25 years of the restored Latvia
Honourable President of Latvia,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear fellow countrymen,
Twenty-five years have elapsed since the restoration of Latvia’s independence. On this date a quarter of a century ago we witnessed the triumph of righteousness over injustice and the rebirth of truth. The Supreme Council adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia.
This was the beginning of the revival of our statehood, which was forcefully disrupted by the Soviet occupation.
Many Latvian citizens were not destined to live to see the day on which our independence was restored. Many waited for that day their whole lives until they finally witnessed this turning point in Latvia’s history. The Cold War generation, to which I also belong, experienced the regaining of our independence as children and youths.
On 4 May 1990 the statehood of Latvia was restored on the basis of the principle of state continuity: that is, as the successor of the state of Latvia that was founded on 18 November 1918. That is enshrined also in the preamble of the Constitution, which was adopted by the Saeima last June.
Under the Soviet occupation, several generations of Latvians were raised in isolation from the rest of the world. Nevertheless, most people managed to sustain intellectual allegiance to Europe and its values. They refused to recognise the occupation rule and never forgot the suffering inflicted upon the state of Latvia and its people. Resistance against the occupying regime lived on in various forms.
Even in the darkest hour people preserve the timeless values. Our escape from 50 years of oppression and stagnation attests to that. We were capable of demanding and regaining freedom.
Most of the Latvian people, along with the country’s ethnic minorities, desired to restore Latvia as a democratic European nation state.
Members of the human rights group Helsinki-86 were the first activists. The Latvian National Independence Movement proposed to restore the statehood of Latvia on the principle of state continuity. The Citizens’ Congress elaborated and promoted the legal principles of state continuity. The Popular Front of Latvia united all the movements that shared the goal of restoring the statehood of Latvia established on 18 November 1918.
In spite of seemingly irreconcilable differences that led to rivalry and conflicts among these groups, they all shared the common goal of restoring the statehood of Latvia.
But not everyone had the same vision. Some residents of Latvia wanted the Soviet occupying regime to stay here forever so that even a formally independent Latvia would be a continuation of the Latvian SSR. Most of them were citizens of the USSR who had come here as a result of the colonisation policy perpetrated by the Soviet occupying regime. They formed the Interfront and demanded legitimisation of the consequences of the 50-year-long occupation that had deeply scarred Latvia’s land and society.
Popular opinion was reflected in the results of a poll carried out on 3 March 1991 – 1.2 million people expressed a desire for an independent Latvia, while 400,000 were against it. Twenty-one years later the ideological successors of those who had opposed the statehood of Latvia organised a referendum on introducing a second official language. The citizens of Latvia firmly rejected the motion, with a ¾ majority thus once again reaffirming Latvia to be an independent, democratic and national state whose only official language is Latvian.
Ladies and gentlemen,
By taking the restoration of independence on 4 May as a point of reference, today we can assess our national development over the past 25 years.
Latvia’s public institutions have been restored successfully. The democratic Constitution of Latvia has been in effect for 22 years. The preamble of the Constitution – its permanent core – now defines the fundamental values of the state.
After 4 May, Latvia’s society, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, underwent a historically unprecedented transition to the market economy. While our friends in the West and we ourselves believed that Latvia’s economy would quickly and smoothly adapt to the free market model of the old democracies, resources remained in the hands of the same people who held them in the Latvian SSR. Taking advantage of the financial resources and contacts of the Communist Party, the KGB and the Communist Youth Union, former Soviet conformists and collaborationists became wealthy businessmen. They were primarily concerned with securing their own well-being, rather than that of the state and nation. They were the ones who turned democracy in Latvia into a pseudo-democracy, passing off a jungle economy for the free market and dictating to the whole country rules beneficial only to themselves. For many this created bitterness that eventually turned into distrust in the state.
Such a course of events crippled and impeded Latvia’s development.
Today we can say that to a large extent, although yet not completely, the oligarchs have been pushed out of public administration structures. However, in the economy they continue to undermine the strategic interests of the state by concluding deals that threaten Latvia’s security.
Greed and craving for ever more money are the greatest threats to Latvia.
The state’s existence in line with the interests of the people is also threatened by the influence that money has over political parties and the authorities. A former KGB officer, currently a representative in Latvia of a giant Russian holding company, recently announced that the Saeima should consist of 100 millionaires. That would presumably guarantee successful national development.
Latvia is a republic where the power belongs to the people, not to 100 millionaires. And that is fair.
Jānis Čakste, the President of the Constitutional Assembly, the first President of Latvia and one of the founding fathers of the democratic Latvia, once said, ‘We must put the state of Latvia above everything else. There should be no interest groups, there is only common interest. We need to sacrifice our interests for the sake of free Latvia.’ ‘Truth will always prevail,’ Čakste said.
A lot of work still needs to be done in order to eradicate blatant distortions of justice. Public institutions must defend the interests of the wealthy and the less well-off with equal force and concern. Justice and social equality must be like sunlight that shines equally brightly over those who strut on polished hardwood floors and those who tread uneven cobblestones. This is the way to build public trust and strengthen the state.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Latvia is a nation state. It is based on the desire of the Latvian nation to establish, maintain and develop its own nation state – a state where all citizens have equal rights and where ethnic minorities can also nurture their language and culture.
It means that the Latvian language, culture, and collective memory are shared by all citizens of Latvia – that is the prerequisite and basis for the existence of the political nation. Therefore, the state of Latvia must prevent others from arbitrarily distorting its history or downplaying its importance.
The free and democratic state of Latvia must condemn the totalitarian regimes of the past and the crimes they committed.
In Latvia, we are still merely talking about the need to conduct a state-funded comprehensive study of the Soviet occupation regime, the activity of the KGB, and the Communist Party – the backbone of the totalitarian regime. In politically much harsher circumstances, Ukraine recently adopted a law on elimination of the consequences of the communist regime. The law envisages lustration and lifting the veil of secrecy covering the KGB archives, thus making them accessible to the entire society, not just scholars. However, in Latvia, the study of KGB files was delayed and hindered, thus obstructing the assessment of the past and the ability to overcome it; we have to do it, without further delay.
The position of the Latvian language has strengthened during 25 years; many non-Latvians are proficient in the Latvian language and successfully use it in their daily life. Meanwhile, not all Latvians have sufficient respect for their language and statehood; we do not always speak Latvian, neither are we able to keep the language environment vibrant and inclusive of other ethnicities. It is shameful that 25 years after the renewal of Latvia’s independence Latvians are not eligible for a job unless they also speak Russian. Such discrimination is not permissible.
Unfortunately, the education system is still segregated on the basis of ethnicity, thus dividing Latvian society even further. But we should have already solved it long ago. Those who were born in the early 1990’s should have had an opportunity to grow up in a system of common values and schools, instead of a world divided on the basis of ethnicity and language, as maintained by the current education system in Latvia.
4 May set in motion another significant process – we had to regain or acquire the capacity for self-determination and to take responsibility for our state.
The state of Latvia is not separated from us. We are the state of Latvia – its strength is built on our faith in ourselves, our devotion to our people and our state. The strongest defence lines are those which wind through our hearts and minds.
Particularly crucial is the Latgale region, where we recently observed attempts to evoke separatist leanings. Just like during a real war, messages from our enemy which daily appear in media take a variety of forms, but they express the same idea: that Latvia is a failed state, not worth defending, and that perhaps somebody else can rule us better and more effectively. The goal of these manipulations is to plant in people’s minds interests of another state instead of their own.
We will not let that happen.
Patriotism is spreading and intensifying in Latvia’s society. Besides official non-governmental organisations, genuine popular movements are springing up. Growing civic consciousness can be observed in social networks where people discuss political events on a daily basis. Latvians have their hearts in the right place – there is a strong feeling of compassion and a tradition of charity. We are able to mobilise our efforts to help those affected by the tragedy in Zolitūde and to assist Ukraine. Considerable labours of love are carried out by Latvian foster families which raise abandoned or orphaned children. The growing ranks of Young Guard and National Guard attest that both young people and adults are willing and ready to defend their land, people and state.
Dear fellow countrymen! We are still on our way towards future Latvia which we dreamt about 25 years ago – a Latvia governed by justice and characterised by more cohesive values and ideas; a Latvia in which we see ourselves as a capable and powerful nation; a Latvia in which respect and benevolence towards others is a part of daily life, and where all citizens feel secure regarding themselves and their future; a Latvia where more children are born, thus increasing our numbers and the spiritual strength of our nation; a Latvia where the Latvian nation, language and culture have an opportunity to grow and flourish.
We have already done a lot. But let us not shy away from hardships which we face in the pursuit of our dream for our state, because we want it to come true!
Now that we have restored our freedom, we must make further steps in strengthening it.
Let us keep Latvia close to our hearts and high in our thoughts!
Let me congratulate the audience, all fellow countrymen and those loyal to Latvia near and far on the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of Latvia!
May Latvia live forever!
God bless Latvia!