Egils Levits
30.01.2023. Valsts prezidents Egils Levits piedalās Demokrātijas akadēmijas atklāšanas pasākumā “Demokrātija un pilsoniskā sabiedrība Latvijā un Eiropā”. Foto autors: Ilmārs Znotiņš, Valsts prezidenta kanceleja.

Dear participants of the Democracy Academy!


We live in a time when Western democracies are facing unprecedented challenges that call into question the sustainability of democracy. 


Our democratic order was recently tested by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law-based international order is currently being tested by Russia with its criminal invasion of Ukraine.

These two global crises highlight not only the weak points of Latvian democracy but also demonstrate its effectiveness and viability.


During the pandemic, we all witnessed the polarisation of Latvian society. Measures to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus visibly polarised Latvian society. However, similar trends were emerging everywhere in the world in other democracies too, and perhaps much more.

These freedom-restricting measures in the name of public health and safety caused sharp dissatisfaction in different groups of Latvian society, as they had to choose between two values. On the one hand, health and life, and therefore safety. On the other hand, the freedom of human action. Which is more important in this conflict?

The methodical injection of misleading messages into social networking sites helped narrow interest groups to mobilise people's discontent. It also exposed the vulnerability of our democracy. It turned out that relatively simple methods of manipulation, which have been known in social psychology for over 100 years but now using digital technologies can radicalise a large part of society.


However, at the same time, the response of a significant majority of the Latvian society to curbing the pandemic also demonstrated our strength. Latvia's democracy proved to be much stronger than populist attempts to destabilise the country.

The results of the Saeima elections are good proof of this. The majority of voters generally preferred politics based on the common good and solidarity to eccentric and socially irresponsible slogans.


If the pandemic disrupted the normal life of our society, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the international legal order. War has returned to Europe, and Russia is fighting against all the values that underpin the Latvian state and our Constitution.


Ukraine's heroic struggle for its independence has sparked unprecedented public solidarity. In terms of gross domestic product, we are the world's number one provider of all forms of aid to Ukraine. 

First, it is significant military aid. Our air defence missiles enabled the Ukrainians to protect Kyiv at the very beginning of the war. Since then, we have given a lot more military aid, but we have also provided significant economic and, in particular, political support to Ukraine. 


Latvia was among the very first countries to argue in favour of granting Ukraine the status of a European Union (EU) candidate country. This was at a time when the big EU member states did not want to hear about it. However, within a few months, thanks to the work of Latvia and other like-minded countries, the status of the candidate was granted. Latvia is now closely monitoring the accession process so that serious negotiations can start soon.

Latvia was among the very first countries to advocate the creation of an international tribunal to try the crime of Russian aggression. This proposal is slowly gaining support. We are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour. Two weeks ago, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also adopted resolutions that such a tribunal should be established.

However, international law develops slowly, so there is still a long way to go. The progress of this global justice project requires Latvian representatives to invest even more in the extensive and difficult work of persuading the international community. We are actively doing this and will continue to do so.


The direct help of our people to the people of Ukraine is also essential. Latvian residents, companies and non-governmental organisations have donated millions of euros, helped to host and accommodate Ukrainian refugees, and sent hundreds of cars, warm clothes, electricity generators and many other items to Ukraine.

According to a public opinion poll commissioned by the State Chancellery at the end of last year, two-thirds of Latvian residents, or 68%, in one way or another have provided support to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees after the Russian invasion. Such support unites our people and unites society. They make us realise the power of our civil society.


Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees here in Latvia also appreciate the solidarity of our people. We see that Ukrainian refugees, in order to work and study here, learn Latvian, the language of the country that has taken them in. And that is normal. We note with satisfaction that, for example, Ukrainian shop assistants address their customers more and more often in our common language  including those who have been living here for decades and have not been able to utter a word in Latvian. 


Ladies and gentlemen!

The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's attack on Ukraine remind us of the important role played in times of crisis by the ability of societies to organise themselves and act for the common good. These are the civic skills that we acquire in our lifetime as citizens and patriots of our country.

Without an active, demanding, critically thinking and creative civil society, our democracy would find it difficult to function, difficult to survive. Democracy is strengthened by people's willingness to participate and their sense of ownership of their people and their country. These are crucial important at such breaking point of crisis when people want to seek and find a sense of 'shoulder' and community.


According to the Constitution, Latvia is a democratic, legal, socially responsible and Latvian national state. This is the state order of Latvia as laid down in the Constitution. This system is based on certain fundamental values. These are also elaborated in the Constitution. I quote:

Since ancient times, the identity of Latvia in the European cultural space has been shaped by Latvian and Liv traditions, Latvian folk wisdom, the Latvian language, and universal human and Christian values. Loyalty to Latvia, the Latvian language as the only official language, freedom, equality, solidarity, justice, honesty, work ethic and family are the foundations of a cohesive society. Each individual takes care of oneself, one’s relatives and the common good of society by acting responsibly toward other people, future generations, the environment and nature”.

This is the foundation of the Constitution, which underpins the democratic order of our country.


We see that modern, democratic Latvia is based on this complex system of values and attitudes. It is the task of civil society to build, maintain and develop this system of values and attitudes in the first place. The task of society means the task of its individual members. The task of every citizen, every patriot of Latvia. In turn, the State must promote this system of values and attitudes, as set out in the Constitution, both at school and outside it. 

If we want a modern, developed, democratic, European and Latvian Latvia, then we must strengthen this system of values and attitudes. It is very broad, and everyone can find their place and their role in this system.


Therefore, I am pleased that the Latvian Rural Forum offers the opportunity to participate in the Democracy Academy and offers a broad training programme in these turbulent and difficult times.


Latvian society is not a one-man society. Last year has clearly shown us that a very large number of people in Latvia are willing and able to see beyond their private comfort zone.

But last year has also shown that citizenship requires skilled leaders. These are people who know how to develop and organise civil society and become ambassadors of the common good.


The Democracy Academy is one way to strengthen such leadership.

Therefore, I wish every participant of the Democracy Academy to take advantage of the opportunities offered to develop practical and everyday civic skills and also to help others to develop them.

Thank you!

30.01.2023. Valsts prezidents Egils Levits piedalās Demokrātijas akadēmijas atklāšanas pasākumā “Demokrātija un pilsoniskā sabiedrība Latvijā un Eiropā”