“We are for the strengthening of Belarusian statehood,” said Latvian President Egils Levits when appearing in the show World and Us. Two neighbouring countries – Lithuania and Latvia – are setting sights on Belarusian transit. Latvians even announced their intention to purchase electricity from the Astravets NPP, they invited Alyaksandr Lukashenka to visit Riga, and the invitation remains in place. What unites our countries? What are the chances that a hockey match between the two presidents will ever take place? Read and watch the exclusive interview granted by the Latvian leader to Belsat TV host Alina Koushyk.
AK: Good evening, Mr President!
EL: Good evening!
For 15 years, Latvia has been a member of the European Union. What success stories can you share with us? And what problems still need to be solved?
Latvia is one of the ten member states that joined the EU in 2004; it was a basis for our economic growth – considerable economic growth, and also for increasing of the level of our security, our political weight in the world, in Europe. I think it is an absolute success story, but not only for Latvia, but for all member states that joined the Union in 2004 and later.
And what about problems? What main problems do you have now?
As for the European level, I can see that there is a certain desorientation concerning the goals and the role of the EU in the world. I think that the rise of populism, insecurity about our needs, goals, ideas and values – all these factors create the climate of desorientation and insecurity. We should overcome this in the near future. It is very important for the whole world as well; Latvia and Poland – I would mention also Germany and France – could better face the current challenges if they tried to solve them together, not alone. Therefore, I see that the European Union is much more needed than ever.
And what about Russia? Do you feel Russia’s military threat in Riga?
Russia is trying to influence its neighbours. It is a problem of the political point of view, as well as that of international law. We are trying to have good relations with Russia. I think all European states wanted to have good relations with Russia, but it rather depends on Russia’s behaviour and attitude, and I hope that Russia’s foreign policy will be in line with international law. For example, [towards the issue of] Ukraine, which is of course a big problem in Europe.
But are they strengthening their pressure on Latvia or not?
There is always a certain lavel of influence, rather on public opinion – fake news, the so-called hybrid war. We are very sensitive about that, but we know [what they are doing]. So, I think the success is not very big, because we are aware of that. Poland is more aware of this hybrid war, but it is not always the case in all member states which are not close to Russia. Therefore, we should keep together and try to be strong in this new environment, when new technology can influence another member state.
Is Belarus a good neighbour for Latvia?
I would say we have relatively good relations. We are always for the strengthening of Belarusian statehood; it is very important for Europe, for Latvia and, I think, for Poland that the statehood of Belarus is strong, and we support Belarus in this respect.
The Belarusians is the second minority in Latvia; I know that there is a Belarusian school in Riga. What part of society are they? Are they active? Do they use the Latvian language?
In Latvia, Belarusians speak the Russian language, the minority uses Belarusian, its smaller part uses Latvian. Our policy towards all minorities is to integrate them into our society. Our common state language is Latvian – not only for Latvians, but for all citizens and inhabitants of Latvia. And if some group wants to have a second language and culture, we support the desire – that is why we have a Belarusian school in Latvia. But it is important that we can understand each other and therefore the common language is Latvian.
Over the last years, the West and Belarus have been getting closer to each other, and Latvia is one of the leaders of the process. In 2017, the Latvian authorities invited Alyaksandr Lukashenka to make a visit to the country. In July, you invited him again. Why do you want to see him in Latvia?
As I have already said, Belarus is our neighbour, and we want to have good relations with all our neighbouring countries – Belarus, Russia, etc. We have very good relations with Estonia and Lithuania, because all of us are EU member states. It belongs to the policy of friendship and good relations that heads of states visit neighbouring countries.
It would be the first visit after a very long gap in the Belarus-EU relationship. Do you believe that Alyaksandr Lukashenka will come to Riga? When may the visit take place?
It is the Belarusian president who should decide, but the invitation is there, and I think we have a lot to discuss – trade relations, cultural relations. As a member of the European Union, Latvia has basic values – democracy and rule of law, these are our common values. We say openly to our non-EU friends that we have our common European values, but we can also have good relations with all neighbouring states.
What topics are of crucial importance in our bilateral relations?
Trade, transport, energy – economic relations seem to be in first in line, also cultural relations – as you have already mentioned, there is a Belarusian minority with its own culture and language.
Mr President, do you play hockey?
Unfortunately not (laughing)…
I am asking remembering that Belarus and Latvia will host the world championship. This is a big event!
I would like to see it, but I do not play hockey, unfortunately.
So, we will not see the match ‘Latvian President vs his Belarusian counterpart’?
Oh, it would be difficult (smiling). Maybe, the next president could do it.
Thank you very much for the interview, Mr President!
The interview was part of the show World and Us (Prasviet) aired on 13.09.2019