Egils Levits
Valsts prezidenta Egila Levita uzruna Saeimas Cilvēktiesību un sabiedrisko lietu komisijas Latgales apakškomisijas sēdē, atzīmējot Latgales kongresa dienu

Congratulations to everyone on the anniversary of Latgale Congress!

Congress of Latgale was the democratic representative body of Latgalian Latvians that decided to unite Latgale and other Latvian lands. It paved the way for proclamation of the Republic of Latvia.

Latvians and their ancestors have historically inhabited the territory of modern Latvia and areas beyond its borders. However, many different foreign powers have ruled this area throughout the history and Latvian communities living in various historic regions of Latvia have had different development trajectories. Founding of the state of Latvia depended on the ability of Latvians to unite their lands into a single state and bring down the borders between various groups of Latvians. Territory of modern Latvia, which consists of historical Latvian lands, has been defined in the Section 3 of Satversme (Constitution) and Latgale is one of the regions that belongs to this territory.

It was the Congress of Latgale that took the historic decision to unite the Latvian lands, a decision that led to the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia one and a half years later. Latgale Congress and patriotic conviction of publicly active Latgalians and Latgalian political figures paved the way for the state of Latvia. Let me reiterate that Latgale was the strongest and most active supporter of the unification of all Latvian lands.

One of the topics of today’s meeting is regional reform. We need it. But, as we reform our regions, we should not forget the special value and cultural significance of Latvian lands, and the true richness of Latvian identity ingrained in them. That is why I believe we need a special law for historically and culturally distinct Latvian lands – Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme, Zemgale and Sēlija. Each of these Latvian lands has its own cultural heritage and history. This special law should strengthen the sustainability and development of these regions.

Let me also mention an interesting and perhaps until now less-known fact. When People’s Council of Latvia passed Constitutional Assembly election law, one of the preconditions for election of Constitutional Assembly was liberation of Latgale. In other words, elections had to be held simultaneously in all regions of Latvia. Fragmentation of election process was not an option – Latgale had to be freed first. The law explicitly emphasised the territorial integrity and unity of Latvia. It also clearly stated that the first democratic and legitimate parliament of Latvia, Constitutional Assembly, which convened for its first sitting on 1 May 1920, had to be elected by all residents of Latvia. 1 May 1920 thus marked the birth of Latvian democracy. And we are a couple of days away from marking the 100 years of this historic moment.

I admire the pride of Latgalians about their culture and heritage. Like culture and heritage of other Latvian lands, it belongs to collective cultural heritage of the Latvian nation.

I would also like to remind you that we need to make sure that Latgalian language, which is a dialect of Latvian, is passed down to next generation through family. It happens naturally in families whose home language is Latgalian. If we want to make sure that Latgalian language is still around and alive in a hundred years from now, we need to start supporting Latgalian now. That is why I would like to urge everyone to use Latgalian, speak Latgalian, and nurture Latgalian, whenever possible because it is the core element of the Latgalian culture and history. It is part of our common cultural heritage. A vital element for all Latvians, not only Latgalians.

So, I hope everyone will spend this day appreciating the special significance of unification of Latvia and diversity of Latvian identity embodied by united Latvia.

Thank you!