• 2023-06-22
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - Today, an "iron curtain" has descended at Latvia's border in Zilupe, President Egils Levits said in his address at the last plenary of the parliament's spring session on Thursday. 

The outgoing president indicated that this "curtain" must not be permeable, either militarily, for business transactions or in the minds of Latvia's people. This "iron curtain" separates worlds of incompatible values, so we must patiently but persistently continue to build a society that is immune to the so-called "Russian world" in all its manifestations.

"A cohesive society is not a society that is somehow glued together at any cost. A cohesive society can only be one based on common values - Latvian identity, democracy, sense of belonging to Europe. Values that a person considers to be his or her own," Levits said.

The president stressed that there is a sufficient consensus in Latvia on democracy and European identity, but a consensus has yet to be achieved on Latvian identity. A large part of society take their Latvian identity for granted, but there are also those who still dream of a comfortable "Russian world" in Latvia, while others do not see the remnants of Russian and Soviet colonialism and Russification, are used to them or are resigned to them.

The president explained that Latvian identity centers around the Latvian language as the state language but that it is much more than that. It is also a vision of the world from our point of view. It is our culture, our understanding of history, our conviction that the occupation of Latvia was a crime, that an independent state is an asset, that Latvia belongs to the Western world and not to the East. Latvian identity is a solid foundation for Latvia's civil society. It invites everyone to join in and in no way "diminishes the right of national minorities to cultivate their national-cultural identity among themselves".

Levits said that in order to strengthen the Latvian character of the Latvian state, he drafted the Law on Historical Latvian Lands, which was adopted by the 13th Saeima. Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Latgale, Zemgale and Selija represent the diversity and historical depth of Latvian identity. A Council of Historical Lands has also been established under the president's auspices. 

"I have always consistently advocated for unified education in the Latvian language. The 13th Saeima finally took this decision, albeit much too late, but still - historically it puts an end to the continuation of the division of our nation, an endless continuation into the future," the president said, pointing out that from the 2026/2027 school year, a European language will be taught as a second foreign language in schools. The fact that the second foreign language will no longer be Russian is a consistent step towards further liberation from the colonial past.

Levits noted that Latvia has removed many monuments to the Tsarist Russian and Soviet occupation over the past year, but this work still needs to be completed. Latvia's public space still contains a number of street names and signs that symbolize Latvia's belonging to Russia. Given Russia's aggressive imperialism, it is high time that this changed. In the president's view, Latvia's public space should affirm Latvian, democratic and European values, not those of the Soviet occupiers and Tsarist Russia.

Therefore, the president has submitted a legislative initiative to the Saeima. It is accompanied by a list of street names associated with the occupation that should be renamed, compiled by the Centre of Public Memory. The Saeima will be able to discuss each name separately.

In his address to the Saeima, the President of Latvia pointed to an unacceptable situation in the health sector, as recently evidenced by a letter from a young doctor. The regulation of the Law on Patients' Rights that information must be given to the patients in a form that they understand is being interpreted one-sidedly as an obligation for the doctor to speak Russian.

In the president's view, it is urgent to adopt a legal framework which in practice prevents discrimination against Latvian doctors and other health care workers. Levits noted that there are still many companies in the country that require their employees to speak Russian. According to the president, the young and educated generation should not be allowed to be forced out of the Latvian labor market, forced out of Latvia. They must not be required to speak Russian.

Levits stressed that the civic activism of the society has ensured that the Russian language is no longer imposed on Latvians in many situations. But if public pressure is not enough, the legislator must intervene, if necessary change the law, to prevent the continuation of the colonial and Russification policies of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union in the free and independent state of Latvia.