H.M. Konungens tal vid galamiddagen för Lettlands president Fru Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Kungl. Slottet, Stockholm

(Det talade ordet gäller)

Madam President,

Professor Freibergs,

The Queen and I wish you and all members of your delegation a warm welcome to Sweden on this State Visit. We consider it as an excellent confirmation of the close links between our countries - links extending as far back as there have been people and communities on both sides of our Baltic Sea.

Latvia is taking a rightful place in the cooperation between the Nordic-Baltic countries around the Baltic Sea. By visiting Latvia as early as 1929, my grandfather´s father, King Gustaf V, demonstrated this friendship between neighbouring countries. And if we look even further back, to the end of the 17th century, Riga was actually, for a time, Sweden´s largest city.

The Queen and I, as well as the Crown Princess, have been to Latvia many times - the Queen in connection with the work of Her World Childhood Foundation, and the Crown Princess with her fellow students from Uppsala University. We all have fond memories of our visits, mainly because of the hospitality that has always been extended to us, not least when the Queen and I were on our State Visit in 1992, when Latvia had just regained its independence.

When your predecessor, President Ulmanis, visited us in 1995, I remember saying that Latvia and its people were engaged in an important mission to adjust society to democratic norms. Sweden, as well as the rest of the world has watched your impressive development with great interest and admiration.

Madam President, You share your destiny, with many other Latvians who were forced to leave their native country as refugees. With knowledge and skills you and they, have made a major contribution to social development in the countries in which you settled and worked. Also in Sweden, we are able to thank many people of Latvian origin for the efforts they have made for our common welfare and culture. Some of them are seated at this table tonight. I wish to welcome you particularly.

The success achieved by Latvia in terms of re-creating an independent nation based on democracy and the rule of law over a short period of time has most recently been recognised through your membership of the European Union and NATO.

For Sweden, it has been natural to be among the countries contributing most in supporting the transformation of Latvian society and Latvia´s endeavours to become a full member of the European Union. Intensive cooperation has taken place in more or less every area of society. Individuals, associations, local authorities and towns in both our countries have established close ties with each other. Environmental issues are among the crucial challenges.

It is a matter of safeguarding the unique and unspoilt natural environment that Latvia has to offer.

Its natural beauty and mile-long beaches are precisely what attracts Swedes and other tourists to visit Latvia. From our island of Gotland, the voyage by boat is not particularly long, and not from Stockholm either. Riga´s beautiful architecture also makes it a destination for many culturally interested people.

The Swedish business sector has cultivated close ties with cooperation partners in Latvia. This has helped to make Sweden one of the largest sources of foreign investments in the country. Investments have been made in such areas as banking, air transport, mass media, telecommunications and forestry.

Since May last year, we have been working together on equal terms in the European Union. This means that in the future our close links will be characterised by a new dimension of cooperation in the new Europe.

A firm basis has been established for future development. Swedish initiatives in the Latvian business sector are now largely being carried forward by young, well-educated and skilled Latvians. We have had the privilege of welcoming many of these as scholarship holders and students. Others have studied at higher educational institutions in Latvia, such as the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, which I had the honour of opening in 1994, or at the Riga Graduate School of Law.

Madam President,

You country has won respect internationally through the progress it has made after regaining freedom and independence, less than a decade and a half ago. During your visit, you and your husband will be able to learn more about our common heritage when you visit our oldest university in Uppsala and the Royal Library here in Stockholm. You, Professor Freibergs, will be guided around in, what is sometimes referred to as the Swedish Silicon Valley. Together we will listen to what representatives of the Latvian and Swedish business sectors see as further opportunities for close cooperation and development.

We have many memories in common. But there are unfortunately also periods in our history during which our links were broken. Now we are looking ahead at continued close relations and deeper cooperation between good neighbours. The many strong links now existing between our countries will hopefully be of even greater significance in the future. This State Visit is therefore an important confirmation of our common desire for continued and deeper friendship between our two countries.

And now, to celebrate all this: To Latvia´s President and to its people as well as to the close friendship between our countries, let me propose that we all raise a common toast!