Honorable Danny Danon, Ambassador of the State of Israel,
Ambassador Maria Viotti, Chef de Cabinet of the UNSG
Excellences, Fellow Ambassadors,
Members of the Jewish community,
As the 8thLatvian Ambassador to the UN, I join our colleagues in congratulating Israel on this round anniversary of independence and membership of the UN! This is a special day to mark a remarkable journey that your state has traveled during the last seven decades. It`s fitting to look back on enormous sacrifices, multiple trials and tribulations, striving for revival and progress. One might call Israel a true miracle of survival, development and innovation. In your region, it`s indeed a quite unprecedented example of vibrant, pluralistic society that enjoys free speech, free press, separation of powers and functioning parliamentary electoral democracy. We know well that creation of Israel was not a gift, concession or premeditated outcome. In fact, your statehood has been earned with blood, sweat and tears of successive generations of the Jewish people with a deep sense of belonging to this Holy Land, regardless of their social background, religious and political views. I am pleased to note that Latvian Jews have contributed to the creation and consolidation of Israel, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel – rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook of Bauska, Latvia was just one of them.
I am very pleased to share some thoughts with you following our recent visit to Auschwitz and Israel. My wife Elena and myself have been privileged to witness the preparations for the 70th anniversary in Israel.
I do not know exactly why Ambassador Danny Danon has chosen me to share the reflections, but I assume that it is due to the fact that I represent a country – Latvia that shares a lot of history, as well as ideals and values with Israel. Like Israel, Latvia gained independence during the last century. It lost it during WWII and regained 50 years later. Latvia has lost one third of the population in WWI and another one third in WWII, experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust and multiple invasions from the East and from the West. Our best people–Latvians and Jews both perished in Stutthof, Gulags of Siberia and Riga Ghetto, they died in the battles of WWI and WWII, many fled in exile. Unlike Israel, following WWII, Latvia has not been a free country and a member of the UN for more than 45 years against the will of its people. Therefore, we feel a strong solidarity with Israel on the issues of peace and security, on the struggle against distortion of history, on the fight against racisms, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and bigotry.
Having visited Aushwitz, Yad-Vashem museum, Masada fortress, Biblical and pre-Biblical sites in Jerusalem, Ashkelon damaged by the missile strikes, we ought to draw clear conclusions from the past and present to avoid repetitions in the future:
The first lesson is very clear: we should never be neutral, passive, or silent when injustice is taking place. We must never take an indifferent stance on issues of peace and security in international affairs. We must be resolute in our international engagement to protect 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. We strongly support the UN and multilateral system. It should not be forgotten that none of the UN member states have lost independence. We are pleased to collaborate with Israel in the OECD and the UN on the issues of cybersecurity, sustainable development, education, research, energy conservation.
The second lesson, we will do utmost to protect our citizens and our nation, by investing in defense, resisting and fighting. The right of Israel to protect its citizens is unquestionable. It is a solemn responsibility of every state to protect its citizens. Our state was destroyed during the WWII, so we could not protect our citizens. Now we say never again. We will do utmost to protect the state and its citizens.
The third conclusion, is that we have to be firm on our values, we should 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 during Soviet times, when information on the Holocaust was highly restricted. That work only started when Latvia regained its independence. Sometimes it is not easy, it is controversial, but we strive to do as much as we can to expose all controversies of WWII. Now researchers use open and digital archives and other sources to promote understanding among the youth, among the students about sources of the bigotry, hatred, collaboration and homophobic nature of totalitarian ideologies. In this regard, I appreciate greatly the opportunity to take part in the March of the Living along with the thousands of young people from all corners of the world.
It should also be underscored that in recent years there has been an alarming increase in Antisemitism worldwide. Combating racial, ethnic and religious intolerance, including Antisemitism, has been one of the Latvian Government’s top priorities in human rights area since regaining independence. We should speak up against all modern forms of antisemitisms, including very deplorable manifestations of this form of bigotry and hatred in sports events.
Lastly, as a Cold War baby and a practitioner in diplomacy over the last 25 years, I believe that historical windows of opportunity do exist. They should be used in full to break the vicious circle of hatred, bloodshed, suffering and pain. Therefore, I very much hope that the next window for the peace in the Middle East will appear sooner that later. I very much hope that it will be nurtured, seized and embraced by all parties, and that a peace with the Palestinians and the two-state solution with will ultimately become a viable reality.
In conclusion, let me stress once again, how much I feel grateful and honored for witnessing this commemorative day. I wish Israel peace, prosperity and further development.
Thank you! Mazel Tov!