Local view for "http://purl.org/linkedpolitics/eu/plenary/2003-10-09-Speech-4-055"

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"Ladies and gentlemen, in order to maintain the influence and importance of Europe in the world today, it is our responsibility to make the best of the main asset of this continent that we share: its rich tapestry of cultures, languages and diverse nations. The linguistic and cultural diversity of our continent is an invaluable source of richness that constitutes the very heart of European integration. It contributes to the of the European Union, as expressed by the new motto proposed by the Convention on the future of Europe: ‘united in diversity’. The challenge and main task of the Latvian education system is to create the conditions in which the young generation can flourish. The reform of the education system envisaged by the state therefore anticipates keeping primary teaching either in the Latvian language or in one of the eight minority languages to which I have already referred. As from September 2004, secondary schools will, however, have to ensure that they teach at least 60% of the proposed subjects in Latvian, while retaining their freedom of choice when it comes to which particular subjects. I would add that Latvian policy towards its minorities is entirely in accordance with international criteria and that this fact has been confirmed many times in recent years by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the United Nations, as well as by several other international organisations. Ladies and gentlemen, any collective will to free ourselves from a totalitarian past can really only succeed through our becoming aware of the forms and expressions that totalitarianism can take. For that reason, Latvia expresses its support for the motion for a resolution, presented on 25 September 2003 at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, concerning the need for international condemnation of totalitarian Communism. This resolution anticipates the formation of a politically independent commission to investigate the crimes committed in the course of five decades by the Communist regimes in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Such international condemnation – based on objective information and incontrovertible facts – of totalitarian Communism and of the murders, mass deportations and other forms of repression practised in its name, would be of invaluable help in defining the basic values governing our continent. The experience of Germany at the end of the Second World War suggests that, if the anti-Fascist forces had only conquered the Nazi regime on the battlefields, their struggle would perhaps have been in vain. It was only by triumphing over the totalitarian Nazi ideology that had been implanted in the minds of millions of people that European integration – and the construction of what has now become the European Union – has become possible. In order successfully to complete the unification of a Europe once torn apart, it is now necessary once and for all to take stock of this other curse that has caused inexpressible suffering to tens of millions of people over a period of decades. For centuries, indeed for thousands of years, our continent has survived an interminable succession of bloody wars and conflicts that culminated in the two world wars and the ethnic cleansing of the twentieth century. Now, for the first time in our history, we have before us the opportunity to create, of our own free will, a new Europe, united and at peace, stable and prosperous. I fervently want us to be in a position to take up that challenge. I fervently hope that we shall be equal to the task, so that we might fully use all the advantages and all the resources that history has finally put within our grasp. For a whole half-century, Latvia has had to suffer the full burden of totalitarianism. It is therefore with a full knowledge of the facts that the Latvians have a particularly acute sense of what is meant by freedom of choice and civil liberties. We shall therefore do everything in our power to ensure that a spirit of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect continues to prevail among the peoples of our continent and that this is at the centre of our efforts towards increased cooperation. As soon as it was founded in 1918, Latvia established itself as an open and democratic state. Unfortunately, the great dream of the Latvian people to live in freedom in a stable and prosperous country was too quickly transformed into a nightmare. The secret agreement between Hitler and Stalin, concluded in 1939 in the form of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, divided Central and Eastern Europe into German and Russian spheres of influence, unleashed the most destructive war humanity has ever known and erased the names of the three Baltic countries from the political maps of the world. For fifty long years, Latvia suffered two brutal occupations – Nazi and Soviet – and lost more than a third of its pre-war population. The Latvian language was progressively engulfed by another, Russian, in public and everyday life. The Latvians, for their part, were not far off becoming a minority in their own homeland. Latvia therefore inherited a heavy burden from the regime of Soviet occupation. The linguistic policy imposed by Moscow for half a century was aimed at the total Russification of Latvia and the destruction of its national identity. This baleful policy had grievous and lasting consequences that the country is determined to overcome in the course of the next few years with the help of the governmental programme for integrating Latvian society. While fully respecting everyone’s right to preserve his or her language, culture and ethnic identity, every democratic country simultaneously nurtures the obligation to create the conditions enabling every inhabitant to participate fully in the political and economic life of his or her country. I know of no country in the world in which people would be able to participate in this way without having an adequate command of the national language which, in our case, happens to be Latvian. I should like to emphasise that minorities played an important role in establishing the Latvian state in 1918, as well as in re-establishing Latvian independence in 1991. For its part, the Latvian state has made considerable efforts to enable minorities to safeguard their culture and identity and to maintain their languages and traditions. In my country of only 2.3 million inhabitants, more than a hundred organisations representing minority national cultures receive financial aid from the state. Following the reinstatement of Latvian independence in 1991, a national system of education, financed by the state, has been put in place, giving children the opportunity to go to primary schools that teach either in Latvian or in one of the eight minority languages, namely Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Belorussian, Hebrew, Romany, Estonian and Lithuanian. Few countries in the world can boast of such an accomplishment. This Latvian policy is based on the conviction I have already expressed that diverse languages and cultures are among the greatest riches of our continent. The logical consequence is that the Latvian state has a very particular responsibility towards the Latvian language, one of only two surviving languages in the family of Baltic tongues. Latvian, which is spoken by fewer than two million people throughout the world, therefore constitutes a unique feature of our great European cultural heritage."@en1
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