There’s a Latvian riddle that goes like this - “What is white at both ends and green in between?” Have you guessed? Not yet? I will help you. It is the Latvian year - with lush springs and summers, and lots of snow, white hopes and peaceful reflection during the Christmas season.
Thus, this seems to have been an ordinary year - no high hopes, and no bitter disillusionments either, but the balance is definitely positive.
We started it with a test of strength of our democracy and passed it with credits. The referendum, which was called on a very sensitive issue, that of the language and more particularly, should the Russian language be a second state language, was not politically curbed. On the contrary, it was given a full flair, and after a heated and anxious public debate the people gave a firm and clear answer, no. The Yale and Columbia University researchers in their Environmental Performance Index this year named Latvia the second greenest country among 132 nations after Switzerland. While Latvian scientists still argue about the method applied, there are unmistakable signs that confirm it. I often meet with foreign visitors, and recently I talked to several Swiss CEOs, whom I asked what surprised them most here. And they all said - it is so clean here, in Latvia.
The biggest global event this year was the London Olympics, and Latvia sent its best young men and women to compete too. Though, probably, more was expected, there were several moments of glory, fame and joy. First, when our men’s beach volley pair of Pļaviņš and Šmēdiņš beat the long-standing US champion team, and when our BMX rider Māris Štrombergs won his second Olympic gold.
While Latvia and Rīga are preparing for next-year’s Song and Dance Festival and for entertaining its visitors as Culture Capital 2014, our musical stars and celebrities are tireless in surprising their fans all over the world - be it Mariss Jansons, Māris Sirmais or Andris Nelsons, Elīna Garanča, Inese Galante, Kristīne Opolais, Maija Kovalevska, Marina Rebeka, Sergejs Antoņenko or Egils Siliņš. Our stage director Alvis Hermanis, our musically talented sisters Skride, Reinis Zariņš or Vestards Šimkus. What remains for us is just to remind the world that they are all Latvian.
The hottest theme for public discourse this year apart from reforming the higher education was whether Latvia should join the Euro. Certain unwillingness to part from the Lat is understandable, coupled with the incessant stream of bad news from many Eurozone countries that make us cautious about the union to be joined. However, among other evidently positive aspects, introduction of the Euro means a new chance for the Latvian business community, as well as it should complete Latvia’s reintegration into global and European financial, economic and security cooperation structures, which in our case is so vital for several reasons. Also, it would be short-sighted to let the chance go after Latvia has accomplished so much in its efforts to reach a balanced budget and to restrict inflation even against steady growth.
Having retained the fastest growth rate of economy among all European nations, 5.3%, which has been so already for quite a while, Latvia is seen as a country that has taken hard decisions, cut expenses, restructured its public and private sector, has liberated labour regulation, introduced innovative technologies and found new export markets. For those who are still reluctant to cheer Latvia’s success and demand that we wait until we see further developments, one thing can be said for sure - in comparison to solutions applied elsewhere (throwing more money into the economy, putting off severe cuts), Latvia together with its Baltic sisters has resolutely chosen to not burden either the generation of our parents or our children. The brunt of the crisis was and is being borne by the current working generation. Whether in Latvia or abroad, it is us who have met the biggest challenge of the time.
Every new year is met with hope. I sincerely wish 2013 stays peaceful and stable, that it lets us use the experience that has been accumulated so that the people can start enjoying the sweet fruits of the harsh restrictions they have gone through. I hope it comes with stable and new international partnerships, reliable and well-wishing neighbours and many good friends.
Happy New Year!