Distinguished members of the Saeima,
Latgalians and friends of Latgale,
Ladies and gentlemen,
106 years have passed since the historic Latgale Congress. The delegates of Daugavpils, Ludza and Rēzekne counties took the only right decision - to unite Latgale with Vidzeme and Kurzeme. This resulted in the unification of the Latvians living in the three districts into a common Latvian nation.
From then on, Latvia without Latgale was unthinkable. Because Latgale has belonged and belongs to Latvia. The territory of Latvia is united and indivisible. Then as now. This is also reflected in Article 3 of the Constitution.
A year and a half later, this decision of the Latgale Congress laid the foundations for the establishment of the Latvian state that we live in today. A Latvia that is irrevocably part of the Western cultural and value space.
Latgalian public figures and politicians of that time were wise, far-sighted, and true patriots of Latvia. This is proved by their vote 106 years ago.
Latgale's cultural and historical identity is as diverse as the people who live there. It has been shaped by the interaction between Latvians and the traditional minorities that have come to Latvia over the centuries.
Now, this identity, rich in different shades, has been highlighted as a special value at national level. Alongside the cultural and historical identities of Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme and Sēlija, the uniqueness of Latgale is a natural part of Latvia's diverse and glorious identity.
As the President of Latvia, it has been important for me not only to praise this vital Latgalian identity, but also to consistently support and legally strengthen it. May we move from words to deeds!
Therefore, in order to preserve the cultural heritage created by many generations, I drafted and submitted to the parliament the Law on the historical Latvian lands, which entered into force on 1 July 2021.
Thus, together with the members of the 13th Saeima, some of whom are also present in this hall today as members of the 14th Saeima, we have succeeded to create a new legal framework, much needed for Latvia, for strengthening the common identity of historic cultural spaces and the people who live in them.
The Law on the historical Latvian lands provides a solid basis for further work and cooperation between society, the state and local authorities in promoting citizens' identity and sense of belonging.
Now we just need to move forward and make use of the opportunities provided by the law.
The law promotes the wide use of the Latgalian language in the information space, including public electronic media. It is there, but it must be implemented - we need to see and hear more programmes in Latgalian on TV and radio!
It also provides for the placement of Latgalian place names and signs in the cultural and historical environment of Latgale. Because the word written in Latgalian will visually mark Latgale.
For the first time in history, the State Culture capital foundation has announced a "Programme for the development of historical Latvian lands". The largest amount has been allocated to Latgale. This is an important start-up support for the Latgalian non-governmental sector. This state support will enable the cultural heritage of Latgale to be explored, popularised, developed and continued today in a variety of new expressions.
Language is the most visible element of the Latgalian cultural space and identity. I have always called on Latgalians to speak Latgalian, to teach the language to their children in the family and at school. Teachers therefore have a special role to play in maintaining the Latgalian language and culture.
The Latgalians elected to the Saeima are doing the right thing in accordance with Article 4 of the Constitution when they take the oath of office. In the inter-war Saeima, Francis Trasuns and other Latgalians also spoke Latgalian from this podium. There is no other country where the Latgalian language and culture are protected. Latgalian is the common wealth of Latvia.
Colleagues, there are no trifles in matters of language or the identity of the Latvian state. I would like to say to you that when making decisions, always consider the long-term interests of Latvia's statehood.
Take the example of the Latgalians, who have always known how to vote the right way at crucial moments for the country and the Latvian nation. They voted for the values enshrined in our Constitution, for a Latgale that belongs to Europe - for Latvia.
During my presidency, I have always been open to various Latgalian initiatives that laid the foundations for a meaningful and modern Latgale policy. Riga Castle is a place where Latgalians have always been heard.
The more successfully the unfinished processes of decolonisation in Latvia - the elimination of the consequences and signs of the Soviet occupation, including our minds - are and will be carried out, the stronger the local identities of the cultural and historical regions will be restored, and our common Latvian identity will be strengthened.
It was the sense of belonging to Latgale and the Latvian state that kept the spirit of national resistance alive in Latgalians during the years of Soviet occupation. At that time, during the Soviet occupation, Latgale was subjected to russification in order to russify it and impoverish the Latvian language. However, the Latvian idea continued to live in Latgale.
That is why on 2 March we honour and commemorate the participants of the legendary Battle of Stompaki. The Latgalians won this battle.
In this regard, the Law on the historical Latvian lands has provided the basis for sensible solutions. Politically, the eastern border of Latgale is not only the national border of Latvia, but also the eastern border of the European Union and NATO.
In the past, we used to see the border as a place where the cultural, economic, and other relations of neighbouring countries naturally meet and interact. Not anymore. The hybrid war waged against Latvia by Belarus and Russia’s long-running information war, but especially Russia's criminal war in Ukraine, make us realize more clearly than ever that Latvia has no friends on the other side of the Latgale border. And it won't be soon.
Latvia has only two options.
Francis Trasuns, the patriot of Latgale and united Latvia, formulated them at the Latgale Congress in 1917: "Either with the barbarians to the East or with culture to the West".
Latgale and Latvia made their choice long ago. Namely, in favour of Western culture and Western civilisation. We must stick to this choice today and in the future.
As I promised, the issue of the flag of the historical land of Latgale has been settled. I approved this flag on 19 April. I thank everyone who contributed to the implementation of the idea of the flag of Latgale!
However, special thanks to lawyer Agris Bitāns, chairman of the Development Council of the Latgale Planning Region Sergejs Maksimovs and chairman of the Latgale subcommittee of the Saeima Edmunds Teirumnieks.
The flag of Latgale will probably fly alongside the flag of Latvia in Latgale on the next national holiday – May 4.
May our flags fly freely in Latvia! May Latgale with its flag be strong and beautiful with Latvia!
Congratulations to all of you on the 106th anniversary of the Latgale Congress!
And now I symbolically hand over this flag of Latgale to Edvard Smiltēns, Krišjānis Kariņš, Nauris Puntulis, Edmunds Teirumnieks, Sergejs Maksimovs and Agris Bitāns!