Address by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands

Riga, Latvia, 22 May 2006

on the occasion of the State visit to Latvia.

Madam President,

It gives me great pleasure to visit your country and to be your guest this evening. Last year I had the privilege of welcoming you to the Netherlands. That this State visit to Latvia could take place so soon afterwards may be seen as clear evidence of the excellent relations between our two countries. I am delighted to now have the opportunity to see for myself the great changes that have taken place in your country in recent years.

Since Latvia regained its independence in nineteen ninety-one, it has resumed its rightful place within the European family. It has acceded to the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Council of Europe, and has thereby joined the European legal community and become part of the transatlantic security architecture. As a result of these events and others, it has undergone a radical process of transformation. Old certainties have made way for new challenges and opportunities. Your young, dynamic and highly educated population is proving fully capable of facing these challenges. The contribution made by your compatriots to the European Union and other international organisations is considerable and we indeed appreciate it very much.

In the midst of all these changes you face the weighty but essential task of protecting the weaker members of society and helping them through these sometimes difficult times. The consequences of the recent enlargement of the European Union have led to problems of transition, not only in your country. They have also caused a great deal of uncertainty amongst people in Western Europe. It is very important that we do not see the current situation as a threat, but as a development offering us new prospects and opportunities. The countries that have recently joined the Union have enriched Europe with a new vitality and knowledge that is of benefit to us all.

The way in which your country is responding to its membership shows once again that difficult circumstances bring out the best in the Latvians. They have demonstrated this before, after nineteen nineteen, when your country regained its independence. In those years between the Wars, Latvia was one of Europe's economic leaders. Sadly, this period of freedom and prosperity was short-lived; it came to an end after twenty years with the Second World War.

The history of Latvia in the second half of the last century is both tragic and dramatic. As the end of the Second World War did not bring you the freedom and independence you hoped for, but marked the beginning of a new period of oppression. On more than one occasion you have stated emphatically that these facts may not be forgotten. The courageous and unambiguous way in which you have spoken on this matter deserves the respect of all.

The history of your country was tragic, but never without hope. The ideal of an independent Latvia always remained alive, even at the time when it seemed unlikely to be achieved soon. International developments at the end of the eighties changed the situation. The images of nineteen eighty-nine, when the Baltic peoples lent force to their longing for freedom by linking hands to form a human chain that stretched from Vilnius, via Riga, to Tallinn will remain for ever engraved in our memories. And thus as in nineteen nineteen, nineteen ninety-one became the year in which freedom was regained.

The bitter history of your country has left its mark, not only in people's memories, but also in day-to-day reality. Latvia has a large minority with a language of its own. That is a situation which inevitably leads to certain tensions, as it does in other European countries, including the Netherlands. Though the origins of these issues may be different, the results are often comparable. These tensions must be faced and debate made possible. This is one of the most important areas in which our capitals, Riga and Amsterdam, are cooperating and sharing experiences. In addition, we maintain excellent contacts in other fields such as transport, archive systems and archaeological research.

In this way an old tradition is revived. Riga and Amsterdam were great commercial centres in the seventeenth century that turned their eyes to the outside world. Latvia and the Netherlands were trading nations, characterised by entrepreneurial spirit and creativity. As early as that century, we corresponded through a regular postal service between Riga and Amsterdam. But our relations were not confined to trade and transport; they also embraced cultural matters. The fact that the Latvian-born Mariss Jansons is now the conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam shows how close these cultural relations have once again become. It is also an appropriate illustration of the harmonious nature of the ties between our two countries. We hope to enjoy this very special artistic collaboration tomorrow with many of your compatriots.

Madam President,

The influential and prestigious position you occupy on the world stage is proof both of your great personal qualities and of the respect your country enjoys. I should like to raise my glass and drink to your health, Madam President, to that of your husband, Professor Freibergs, to the good relations between our two nations and to a bright future for the Latvian people.