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Address of the President of the Republic at the charity dinner of the Carolin Illenzeer Fund at the Seaplane Harbour on 19 April 2017


Ladies and gentlemen,

This morning I was in Paldiski, where I saw off our latest mission to Lebanon – troops who will be serving in UNIFIL to maintain peace alongside fellow soldiers from Ireland and Finland in IRISHFINBAT. As I was leaving, I stood before the monument there and read every name listed on it. This is something I do every time I find myself in Paldiski. I read all of the names and reflect on their sad stories.

We are used to thinking about national defence in terms of armour, ammunition and men in uniform. But we also have reserve forces, and national defence therefore stems from the values of our citizens and their willingness to defend their country; a willingness to protect what is theirs and to value being who they are. Estonia's approach is based on a conviction that security is created in order to protect human rights, basic freedoms and core human values. These values determine what our lives are like, and they are something that Estonia stands up for in a broader sense. A country can only be defended if its citizens wish as one people to defend it. Such a wish is borne of understanding – an understanding of what it means to belong and be involved. Anyone who has performed military or reserve service values that experience much more highly than those who have never come into contact with it.

A great deal of what we have today was founded on the contribution our men and women have made on the battlefield. There are 2800 men and women in Estonia who have served on foreign missions and defended their country's security. In the more than 20 years that we have been contributing to these missions, our allies and partners have come to realise that Estonia must be defended – and not only from some sense of obligation due to it being a card-carrying member of NATO. Estonia deserves to be defended because of the tangible contribution it has made to international security; because men and women of Estonia have lost their health, even lost their lives, in the name of international security. That is the contribution that these 2800 people have made.

For a small country it is very lucky if your sovereignty and independence can be defended by fulfilling your obligations as an ally. Thanks to those who have done so, Estonia today is a safe place. Thanks to them, we are welcoming a NATO battalion to our shores whose task is to convince any doubters – whether they be in Estonia or abroad – that our country is defended. Thanks to them, the deterrent that NATO represents in Estonia is real rather than merely ostensible.

Of course, our own ability to defend ourselves without outside help forms an important part of any deterrence. That, too, is real – not some semblance of reality. Among other reasons, this is because we have defence forces with actual mission experience, an inevitable part of whose duties has involved seeing comrades injured and fallen.

Let me say again that the contribution we have been making for more than two decades to establishing international security and the fact that we have experience of working with allied forces and partners in the UN make us contributors to a safer world. Without serving on missions we would simply be consumers, forever dependent on the actions and good will of others. Formally, of course, that is not how things are: formally, NATO is obliged to defend every square inch of the territories of its members states in any event. But this could be done by adopting a formal response, in the hope that the enemy will buy such a formal deterrent.

But no ally that has contributed with so many lives can be treated merely formally. Brothers in arms are taken seriously. If a brother in arms is threatened by a credible force and actual steps need to be taken in order to deter it, such steps are easy to take. Indeed, such steps were taken in Wales and in Warsaw. The decisions that were made there are the fruition, the victory of our soldiers' work. Today we are defended by a NATO battalion, and NATO's member states grasp the need for actionable plans not only on land but also in the air and at sea.

The Carolin Illenzeer Fund is one way for the rest of us to show our gratitude and make our own contribution to broad-ranging national defence. Those of us who are never likely to find ourselves on patrol, weapon in hand, need our own way of participating in the defence of our country. The Carolin Illenzeer Fund was established as a private initiative from that very wish – to participate; to contribute.

Such initiatives, launched by independent citizens of their own free will, are playing an ever-increasing role in the way we organise our lives here in Estonia. This reflects the fact that Estonian society as a whole is growing up – for although the defence forces are sent off to war by the state, it is remarkable that ordinary citizens have taken it upon themselves to support and assist men and women in uniform.

The money raised from tonight's dinner is being donated to the Carolin Illenzeer Fund in support of the education and hobbies of the children of defence personnel who have been injured or fallen in service. The fund has now become a natural part of our broad-ranging national defence. It reassures our soldiers that their loved ones will be taken care of if they themselves are unable to do so.

I would like to thank the fund for creating this sense of security, I would like to thank the Defence Forces for recognising the fund as a necessary and important part of our national defence system, and of course I would like to thank everyone who has donated to this cause.

There is still not enough charity in Estonia compared to other more developed societies. On average, for every person who gives to charity in Estonia – even if they can only afford to give a modest amount – there are four people who do not. Of those who do donate, the average person (which is to say that one person in five) donates 1% of their income. I am sure you will agree that this is far from the best we could do and that we should all think about how we could do more. You may ask: how then?

To my mind, if you look at the people who are here tonight, and if you look at Carolin Illenzeer, you will know how.

Dear friends,

I thank you. Here tonight we are showing that we care about Estonia. That we care about our people. That we respect our injured soldiers. That we want to defend our country. I thank everyone who cares.

I could never give enough thanks to those who dedicate themselves to defending our nation – our defence personnel, our allies and their families – but I shall at least try: I thank you all, including those of you here tonight, from the bottom of my heart.

Let us hold on to what we have. Let us hold on to it with your hands. Thank you.