Catalans, thanks for the Miracle that you shared!
I am with you in my thoughts on the important Diada on September 11, and I wish to share thanks with you and tell you an amazing story about how Catalonia has inspired Latvia.
It is very symbolic that the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona, was the place where the independent Latvian flag returned to the Olympic Games in 1992. Our country was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, our independence was lost, and our national anthem and flag were banned. We became a secondary nation that had to be subordinated to our “older” brothers, and we had to use flags that were not our own and symbolised repression and oppression. The Soviet empire did everything possible to ensure that the world knew as little about Latvia as possible, trying to erase our country from the map of the world. It wanted to do the same with our language and culture. The Soviet empire almost managed to do that. The world had forgotten about us, and many people falsely thought that Latvia was a part of Russia and that Rīga was a city in Russia. The Latvian language, identity, history and culture are fundamentally different than those of Russians, and Rīga has forever been Latvia’s capital city. The union with Russia was forced upon us with fraud and power, and the Latvian people were never asked whether they wanted to be part thereof.
That is why we all had tears in our eyes when, after 50 years of occupation, the flag of independent Latvia returned to the Olympic Games. It was carried in Barcelona by our outstanding athlete Raimonds Bergmanis, who today is one of Latvia’s most respected politicians and is serving as our minister of defence. We are delighted that this miraculous return of Latvia’s flag to the world happened specifically in the Catalan capital city of Barcelona.
And yet it is sadly symbolic that we have learned that Catalans in Europe are a nation that is facing as complicated a destiny as was the case for Latvia during the Soviet occupation. Catalonia is very hard to find on the world map, Catalans have no right to fully take decisions about their future, and their right to represent their country with their own flag has been taken away from them. The name and recognition of Catalonia have been removed from the map for many decades. Many Europeans are unaware of the fact that Catalans represent a nation of nearly 10 million people, with their unique language, identity and history that stretches back for thousands of years. They don’t know that Barcelona is the ancient capital of Catalonia. It is endlessly sad to note that in the European Union, as was the case in the USSR, there are nations that are not allowed to fully enjoy the fundamental rights of a democracy — self-determination of nations.
The phenomenal Catalan Way that was held in 2013 shook me up very much. Watching nearly two million people standing hand in hand to tell the world about their dream of freedom, I understood that that was something very, very special. I clearly remembered our own Baltic Way in 1989, when we, too, joined hands — two million people in a 500-km chain in support of independence. The destiny of our nations proved to be very similar. Way back in 1989, I was a young man, and an independent country with a flag that flies alongside those of other free nations was a sacred dream for me. I saw people in whose eyes there were the same dreams, hopes and ambitions. I asked whether Europeans who had gone down the same difficult path of independence could afford to ignore us. Could we look in a different direction when another nation demands the same rights that we have won?
Today, on September 11, 2016, I confirm from the bottom of my heart my faith in the Catalonian nation’s “A Punt.” My dear Catalonian friends, I am tremendously grateful for the miracle that you presented to me. You are returning faith to a Europe that can believe in and defend the ideals of freedom. I am sure that the day is coming when a representative of Catalonia will march into the Olympic stadium with the flag of his free and independent nation.