Mr. President, Mrs. Ulmane, distinguished representatives of our kindred people, the Livs. On my own and my wife's behalf, I thank you both for this opportunity to attend the Liv Association's traditional summer festival here in Mazirbe on the Liv coast. For me personally it is a great honour to be able to participate in this celebration as the first president of Finland ever to do so.
Links between the Finns and the Livs came into being in the mid-19th century when a national awakening in Finland prompted an interest in the languages and cultures of the kindred Baltic-Finnic peoples. The first contact was established when Anders Johan Sjögren, a Finnish member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg visited the Livs in 1846 and 1852. He collected a considerable body of linguistic and ethnographic material. Sjögren urged the Livs themselves to record and preserve their own cultural heritage. Contacts were later continued around the turn of the century by Professor Setälä and in the 1920s by Professor Lauri Kettunen.
In the period between the World Wars, cooperation increased and broadened to include new areas. Kinship societies in Finland - and also in Estonia and Hungary - supported Liv culture: programmes were launched to train young Livs as teachers and pastors, education in the Liv language began and Liv-language magazine appeared and also literature was published in the language -- two achievements that were important and remain equally visible today were the establishment of the Liv Association in 1923 and the construction of this beautiful Liv House. The building designed by the Finnish architect Erkki Huttunen was officially opened on 6 August 1939, almost exactly 59 years ago. The funds were collected not only in Latvia but also in Finland, Estonia, Hungary.
The Second World War severed links between the Finns and the Livs for half a century. Even awareness of the existence of a kindred people called the Livs was disappearing from the Finns' minds. Only since the restoration of Latvia's independence has it been possible to create these links again and only since the restoration of Latvia's independence has the truth emerged about the distress into which the Liv people and the Liv language and Liv culture were plunged during the Soviet period.
My wife and I have now had the opportunity to hear from Liv representatives about the situation today. Only a handful of people now speak Liv as their mother tongue but the interest in the language among young people is reviving. At least its preservation as a spoken living language is now assured. This festival and the cultural events associated with it are in turn a strong indication of the vitality of the Liv culture. I am particularly pleased at the liveliness of interaction between Finnish and Liv organisations and private persons. I thank you, Mr President, and through you, the government of Latvia for all the support and sympathy that this small language and culture have been given.
Dear friends, the most important goal of Latvian foreign policy is integration into European structures and accession to membership of the European Union. Through EU membership, Latvia can see her proper place among the peoples of Europe and appropriately define her relationship to common European values. Finland strongly supports EU enlargement and is doing everything she can to ensure that Latvia will accede immediately as she meets the stipulated conditions for membership. Enlargement of the European Union will accelerate progress towards the eventual disappearance of the old division of Europe. It provides new opportunities to promote and strengthen positive regional economic and social development as well as stability in an overall European framework.
Latvia's positive social development in the still brief period of renewed independence has been considerable. What is of central importance is that Latvia's democratic institutions and economy have strengthened. Latvia's achievements can be considered all the more remarkable when one takes into consideration the difficulties and challenges in the midst of which the Latvians began this work.
The best guarantee for continuing positive development is a functioning and united civil society. Indeed, Latvia's progress towards the internal unification of her society and healing old wounds is being followed with interest and sympathy in Finland. The Latvian parliament has adopted a new citizenship law which will make it possible for segments of the population other than the Latvian to integrate faster. Hopefully, the law will soon enter into force. Neither Finland nor the European Union has any other demands with regard to the citizenship law. The Government of Latvia has begun drafting a national programme to speed up integration. We hope this process will lead to the best possible result.
Latvia still faces many difficult political choices and decisions. It is fortunate for Latvia that your country's leading figures are both willing and able to assess matters impartially from different perspectives. The Finns have always respected responsibility and straightforwardness.
I wish you, President Ulmanis and your distinguished wife as well as all the people of Latvia, happiness and success. On my own and my wife's behalf I thank everyone who has contributed to it for the kindness and hospitality we have been given here in Mazirbe.