvia. You are becoming citizens and patriots. Without even realising it, your life has expanded. Latvia has become a part and essence of your life. Latvia means work and struggles.”
I want to assert that the same is happening today – nearly a century later. And it is no coincidence that both the titular nation and ethnic minorities of Latvia increasingly appreciate the role of the state in their personal life and the life of the entire society. We know from our past experience what happens to a nation when the state is brutally destroyed and thus is no longer able to protect its citizens. However, a democratic state enables us to grow and develop.
A nation’s fundamental values are always rooted in historical experience. It is obvious that in Latvia patriotic feelings and sentiment are becoming more evident; we are regaining our self-confidence and self-respect. Whenever we manifest our belonging to our land, nation and shared memories, we feel particularly moved. We experience that feeling on Lāčplēsis Day on 11 November, when everyone – big and small, old and young – pays a wholehearted tribute to the defenders of the state by lighting a candle at the Monument of Freedom, on the bank of the River Daugava in Riga or elsewhere in Latvia.
Perhaps the young generation, which has grown up in the restored democratic Latvia, does not get choked up, and their eyes do not fill with tears when they sing the national anthem or see the maroon-white-maroon flag waving above. Their feelings towards Latvia are more balanced; their attitude is more rational than that of their parents and grandparents. And that is the way it should be – it is a sign of the nation’s vitality because, as the Latvian writer Dzintars Sodums pointed out, this generation is being “raised for the state” and it contributes to Latvia’s present and future.
Knowledge and culture develop patriotism and love towards one’s state. All of us live in the nation’s culture and are enriched by other cultures. Full-fledged life of a nation is unimaginable without culture.
Poet Kārlis Skalbe once reminded the members of the Constitutional Assembly that the essence of the state of Latvia is our national culture which manifests itself as the state: “Without national culture there is no nation and no state. Therefore, this element is particularly significant.”
Skalbe would have said the same thing today. By investing in culture, we are investing in our nation’s existence, stability and defence. That should be reflected in budgetary allocations for culture.
Let us give our official language – the Latvian language – the place it rightly deserves in our daily life, not only on festive occasions. Ladies and gentlemen, I doubt that you will disagree that nearly a quarter of a century after the restoration of Latvia’s independence public officials and civil servants in their addresses and interviews with local mass media should speak in one language – the Latvian language. It is a matter of self-respect. Language is not merely a tool for communication; it contains a cultural message and carries historical heritage. The official language – the language of democratic participation – is common for all inhabitants of our state regardless of the language we speak at home, in our families or with our friends.
For the entire year we have been enriched and nurtured by events organised in Riga within the framework of the European Capital of Culture. We experienced spectacular World Choir Games this summer. We were also proud to open the new building of the Latvian National Library. Architect Gunārs Birkerts has rejuvenated in the design of this building the image of the Latvian nation’s castle of spiritual light created by Auseklis, a Latvian poet and public activist of the late 19th century. This building adorns not only the bank of River Daugava in Riga but also pages of prestigious international architecture magazines. Next year, when Latvia presides over the Council of the European Union, this symbol of Latvian spiritual heritage and potential will be in the spotlight of the entire EU.
It will be yet another opportunity for Latvia to show itself in all its glory – to show that it is a superpower of culture and foreign affairs. During the Presidency, for the first time our parliament will have an opportunity to influence the EU agenda. It will be a chance for us to highlight on a European level issues that are essential to us, such as energy independence of Latvia and Europe, as well as a strong common foreign policy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Latvia is also a superpower in sports.The number of medals Latvia has received in the winter and summer Olympics in proportion to the number of our inhabitants ranks us among global leaders. These achievements attest that we are a talented society.
Often we are not aware of the perseverance and efforts that have been invested in attaining excellence in culture, education, research and sports. In many spheres our talented and zealous people have to rely solely on their own strength; however, upon reaching the heights, they share their achievements with their state and people. Festive occasions are the most appropriate time to thank them!
Latvia truly became a state only when in the hardest moment it found a source of great inner Latvian strength when it stopped seeking outside support and formed its own national army.
The modern world has changed fundamentally. Survival is possible only through cooperation. This idea is symbolically expressed in the unifying force of the Baltic Way, whose significance we are emphasising this year. Latvia is a trustworthy member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Soldiers of our National Armed Forces are admirably representing us in international missions and thereby increasing Latvia’s security. Our homeland defence gene is not lost. The increasing number of recruits in our National Guard attests to that as well.
The NATO Summit in Wales confirmed the rightness of our geopolitical choice made 10 years ago. However, now, just as a century ago, the state of Latvia is also defended by our conviction that this state should be free and independent. It is particularly significant now when certain forces are trying to depict Latvia as a weak, failed state by posing the provocative question whether this state is even needed. We can learn about the strength and resilience from those who have supported Latvia’s independence at all times, including members of our National Resistance Movement who are among us today. We can learn from individuals such as Lidija Lasmane, who suffered several repressions for opposing the occupying power. I would like to thank them for their contribution in restoring our statehood.
No one has ever been able to deprive Latvians of the Latvia which lives in their hearts, dreams and thoughts. However, in reality, we have to realise and explain to others that democracy has to defend itself whenever its borders are violated. A democratic state is not and should not be helpless or cowardly; it is obliged to ensure that its foundation is not threatened or undermined. Our actual defence lines must be strong as well.
The security environment in Europe has changed fundamentally. The fighting in Ukraine is not only about territorial integrity or economic influence; it is a fight for the chosen path of development and a fight marking the eastern border of modern European culture space. It is understood by our closest neighbours and like-minded nations in Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Poland; it is also understood in Western Europe and elsewhere around the world. Ukrainians are defending our independence as well; therefore, Latvia is obliged to support them.
In Latvia, Kremlin’s soft power has shifted to open, extensive information warfare. This deliberate and systematic warfare aimed at weakening our spirit and desire for our state has been implemented for many years already. Vaclav Havel, playwright, former President of the Czech Republic and one of Europe’s moral authorities, stated: “If we observe modern global conflicts, we will see that often they are not merely economic conflicts or conflicts of interest regarding power; they are conflicts of words, namely, ideologies or doctrines.”
In the war of words over people’s minds and hearts, we have to resist the emotional pressure exerted by the attacker. How? First of all, by critically assessing information available in the public space; and second, by improving the defence and development of information space in Latvia. A skilfully coordinated and effective action by the state cannot be postponed any longer.
One’s personal basic principles and worldviews must prevail at all times. Only free and educated people form a confident nation.
Latvia’s democratic experience in the 20th century is short; however, it is rich enough to be cherished as a valuable heritage.
In September, we celebrated the 155th anniversary of Jānis Čakste, founder of our democracy and the first President of Latvia. His authority was so strong that even during the long years when we were denied our state he was a symbol of the independent Latvia. His ability to match idealism with realpolitik is expressed in the following statements he made: “There is no room for individual group interests but only common interests. Latvia is above all.” And: “Justice will always prevail.” The personality and role of Jānis Čakste in Latvia’s history have to be spotlighted. We have to rejuvenate the notions of justice and balance in our society; they are characteristic of democracy; they were clear to Jānis Čakste and they are currently so greatly needed.This year, the Saeima declared the Song and Dance Festival a public holiday; and the next Festival will be celebrated in 2018 during Latvia’s centenary.Perhaps Jānis Čakste could become one of the symbols of the upcoming centenary of our state, just like our Song and Dance Festival.
By looking back at the history of our land, people and state, and by making the contours of our history more clear, we are also looking into the future. What do we want Latvia to be on its 100th anniversary and what do we ourselves want to be? We have already started planning the cultural agenda of the centenary celebrations by opening doors to new ideas, opportunities and achievements. We will be able to bead these pearls of cultural excellence in one wreath to be worn with pride and confidence. But we also have to find solutions for reducing the income gap so that the wearer of this splendid wreath at least has decent footwear.Social inequality, which has reached a critical level, has to be reduced before Latvia’s centenary. Poverty is a matter of national security because it threatens democracy and creates risks for Latvia.
During the upcoming years we have to assess and overcome the consequences of the totalitarian communist regime in a deliberate and structured manner. The independent democratic state of Latvia has to be clearly distinguished from the Latvia that was governed by the Soviet occupation regime and its mind-set. We have to free our minds, thoughts and worldviews from the residues of occupation. The state has to create an opportunity to unburden the conscience and settle scores with the past for those who want to do so. This step must not be delayed. In contrast to the experience rooted in the violent past, when human life and dignity were of no value, in today’s Latvia an individual has to be regarded as the greatest value. Instead of economic plans, a human being has to be the measure of everything. Only in this way will we ensure mutual respect and goodwill among friends and relatives, as well as strangers – something that is not yet characteristic of our society.Such a Latvia would be more attractive also to Latvians living abroad because a modern Latvian may have several domiciles, but only one place called home.
The state of Latvia was born late in the year. We have already learned to fill gloomy November with the light of candles, the magic of fire and shining wonders of light in the streets of our capital. By being together at these moments we express our patriotism and love towards our state. Just like other European states we can say that Latvia is doing alright. But it is not enough. Latvia will really be alright when all of its people feel alright. Latvia is all of us together with our longings, hopes and strength.
May Latvia live forever!
I congratulate all Latvians and all people of Latvia near or far on the 96th anniversary of our state.
God bless Latvia!