Excellencies, dear friends!
It is a joy to welcome you here today and wish you every success in this year and – depending how you count – also in the new decade. It will also be the Year of the Rat, a clever and resilient animal. May it bring prosperity and peace to us all.
In my New Year's address to the people of Latvia, I wished them faith, hope and confidence. Faith in our ability to improve our lives and adapt to new challenges in the 21st Century. Hope that our dreams will come true, although we must learn to dream wisely and collectively! Confidence to act in order to improve our country and change the world. And, of course, the strongest force of all – love.
These things I also wish to you, dear friends, because the year begins with considerable anxiety. We follow the tensions in the Middle East and mourn the lives lost on Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752. We watch with deep sympathy the traumatic scenes from forest fires in Australia, which add to the growing awareness of human impact on climate change.
We listen in disbelief and denounce the falsified history of World War II coming from Russia. It is incredible that 75 years after the end of the War, we still hear absurd accusations against our NATO and EU ally Poland and against ourselves. Latvia and its neighbours lost their freedom thanks to an evil pact by two totalitarian regimes – it is deeply offensive now to hear distortions and lies about our very real history, which still has many living witnesses.
Next week, on 27 January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I will be present at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz–Birkenau. We will pay tribute to the victims, but we must also remain alert to all signs of rebirth of totalitarianism in our societies. Earlier this week I visited the Žanis Lipke memorial here in Riga together with schoolchildren, where we talked about courage to help our fellow citizens when they are in danger, the courage to resist evil ideologies, the courage to defend our state and our way of living.
On 4th May, we will mark 30 years since Latvia declared renewal of independence – we had the courage, the confidence, hope and faith to make this dream come true. On 10th February we mark 25 years since Latvia joined the Council of Europe and pledged to uphold the European values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Now, working closely with our European and Transatlantic partners and allies, we continually need to defend our freedoms.
Last December at the NATO leaders meeting in London, Latvia underlined its commitments to defence spending. We see the need for greater defence capability and cooperation in Europe and we deeply appreciate the presence of NATO troops in Latvia as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence, led by Canada, as well as the air policing of our skies.
The New Year also comes with a change of leadership in the European Union. I want to thank to Finnish Presidency for the very effective leadership of the Council of the European Union in the last half year and now I wish the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (and in the second half of the year, the German Presidency) every success. I have already spoken to the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and I look forward to addressing the European Parliament later this year.
The wonderful musicians, artists and athletes in our countries are a constant source of optimism and inspiration. I therefore look forward to the 12th Latvian Youth Song and Dance Festival on 6-12 July and to the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
This evening you will hear a concert by one of our most famous choirs, ‘Kamēr…’, which has won many prizes and medals in international competitions. This is Latvia’s voice in the world and I hope it will fill you with optimism and inspiration.
After the concert, I look forward to more conversations with you. But right now, I wish to congratulate the new Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Latvia, the Ambassador of Ireland Jim Hennessy.
Thank you very much!