Ladies and gentlemen,
Honourable members of the Supreme Council who voted for our independence,
Esteemed recipients of Statehood Award,
Article 1 of Satversme, our constitution, conveys the very essence of our statehood in two words: “Latvia is…”.
It exists, continues across time spans, today, tomorrow, hundred years from now. It reflects Latvian people’s desire to have Latvian State eternally, perpetually, as our constitution says.
“Latvia is” is both the affirmation of statehood and its paradigm or our people’s self-defined goal, shared by generations and individuals, to constantly, unstoppably continue to sustain our own state.
In other words, our society has decided that its primary goal is to be a state and not just a group of people inhabiting a certain area.
“Latvia is” is the constitutional goal defined in Satversme in 1922. However, in 1917, even before our state was proclaimed on 18 November 1918, Latvian Transitional National Council declared: ‘Since we have the right to create our own state, it is our obligation to exercise this right for the sake of our descendants.’
A state emerges from national aspirations. There can be no state without national aspirations.
In November 1918, just one week from the end of the World War I, 40 people gathered in Riga, which was still occupied by German forces, to establish the People’s Council and took on the rights, duties and risks of declaring that Latvia is on behalf of the whole nation. They, members of the People’s Council, decided that there is no need for any polling or ratings analysis to confirm the size of Latvian population aspiring to create its own state. Probably majority of Latvians were too busy with rebuilding Latvia from ruins to even think about the independence per se.
However, that became the moment when history was made. It was made by a couple dozen brave visionaries with foresight and sense of duty, people who decided to act in the best interest of the state at this decisive moment on 18 November.
They turned national aspirations of an abstract political group, Latvian nation, into a reality.
They turned nation into a state.
Ladies and gentlemen,
History does not just happen by itself. It is made and driven by specific choices and actions of people. Especially, at decisive historical moments.
There are choices that you make, and choices that remain untaken. They, members of the People’s Council, decided to turn the soulless wheel of history in the direction, which matches the best interest of their people, the Latvian nation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A state is not soulless, neutral or opaque. “Latvia is” is a statement that reflects the national identity and very reason why Latvia exists.
In 2014, we inscribed this reason into the Preamble of our constitution, Satversme. First of all, to guarantee the existence of the Latvian nation throughout the centuries; secondly, to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian language and culture, because Latvian nation is nothing without them; and thirdly, to ensure welfare of the people of Latvia and each individual. If it were not for these reasons, the state would become an empty shell, an area where another country would most probably be established. Because areas rarely remain vacant.
A state is the best framework, structure and tool for achieving the goals of national statehood of Latvia. Own state is the safest and most reliable way of guaranteeing the existence of the Latvian nation in the long run.
And democracy is the most rational form of state. It brings different individuals, with different needs and concerns, together, letting them decide on common goals and how to achieve them. Democracy is a tool, which enables people to a make a difference in their own life by taking part in deciding the common fate. It does not matter whether one does so through elections or not, because ignorance is also a way to influence social processes. But it, of course, makes more sense and is better and more constructive to use your right to vote.
And rational beings can best coexist when they are willing to share their resources, in particular their mental resources and time, with others, for the collective good of the society. In other words, when they act in the best interest of the state.
Occupation took our state away from us, made us lawless, instilled fear that Latvian nation is about to become extinct, and that ignited the flame, which slowly grew from underneath to break out in the late 1980s.
And just like in early 20th century, people needed to act to make the words written in the constitution “Latvia is” turn from hope and obscure desire into a reality 30 years ago. Some of them have joined us here tonight. You are the ones who turned the soulless wheel of history in the right and much coveted direction. In 1987, you were the first to take the crimson-white-crimson flag and gather at the Freedom Monument to pay tribute to victims of the Soviet terror, having founded the Helsinki `86 human rights group a year earlier in 1986. You were the ones who then created a network of Popular Front chapters all over Latvia. You were the one who locked hands in the Baltic Way and made the sacred vow to be there instead of thinking that maybe somebody else should do it.
Mass popular movement became the embodiment of Latvian people’s national aspirations towards the end of the 1980s. However, it was up to these special people, members and leaders of the Popular Front of Latvia, and many others who had to come up with the right strategy to reach the goal despite massive opposition in Latvia and Moscow, to renew our statehood. Once again, a big thank you to everyone who was in the thick of the things back then and helped restore our independence, which we can proudly celebrate and dwell upon 30 years later here today.
Latvian people were not the only ones who benefitted from our freedom aspirations. Let us not forget that we became free 30 years ago not because the USSR collapsed. It was the Soviet empire which collapsed under the pressure of freedom movements in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It is very important for us to constantly remind ourselves of this important historical fact for Europe and the world.
Baltic independence movements spearheaded the democratisation of the Soviet Union. We were its main driving force, while Moscow was constantly pressured on a political defensive ready to retreat at any time, although it had the military supremacy.
We, the Latvians, left an unprecedented geopolitical impact back then. It was our way of bringing democracy back to Europe. We tore down the wall between east and west and paved the way for enlargement of the European Union.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Words “Latvia is” symbolise the present moment and being and also the determination and continuity into the future.
Proclamation of state and renewed independence define and continue to determine who we are today – here and now. If Latvian State would not have been founded in 1918, who knows what would have happened to us today, and if we would not have renewed our national independence 30 years ago, I doubt we can even imagine what our life would be like today, and I do not think we want to find that out. Similarly, decisions we make today will determine the reality of tomorrow. State is its people.
Our civic actions are mostly determined by our understanding of the best interests of the state. That is what drives us to work for our people and future of the nation.
This is the inaugural Statehood Award ceremony and it is all about this understanding. That is the very purpose of the award. Starting from today, every year we will honour an individual whose role in strengthening our statehood has been exceptional and unparalleled.