Honourable Mister President,
Dear Members of the Saeima and the Supreme Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today is a big day for Latvia. Today we praise the victory of our nation’s wisdom, courage, and foresight. We celebrate the victory we gained with our bare hands a quarter of a century ago. The rule of law and parliamentarism were our sword, and non-violent resistance was our shield.
On this day 25 years ago, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia passed the Constitutional Law on the Statehood of the Republic of Latvia, thus restoring the de facto statehood of the country.
On 21 August 1991, the immense elation we witnessed on 4 May 1990 at the Saeima building was absent. Missing were the thousands of bonfires that had warmed our bodies and ignited our hearts at the time of the Barricades. A stark warning was given to the Latvian officials on the very first day of the reactionary Putsch, 19 August 1991, by the Headquarters of the Baltic Military District of the Soviet Army: if your people take to the streets, they will be crushed by tanks. Although extremely frightening, it did not stop us. We chose the rule of law and parliamentarism as our weapons.
Every legal step we made back then carried enormous weight. The vote on the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia in 1990, forming of the new government shortly after, continuous law and decision-making – each of these steps made us more and more independent.
Latvia’s foreign affairs reached a new stage. We drafted laws on land reform, military service, currency switch, and citizenship. It must be emphasised that our Citizenship Law, finalised in 1993, is still one of the most liberal laws of its kind in Europe. These efforts paved Latvia’s way towards irrevocable independence.
Back then, during the Putsch, we were certain that, even if the Soviet troops broke through the doors of the parliament within minutes of the adoption of the Constitutional Law, the legitimate decision to restore our statehood would not vanish. It would never ever be severed from the international law and history.
Non-violent resistance was our other weapon.
Gene Sharp, Professor at the Albert Einstein Institution, USA, a great friend of the Baltics and also known as the Clausewitz of non-violent action, said the following in his speech at the international conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Barricades in Riga:
“How was it even possible that the Soviet Union was defeated by three small countries like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia?
These three little countries won because they were smart! They were courageous and far-sighted.
You, Latvians, did what was considered impossible. Your brotherly nations, Estonia and Lithuania, acted similarly and won. You did it despite the occupation imposed by the Red Army and backed by the Committee for State Security and the Communist Party. You made it against the odds at a time when Latvians barely constituted the majority of the country’s population.”
“For this victory, you owe gratitude to no one else but yourselves,” Sharp underlined.
Yes, this was our struggle. The struggle of Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians. It was our fight and our victory.
The struggle of the Baltics was special, because it was a fight for our freedom, democracy, and independent state. Struggle to protect our values!
Later, in September 1991, Latvia received congratulation on its international recognition from Grigory Yavlinsky, a democratic Russian politician, who in his letter to the Latvian Supreme Council pointed out that the national liberation movement of the Baltic peoples contributed to a large extent to the activation of the democratic processes in the then Soviet Union. Yavlinsky expressed confidence that the Baltic revival would undoubtedly continue to promote the development of democratic civil society not only in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, but also in other sovereign states – former soviet republics.
And we know what happened a bit later – in December of that same year, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
The Baltic perseverance, tenacity, and thirst for freedom left no one indifferent. The January events had made the West change its stance. The first ones who rushed to our support were our closest friends and neighbours. Those were the Nordic countries, and their speakers of parliament stand by our side today as well.
Already in January 1991, Swedish Riksdag deputy speaker Bertil Fiskesjö addressed the Latvian Supreme Council with a speech that condemned the use of Soviet military force in the Baltic States. Shortly after the January events, Latvia hosted parliamentary delegations of Denmark, Finland, and Norway. The Nordic Council’s invitation to the first joint meeting reached Latvia even prior to the de facto independence, in June 1991. In August, Iceland wrote a memorable page in our history by becoming the first country in the world to internationally recognise the restored Republic of Latvia.
We greatly appreciate our friends, and Latvia has many of them around the world. We have gathered here today with our brotherly nations, Lithuanians and Estonians, with representatives from the Nordic countries, as well as with our strategic partners from the United States. We are joined in our celebration by representatives from the European Union and NATO member states, including Canada. Our friends from the Eastern Partnership countries, including Ukraine, are here as well. We are happy that we can celebrate with so many friends!
Dear Latvian people,
We ourselves are the source of our pride. Today I most sincerely thank everyone who did not quail 25 years ago. Those three already remote August days were a serious test of conscience, courage, and confidence. What to do in a moment crucial for one’s country – to stand up for what one values and cherishes, or to flee from a preeminent force? An overwhelming majority passed this test and can now remember it with pride.
A most sincere thank you to journalists, especially those Latvian Radio people who had set up an underground radio station in advance and for two days were non-stop broadcasting news for us!
Thank you to the staff members of the Press Centre of the Supreme Council who kept on relentlessly providing information to the local and Western media. Thank you to everyone who was documenting the events of that day, informing fellow countrymen, and was not afraid to show contempt for traitors and enemies. Thank you, courageous people!
Let us also thank the wise and the far-sighted – the Latvian Popular Front, which had drafted an action plan for emergency situations well in advance. I also thank the staff members of the Supreme Council who were selflessly working to ensure the legislative process.
Thank you once again to the members of the Supreme Council. You did not cower – and you did adopt the Law when the Dome Square was already swarming with armoured vehicles.
We have to thank each and every one of us for our country!
Let us remember today the opponents of Latvian independence too. Your counteraction back then made us mobilise. And we continue to attach importance to taking control of the national defence – to keeping a sword and a shield handy in the military sense as well. We have our own armed forces, and we have reliable NATO allies.
Today I especially commend the Latvian National Guard, which also celebrates its 25th anniversary. We are proud of you!
Every day we must ask ourselves – what can we do for our own good, for our future, and for the sake of Latvia? What is it that no one else can do for us?
Today our paramount strategy consists in the three goals enshrined in the preamble to our Constitution – to guarantee the existence of the Latvian nation throughout the centuries, to ensure preservation and development of the Latvian language and culture, and to promote welfare of each individual and all the population.
How to achieve these goals? Each governmental action should be taken so that people can clearly envision their own and their children's futures. Clear priorities make it easier to organise every aspect of life – politically and economically, too. We have already achieved a lot in this respect. Much more than we could have imagined 25 years ago. Our abilities are great, and our capacity becomes stronger by day. That is because our strength lies in our courage, education, and patriotism. That is why the time is right to say to the Latvians around the world: "We want you back!" and to build a Latvia where people want to return.
The time of awaiting Latvia’s centennial should mark a new peak in our country's history – with a stronger sense of statehood and awareness of one’s roots, more solid economy, greater social security. And together we will achieve it!
I guess everyone has noticed how many young families with prams can be seen in Latvia in recent years. We meet them everywhere – at city and town festivals, at the Mass of the Assumption in Aglona, taking a stroll along the sea, and just in the streets. Increasingly, families have more children.
We must strengthen family, its value and role. Today’s prams carry those who will run our country in 30–40 years, in mid-21st century. Our mission today is to give these babies the best we can, namely, roots and wings. Values as roots and opportunities as wings.
We still need our courage, wisdom, and foresight. The same ones that we had when we fought for our own country and when we finally founded it on 18 November 1918. That helped us endure and survive fifty years of occupation. The courage, wisdom, and foresight that empowered us to regain our independence 25 years ago.
With our nation’s courage, wisdom, and foresight, Latvia will live through the centuries to come!
May Latvia live forever!