Dear Colleagues, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen!
Swedish society has an international reputation for its sense of justice and global responsibility. This reputation is built on real events, such as the ‘Monday meetings’ for freedom in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. 20 years ago, here, on Norrmalm Square and elsewhere in Sweden, weekly meetings were held in solidarity with your neighbours across the Baltic Sea. Sweden and the other Nordic countries were among the strongest supporters of our renewed independence, and I am please to have this opportunity today to say „tack, mina vånner”! Thank you, my friends!
Of course, the support you gave is part of a close relationship between Sweden and Latvia throughout the centuries - from the time of trading links between Riga and Visby merchants in the Hanseatic League, and the Swedish empire, through good neighbourly ties in the inter-war period, to boatloads of refugees arriving in Gotland, the closest Western land, as they escaped from Soviet occupation. For decades, Latvia disappeared from the map, but obviously not from your memory. As the Soviet regime began to fall, Swedish diplomats were among the most active in the Baltic region, and Sweden was the first country to establish an embassy in Latvia in 1991.
Sweden has also been one of our closest partners in the past 20 years, not only as the greatest contributor of foreign direct investment, but also in other important areas. The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, opened by His Majesty the King of Sweden in 1994, is the highest ranked tertiary institution in Latvia. Our municipalities, businesses, research institutions, schools and NGOs work closely together, rebuilding the ties between our peoples. Cultural links have always been strong, and will be further boosted in 2014, when Riga and Umeå become European Capitals of Culture. We have excellent transport links by sea and air, so tourism and business travel is easy and quick.
Earlier this year, it gave me great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt to Latvia. We had a good discussion about the future of relations between our countries. We especially agreed on the importance of business ties - both greater volume and bigger diversity – to help Latvia’s economy recover. A healthy economy in Latvia will benefit not only for my country, but our whole region. As the past year has shown, together we can be successful at overcoming financial crises. We are also firm partners within the Nordic-Baltic format, which is gaining increased international recognition. And, of course, we sit at one table in the European Union, where we find many interests in common. In the first half of 2015, Latvia will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union – something we could not imagine in the days of the Monday Movement.
I presume many of you who came here on those Mondays meetings, in rain or sunshine, have already visited Latvia. I hope that your experiences there were mostly positive, and your solidarity with the peoples of the Baltic states is still strong as it was in those historic days.
Thank you once again!