On 26 January 2021, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the international de jure recognition of the Republic of Latvia. This date is related to events that took place in Paris, when on this date back in 1921, following determined and tireless efforts of Latvian diplomats over a two year period, the States that emerged victorious from World War I, known as “the Entente” (Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan) decided together to grant international recognition de jure to Latvia.
Recognition de jure means that a state has become a subject of international law. Such recognition is irrevocable and permanent. Following its de jure recognition, the 1815 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations became fully applicable to Latvia. Latvia was able to establish diplomatic relations, appoint ministers plenipotentiary and envoys extraordinary, accede to international conventions, enter into multilateral agreements, as well as organising meetings between countries and taking part in international conferences as a duly empowered member with the rights enjoyed by other recognised members of the international community.
Recognition de jure is official and irrevocable. Therefore, even though it had lost its de facto independence in 1940, the Latvian state existed as a subject of international law until the full restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia in August 1991.
While under occupation, the Latvian diplomatic and consular service continued its work and activities in the West. Latvia’s occupation and annexation were illegitimate, and the Latvian state continued existing de jure. By keeping the idea of Latvia’s independence alive and actively defending it in international politics, Latvian diplomats and Latvian organisations in exile made significant contributions leading eventually to the return and renewal of the country’s independence.
After the occupation had begun in 1940, the Latvian foreign service was the only public authority of the Republic of Latvia which continued performing its functions and representing the state internationally. Latvia’s diplomatic and consular missions continued working in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Argentina and Switzerland – a case like this is without precedent in the history of diplomacy.
Following the adoption of the Declaration “On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia” on 4 May 1990, the Supreme Council established a new Council of Ministers and appointed a Foreign Minister on 22 May. The work commenced to restore the Foreign Service of the independent state which had been torn apart in 1940 by a foreign occupying power. In 1991, Latvia regained complete independence, and the state could begin integrating itself into international processes and participating in them fully.
The day of international de jure recognition was a national holiday in Latvia in the period before the occupation, with a status equivalent to the day when the proclamation of independence is celebrated on the 18th of November, which in the historical consciousness of the Latvian people is Latvia’s birthday.
To highlight the accomplishment, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a tradition of referring to this occasion as “Diplomats Day”, drawing attention to the manner in which Latvia's international recognition de jure on 26 January 1921 made it possible for Latvian diplomats to be accredited as envoys of their country. Each year, on 26 January, tribute is paid to the mission of diplomats in support of Latvia and their selfless efforts in establishing Latvia’s statehood and gaining de jure recognition, raising awareness of the work which diplomats do and its historical traditions as well as the tasks they tackle today and the plans and aspirations for the future.
In 2021, Latvia will also be marking the centenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with its friends and allies whose support was so vital both in 1921 and upon restoration of independence in 1991. From 1921 to 1928, Latvia was recognised by 45 countries and it established diplomatic relations with each of them. The re-established independence of Latvia, beginning in August 1991, was recognised by 95 countries, and the establishment and re-establishment of diplomatic relations with these countries followed, with some quite quickly and others a bit later.
At present, Latvia enjoys diplomatic relations with 191 countries. Work in the Latvian Foreign Service is underway to establish diplomatic relations with four more United Nations member states – Bhutan, South Sudan, Guinea Bissau, and the Marshall Islands.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia is responsible for ensuring of the sovereign rights and interests of the state in the field of international relations and the protection of interests of Latvian nationals travelling and residing in foreign countries and Latvian companies and legal entities operating abroad. The history of Latvia’s diplomatic service is as long as that of Latvian state – it is the only institution of the Republic of Latvia that has been functioning without pause since the foundation of the state up till the present moment.