Egils Levits
15.03.2023. Valsts prezidents Egils Levits uzrunā konferences "No pretošanās līdz brīvībai: kā stāstīt Latvijas valstiskuma vēsturi?” dalībniekus Rīgas pils svētku zālē.

Dear participants of the conference!

Ladies and Gentlemen!


March 17 is marked in the calendar as the National resistance movement Remembrance Day. I would be pleased if every year on this day, we could review what new research has been done on the subject of national resistance during the year. To assess how public awareness has grown. How well have we managed to integrate the story of Latvia's 20th-century national resistance into the common historical memory of Europe? And at the same time, to examine how much public funding for historical research, memory institutions, and history communication has grown.

But for now, I would like to thank those historians, history enthusiasts and cultural workers who, over many years, have helped our society to understand the national resistance movement and its role in our statehood. Many of them are here today. Thank you very much!


Dear attendees!

80 years ago, there were many people in occupied Latvia who, in the catastrophe caused by two totalitarian powers, thought of an independent and democratic Latvian state. Such people founded the Central Council of Latvia. Such people continued their armed resistance against the Soviet occupiers long after the war.

The hope for an independent Latvia is the common ground that connects the various actors of national resistance in time and space - school youth, the Latvian Central Council, national partisans, freedom fighters (I do not say dissidents, because, in this case, it is not the right word) and other heroes of resistance during the Soviet occupation. It is a unified story of our resistance, of our tenacious national will, which we must continue to identify and which we must be able to tell.


National memory is not a static witness to history. It is in constant dialogue with a changing world.

With the restoration of independence, the Latvian nation regained control over its past. The crimes and injustices of the Soviet and Nazi occupations came to the forefront of the new historical consciousness.


However, the motives of resistance and heroism, as well as critical reflection on cooperation with the occupation regimes, remained relatively in the background.

These issues are, of course, debated among experts. There are also some studies, but the transfer of historical knowledge to society has so far been relatively weak and unfocused.

Internationally, the story of our national resistance and its heroes remain invisible. If we look at the big European history books written by British or other historians, Latvia appears at best in quotations (references), but not as a place where history is made. This is also one of the problems of transferring Latvian history to society, not only here in Latvia, but also in Europe, outside Latvia, globally. In contrast, serious historical issues such as the Holocaust or the Latvian legionnaires are regularly distorted or used in a tendentious way.


The field of knowledge of Latvian history is made up of various players - scientific institutions, educational institutions, museums, associations, as well as diplomatic service.

Each player in this field operates in a particular direction and niche, and each has a particular competence and agenda. In the case of academic research or the work of individual museums, this is as it should be. But I would add, with much more funding than it has been the case so far.

Last week, the well-known historian Ineta Lipša pointed out this funding problem. And I agree with her - she is absolutely right. The fact that there is insufficient funding for academic historical research to allow historians to devote themselves to this research is inexcusable.

However, academic historical research is not the same as the transfer of the results of academic historical research to society. These are two different things. Nor is it the same as the communication of history, which results in public history. Professor Nollendorfs also recently spoke about the importance of public history in our society.

Public history is based on academic history, but it is not the same. Academic history is not enough for us. We need the results of academic history to be transferred through history communication to public history.

Public history is the public's collective perception of history. Citizens', not historians', perceptions of our history, of our people, of our country. And here, there is indeed a great deficit.

Public history is necessary for society to understand itself, to understand its identity, and to be able to orient itself in the world, in time and space.

A historical fact in itself has no significance. What matters is the narrative, the story in which this historical fact is embedded. What matters is the framework, the interpretation and the context of the fact.

But the study of the facts is necessary for the construction of this public history. Therefore, public history and academic history are closely linked. One without the other is incomplete.

Academic historical research is the foundation of public history, its raw material.

Without academic historical research, public history would be just literature on the subject of history. A historical novel.


However, if we assess whether we have been successful in communicating the history of Latvia in the 20th century at home and in Europe, the answer is, unfortunately, rather negative. And this is natural, because the untargeted policy of public history-making, as it has existed for 30 years, is not up to such a big task.  

In the longer term, we can also see that many nationally important historical policy tasks remain uncovered or are not systematically implemented.

It is clear that the field of historical knowledge lacks a centre of gravity that would bring about greater synergies. There is no institution directly responsible for the creation and implementation of public history initiatives in Latvia and abroad.


This is why I have initiated a debate on the need for an institute for Latvian historical memory and democratic education.

The main purpose of the institute would be to coordinate the creation and dissemination of the public narrative of Latvian history. It is precisely this kind of professional and forward-looking coordination that has been lacking so far.

The institute's activities should be based on a clear strategy with medium-term objectives and measurable results.

Such a compact institute, similar to the one in Estonia, would facilitate the creation of new historical knowledge and its transfer into society to various target audiences. At the same time, we must be aware that public perceptions of history are essential for the sustainability of our democracy. If we understand ourselves more, then, of course, our democratic state system is stronger. Therefore, this institute could also make its contribution to the democratic education of the public, and to the formation of civic awareness, which is based on the democratic values ​​defined in our Constitution.


An equally important duty of the institute would be to develop a nationally unifying space of remembrance.

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we in Latvia have substantially cleaned the public space of signs glorifying the Soviet occupation regime. It is the decolonization of our space of remembrance.

This is exactly how this process should be viewed - as decolonization. Because these signs are not politically neutral. They do not represent Russian or Soviet cultural achievements. Their purpose is to mark Russia here, on the territory of Latvia.

This applies not only to Soviet signs but also to signs left in the public space of the Russian Empire. The colonisation of the minds of the inhabitants of the Baltic provinces was the goal of this empire. That was the meaning of these signs.

Latvians have now better understood that these signs of Russian imperialism do not belong, and do not befit an independent, democratic Latvian state.

That is why I am glad that there is a valuable debate going on in society, both about street names and about monuments and other signs.

The public movement for the Latvian language as the common language of public communication also belongs to the mental decolonisation of Latvians. Thanks to all the activists who have started this process and are continuing it consistently!

The Latvian language must not only legally, but also actually play the role it is entitled to play under the Constitution - it must actually become the common language of public communication in our society.

On the other hand, private communication, communication within the family, of course, remains a private matter for each individual.


Dear attendees!

The Institute for historical memory and democratic education would also have the task of consolidating our historical narrative in the European memory space.

For many decades, Latvia and the countries of our region have been denied the opportunity to explore and discuss the history of the Second World War and the post-war period.

During this time, Russia succeeded in influencing European memory with distorted historical narratives about the Second World War and the victory over Nazism, and other facts that have been distorted in the light of Russian ideology.

Europe's common historical memory has developed unevenly. This has been due not only to the different historical experiences of the various European nations but also to the different public history policies regarding the Second World War. Because conscious and purposeful history policies are being developed, both in Western Europe and elsewhere in central and eastern Europe.

History policies have been different so far, and the result is that we have disappeared from European history.

In democratic Western Europe it was possible to deal gradually with this emotionally heavy burden of war.

Western Europeans have incorporated this history into the foundations of their values, and it no longer preoccupies the identities of Western Europeans so much.

If the relevance of history could be measured with a thermometer, the history of the 20th century is a much hotter issue in Central Europe and the Baltic States today than in Western Europe. Historian Tony Judt pointed this out 20 years ago. In an essay, he wrote: "If Western Europe forgets its recent past, Eastern Europe will not."


These objective differences in the European space of remembrance cannot be ignored when we think about the strategic communication of Latvian history. But first, we have to do our own homework.

Our history, especially the history of national resistance, often remains invisible at the European level. The publication of books by Latvian historians in English and other European Union languages is extremely rare. The participation of our historians in important conferences where this academic history is being made is also quite rare.

Often Latvian history is included in European history, according to the recent historical fashion, only as a result or side-effect of the transnational relations of the big countries, their cooperation, antagonism or rivalry.

This is a kind of arrogance rooted in colonial prejudices and ignorance that should not be left without an alternative.

Therefore, it is important to show Latvian history not only as an intersection of transnational relations between other countries, especially our large neighbouring country but as a place where history is made, where history emerges autonomously, and where history emerges of its own accord.

Latvians as a nation and Latvia as a country are subjects of history. It also belongs to our story and needs to be communicated both to ourselves and to the outside world.

Among other things, my initiative to establish a national resistance Remembrance Day is a kind of communication of history for ourselves. We have only been celebrating this day for two years. Before that, we did not look at resistance as a common strand of history. But it is extremely important in shaping the consciousness of our society to understand why we have the Latvian state and why we have to defend it in today's geopolitical circumstances.


If we want the narrative of Latvia's story to be seen in the world, we must make a determined effort to make it more visible ourselves. We cannot expect others to do so. That is why we need to help our historians to be at the centre of the making of European public history, not at the periphery!

Communicating history in a global space requires special skills and training.

At the same time, we need stable funding for the creation of internationally convertible academic history research and, of course, for the creation of our public history in the European space.

Here again I see an important role for the Institute for historical memory and democratic education, which should help Latvian historians to publish in major Western media and publishing houses and to engage in respectable debates on European history, and to get our story out there.

And once again, so that there is no misunderstanding, additional funding is needed for academic historical research, for our existing Institute of history and other institutions, as well as for the communication of history for the creation of public history.

The sums are relatively small in terms of our GDP or budget. But for Latvia's statehood, this is a matter of the utmost importance.


Ladies and gentlemen!

Let us not be naive! Even today, despite the invasion of Ukraine and its international isolation, Russia continues to impose its distorted understanding of history on the world.

Autocratic Russia has sufficient resources and agents of influence to continue to run its historical propaganda machine. Here in Latvia too. And elsewhere in Europe and the world.

This historical propaganda machine is an instrument to support Russian imperialism and war. It also targets Latvia.

Russia has always tried to discredit our national partisans or to downplay the devastating consequences of the Soviet occupation.

However, Russia's war against Ukraine and the world's attention open a window of opportunity for a targeted reduction of Russia's influence in the European memory space.

We must seize this opportunity so that we can also place our hitherto marginalised historical narrative in the context of European history.

In Latvia, we can, if we have the understanding and the will, get rid of the scraps of Soviet colonial history - both physical and mental scraps.

However, the liberation of the European memory space from the propaganda of Russian history is only possible together with neighbouring countries. Here, we need to cooperate with Estonia and Lithuania in particular, but also with other countries that were in the space of the Soviet or Russian empire.


Dear colleagues!

The Central Council of Latvia considered it an important duty to inform the Western countries about the situation in occupied Latvia and Latvia's will to regain its independence. 

Today, it is our duty to disseminate more actively, in accordance with the needs of a modern, democratic and law-governed country, the public history of Latvia based on the results of our academic research.

How can a country tell its story? What needs to be done to enable Latvian history communicators to better reach internal and external audiences? These are the central questions of this conference discussion.

Let the discussions and exchange of ideas help us to find constructive answers to these questions!

Thank you!

15.03.2023. Valsts prezidents Egils Levits piedalās Nacionālās pretošanās kustības piemiņas dienai veltītā konferencē “No pretošanās līdz brīvībai: kā stāstīt Latvijas valstiskuma vēsturi?”