Egils Levits
Valsts prezidenta Egila Levita runa sabiedrības vadītāju konferences “Celtspēja” atklāšanā

Dear participants, ladies and gentlemen in this room and watching us remotely from all over Latvia,

The title of today’s conference is ‘Leverage’. The advantage of using a lever. A lever, which we should rather call will. Will helps you turn obscure ideas into actions and pushes you to better yourself. Will is the starting point of a journey towards our goal. And by using this lever we find new inner strength. This journey towards our goal makes us stronger. But it all starts with will.

But there is a special kind of will that I want to talk about today – national aspirations. It is the will of people that manifests itself at certain points in history when everyone desires to achieve the same goal. Some keep their hopes to themselves, but you can still feel this yearning everywhere you go. This will is still lingering on today. We live here, in Latvia, and that is how our national aspirations manifest today. National aspirations embody the collective will of the people, they create collective urge to act for the common benefit. National aspirations sparked the will to proclaim our state in 1918 and drove us towards restoration of independence during the Third Awakening. It is the will to take care of and nurture our state today and ensure its continuity in future. And this will is still strong within us. It keeps our state going. There will be no state without our national aspirations. Land always belongs to a state. Without national aspirations of people, land will be up for grabs for other states. There will always be a state. The only question is which and what kind. However, there has not been a single nation in the history of humankind willing to give up its national aspirations. There would be little sense in doing so since state is nation’s best opportunity to achieve its goals.

Our national aspirations were solidified in 1918 when our nation decided to unite historical Latvian lands and use self-determination rights provided by international law to proclaim the Republic of Latvia. Baltic Way and people’s appeals to restore independence of Latvia, which led to Declaration of 4 May 1990 and events of 21 August 1991, is another memorable and iconic example of national aspirations. Popular vote of 2012 regarding language when constitutional majority (this was the first and only time ever when constitutional majority was reached in Latvia), or around 800 000 people, which is three quarters of all citizen, voted for Latvian as the only official language in Latvia. People clearly demonstrated their national aspirations. National aspirations are never neutral. They represent particular traits of nation’s cultural identity, language and collective memory. We want our state. Not just some state. We want the state that fits our language and culture, place where we can fully build our life and ways we express ourselves on these values. Place where we can feel one with others who speak the same language, come from the same historical background and share the same destiny. Will to be a part of it all comes with responsibility towards this place, it makes you want to make the common project better. For example, right now, our nation is working together to counter COVID-19. We not only want to protect ourselves. We self-isolate to protect our fellow compatriots. People whom we have never met. Their safety and well-being. This is how our national aspirations work: we care about people around us even though they are not a part of our family or circle of friends. Everyone is driven to do everything they can to make their life and lives of their loved ones better, make environment nicer, make Latvia better by doing what they do or being responsible citizens and lending their time to help a common cause. The greater the common good, the better our lives are at an individual level. You get what you deserve. Many generations before us knew that.

National aspirations have present, past and also future dimension. We see our state continuity from this future perspective, through the lens of collective actions and aim to leave a nice living realm for future generations. Our constitution, Satversme, says (quote): ‘The State of Latvia has been established in order to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian nation, its language and culture throughout the centuries, to ensure freedom and promote welfare of the people of Latvia and each individual.’ Words ‘existence and development throughout the centuries’ are hugely important in the context of national aspirations. Our constitution states that we all share the moral and political duty to act in a way that benefits us and also our fellow men and women who live now and will live in future, although we might never meet them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I think that a decade is a good timeframe for making future plans. It is neither too far away to start building castles in the sky nor is it too close to get bogged down in the details. Decisions that we make here and now will determine what Latvia and our common future will loke like in ten years from now.

Let me share some of my ideas with regard to what we need to do in the future in the context of national aspirations. Latvia is a very compact country. That is our advantage. Less effort is needed to get from idea and determination to actual result. We are living in times of great change when this kind of agility add to ‘structural rigidity’. We must build on our ability to respond instantly and manage any changes. While others are still planning and discussing, we hit the ground running. That is our unique edge. This is the age of great global economic, political and humanitarian shifts. We are exiting the consumerism period as it becomes more clearer that our generation is starting to run into shortages, which could negatively affect future generations. Moderation is growing in popularity: zero waste, consume only as much as you need. You discipline yourself in the name of future generations. No politician ever mentioned that two decades ago in any of the countries. But Latvians who decided to keep their forests for their children were starkly aware of that. That is part of our folk wisdom. We need a meaningful R&D investment programme to support green technologies that we and other countries can benefit from. We need a much more aggressive policy towards polluters and more active support and incentives for green economy. Our foreign policy must also be green.

Digital transformation is one of the key resources for unlocking future potential. Substantial amount of European Recovery and Resilience Facility funding has gone into facilitating it. Digital transformation of science, medicine, economy, education and many other areas of life is the most efficient way to achieve future growth. We need to, however, make sure that digital transformation is done in a responsible way, and I say it without exaggeration. We need responsible digital transformation. Algorithms or artificial intelligence is already making choices for us: what we want or do not need to see on social media, creating impermeable bubble around us. Very softly. Through entertainment and lucrative content. It decides on our behalf, and thus impedes our individual freedom, free will and autonomy. And national aspirations are nothing without the will. Choices and choosing should forever be reserved for human beings. Technologies or artificial intelligence should not make them. Considering all risks, we are best positioned (that is why I mentioned the structural rigidity of our rather compact state that allows us to convert ideas and will into actual gains much quicker) to find the best balance for responsible digital transformation that fits us and other countries as well.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We all expect this conference to teach us something new and make us better. Our education makes our life better and makes the society better overall. The only truly efficient resource is educated population. We are already facing shortage of high-skilled labour in a number of sectors. So, I appeal to you, dear employers in this room, do not hesitate to invest in education and training of your staff, it will pay off. As for you, dear workers, do not shy away from upskilling, it will also pay off. Urge your friends and everyone you know to continue learning. We have the funding and opportunities for that right now.

Green economy, responsible digital transformation and education is the way to live better today and prepare for the future. It is an opportunity presented to us by current situation and also a goal that we as a society and state must strive for.

We must make sure Latvia is synonymous with high quality. A quality seal like Swiss watches or at least German machines until recently. We must focus our energy, creative genius and efforts one goal: making ‘Made in Latvia’ a proof of quality no matter whether it is a product, service or a lifestyle. Lifestyle is also crucial here.

I think it is a good goal for the next 10 years, which is not that far away. When future is concerned, there is no place for modesty.

I hope you will have an interesting conference. Continue to dream big and go after your dreams!

May your national aspirations never waiver and keep you going for the benefit of us all.

16.10.2020. Valsts prezidents Egils Levits piedalās sabiedrības vadītāju konferences “Celtspēja” atklāšanā