Latvia’s honorary consuls! Dear fellow Latvians! I have the great pleasure of sending my greetings to you on Latvia’s 93rd anniversary of the proclamation of independence, as well as on the 20th anniversary since restoration of independence.
I would like to thank all of you for your significant contribution to the prosperity and promotion of Latvia abroad. I would also especially like to congratulate our most recent honorary consuls: Andris Lācis in Michigan, Roberts Blumbergs in Chicago, Tālis Sēja in Boston, Jānis Bolis in Rhode Island, Uldis Bērziņš in Oregon, Juris Buņķis in Los Angeles and Līga Hoy in San Francisco. I hope that you will be able to participate in the meeting of honorary consuls in Rīga, to be held July 5 and 6, 2012.
Nov. 18 is a bright and unique holiday that unites all Latvian generations and communities in countries near and far. On this day, for a moment forgetting our everyday concerns, we review our accomplishments and evaluate anew what the Latvian nation means to the Latvian people. In this regard we belong to the lucky, we can almost say chosen, people and generations. Not so long ago the idea of Latvians having their own nation seemed like a dream, an unreachable mythical ideal. The name of the Latvian nation appeared to be more associated with the past than the future.
Twenty years ago a new era began. The Baltic people won a fantastic victory, freeing themselves from totalitarian oppression. At that time we were united, and we have reason to be proud of our hard-earned freedom. For this, the rest of the world admired us. The nonviolent and peaceful “Singing Revolution” has become known as a unique phoenomenon in world history. In the same way we affirmed our determination in later years, strengthening our nation in new circumstances—by joining the European Union and NATO, by improving our relations with Russia.
The role of the United States and its people was especially essential to Latvia’s rebirth. This connection remains vitally important also today. That is why Latvia is and will remain a reliable ally of the NATO alliance and of the U.S. In May the NATO Summit will take place in Chicago, which will reaffirm this military union as well as mark the 10th anniversary since Latvia was invited to join the alliance in Prague. The selection of the host city for the summit is not unintentional, since Chicago is a city with the largest community of residents of Latvian, Lithuanian and other Central European origins.
Unfortunately, our rapid transformation led to a certain euphoria that life would improve linearly, that the quality of life from year to year would continue to improve. Disparity in income between various sections of the population increased, migration grew and the birthrate decreased. The most serious economic crisis since the restoration of independence inflicted deep wounds in the welfare of our people, in their self-confidence and in the belief of their own strengths. The GDP was reduced by one fourth; due to emigration Latvians formed new communities in Europe, the United States and Australia. Still, our nation was able to mobilize.
I will take the liberty to assert that there is reason to look to the future with more hope. The consequences of the crisis can still be felt, but the most difficult period is behind us. The economy has recovered and grown 4.5 percent. Domestic consumption and and manufacturing capacity continues to grow. Thanks to the favorable international situation, exports continued to grow this year, surpassing pre-crisis levels. This December the Latvian Government will conclude its loan program with the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission. The government has established as a goal the fulfullment of all criteria for transitioning to the united European currency—the euro.
It is meaningful that in the political arena a new development phase has been reached following the referendum regarding the dissolution of the 10th Saeima and the snap elections of the 11th Saeima. Many younger people have entered politics, various parties have regrouped, the composition of the coalition has been altered. An effective center-right coalition has been formed. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has guaranteed the government’s succession in the areas of economics and finance. I thank you for your investment in the strengthening of economic ties and your support in preparing the U.S. visits of Latvia’s government officials and business representatives.
In my opinion a number of commendable changes have taken place in the manner of thinking and planning. Our resolve that we cannot spend more than we earn, that we cannot count on swift, extensive breakthroughs continues to grow. We more clearly realize that future growth will need to be achieved in fierce competition with other nations, step by step enriching our knowledge and experience, increasing productivity. In this context I am proud of the dynamic Latvian and U.S. cooperation in the field of education. The Baltic American Freedom Fund has successfully launched a research and internship program between universities and businesses. Recently a foundation supporting the University of Latvia was established in the U.S. Active contacts between Rīga Technical University, the Rīga Business School and their partners in the U.S. have been established. These contacts are one of pillars of our future relationships.
Another example—a positive change in attitude towards Latvians abroad. Serious work has begun regarding amendments in the citizenship law, in order to increase the number of Latvia’s citizens. In the first reading 94 deputies supported the amendments. It is my hope that these amendments will strengthen the emotional as well as legal ties to the ancestral homeland. I invite Latvians to consider this possibility and take advantage of this opportunity once the amendments have passed. Ambassador Rolands Lappuķe will be coordinating the government’s policy in relations with the Latvian diaspora. To alleviate the passport application process, at the beginning of 2012 the Embassy of Latvia in Washington will launch a mobile passport system, which will give an opportunity to obtain the passports in the Latvian community centers around the U.S.
In one month, on Dec. 6, the period of independence of the renewed Republic of Latvia will exceed the length of pre-war independence. With each year we are approaching a magic number—Latvia’s centennial. Together let us shape Latvia as a prosperous, modern, democratic and judicial country! Let us cultivate the modern partnership of Latvia and the U.S. into the 21st century!