Honourable Madam Chair,
Members of the WFFL Board,
Today’s World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL) board meeting takes place in slightly less usual circumstances. WFFL board meetings usually take place in Riga, with all members participating in person. This time, however, meeting is simultaneously held in all parts of the world, and we should thank technologies for making this possible. But I decided that it is better for me to come to the Riga office of WFFL today because nothing can compare to meeting in person. I hope that next year’s board meeting organisers will be able to bring back the usual format of meetings with everyone coming to Riga.
Diaspora is one of the pillars of the Latvian State. Diaspora policy, which is a new policy area defined by Latvia only recently, is about 10 years old. Latvian nation is inextricably bound to Latvian State, and each member of Latvian nation lives not only here, in Latvia, but also on this planet. But we constitute this nation, the Latvian community.
There are two symbolic events that recently took place in Riga that show how important work done by Latvian diaspora was for the Latvian State. First one is the reburial of the great Latvian public official and diplomat Miķelis Valters in Riga on 17 September. He was the first Latvian who openly called for Latvian State in 1903. Greater autonomy in the Tzarist Russia was the ultimate dream Latvians could hope for back then, and he was the first one to make the next step and say: ‘No, autonomy is not good enough, we need our own state’. He later became the minister for interior in the first Provisional Government of 1918, then worked as diplomat and after the war lived in exile in France and continued to actively contribute to strengthening of the national aspirations of Latvians and promoting of the concept of Latvian State all over Europe until his demise in 1968. He was a staunch supporter of Europe and avid believer in united Europe long before the European Community. This is one of the early examples of a Latvian living abroad and actively supporting national aspirations.
The other event is the one many of you most probably know quite well about, and have even been involved in. I am talking about BATUN or the Baltic Appeal to the United Nations. It is a grassroots organisation uniting Latvians in exile founded in 1960s to remind the United Nations in New York of the injustices perpetrated against Baltic nations. Organisation continued its activities until 1991 when Latvia restored its independence and returned to the United Nations family as its full-fledged member. It was a really interesting exhibition put together by one of the activists of BATUN, Mrs Dzintra Bungs, attended by diplomats and ministers. This exhibition showed how efficient Latvians living outside our country can be and how it can benefit the Latvian State.
By this I wanted to underline how important Latvians living outside Latvia are for our state. Politically, economically and also culturally. As far as politics are concerned, I should add that Latvian diaspora is our informal ambassador worldwide. You develop and promote ideas that feed into the concept of the Latvian State and carry its name worldwide. Latvian nation has a long history of living in exile, which dates back to the end of the World War 2 when different organisations were founded, including your organisation the World Federation of Free Latvians, which is a unique diaspora organisation in the sense of how efficient our diaspora became with you. Latvian diaspora today is much more diverse and does not include only those living in exile due to occupation.
There is also the economic significance. You, especially Mrs Saulīte, are doing a lot to further multiply this significance. World Latvian Economics and Investment Forum has evolved into a beautiful tradition. Two years ago, I went to Melbourne (Australia) to take part in this forum. That was before I became the president. And last year this forum took place in Valmiera. It is a very exciting and fruitful event that brings businesses together, enhancing cooperation among successful economic actors. Soon, this November, a virtual economic and innovation forum will take place. Let us hope next year’s event will return to its traditional format.
Then there is also culture and language. Culture and language are core elements of our national identity. That is why actions of every Latvian matter so much. We all need to preserve our culture, language and pass them down to next generations together to instil Latvianness in them. It is so amazing to watch all these little diaspora schools sprout up like mushrooms after a rain all over the world, carrying our culture and language further (together with our history and political experiences, of course). Latvia and all Latvians need it. Latvians need to be out there, in the world, forever, and we can ensure that only by preserving, enriching and being a part of our culture and language in all their manifestations.
These three are the areas in which you play a really considerable role. Congratulations on everything that you have done so far. I hope the board meeting will be productive and insightful. I hope you take away a lot of new ideas on how to continue current activities and plan new exiting projects. Thank you!