Address by Speaker of the Saeima at the celebratory Saeima sitting in honour of the 99th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Republic of Latvia

(18.11.2017.)

Honourable Mr President,

Honourable Prime Minister,

Members of Parliament, ministers,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear compatriots, 

 

18 November 1918 was the historic day when, 99 year ago, our independent state of Latvia was proclaimed. This day has since become a symbol of our fate, a sign of our strength, it is our celebration!

However, the national awareness of the people of Latvia and the desire for a state of their own did not appear out of thin air. It took shape over the course of many years. The symbolic markers towards the end of this journey were the call to set up Latvian Riflemen battalions and the establishing of Latvian refugee committees in 1915; the lives lost at Death Island (Nāves sala) in 1916; the Latgale Latvian Congress in Rēzekne and the founding of the Latvian Provisional National Council in Valka in 1917.

Our country was born after World War I because of the will of the people, their ability to unite for a common goal, and an accurate understanding of the new trends emerging in global geopolitical processes. At that time, the map of Europe saw not only the addition of Latvia, but also other new nation-states – Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The Baltic States later managed to regain their independence again – after 50 years of occupation.

We take pride in the fact that Latvia, as a European state, built the principles of parliamentarianism and democracy into its foundations from the very beginning. These are the cornerstones upon which the Constitution of Latvia stands, and they were the bedrock upon which we restored the Republic of Latvia in 1990.

The restoration of our state did not occur suddenly or by accident either. Like a crimson-white-crimson thread emerging from the Declaration on the Restoration of the State of Latvia adopted in 1944 by the Latvian Central Council, the dream of freedom endured two occupation regimes and World War II. This declaration inspired national partisans to keep up armed resistance to the occupation for 10 years after the war.

Latvians in exile cherished and defended the idea of an independent state for nearly 50 years.

Love for Latvia was present in 1958 and 1959 when the intellectual elite of the day took a stand to protect the Koknese canyon and Staburags cliff. Yearning for liberty lived on in the minds, words and deeds of the national resistance movement members and dissidents persecuted by the KGB. And eventually – in the late 1980s – all of the threads linked together to form the wave of the Third Awakening.

The people of Latvia said YES to their language and culture, YES to freedom and independence, YES to their own state within Western civilisation and European political space.

Democratic processes and traditions of parliamentarianism played a crucial role in the restoration of Latvia’s independence.

 

Dear Members of Parliament,

Parliamentarianism and democracy are the foundations upon which the state of Latvia stands.

Therefore, our paramount task today is to reinforce these foundations and not succumb to attempts to undermine or disrupt them. The Saeima must work to raise its own image.

The Saeima is an institution elected by the people of Latvia. The Saeima has been awarded the highest mandate in the state – through the votes of more than 900 000 citizens. Every single day we must justify the trust placed in us. The parliament has to be able to adopt such laws that benefit the entire society.

Dear colleagues,

This is the last 18 November that we celebrate in this convocation – as the 12th Saeima. A year from now, Latvia’s centennial in this chamber will be commemorated by the 13th Saeima.

Let us work in a way that merits ever more trust from our people! The cornerstone and key of political culture is respect. Respect for each other and every single member of society. Without the foundation of mutual respect, political processes are not sustainable either. We need to be able to explain how every law drafted in the Saeima, every step taken by the government is aimed at ensuring the prosperity of our land, nation, state and people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Next year is a Saeima election year. It is wonderful to see voters in Latvia becoming ever more demanding, politically knowledgeable and critical. This is attested by the amount of pluses and deletions that candidates have received on ballot papers in recent years. During the election of the 12th Saeima, more than 60% of the ballots were altered.

Next year we will elect the parliament that will lead Latvia into its next century.

Politicians must be more responsible in the promises they give before elections by explaining how the political goals of their parties will benefit the whole of society.

Political parties must put forth candidates who enjoy voter respect and can conscientiously fulfil their duties as representatives of the people.

I hope that the members of parliament who will convene at the Saeima for the speaker’s address on 18 November next year, will generate confidence that the future of the state of Latvia is in safe hands, and that the voters can, in general, be satisfied with the choice they have made.

 

Dear audience, When explaining why his company had financially supported films dedicated to Latvia’s centennial, entrepreneur Juris Binde recently said: “Our task is to regularly remind ourselves that the Latvian nation is not a bunch of hapless ragamuffins, but rather a nation with its own culture that lost its freedom more than once, but also gained it more than once”.

Latvia has always had an astounding amount of people with a clear set of values, strong backbone, immense selflessness and love for their homeland. We see such people as our leaders, our spiritual measure, the salt of our Earth.

It is a tremendous pleasure that youths who were born after the restoration of Latvia’s independence are free in their thinking, that the democratic system and a sense of their own capabilities come naturally to them. The patriotism of the young generation, which has become especially pronounced over recent years, is an inspiration to us all.

Latvians have always passionately pursued education. Even in the direst of circumstances, fathers and mothers have sought to school their children. That is precisely why our people have been able to recognise their potential and take hold of their own destiny.

Education is in the limelight today as well. In the discussions about the school reform, let us be great in spirit and stay true to what is most important – the quality of education.

Latvians have never measured the value of a school by the kilometres it takes to get there, but by the knowledge that the school provides. It should be a matter-of-course that youths attain a sense of Latvian statehood and values at school.

We have finally agreed on gradual transition to education in the official language. This transition has received conceptual support from the Advisory Council on Minority Education. This is a task that should have been completed a long time ago.

The language issue should have been exhausted in 2012, when at the national referendum three quarters of a million voters expressed their unequivocal desire for only one official language in Latvia. The matter has been decided!

Unfortunately, we still have not done away with the bad habit of quickly switching to another language in conversation with non-native speakers, even if the other party is willing to speak Latvian.

By not persisting with the official language in public communication, we are actually doing a disservice to the non-native speakers. And who needs that?!

We have chosen to live in a European, national and democratic state. But what does democracy actually mean today when the word seems worn-out to many, when various laxities, insults, even hate speech are misrepresented as an expression of democracy?

Our system of values is like the DNA that our parents have passed on to us and that we, in turn, pass on to our children, generation after generation. Democracy itself is founded on values, and a task of democracy is also to ensure that our national values are cherished and protected.

Our values are Latvian identity, traditions, respect and self-respect. Our language, culture and nature. Our loyalty to our homeland, and the human being as the paramount value.

Values are the compass that constantly guides us in our choices. Attempts are being made to damage this compass, so as to set our nation off course politically.

Until recently, our vocabulary did not contain such terms as “troll factory”, “fake news”, or “stolen elections”. Now, we have come to understand the need for countermeasures at the European level.

Even technologically advanced Western countries with democratic traditions reaching back for centuries acknowledge that during pre-election periods they have experienced attempts to influence voter decisions. There have been cyber attacks, outright misinformation campaigns, and outside support for specific candidates. The United States of America has seen this happen, and more and more European politicians are also speaking about the matter openly. Attempts are being made to weaken and split Europe. Our response is a Europe standing strong and united.

In Latvia, too, we occasionally see news in the media that are not based on facts or actual events. Reality is being artificially constructed to influence public opinion and the political processes in the country.

“Nothing is what it seems!” – that is the motto of hybrid warfare. And Western national security agencies are obtaining more evidence of the Kremlin’s strategic plans.

We, as a society, are becoming smarter; we have learned to recognise the traps sets by our foes and the Kremlin propaganda. They strive to feed us with such falsehoods as Latvia being a failed state with failed governance; they claim that the Soviet occupation did not take place; and they attempt to drive a wedge between us and our allied NATO forces deployed in Latvia. Disappointingly, one of the first ministers appointed by the renewed state of Latvia now engages in slandering the state of Latvia in Russian media, constantly referring to Latvia as a failed state. What should we call those among us who perpetuate the Kremlin propaganda? How do we safeguard the very foundations of the state of Latvia against the poison of information warfare? It is crucial to adhere to fundamental values, common sense, and the interests of our state. We need to rid ourselves of the residual Soviet mind-set.

We are all capable of acting for our own benefit and the benefit of our state. There is always place for constructive criticism that reveals negligence and imperfections. We cannot sweep shortcomings under the rug. The culprits must be punished. However, there is a difference between constructive criticism and whining. We should not act as grumbling back-seat drivers when it comes to our state. Pointless complaints degrade not only ourselves, but also our state. Each and every one of us can be Latvia’s knight in shining armour.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Occupation is still part of Europe’s reality, although it is the 21st century. The occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine continue. The European Union and the United States of America must maintain a unified and resolute stance against Russia; the sanctions must not be lifted until the Minsk Agreements are carried through. Europe simply cannot afford giving in to the complacency of ‘business as usual’ with Russia.

We must not take for granted the security of our region, and our NATO membership is the best security guaranty one can get. Our commitment is clear: we will keep Latvia safe. Yesterday, as part of our festivities, the Saeima hosted NATO troops from the USA, Canada, Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, and, of course, Latvia. There are representatives of so many nations protecting the security of our land.

 

Mr President, Members of Parliament and our government,

Celebrating 18 November on the eve of the centennial of our state is an overwhelming experience. It is also the right time to talk about the most important tasks ahead of us.

It is the families with children that will build the future of Latvia. We have increased the support for families with three and more children, foster families and custodians. We have embarked on the task, and it requires ongoing efforts. Undeniably, the family constitutes the strongest foundation of society. It is also a question of the continuity of our state.

As we approach Latvia’s centennial, we must do what it takes to ensure that all children live in a family, not an orphanage. Orphanages belong to the past; there are no excuses for them to still exist.

Another important question for anyone who cares about Latvia’s future is how to put in motion a centripetal force that would bring back to their homeland those who were forced to leave due to a pressing financial situation, due to negligent borrowing.

In order to achieve that, appropriate conditions should be established for our entrepreneurs to create more jobs. We must overcome another socially perilous phenomenon of undeclared income and the antagonistic experiences in interacting with public institutions. People expect e-governance to be effective, corruptive practices to be condemned, and communication with the public authorities, especially the State Revenue Service, to be mutually agreeable.

People long for a compassionate, respectful and forthcoming society.

As we await Latvia’s birthday, the internet news portal Delfi is publishing 99 reasons for people to stay in Latvia. Thank you for this initiative!

In the future Latvia must be a state of prosperity and a state of values. A state which takes care of its people much more.

 

Dear audience,

On this joyful event, I would like to express my gratitude.

To all the people of Latvia who have helped to reach the 99th anniversary of our state by making it more beautiful, more prosperous, more secure, more humane and inspirational. I am grateful to all patriots of Latvia, both of Latvian and other origins. I am grateful to all who are now far from Latvia but still cherish it in their hearts.

I am grateful to teachers, doctors, civil servants, entrepreneurs, farmers and everybody else who tirelessly do their best in accomplishing their daily tasks.

To all Latvian centenarians who I had the honour of meeting in Rundāle palace this summer. I am grateful to all the families who have given birth to babies over the past few years.

I am grateful to the energetic youths we meet at the Saeima during the Job Shadow Days and the Youth Parliament. I am grateful to the nongovernmental organisations who are ready to work with parliamentarians and help us better understand the needs of various groups of our society. I am grateful to the Government and the esteemed Members of Parliament, who, in spite of political collisions, manage to reach consensus on matters of national importance most of the time.

I am grateful to everyone who has brought Latvia in the spotlight of theatre stages, concert halls and film festivals. I am grateful to everyone who has rendered Latvia into a sports superpower.

I especially want to thank the troops of the National Armed Forces, the National Guard and the Youth National Guard.

We are grateful to the NATO allies for their solidarity and Canada for leading the allied forces in Latvia.

I am grateful to our partners in Europe and the transatlantic space. It is my conviction that by joining our efforts within the European Union we will achieve not only prosperity for Latvian people, but also their unwavering faith in the future of Europe.

I am grateful to all of you celebrating Latvia’s anniversary.

 

Dear compatriots near and far, those in Latvia and those around the world!

Regarding the founding of the state of Latvia, Kārlis Skalbe once said: “On the day of its proclamation, the state of Latvia was just a word, a breath that warms the cold air around us. Yet those who realised the dream of independent Latvia believed that the warmth will make roses bloom”.

Indeed, it is the warm breath of the people that has helped roses and our state of Latvia to bloom. As long we exist, as long as we breathe, as long as we want it, Latvia will go on. For this to be true, we need the support of each and every Latvian who maintains this will. For it is crucial to uphold our state, our homeland, and our freedom.

 

May Latvia live forever!

God bless Latvia!