It is my pleasure and privilege to be here and to address this distinguished audience. It is remarkable that we have gathered here to discuss the future of the region that in a matter of weeks will border the enlarged NATO and European Union. It was only fifteen years ago when the Iron Curtain broke down and the Soviet Union dissolved. At that time the people of Latvia could only dream about such future. However, we were determined to defend our freedom and independence and to build democracy. And we succeeded.
Europe and the world have changed during past decade. The horrendous terrorist attacks in the United States and most recently in Spain have proven that, while we have dealt with the consequences of the Cold War, new threats to our security have emerged. Whilst searching for a proper response to these threats, we should not loose sight of the need to promote freedom, democracy and human rights in our neighbourhood.
This was the focus of the International Conference “The Future of Democracy beyond the Baltics” held in Riga on February 6 and I would like to thank the hosts of this forum for taking further the discussion on these essential issues. The future of Wider Europe is of utmost importance not only because stability in the new neighbouring countries will directly influence stability and security of the whole Europe. It is also our moral obligation to keep the hope of freedom and democracy alive, to help the others the same way we have received assistance during our transition.
As was proven by the Georgian Rose Revolution, people are still ready and willing to strive for freedom and democracy. Now there is a window of opportunity open for Georgia. And it is crucial that this second attempt to build a state based on principles of democracy would not fail. In this regard I am convinced that the international community will assist Georgia in its efforts towards democracy and prosperity. A successful and peaceful transition in Georgia could create new opportunities for the whole region of South Caucasus.
This year’s presidential elections in Ukraine and parliamentary elections in Belarus will be of crucial importance for the future of democracy in the region.
Ukraine with its geographical position and high potential is a key state for the security and stability in Europe. A stable and democratic Ukraine is a part of the Europe we are trying to build. Latvia supports bringing Ukraine closer to European and Transatlantic institutions. At the same time democratic development of Ukraine has always been on our agenda and it should be regarded as a precondition for Ukraine’s closer integration into the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO and European Union should form a closer relationship with Ukraine. The next NATO summit in Istanbul might consider giving Ukraine a clear perspective for closer relations with the Alliance provided the presidential elections this autumn are free and fair.
Let me now turn to our neighbouring state - Belarus. The situation in Belarus remains a challenge for the future of the region and the whole Europe. As a neighbouring state Latvia has tried to develop pragmatic and constructive relations with Belarus. We are interested in a stable and prosperous neighbour that, however, can only be achieved if democratic development, observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms is ensured.
Unfortunately, the conditions for free media, civil rights and liberties in Belarus continue to deteriorate resulting in deeper isolation of the country from the international community and processes of integration taking place in Europe. It is even more alarming because of the parliamentary elections to take place this October. I am convinced that a permanent international attention should be attached to the developments in Belarus and it should be made clear to the authorities in Minsk that only free and fair elections would change the attitude of international community.
The Belarussian people should be assured of the support of international community. We should do more to assist the democratic forces and civic society in Belarus. What is left of free media and human rights NGOs need this support badly.
We welcome the efforts aimed at consolidation of the Belarussian democratic forces. The establishment of the People Coalition “5+” was a very important step in this direction and has to be commended. But we are also pleased with the continuation of the process that started in Riga and continued in Vilnius resulting in the agreement among the Belarussian political groups on concrete areas of cooperation regarding the upcoming elections.
I believe the enlarged EU will have Belarus higher on its agenda and will play a more prominent and effective role in supporting establishment of democracy in this country. It is also essential that we, the Europeans, work hand in hand with our North American friends and allies.
In conclusion I would like to underline that security and stability in the Wider Europe largely depends on our own efforts and engagement. The enlargement of NATO and the European Union is the greatest security and stability project in Europe’s recent history. It is a decisive step towards uniting and integrating Europe that was divided for fifty years and caused the most horrible wars of the 20th century. I am convinced that it is crucially important to continue to work with our neighbours to ensure that the zone of democracy and freedom continues expanding so that one day we can complete the creation of Europe whole and free.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman!