Address by INĀRA MŪRNIECE, Speaker of the Saeima,
at the ceremonial sitting of the Saeima in honour of the 100th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia
on 18 November 2018
at the Latvian National Theatre
Honourable President of the State,
Honourable Prime Minister,
Honourable members of parliament,
Dear fellow compatriots,
This is an extraordinary moment! We have gathered here today on the 100th anniversary of the state of Latvia!
The founding of our state is an important turning point in the history of our nation. The will of the Latvian people to have their own state was and remains strong and unwavering. It is our choice to live in a state of our own and to be masters of our own destiny.
We are the happy chosen ones who get to celebrate Latvia’s 100 years in a free and democratic state. And we are able to gather in the very place where the independent Republic of Latvia was proclaimed 100 years ago.
The people’s dream of an independent Latvia, the politicians’ ability to work together for a higher ideal and parliamentary democracy – these were the cornerstones of the newly-founded state.
Today we can only marvel at how politically mature and modern the state of Latvia was upon its birth, how forward-looking its politicians were.
The pre-parliament of Latvia – the People’s Council – had formulated a cutting-edge political platform, which was progressive even by Western European standards, stipulating a democratic system of government, voting rights for both genders, respect for the interests of national minorities, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
It was also clearly stated that in foreign relations, Latvia belongs among the League of Nations.
The newly-appointed government led by Kārlis Ulmanis decisively acted on all of the objectives set by the People’s Council.
Within five years following the War of Independence, Latvians had completed all the necessary steps for their state to begin functioning in full and to take its place on the world stage.
The Constitutional Assembly and the first President of the State, Jānis Čakste, were elected.
Latvia gained full international recognition and was admitted to the League of Nations.
In 1922, our constitution – the Satversme – was adopted.
The main driving force was the people’s will for a state of their own, their belief that their national identity, the Latvian language and liberty can only be guaranteed by the state of Latvia, and that this can all be achieved only through the ability of politicians to work together for the good of the nation and the state.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Latvia’s statehood has always been intertwined with geopolitical processes in Europe and the world. In the 20th century it was affected by World War I and II and the fall of the Soviet Union. The restoration of our independence on 4 May 1990 was rightfully called a miracle, something unbelievable and incredible. There are few precedents in the world where a nation, having lost its freedom and spent half a century under a totalitarian and repressive regime, has managed to rise from the ashes, regaining its freedom and restoring its democratic state. This remains the unique example of Latvia and the Baltic States, and it is respected and admired throughout the free world.
That is why we have so much appreciation and why we take such pride in the unbreakable spirit of the Latvian people and the power of our national ideals.
Nearly thirty years ago, similarly to the founding of the state in 1918, the will for a state of our own and the unanimity of patriotic entities helped to find the best way to restore our statehood and democracy and return to the Western civilisation.
We are grateful to everyone who joined hands back then and succeeded in restoring the Republic of Latvia statehood on 4 May 1990! They are among us today. Thank you all.
We are grateful to all members of the Popular Front, the People’s Congress. Today I would also like to personally thank Egils Levits, who played a decisive role in drafting the core of the 4 May Declaration of Independence as well as the preamble of the Satversme, thus reinforcing the constitutional durability of our state.
We are grateful to both those who 100 years ago and those who again nearly 30 years ago implemented the nation’s right to self-determination.
Our values and ideals have not changed!
Ladies and gentlemen!
As we approached Latvia’s centenary, some occasioned, however, to smirk in disbelief – can the state of Latvia truly celebrate 100 years of existence?
Yes, for 50 long years Latvians were forced to live in an occupied country, and that has left deep and lasting scars.
The repressions enacted by the occupation regimes are the grimmest pages in the history of the Latvian nation.
To this day we still feel the consequences of artificially-induced migration, russification, militarisation, the destruction of the academic, political and economic elite which were implemented by the Soviet occupation regime.
Fifty years of occupation weakened our language, work ethic, it changed our social interaction and affected our sense of beauty.
Today we are regaining to an ever deeper and fuller extent the heritage left by our previous generations. People’s interest in Latvian culture and identity is blossoming, patriotism and love of one’s homeland is also increasing.
The historical memory of the people cannot be erased!
Many of us experience the continuity of our families through many generations. Great-grandparents nurture their greatgrandchildren, and this time through which these generations join hands, can span even longer than 100 years. Through this living human chain, the contemporaries of the state of Latvia have brought the fundamental values of our state into the next century. The thousand-year-old Balt gene also continues to live within us, uniting us with our brothers, the Lithuanians. We feel the Baltic interconnection, which bands together Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. For statehood time is measured in several dimensions.
Exiles have also played a crucial role in maintaining our statehood. In their countries of exile, Latvians assembled in organisations with specific objectives: to stay together, maintain their Latvian identity, tirelessly remind Western governments that Latvia’s incorporation into the Soviet Union was illegal.
The greatest achievement of our exiled compatriots is the fact that the most influential Western countries never recognised Soviet Latvia as a subject of international law. Latvian diplomats, under the leadership of Kārlis Zariņš, continued to work also in exile, up until the very restoration of independence.
I want to especially highlight Jāzeps Rancāns, bishop, politician and member of the Saeima, who, although exiled, was the legitimate acting Speaker of the Saeima and also the President of the State. He gave an invaluable contribution to maintaining and sustaining the doctrine of the continuity of the state of Latvia. I am pleased to note that this summer I had the honour of revealing his portrait in the portrait gallery of the Speakers of the Saeima.
Throughout the 50 years of occupation, the state of Latvia continued to exist de jure, but the idea of it lived on in the people here, in the Latvian land.
The national partisans of Latvia continued armed resistance against the occupation regime for a decade after the end of World War II. The ideals of independence and democracy were kept alive by dissidents or civic activists. People maintained their belief in the idea of restoring their state. The nonviolent resistance of the people flourished with the saving of the River Daugava, the Baltic Way and the Barricades.
Members of the Parliament,
How farsighted and wise are we – the ones who are currently representing the people of Latvia? What are the great goals and tasks that we define for our state and the government now and in future? What political legacy will we leave for our descendants to evaluate at the next centenary?
The recent parliamentary election demonstrated that the vast majority of the electorate has no doubts about Latvia’s geopolitical stance. Latvia’s membership in the European Union, NATO, and the western democratic world is undisputable.
It is of utmost importance for our foreign policy to maintain this course, especially in light of the Kremlin’s military activities and displays of power within our region that are not expected to abate any time soon.
Security is and will remain our priority number one!
In a short period of time, Latvia has accomplished much in strengthening its security – our defence spending complies with the NATO commitments and Latvia’s military capabilities along with practical cooperation with our allies are being continuously developed.
We know what it means to defend our own state!
However, we must keep in mind that alone we are not strong enough. Just as a century ago, today security is also best ensured when working together with allies – our NATO partners in Europe, the USA and Canada.
On behalf of the people of Latvia, let me express gratitude to our allies for the invaluable support you provide in ensuring security and for your participation with the NATO battle groups in Latvia. Together we are doing really well!
We are grateful to the National Armed Forces, the National Guard, the Youth Guard. We are grateful to our Border Guard, the Police, and the Fire and Rescue Service!
However, society as a whole also has to think about developing resilience against the elements of hybrid or so-called asymmetric warfare, such as cyberattacks and disinformation aimed to weaken the state from within and to undermine the people’s trust in the state.
We need to provide a comprehensive defence! It must involve a wide range of institutions and the entire society.
The defence of Latvia is an honourable duty for each and every citizen of Latvia!
Likewise, we must protect democracy. It is a fundamental value at the very core of our state.
It is said that each new generation has to rediscover and reinvent democracy. It is of utmost importance to keep in mind that democracy may only exist within the framework of the rule of law, while populism aims to disregard this important framework.
To strengthen democracy, we must strengthen the rule of law. This can only be achieved through a legal approach.
Democracy also entails assuming responsibility for making well considered and comprehensively weighted decisions that contribute to a stronger society and state in the long-term.
Populism may appeal to some in the short-term, but it may lead to devastating consequences for the state. Latvia has been no exception when it comes to the emergence of political populism, a trend that is comfortable with promising a better life without bothering to provide any tangible plan to fulfil the promises.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The elections of the Saeima have shown that domestic policy has made a sharp turn from the trend of forming large political parties with a clear ideological identity. It seems that now there is a dominance of “thematic” political unions formed to address a specific issue or topic.
But the state and public administration is a complicated mechanism with a multitude of dimensions, including social, historical, legal, and, of course, political ones. All branches of political power must work in compliance with the Constitution.
Indeed, parliamentary democracy has assigned great power to the Saeima. However, sovereign power belongs to the people of Latvia. All Members of Parliament must work for the good of the people, not just their voters.
With elected political parties that only support the tasks and goals that match their own and their electorate’s interests, we may be entering a danger zone.
Our state embodies the four regions of Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Latgale and Zemgale. Each and every resident of Latvia should be able to see opportunities to have a better life for their family in Latvia.
Political responsibility, among other things, includes the ability to perform tasks for the state. One such task is forming an effective new government that will be able to work in the long-term.
I am confident that the Saeima will, in the nearest future, form the main legislative instrument -parliamentary committees - and start active legislative work as there are many urgent issues to address
The most pressing current task is the drafting of the state budget for the following year.
There are many open questions to which politicians must provide answers shortly.
How will we follow-up on the support programmes for families with children? How will we keep our promise to ensure that children grow up in a family environment?
National reproduction will remain the most important measure of the nation’s strength in the years to come. How will we ensure that as many compatriots as possible return to their homeland from economic emigration?
Indeed, membership in the European Union comes with a plethora of possibilities, including competition within the Single Market, which also lets people move to economically more developed regions. People leaving for countries where they are paid more for the same work is a painful for Latvia, but at the same time, it is a driving force that compels to develop and clean up our own economy at the fastest pace possible. We truly wish our compatriots living and working abroad to return to their homeland and see their future in Latvia.
Dear compatriots around the world! We appreciate your willingness to maintain your ties with Latvia. Today we are celebrating the birthday of our state in at least 37 countries and 75 cities across the world.
The previous convocation of the Saeima also adopted a historic decision to switch exclusively to the official language at all levels of education. We finally did it, although it has been known for years that strengthening the Latvian language and shared national values among the youth is a question of national self-respect and continuity.
The Latvian language is at the very core of our national identity, it is unique and ancient. Our state is the only place on earth, where Latvian language may grow, develop and flourish. We must admit that it has been endangered far too long.
The path that lead to the centenary has been a beautiful experience, which motivated us to better ourselves and our state. It has been a path of culture. It has been a path of our own, a journey to our roots, a journey towards our own cultural space and that of the entire world.
This summer we held the unforgettable Song and Dance Festival. It was a nurturing and uplifting experience that brought us to new heights of national self-confidence. The closing concert of the Song and Dance Festival had a deeply symbolic title – the Starry Path.
People wished we had more such events that affirm our unity, shared joy and generosity. The centenary Song and Dance Festival was the best gift that we gave ourselves and Latvia on its birthday.
We take pride in our state, and we showed it by raising the national flag at our homes, above towers and in city squares. The national flag is a symbol of the state and also the testimony of the will of the Latvian people to have their own state. We let the flags be seen, as we strengthen our love for Latvia in hearts and minds.
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The path of the centenary.
The path of a hundred years has brought so many experiences upon our nation. We have had uplifting moments full of pride, as well as moments of bitterness and darkness. We have had many a moment of pragmatic daily work. As a nation and as individuals.
But we know it in our hearts that the path of a hundred years has always led towards the three stars. Our land, our language and our state.
Latvia is a grand state, made by grand people. Each one of us.
For we are Latvia!
May Latvia live forever!
God bless Latvia!