Esteemed Prime Minister,
Distinguished members of the Saeima,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over time, major historical events transform into legends, symbols and emotional peaks that provide strength.
The vote taken by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia on 4 May twenty-eight years ago was one such epochal event – the culmination of the Awakening, the restoration of independence. Alongside the proclamation of the state on 18 November 1918, this is the second most important moment in our country’s history.
Today we remember it as a miracle – the day when the “golden knight upon his golden horse” rode up the Glass Mountain and awoke Princess Saulcerīte. But it was not the hero Saulvedis who achieved the impossible. We awakened ourselves and changed our destiny.
The immense strength of the people was concentrated in that vote with the goal to free ourselves from a foreign power and to manifest the deepest love for our own state, language, culture and heritage.
Freedom is our people’s highest moral principle.
However, behind every historical turning point, there are hundreds of invisible efforts that, brick by brick, lay the foundation and serve as a springboard for the highest goal to be attained.
Behind the 4 May vote, there stood hundreds and thousands of people. They were the ones who formed the strong support network throughout Latvia and made possible the victory of the Popular Front at the March 1990 elections. They were the ones coordinating the Barricades in January 1991, when unarmed civilians, empowered by faith in themselves and an independent Latvia, stood up for our freedom. They were the ones who helped rally people for the referendum in March 1991, which needed to intercept the Moscow imposed referendum on preserving the USSR.
Our gratitude goes to everyone who assisted in these invisible efforts and supported them, to everyone who was not afraid to put in their work and their time, to everyone who rose up and said: “Who else, if not me?!”
This October we will mark the 30th anniversary of the founding congress of the Popular Front of Latvia. The Popular Front was the largest Latvian people’s movement we have ever seen. Back then we stood shoulder to shoulder in rank and file.
The power of the people was awakened!
Dear members of the Supreme Council,
Alongside the 138 members who voted in favour of the 4 May Declaration on the Restoration of Independence, I would like to express my deepest respect to everyone who was involved in the drafting of this historical document – the lawyers, academics and experts.
In his report about the drafting of the declaration, Romāns Apsītis has highlighted the contribution of Egils Levits.
The draft prepared by Mr.Levits became the backbone of the final declaration.
The initial declaration was further developed by Rolands Rikards and Vilnis Eglājs. Immense input came from Gunārs Kusiņš, Aivars Endziņš, Tālavs Jundzis, Andrejs Krastiņš and many others – each with their own vision and courage, yet working towards the highest goal.
They created a document that helped achieve the greatest feat – restore the state of Latvia.
Another cornerstone of the 4 May declaration was formed by the municipalities of Latvia. Aware of the importance of the task that lay before the Supreme Council members of the Popular Front in this very building on 4 May, the All-Latvia Meeting of People’s Deputies was convened in Daugava Stadium on 21 April. The meeting was attended by 8086 members of local councils from all regions of Latvia. They were the first ones who voted in favour of the declaration on the restoration of national independence – by a majority of over 8000 votes.
As Dainis Īvāns, Chair of the Popular Front of Latvia, said: “Perhaps this was the greatest mission for Latvia’s municipalities in the history of Latvia. Without it, perhaps we would still be living unfree.”
It was the will of the people that drove the state power to take the only right decision.
Today, the Citizens’ Congress is remembered undeservedly rarely. However, it was of great significance in the maintenance of the idea of the state continuity. Thanks to an initiative of the Citizens’ Congress, the registration of Latvian citizens commenced and more than 700 000 citizens and their descendants were registered within less than 6 months.
Back then this move was not at all self-evident. The Popular Front understood and accepted this idea only after heated discussions.
Thanks to freedom of thought, unwavering patriotism and steadfast logic, the only possible road was taken – by adopting the doctrine on the continuity of the state.
All of this was accomplished with patience and determination – as if weaving an intricate pattern; and with care and caution – as if planning a prison break.
It was a great time and great minds furthering the development of events.
Today, we must also be great in what we think and what we do to be able to defend our Latvia!
Ladies and gentlemen,
Back then, we faced dilemmas and decisions as well – whether to restore independence through the parliamentary route or seek an international legal solution; whether an evolution or revolution was needed; whether to be hard as steel or nimble as a brook bypassing a rock.
Today we can say with pride that, undoubtedly, the best result has been achieved. Latvia is a democratic, socially responsible and national state governed by the rule of law. This is cemented in our Constitution.
Latvia is a part of Western Civilisation, the European political and cultural space, the North Atlantic security space and the OECD bloc of the 35 most developed countries in the world.
At decisive times, Latvians will link up into a solid chain, connect to each other by unseen tethers and make the right choice together. This was the case when restoring independence, this has been the case at all important turning points. Had it not been so, the state of Latvia would not exist.
We also thank our friends and allies from around the globe who came to our aid!
Where were we 28 years ago?
The situation of the day has been chronicled in several documents, which the Supreme Council on 4 May 1990 approved alongside the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence.
The Appeal to the People of Latvia provides a concise description of the events that took place over the fifty years of Soviet occupation – artificially generated migration, forced assimilation, deprecation of Latvian culture, extermination of the culture of minorities living in Latvia, disruption of the natural balance in national relations, not to even mention economic decay.
The legislature of that time clearly stated that the restoration of independence was and is a matter of survival for the Latvian nation.
The future of our people and existence of our state is a matter of culture, ideology and morale.
We will defend these values!
We are aware that there are still many people living in Latvia who consider our country’s independence a thorn in their side.
These people still attempt to impose their imperialistic views upon others, they demand special rights for themselves and wish to dictate their own rules to us, ignoring the laws and language of the country in which they live. They attempt to discredit Latvia internationally by propagating false and distorted news.
They cannot bear to have been stripped of the privileges guaranteed to them by the imperialistic Soviet power.
Our response is a resounding “No!” Just as freedom itself, the state of Latvia and the Latvian language are our legitimate rights that can only be implemented fully in a national state, a Latvian Latvia. The Latvian identity is ingrained in the very idea of the state of Latvia – in its very heart. The state of Latvia was founded and its independence restored so that the Latvian nation may exist. We have to admit that we have not yet done enough to cement the identity of a Latvian Latvia; we have yet to fully overcome the consequences of the Soviet occupation.
Therefore, I thank the patriots of Latvia of all ethnicities, who on a daily basis through their attitudes and work demonstrate loyalty to our state and respect for the values which unite us.
Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Moral rights to freedom alone do not a free society make. A natural, deep-seated respect for justice and the rule of law is also needed.
The parliament has been given the authority to draft legislation and help create an environment where laws are respected and actually work.
We, members of the 12th Saeima, have worked on several draft laws of great importance. They have improved our security, energy independence, demographics, business environment and many other areas.
Our decisions have helped instil the values and ultimate goals of the Constitution into our daily life.
Recently, we voted for amendments to the Education Law launching transition to an education exclusively in the official language. But people wonder – why did it take twenty-eight years for the Saeima to make this decision?
Some mistook the delayed decision on education in the official language for an act of kindness towards the non-Latvian population, while in reality the delay has harmed the cohesion of our society and strengthening of the position of the Latvian language.
Rather, it was political cowardice that has been dragging us back into the past for nearly thirty years.
Our language constitutes the identity of our people and our state. Currently it needs a second wind. For once again it is running out of air to breathe.
Therefore, the vote on education in the Latvian language is as important as the parliamentary vote on the preamble of the Constitution.
There is another painful problem that still stifles us and stands in our way to prosperity.
It is corruption that pushes us down to the ground as a heavy burden. For some it is a source of dirty money, while for everybody else it destroys faith and trust in fairness.
Corruption degrades the value of a state, harms its sustainability and reputation. It erodes political, judicial and moral standards. It dismantles democracy.
Fight against corruption is also a matter of security.
Brian Whitmore, journalist at Radio Free Europe has characterised the Kremlin’s interests as follows: “Putin’s Russia seeks to spread its corrupt business model to establish a bloc of nations dependent upon the Kremlin”.
In our daily work, we do not think of corruption in geopolitical terms. Entrepreneurs encounter corrupt public procurements, law enforcement offices combat bribery, smuggling and money laundering.
We do our homework to reduce the risks of political corruption. One of the most challenging aspects in this respect is the internet, where attempts are made to use social media as instruments of political influence. The political party financing law has been amended to enable a stricter control over political donations.
However, in terms of corruption perception we still have not reached the breaking point.
Latvians have an extensive experience in nonviolent resistance. This approach could also work against corruption. We all could agree to no longer give bribes, to have no tolerance towards abuse of power, to shun those who have been dishonest or acted against the law.
The judicial fishing net must be fine enough to catch the small fish, and tough enough to hold the pressure of the large catch.
Recent developments clearly show that sometimes the catch may turn out to be surprisingly heavy.
Society could focus its moral strength to fight against corruption, and in the end we would be surprised how much we all gain from it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Saeima has decided to open the so called KGB archives, and the committee for studying the archives will propose a way to do it. The archives must be unveiled by the end of this year.
We will have to scrutinise our past. We will have to face it calmly and with utmost responsibility. We will learn not only the names of KGB informers but also agents and recruiters. We will also learn the names of the Communist party officials who directly supervised the work of the KGB and gave direct orders.
This will require dedication and great moral effort from the entire society. But there is no other way. We must be open, we must talk about these matters, and we must explain them.
As we untie this painful knot that smothers our nation, we will emerge as a much stronger society.
Our moral values are also the common European democratic values. Never before has our state been so deeply rooted in Western democratic institutions.
Latvia has wonderful neighbours, with which we work closely together in the Baltic and Nordic region. However, we also have a very difficult neighbour.
Regrettably, the Kremlin only sees enemies around it. Rattling of weapons, unforeseeable and provocative demeanour, cyber and hybrid-threats have become a daily occurrence in the Baltic Sea region and beyond. The entire Western democracy senses the threat.
It is clear for the transatlantic society that there will be no immediate changes. The only response left is to strengthen our security and defence, to strengthen the cooperation between Europe and NATO.
I applaud our achievements in the area of defence. It is due to the joint efforts of the patriots of Latvia that we are able to celebrate the centennial of our state in security.
I would like to thank our national Armed Forces, the National Guard, and the troops from NATO member states who stand shoulder to shoulder on the Latvian land, taking care of its security.
Supporting our National Guard is an honourable deed. I would like to thank all the entrepreneurs who understand this and do it.
National security and defence must be developed also beyond the military domain. The Kremlin’s information warfare makes it increasingly difficult to protect the borders of cyberspace and the borders in our minds.
The most protected state is the one where its protection is a matter of honour for each and every member of its society.
Since the regaining of the independence, a whole new generation has emerged – the children of independence. A generation of free, independent and confident youths.
Now they are the ones creating the vision for the development of our state in its next centenary.
Education plays a crucial role in this path. It is also directly linked to the economic growth of our state. This includes the so called “difficult subjects” – mathematics and natural sciences. Just as languages and innovation-oriented thinking.
Quality education remains the coveted top of the Glass Mountain, which can only be reached through persistence and a drive for excellence.
Another element that drives growth and motivates society is the growth of the middle class, which constitutes the very core of every strong nation, and we must continue to develop it.
I am also happy about the Diaspora Law currently drafted by the Parliament.
One sixth of Latvians reside outside of Latvia; this is our diaspora, which needs assistance in preserving its national identity, language and culture. We must reach out to those willing to return to their home country.
Without the support of our diaspora, Latvia would be a different place today.
Esteemed Members of the 12th Saeima,
Thank you for your work in this convocation! Thank you for your resolve in making decisions essential for our society.
The centennial of our state is the right moment for us to once again form a human chain.
Esteemed citizens of Latvia,
We have a common task of creating a strong foundation that would keep Latvia safe and ensure its development even during the most demanding times of change.
We should also keep this in mind in five months, when electing the new Saeima. Let us not divide the strength of our people, let us not allow ourselves to get involved in risky pre-election experiments! It is our Latvia that has to win this election. This is what matters.
I recently read what the children of independence themselves think of patriotism. They say: “I want the land where I was born and raised to go on and to grow. I want the nature, the worldview of our people, the intellect and the moral values to remain intact.”
They believe that patriotism means working towards this goal, to invest their efforts, time and thoughts – to make life in Latvia better, to have plenty of air and space for the Latvian identity.
Yes! Latvia is the best place in the world for us to live. This is the place where we were born, where we raise our children. This is where we feel the strength of the land on our fingertips, where the sea teaches us about infinity, where we plant oak trees for continuity.
This is where we gather at the Freedom Monument and look up to the three stars. This is where we sing “Castle of Light” at the Song Festival.
Dear compatriots in Latvia and across the world,
All patriots of Latvia,
Latvia is a part of us, and it genuinely needs us.
Let us protect our state!
May Latvia live forever!
God bless Latvia!