Egils Levits
Egils Levits

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Every nation, state and humanity as such need people who dedicate their life and embody the values and ideals fundamental to their nation, people and the state.

Gunārs Astra is such person for Latvia and us, Latvians. A member of national resistance movement who will be forever remembered in our history as the true voice of the Latvian nation and our occupied state.

Long and hard years spent in prison made him the person that he was. A man driven by higher morals and coherent national awareness. He was also clearly aware of his rights, a belief that had begun to wane under the pressure of Soviet occupation in the 1970ies and 1980ies. Experience and knowledge were essential to Astra’s clear vision and beliefs, giving him courage to take active stance and show moral qualities only few will ever achieve.

As the relentless voice of Latvians, Gunārs Astra continued to insist on universal and inalienable rights of the Latvian nation to aspire to statehood, right to be free, democratic, and part of Europe and Western culture again. He rejected the lies, oppression and devastation of Latvia. He was absolutely against sovietisation of Latvia and denial of national aspirations, which made him and his supporters a target of systematic, ruthless, cruel and often repeated persecutions.

Unfortunately, Gunārs Astra did not live to see Latvia become independent and democratic again. We, obviously, still know very little and are aware of only a small part of what national and civic resistance did to oppose the Soviet regime after the World War II and later in 1960ies to 1980ies. But we do know that the fight for independent Latvia and our nation’s right to freedom never stopped during these 50 years. It took many lives, and freedom of many.

We continue to restore historical justice to this day. One of the main and most thorough articles of Gunārs Astra 90-year anniversary month edition of legal magazine ‘Jurista Vārds’ (Lawyer’s View) particularly focused on 1983 trials against anti-Soviet political opposition and Gunārs Astra closing argument in the Supreme Court of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia, in which he claimed that occupation is a crime against Latvia and the Latvian nation. There are numerous videos and articles about Gunārs Astra. We are gradually learning more about his unique role.

We will soon unveil Gunārs Astra monument and a foundation carrying his name is working on extensive programme of events for the next year. And there are also events like the one we are all at today.

It is our duty to let the world know who Gunārs Astra was. He deserves to be in a prominent place among myriads of true human rights and freedoms activists whom the world adores.

Collective memory is a fundamental element of national identity and awareness, and it determines our future choices. It is the moral compass of a nation and a state. We need to continue to explore, research and integrate the national resistance into collective memory of Latvians and Europe.

And such research would not be complete without those who collaborated or collaborators. We must study and analyse, reflect upon how people collaborated with alien and hostile regime. We need to know more about resistance and the twilight zone, currently remains less studied. We, unfortunately, lack legal science research on Soviet period. It remains a rather unwelcome subject.

But we owe truth and clarity to our heroes and ourselves. Our future generations should also have the full information. It is essential for the integrity of values defended by those who led us to our statehood, and thus laid the foundation for our state, throughout generations.

Today, on 15 December, we commemorate and pay tribute to Gunārs Astra brave actions 38 years ago when he made his legendary closing arguments at the Soviet Latvia Supreme Court. This essential and politically-fundamental manifesto and its message resonates in the hearts of many to this day, maybe even stronger. It shows the true and lasting power of the word. The perpetuity of the spoken word. Despite charges and a sentence issued by a foreign power, Gunārs Astra bravely accused the totalitarian regime on behalf of all Latvian nation and everyone who opposed the power.

We must thank Gunārs Astra for his brave, freedom-craving and steady heart. Gunārs Astra is the face of all those Latvians who faced fears and torture with burning desire to follow their beliefs and dream of better Latvia.

I hope all Latvians and our nation today shares and follows the same vision of the Latvian State that Gunārs Astra had. A crystal-clear and permanent vision of the Latvian State we can lift and elevate together through our thoughts and deeds.

Thank you!