Egils Levits
Valsts prezidenta Egila Levita runa tiešsaistes cilvēcības konferencē “Paliec mājās – paliec cilvēks!”

Good morning to all of you joining us this morning,

Good morning to all of you working online or remotely from home this morning,

When I heard ‘humanity conference’ in the title of today’s event, I thought to myself, ‘We all are human, yet humanity is a word that has a much deeper meaning.’ It describes how we should behave towards one another - what solidarity towards others means, how we should help each other, and how we should respect each other.

Mankind has never been in such unprecedented situation when we are forced to stay home. Indeed, it is the first time in thousands of years of human history we have been forced to do that. No one, neither Latvia, nor Europe or anyone else in the world, knows how to cope with situations like this. And that is why we want to understand how to behave towards one another.

At the same time, we must, I believe, also try to make the best of the crisis that can in a way be compared to the caveman era. We are all ‘locked’ in our ‘caves’ like cavemen. We, of course, are free to go out – but mostly we spend our time in our ‘caves’, a thing we are not used to. How to make yourself productive and enjoy yourself and make others happy? That is the main question.

I think, this is a good opportunity to think about things that we have been constantly putting off for later, for when we have more time. As you all know, it is much easier to think when you are alone. Philosophers need peace and quiet to come up with new concepts. We now have this wonderful opportunity to become philosophers. Let me put it in another way. I wish those who want to use this time for philosophical contemplation to find ideas that broaden their minds, push personal boundaries and help achieve better understanding of how the world works. We all need it. The fast pace of modern life leaves little time to think about all these things. And now we have more time for that. We should not miss out on this opportunity.

But, as you all know, there are also many people who cannot afford to do that. I am talking about people living together in tiny apartments. There is noise, constant questions from kids who are learning. There is no peace and quiet, no room for philosophical contemplation. But I know that such circumstances unleash other talents that we can further hone. I am talking about ‘multitasking on steroids’ when you have to juggle multiple tasks at the same time: cook meatballs, help your Year 2 and Year 7 pupil, do all the other chores and also try to work remotely for your boss. It is quite a challenge on a personal level, but I am sure that multitasking is a useful skill that all of us should develop.

I am also talking about all the government, corporate leaders and middle managers who have to manage people working from home and submitting deliverables digitally. Do not forget about them, too. Cheer them up. It always helps motivate people. This is a new situation for employees as well.

Remote work has its pros and cons. It allows us to be more efficient because we can communicate over distance. On the other hand, it is not the same as the real, direct communication that is much more nuanced. Nevertheless, remote work is a new skill that we can add to our experience.

Latvians have historically been better equipped to deal with such extraordinary circumstances. We often say Latvians have ‘single-farmstead mentality’ and are introverted. This mentality and introversion have actually been very helpful lately. It is exactly what we needed now, and what makes us stronger.

Moreover, ‘single-farmstead mentality’ means that Latvians are much more self-dependant. Less dependent on others than, let us say, people who are used to constant mingling at various social events. This is probably why we are handling the self-isolation and avoiding social interactions better than others. Still, ‘single-farmstead mentality’ is not the only quality Latvians have. When times get rough, under extraordinary circumstances, we have no problem reaching a consensus and taking the right decisions without anyone pushing us, collectively, as a society.

4 May is around the corner. The day will mark 30 years since the restoration of independence of Latvia. It was a unique moment in the history of mankind. A whole nation coming together to achieve a common goal, a common objective we had all committed to. So, we should thank our farmstead mentality and high sense of solidarity for our ability to cope with current circumstances better than other nations.

Folksongs are also a great source of inspiration and wisdom. Our nation has been through a lot of hardship, and many moments in our history have been a lot more challenging than current situation. We all know how the song goes: ‘Bury my sorrows under a rock, marching on with a song....’ Although sung by a woman, it is a great advice for men, as well. Keep calm and keep your chin up!

Organisers of the conference have taken a good care of us putting together an exciting full-day agenda with a lot of new and useful information, such as psychologist’s views on how to cope with current lockdown and keep yourself busy. We have excellent performances, including live reading of Jaunsudrabiņš’ works by actor Gundars Āboliņš. There will also be exciting contributions from the charming Baiba Sipeniece and Jānis Krīvēns. If you have the time and means, do not miss it. Or at least tune in from time to time.

Thank you for having me. Have a nice and exciting day despite the circumstances. Good luck to all of you!