Honorable survivors of the Holocaust in Latvia,
Honorable Prime minister Māris Gailis,
Professor George Schwab,
As the 8th Latvian Ambassador to the UN, I along with my wife Elena, are honored to attend this annual gathering to commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust in Latvia.
I would like to use this opportunity to stress that this month of November is very special to Latvia. November 18th marked the independence of the State of Latvia. As you know, this year is particularly important because we just celebrated the centennial of the modern democratic Latvian State; the state which was fought for during the independence war in 1918-1920. In 1918, the state was proclaimed, but it took three years until our independence received international recognition, marking the ultimate victory of the long overdue struggle of the Latvian nation, and thousands of people from the Latvian Jewish community contributed to that efforts.
Unfortunately, independence lasted only 22 years. Jewish culture flourished in Latvia in the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s. Then, during World War II, independence was lost, the state was destroyed and the Latvian nation was repressed. Just a few days after Latvia celebrated its independence, we also reflected on the tragedy of the darkest pages of our history – an extermination of the Riga Ghetto and mass killing of Latvian citizens of Jewish background and European Jews in Rumbula. These are pages that we do not want to be repeated in the future, these are very dark, somber pages in Latvian history. Of course, we will take all lessons from that immense tragedy.
The first lesson is very clear: we will never be neutral, passive, or silent when injustice takes place. We must never take an indifferent stance on issues of peace and security in international affairs. In the 1930s, Latvian politicians of that time thought: if we will be neutral, maybe the stormy political developments in Europe will spare us from troubles. As a result, due to the Nazi Germany and Stalinist Soviet occupation we lost our state for fifty years, we lost a whole third of our population. The conclusion is the following – we will always be strongly engaged internationally. We will be actively committed to international cooperation and collective security. This is what we have been trying to do during the last 28 years. We nurture our independence; we protect our freedom, and develop very strong transatlantic relations with the United States, Israel, and the European Union.
Thus the second lesson, we will do utmost to protect our citizens and our nation, by resisting and fighting. It is a solemn responsibility of the Republic to protect its citizens. I want to thank, from this rostrum, all supporters of this organization, of this community, which has gathered in this holy place. Thank you for marking your Latvian heritage. We honor the centennial of the Republic, it sounds like a miracle for those who remember much darker days. I still remember what life was like in Soviet Latvia during the occupation. We could not have dreamed of independence. We could not think of being in the United Nations. You might call it is a miracle. In fact, it has been achieved with blood, sweat and tears of all people who belong to Latvia, regardless of their background, regardless of religion, regardless of the political views.
The third conclusion, which we have a strong voice about, is that we have to eliminate hidden subjects in our political discourse and our social life. Only truth can make us fully free. I still recall myself in high school, running in the Bikernieku forest for orientation competition, and we hardly knew that these were the killing grounds during the Holocaust in November and December of 1941. The information on Holocaust was very restricted, almost no signs. That work only started when Latvia regained its independence. At times it is not easy, it is controversial, but we try to do as much as we can to expose all controversies of WWII. This work has started during the time of President Guntis Ulmanis (1993-1999), when historic commission has been created. The Commission has been particularly active during the mandate of President Vaira Vike-Freiberga (1999-2007), who was my former boss for seven and a half years. She made exceptional efforts in this regard, but the work goes on with successive administrations. Now researchers use open and digital archives and other sources on how to promote understanding among the youth, among the students about the bigotry, hatred, collaboration and homophobic nature of totalitarian ideologies.
A lot has been done, but it is not over and it will never be over. We very much appreciate the support of your organization, your dedication to prosperity, to development of Latvia, and to the friendship between Latvia and the United States. So, I am very grateful for witnessing this commemorative day. I look forward for staying in touch with you. I am looking forward to very productive exchanges with you. I am always available here, in Manhattan, and I look forward to welcoming you to Riga, to Latvia, and to our continuous contacts. Thank you all.