Toomas Hendrik Ilves on Latvian centenary: We are all Livonians together ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has issued the following congratulatory message, on Latvia reaching its 100th birthday as an independent nation, which it did on Sunday.

There are few peoples with ties are as strong as those between Estonia and Latvia. The roots of the ties which enmesh us may be harsh, but together they create an enduring bond.

Livonia [the historical region which encompassed much of present day Estonia and Latvia from the 13th to 19th centuries and came variously under Danish, Baltic German, Swedish and Russian rule – ed.] intertwined the destinies of both Estonia and Latvia for some eight centuries. We are different peoples, but we are both Livonians. Our spiritual closeness finds its expression in a similar world view, a common history, similar political and economic challenges, and also a common treasury of folk proverbs and sayings, shaped by our perceptions.

Just people, both similar and at the same time different, have created a network binding the two countries together. The include such diverse types as artists and entrepreneurs, writers and researches, seafarers and politicians.

One such figure was Tõnis Kint, 4th Prime Minister of the Estonian Republic, from 1970-1990 [the Estonian head of state in exile – ed.], who studied at the Riga Polytechnic Insitute and defended Lavia during the War of Independence as commander of an armoured train. The freedom of both nations was cherished by him.

Kristjan Jaak Peterson is another example. An acclaimed Estonian author yet who was born in Riga, studied there and has a memorial stone there as well. Latvia was also the birthplace of literary scholar Ivar Ivask, and other Estonians with close ties to Latvia included writers Eduard Vilde, August Kitzberg and Ernst Ennol, journalist August Gailit and musician Gunnar Graps.

In the other direction we have politician Veiko Spolītis and Livonian cultural promoter Valts Ernštreits, who both studied at the University of Tartu and are Latvian patriots, but also feel an affinity with Estonia and speak our language. These are but a few examples of our interconnected fate.

We have also been fellow travellers in our recent history. Together we fought for freedom, together we lost it, and regained it together too. We joined the EU and NATO together. When we joined the Schengen Zone for visa free travel, there was no more symbolically meaningful moment than the opening of the border crossing at Valga/Valka. Two cities with the same name broke down communication barriers.

We also shared the hard times. Together we experienced economic crisis, global political turbulence and confusion.

However, crises come and go, but neighbours remain. Knowing we have a neighbour who shares our values and supports us is a great confidence boost in foreign policy, for instance.

There is one other name I would like to mention, one which was excised from history until recently. Estonia's birth date was 24 February 1918. But the person who first fell defending the newborn republic was a Latvian, Johann Muischneek [Muischneek was killed a day after Estonian independence fighting for Estonian forces in Tallinn against Russian sailors in the ''Battle of the Power Station'' – ed.].

A year and a half later, when the Estonian armoured trains mentioned above arrived in Riga, the headline in Latvian newspaper Bribwà Seme read ''In protecting us, you defend yourselves too''. That is just as true a statement today, as it was 100 years ago.

Today, with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Latvia, there is every reason to celebrate all that unites Estonia and Latvia, uniting as both as citizens and as people.

Happy birthday, Latvia! Forward, together.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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