Address by H. E. Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, President of Latvia, to the Members of the States General of the Netherlands, the Hague, January 18, 2005:
Honourable Speaker of the Senate
(Ms. Yvonne Timmerman-Buck),
Distinguished President of the
House of Representatives (Mr. Frans Weiglas),
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be
the first ever Latvian head of State to lead an official
delegation to the Parliament of the Netherlands. It is also a
pleasure to return to the Hague so soon, only four months after
speaking at the important conference on European values hosted by
Prime Minister Balkenende.
Latvia and the Netherlands have established a close and friendly relationship since the renewal of diplomatic ties between our countries in 1991, and this visit is providing us with a unique opportunity to appraise the enormous potential for increased cooperation that still lies before us.
The relations between our two countries have grown particularly close since Latvia joined the European Union and the NATO Alliance in May of last year. I would like to express our deepest appreciation for the political and practical assistance that the Netherlands provided in support of Latvia’s preparations for accession to these two international organizations.
This latest enlargement of NATO and of the EU represents a major step in righting the historical injustice that had led to the decades-long subjugation of Central and Eastern Europe. Now, for the first time in its history, Europe is well on the road to becoming a united continent, not on the basis of force and armed conquest, as during centuries past, but of its own free will.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Netherlands on its successful presidency of the European Union, during which accession talks were concluded with Bulgaria and Romania, and during which a consensus was reached regarding the beginning of accession talks with Turkey and Croatia. Latvia views the continuing expansion of the European Union as a priority, as well as the adoption of the new European constitution. Over the longer term, Latvia places great importance on the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy for rendering Europe economically more competitive.
Together, we must strive to ensure that an expanded EU results in a stronger EU. This will require the continued streamlining of the EU’s institutions, along with the concerted application of the acquis communautaire among the EU’s member States, as well as more resolute efforts to implement the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Several joint European activities last year, such as the substantial EU assistance provided for the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, the important role of the EU in monitoring the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, and the takeover of NATO military peacekeeping operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina are positive indications of our ability to work together.
Equally important is the strengthening of Europe’s transatlantic partnership with North America, both within the framework of the NATO Alliance and on a wider scale. Latvia is grateful to the Netherlands and the Secretary General of NATO for ensuring the collective security of the three Baltic countries’ air space as an integral part of the newly enlarged NATO airspace. Few would have imagined ten years ago, shortly after the final withdrawal of Soviet troops from Latvia, that fighter pilots from the Netherlands would one day be conducting defence patrols of our airspace. This will actually be the case within a matter of months, and will be yet another example of our countries’ resolve and ability to work together successfully. I shall add that my country has expressed its readiness to host the next NATO summit in 2006 or 2007 and hopes that a decision will be made to that effect later this year.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
In May of this year, Latvia will be remembering three important events. On May the 4th, Latvia will commemorate the 15th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, following fifty years of occupation and oppression.
On May the 8th, Latvia will join Europe in celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. However, unlike the case in Western Europe, the fall of the hated Nazi German empire did not result in my country’s liberation. Instead, the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were subject to another brutal occupation by another foreign, totalitarian empire, that of the Soviet Union.
On May the 9th, Latvia and 24 other countries will celebrate the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Schuman Declaration, which gave rise to what is now known as the European Union. These celebrations will be taking place in Moscow, on the same date that Russia traditionally celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany.
For Latvia, the jubilation at the fall of Hitler will be tinged with sadness at my country’s further subjugation at the hands of the Soviet Union. In planning to attend the official events in Moscow, I will be extending a conciliatory gesture of friendship to Russia, while encouraging it to denounce the injustices and excesses committed by the Stalinist regime in my country and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. I believe it the duty of all democratic countries to urge Russia to condemn the crimes that were committed during the Soviet era in the name of communism, to urge Russia to come to honest terms with its history, just as Germany did following the end of the Second World War, and just as my own country has been doing ever since it recovered its independence.
Europe’s nations have established a broad consensus on the way their countries should be run, namely, on the basis of free-market economic principles, democratic political institutions, the respect of human rights and the rule of law. For the first time in our history, we have laid the foundations for building a new European home of secure, prosperous and stable nations that will eventually encompass the entire European continent. This is an opportunity that must not be missed. I am confident that the growing partnership between Latvia and the Netherlands will strengthen in the years to come, as we work together for a new and better Europe without wars, conflicts and artificial borders.