Official dinner in Riga Castle
President Vejonis and First Lady Vejone,
ladies and gentlemen,
dames un kungi
It is a true pleasure for the Crown Princess and me to visit Riga, and to be with you tonight honouring your Centenary.
I would like to thank you, Mr President and First Lady Vejone, and the Latvian people for your warm welcome and hospitality.
Latvia has a proud history, but Latvians have also known challenging and difficult times. The determination of the Latvian people to achieve independence for their country has been remarkable. It is therefore a special pleasure for me to congratulate you on your Centenary and celebrating 100 years since your declaration of independence.
The ties between our two countries have a long history. Right back in the Hanseatic period, strong trading relations were established between Riga and the city of Bergen. There were also trading links in the period after your declaration of independence in 1918. In 1920, a leading Norwegian newspaper reported that Norway was one of Latvia’s largest trading partners – especially in fish products.
Today Latvia is an attractive country for Norwegian companies, investors and tourists alike. Since the restoration of independence, Norwegian investments in Latvia have steadily increased. Today more than 300 Norwegian companies are registered in Latvia. Several Latvian companies are present in Norway. There is an active Norwegian Chamber of Commerce in Latvia, and trade and business cooperation between our two countries is thriving. This was clearly demonstrated at today’s Business Forum.
The Economist has called Latvia a choral superpower. I understand that singing is an important part of your heritage, and that belonging to a choir is still very popular. Indeed, singing was part of your path to freedom – "the singing revolution". This proud and touching example of a non-violent way to solve conflict is an inspiration for us all, for the whole international community.
The arts and culture are areas where we have enjoyed longstanding cooperation. Two of Latvia’s greatest national authors, Rainis and Aspazija, were familiar with the work and ideas of our own Henrik Ibsen. Rainis himself advocated ideas of human rights, equality and justice, while Aspazija was deeply impressed by Ibsen’s drama "A Doll’s House" and its defence of women’s rights. At the centenary of Ibsen’s birth, Rainis gave a speech in Oslo praising Ibsen’s mindset. He said: "Ibsen with his plays helped us to fight for progress, to create a new kind of literature, to fight for the emancipation of women. He gave us the power to fight for our independence."
I am very pleased that Norway has been able to contribute to the restoration of the homes of Rainis and Aspazija here in Riga and in Jurmala, through the EEA and Norway Grants. This is important – not only for conserving an important part of your heritage, but also for keeping the values of these great authors alive. In the coming years, Norway and Latvia will continue to cooperate closely in many areas through these grants, and to establish long-lasting partnerships between our two countries.
Mr President, today, both Latvia and Norway are modern European democracies. We are close allies and partners. We share the same values. Through the EEA Agreement, our membership in NATO, and our close Nordic-Baltic cooperation, our ties are stronger than ever.
The Crown Princess and I are happy to be part of your centennial celebrations. We have thoroughly enjoyed visiting Riga and learning more about the cooperation between our two countries.
I would now like to propose a toast to you Mr President and to you, First Lady Vejone, to the Latvian people, and to the continued collaboration and friendship between our two countries.