Address by Edvards Smiltēns, Speaker of the Saeima, at the Saeima ceremonial sitting of 4 May 2023 in honour of the 33rd anniversary of the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia


Honourable Members of the Saeima,
Esteemed Members of the Supreme Council,
Dear guests,

Today we celebrate our Latvia! We are celebrating the 33rd anniversary since we restored the independence of the Republic of Latvia. On this day, I would like to especially thank all 138 members of the Supreme Council, brave men and women of Latvia, who made this historic decision. They took a historic and irreversible step towards Latvia’s freedom, independence, and democracy—at a time of uncertainty and danger. However, the support of the entire nation and their own firm conviction turned out to be stronger than all external threats and uncertainty. This support also allowed to withstand the difficult times of the barricades and the economic transformation that was required to adapt the communist planned economy imposed by the occupation to the free market and to reintegrate into the global economy. Courage, consensus, and consistency were the key to the success of 4 May. It is a great honour that today the Members of the Supreme Council, the heroes of the day so important for Latvia and all of us, are among us, here, in the main building of the Saeima, as well as follow the live broadcast. Colleagues, let us greet them with applause!

Thank you!


 It was not just the independence of Latvia that was restored on 4 May. It was the Republic of Latvia, founded on 18 November 1918, that was restored. The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia was restored, which starts with a clear message to the world in two extremely important words—Latvia EXISTS!

And that is why we thank all 138 who voted FOR. Among them Imants Ziedonis, who lives on in our memories, thoughts, and poetry. Just yesterday he would have turned 90.

Speaking of values and universal truths, to quote Imants Ziedonis, “When we find ourselves in the middle of love, we are restless, we want to go further and further, and, unknowingly, we go out of it.”

I would like to extend these words to our state. It was 33 years ago, when we restored democracy. Parliamentary democracy. A state system that 100 years ago was finely and thoughtfully enshrined in our Constitution, which has proved to be the safest, clearest, and strongest state architecture to ensure representation of the people’s interests and balanced governance. For all these years, we have consistently followed the path of parliamentary democracy. Perhaps the most difficult and the most complicated path, yet the correct one. However, restlessness reappears from time to time—some are trying to question this trustworthy architecture. Trying to go seemingly further and further out of pure parliamentary democracy, aiming to change the Constitution course to a semi-presidential model. Aiming to replace the President elected by the Saeima with an individual, a power concentrated in one hands.

So far, most of us have not yielded to the false temptation to submit to the strong-handed master. We have not reduced or given up parliamentary powers. Especially today, we can appreciate the choice we made. A brutal war, initiated by a violent dictator, an authoritarian, self-proclaimed tyrant who throws thousands of his citizens into prisons and commits savage war crimes—that is what can be expected from the strong-line “real masters” in the 21st century. Another important nuance from our own history—Kārlis Ulmanis, who destroyed parliamentary democracy through the coup d’état, on 8 October 1935 removed 1 May, the day of convening the Constitutional Assembly, from the list of days to be celebrated! Why? In order to erase from the memory of the people the greatest threat to authoritarianism and individual power— a parliamentary democracy chosen by the people. Parliamentarism destroys authoritarianism.

Today, the most valuable affirmation of our patriotism and love for our country, people, and state is to vigilantly safeguard parliamentary democracy, to strengthen the Saeima elected by the people! To protect the most sacred values—our freedom, independence, and democracy.


We have been consistent. We are a member of NATO and the EU, firmly integrated into a security and value system aimed at developing our countries, rather than grabbing and destroying others. We can feel safe because we consistently invest and will continue to invest in our defence, including by the recent adoption in the Saeima of the establishment of the National Defence Service. We feel safe because we can rely on the presence of our allies and preparedness of our people to protect our land.

However, that cannot be said about many others right here in Europe. Especially those who hesitated, postponed or changed their choices. We are now witnessing the high price of inconsistency in Ukraine, Moldova, and also Georgia.

Allow me to quote a contemporary Latvian philosopher who argues that it is not possible to divide freedom into political, economic, social, and other freedoms. I quote: “Freedom is not a set of freedoms or an optimal combination of them... Freedom is not possible in parts, it is either all at once, or not existing at all.”

Freedom either exists or does not exist. You cannot be partially free. This has been understood by people in Ukraine and Moldova, who want to join the civilised world. Even if it is as costly as the price the Ukrainian people are paying.

I would like to reiterate and emphasise that Latvia is a reliable ally of the peoples of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia (Sakartvelo) in this choice. Also because we ourselves had to make the harsh choice and realise that we would not be “partially free”, 75 or 80 percent free. In other words, we cannot imagine being a neutral “bridge” between incompatible value systems.

I would like to remind you that the Saeima has played an important role in this path towards greater clarity and choice in Latvia.

Namely, we see that there are countries where the political elites have tried to sit on two chairs at once, while other countries have tried to move faster towards democratic values; in Latvia, however, even as we have discussed and even argued on many issues, fundamental choices—choices in favour of freedom—have never been contested. No matter how much criticism our Parliament sometimes receives, in matters of fundamental choices it has always stood with the people.

The fact that we live in a time demanding clarity of thought and action also manifests in other ways. For instance, we are now welcoming Finland as a new member of NATO and hopefully we will soon be able to welcome Sweden as well.

As Russia is spreading death and devastation in Ukraine, the democratic world has met with such an unmistakable challenge to its security and values that the countries of the European Union and NATO have become even more united in understanding the level and origin of the threats.

It is often noted that the Baltic States had long warned their allies in the West of Russia’s imperialist nature, and the allies now admit that we were right. We have always clearly seen the true nature of our neighbour. On 21 April 1990, two weeks before the vote on 4 May, addressing the All-Latvian Assembly of Deputies, Imants Ziedonis, whose birthday was yesterday, said: “The persecutors pretend to be persecuted and still complain to the democratic Europe that the great shameless Baltic States want to crack down on the puny Russian empire. An elephant, stepping with one foot into an ant-hill, is trumpeting around the world that the ants’ majority is suppressing the elephant’s minority. And we are requested to start a respectful conversation with the elephant, for it says: if ants pee on my feet, I’ll do the same to the ants.”

More than 30 years have passed, and nothing has changed. We have heard and keep hearing such stories from Russia, justifying their aggressive policy, regarding anyone who dares to be independent in their thinking and deciding on their freedom and future.

But it seems that many have now opened their eyes.

I think, it is important that as a result, we, Latvia, and our region as a whole, are perceived by allies with greater understanding. Because we have not only always warned of the threats posed by Russia, but after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with our deeds at the political, non-governmental, and societal level, we have shown that we are able to react boldly, immediately, but also pragmatically, bearing in mind the common European security interests; we are also able to act very effectively and to maintain this pace.

On April 24, during the Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments in Prague, I had an opportunity not only to represent the Saeima of Latvia, but also to remind my counterparts of the words uttered at the very same place on 21 November 2002 by the President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, as Latvia received the invitation to join NATO. At that time, the President, among other things, thanked NATO leaders for their courage in deciding on the accession of Latvia and six other countries to NATO, thus restoring justice. The President also promised on behalf of Latvia that we would strive to our utmost “to do our part to contribute not just to the strength of the Alliance but to do whatever needs to be done to create a world where justice and liberty are available to all”.

We have kept our promise. We are drawing inspiration from the decisions of the Members of the Supreme Council 33 years ago, and from Ukraine’s freedom fighters today. And it is our promise and our duty to pass on this courage.

The courage and determination of Latvia, as well as Estonia, Lithuania and Central European countries, must be used today and in the future to ignite similar courage and determination in other capitals—by promoting decisions to further expand and strengthen the European area of security and values. Also after the Ukrainian victory. We are talking about direct security interests of Latvia.

In this context, I would also like to note and thank you for the fact that the Saeima—with all the different political forces—has been able to make the necessary decisions at the right time.


At celebrations such as these, we often talk about history. We remember those who helped restore the state of Latvia, we look back on the challenges overcome.

We could do that today as well, and rightly so. For example, in 1993, the agreement on trade and economic cooperation between Latvia and what was then still the European Economic Community came into effect. It is worth appreciating how far we have come since then in our relations with other European states. Thirty years ago, Latvia re-introduced the lat, and the Saeima elected a President of Latvia for the first time since the restoration of independence.

I could go on, but allow me to offer you a different perspective, namely, let us take a look at ourselves as part of history.

Let us reflect on what we would like people to remember about the 14th Saeima ten, twenty, thirty years from now. What associations do we want them to have? What achievements should they remember?

This is not merely a thought experiment. Each and every one of us wants their work to be appreciated, and from this point of view, it would only make sense if we were to decide for ourselves what we want the legacy of the 14th Saeima to be.

In the day-to-day life, we seldom have the time to think in such categories, and this brings me to my first wish for myself and all of you, dear colleagues. It would be apt if the 14th Saeima were to stand out in a good way by avoiding petty arguments while focusing on matters of genuine national importance.

Those in political power have always sought to control, regulate, prescribe in elaborate detail how society ought to live. For example, if we read the police regulations of cities in Kurzeme from the 17th and 18th centuries, we find there detailed rules on which musical instruments may be played at the weddings of town councillors and which—at those of craftsmen, precisely how wide the silk decorations on garments may be, and so forth.

Such a style of governance may elicit a smile from a contemporary person or seem incomprehensible. Yet if we are completely honest with ourselves, do we not act similarly sometimes?

If we believe in our state—and I am certain that we do—we ought to assume that rational and knowledgeable people work outside the Parliament as well.

We should be putting our heads together and seeking solutions to the genuine challenges Latvia is facing today and in future. And I am talking about more than geopolitics. Quoting French politicians—“Gouverner, c’est prévoir!”—governing means to anticipate (plan). And it is the task of the Saeima to formulate the main strategies.

We need consistency in taking internal policy decisions and setting strategic courses. In a democracy, a prerequisite for this is an open and broad discussion right here at the Saeima.

What are the main issues today? Feel free to expand the list, but I believe that those issues are education, health, digital transformation, regional development, energy, and the Green Deal challenges. Are we in concord on these main issues or do we see radically different solutions? Are there any elephants in the room whose presence we simply ignore?

We see significant changes indeed taking place in the global economy—due to climate targets, technology, energy, and so on.

The European Green Deal means that we need a strategic pact with ourselves to balance the challenges of our economies, industries, and climate targets. The complete or partial absence of such clear medium- and long-term strategies has led to the loss of large-scale investments and thus growth in Latvia.

And, thus, we cannot simply rely that the major players have already set the rules, we just have to accept them. We need to think about how to reconcile our national interests with irrefutably major global processes.

While on the subject of regional policy, I think a very important issue, which therefore needs to be highlighted, is the situation in the municipalities bordering Russia and Belarus. If we understand that these issues pertain to our security, then it is also clear that they are set within the context of economic development and availability of infrastructure. In other words, political statements about reinforcing the national loyalty of people living in border regions will not suffice. I believe that this is something we must also take into account when discussing, for example, the school network.

In the context of the aforementioned major themes—and certainly others, too—I propose that we consider a very tangible solution. The Saeima has established a tradition of holding an annual foreign policy debate, where representatives of the Parliament and the executive power exchange useful perspectives and suggestions, as well as objections. Why should the Parliament not also hold an annual debate on, say, energy or education, or the Latgale region?

By the way, there is a Latgale Region Subcommittee in the Saeima, the creation of which, I believe, was completely justified and the work of which unequivocally necessary. But let us not be naive: problems—both general and specific—also exist in Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Zemgale. Obviously, these issues will not be resolved simply by establishing subcommittees; however, perhaps it is worth considering the need for subcommittees dedicated to the Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Zemgale regions as well. I think that for the Members of Parliament elected from these regions, this would serve as an additional tool for hearing out the opinions and needs of their voters, for identifying solutions best suited for each specific region.

And, of course, security. That is, security in the broadest sense. Not only developing the army, strengthening borders, reinforcing the interior, but also the security of welfare, healthcare, media and language space.

Although it may seem obvious, we must remind ourselves at all times that the security of the individual, of the human being, of the person, is the primary and fundamental prism through which to view the overall security of the country.

Safety, health and protection of the interests of the individual are paramount. Every human being is valuable. And freedom also means being free from fear. This distinguishes us as a democratic Western country from tyrannical regimes that are sending thousands of their people to a senseless death where they are just small, worthless cogs.

One thing is clear when it comes to security. It is very expensive. Freedom is not a value given by default, it comes at great effort and cost.

We need resources to defend our freedom, independence, and democracy. And we need them now.

We need investments. But let us be honest, are we doing our best to be open and attractive? When renovating a building, why do we end up bricking up all the doors and boarding up all the windows? When we try to purify muddy water, instead of making it clean, do we distil it at all costs, thus making it not only undrinkable, but even dangerous for health? When we encounter a problem, do we drown it in a thousand new bureaucratic procedures just to be on the safe side, until the very idea or possibility is barely alive at best? How many investors have we lost in recent years with this attitude? Can we afford, in these times, to run the risk of not investing hundreds of millions from European funds because of administrative inefficiency, or of losing the opportunity to implement many important projects because of formal attitudes and careless mistakes?

We cannot afford to continue like this. For the sake of our own safety as well.

Strategic vision, de-bureaucratisation and efficiency monitoring must become permanent items on the Saeima’s agenda.


As for the place of the Saeima in Latvia’s political life, I would like to remind us of ideas that seem obvious, but which I consider essential. The election of the President of the Republic of Latvia, which is very important for the Latvian state, will take place very soon. The great interest in this topic in the Saeima, in the media, and in society in general is understandable. However, it is also clear that, regardless of who becomes the country’s highest official, Latvia will remain a parliamentary state. And this in turn means that both the greatest opportunities and the greatest responsibility for shaping the political agenda will remain with the Saeima. The election of a great President does not diminish the need for all of us to work as actively and prudently as possible.

I would like to recall once again that it was as a parliamentary state that Latvia was restored on 4 May 1990. However, one thing is clear: the Latvian people were also able to appreciate the importance of parliament as an institution in the inter-war period, and it seems to me that we sometimes get too carried away with ironic remarks about the parties and the Saeima of the time.

In the elections of the 1st Saeima in 1922, the turnout was 82.2% of those eligible to vote.

In the second Saeima elections in 1925, it was 74.9%.

In the 3rd Saeima elections in 1928—79.3%.

In the elections of the 4th Saeima in 1931—80%.

Eighty per cent! In other words, it is undeniable that the Parliament of the new state was not immune to growing pains and mistakes, but the society remained aware of the advantages of a parliamentary state.

In the 21st century Latvia, however critical the public may be of the government—sometimes rightly, sometimes not so much—although turnout is lower than in the inter-war period, it seems to me that there is an encouraging trend here too. That is to say, while the 13th Saeima election had a turnout of 54.5%, the present—the 14th Saeima—has been chosen by already 59.4% of the electorate.

It is clear that people who voted for parties that, for one reason or another, do not subsequently serve in the government will not be very enthusiastic about the Saeima. And we also make mistakes. However, I would venture to suggest that our people see very well what it means for democracy, including parliamentary democracy, to crumble in other countries. They see what this “Leaderism”, “the strong hand”, means not only for the neighbours of the specific country, but also for the people of that country. It is nothing good. Therefore, we can say that, both with the mind and with the heart, Latvian society chooses parliamentary democracy as a form of state structure, and we all work hard to show and prove that this is the right choice.

The book on the history of Latvian parliamentarism that each of you has before you today should be a good reminder of the path we have travelled.


Allow me, on behalf of all of us, to once again thank the Members of the Supreme Council for their courage and consistency, and to wish us to become worthy heirs of their determination, perseverance, and courage! To quote “The Epiphanies” by Imants Ziedonis, “If we act decisively, we will prevail. We will tie the elephant's trunk to its tail. Just don't be scared. We will domesticate wolves. A path that we take walking barefoot on pinecones will surely lead us to victory!”

Congratulations on the 33rd anniversary of the restoration of the Republic of Latvia!

May Latvia live forever!

God bless Latvia!

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