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On Estonian Independence Day in Tartu

On Estonian Independence Day in Tartu
President Kersti Kaljulaid and Georgi-Rene Maksimovski
© Office of the President

24.02.2018

‘I would like to extend to all of you my sincerest congratulations on the anniversary of our Fatherland. This day unites us in joy and worry, in work and hardship. On behalf of the nation, allow me to confirm: Estonia is grateful to be joined in our celebrations by all our neighbours on this most important of days; by the full family of Nordic countries, particularly Finland; by the Member States of the European Union, and by the Members of the Atlantic Alliance, our political partners.’

That was how President Lennart Meri began his speech celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. And I am sincerely delighted to state that all those named continue to stand alongside us – with the slight difference that we are now a fully equal actor in line with them.

Of course, we ourselves do not always believe in our equality, even though we did just carry out a successful Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And although it may sometimes seem like we spend more time and energy on introducing e-government than further developing it, we are still very much fit to be an example to our partners.

There is nothing new about this, I might add. In 1943, Director of the Bank of England Lord Wedgewood remarked: ‘Estonia was the best-governed small state in Northern Europe.’ So recalled Estonian Prime Minister August Rei, who was serving as acting President of the Government of Estonia in exile on the 30th anniversary of independence.

Rei described the amazement with which the outside world observed Estonia’s progress, and how little Estonians themselves knew to appreciate it at the time. According to him, Estonia’s leaders were often told: ‘There are even those among you who constantly complain that everything is bad and getting ever worse. In truth, however, you can hardly find another nation that has ever made such incredible progress in such a short amount of time.’

Well, my dear friends, some things are everlasting. It’s nice to note this on the 100th anniversary of our state. The rest of the world cannot really understand that one would not exist without the other.

Demanding discontent and a simultaneous belief that tomorrow will be better than today if we work hard: those were then, and are now, the key that will open for us the door to a better future and can help to explain the rapid development Estonians have enjoyed over the last quarter of a century that we’ve been able to make our own decisions in our own land once again. So, let us continue to be demanding, but let us not allow that demandingness to overshadow the joy of our country’s fair progress! Let us be happy that we’re doing so well: only one fifth of countries are wealthier than us. Yet, Estonia requires more. A small country requires big ideas and big goals; peoples like us do not have the time to simply go along with the course of history.

The aim of the Estonian state must be timeless, and that it is. This aim is clearly written in our Constitution: the state of Estonia is created to protect the peace within and without, and to guarantee the preservation of the Estonian people, language, and culture through the ages. To achieve these goals, the Estonian state has been founded upon freedom, law, and justice.

To summarise, Estonia must aim to be a dignified state at all times. This first and foremost in our own eyes, and after that in those of our partners, allies, and neighbours. This aim is to be achieved in good times, but even more so in difficult ones, the likes of which we will undoubtedly also face in the next one hundred years.

But what does it mean to be a dignified state? What impacts a state’s dignity? What does a dignified state always do, and what does it never do? And what does it even mean when we say a country ‘does’ something? It means what we all do: Estonia is the sum of all our deeds. To quote Estonian Head of State Jaan Tõnisson in 1928: ‘We ourselves are the state. If we demand something of the state, then we demand it of ourselves.’

Here in our home, in our Estonia, we still act in the spirit of Tõnisson’s words to gradually further Estonia by way of cooperation between communities, local governments, and the state; by joining together voluntary and state work; and, of course, by undertaking things and taking risks. All 1.3 million of us together, no one person more important than any other. No one more important than any other.

This is the only way. Those who fell fighting for Estonia in the War of Independence and on international missions all deserve the best effort that we, the living, can make. We are able to state our thanks to the wounded soldiers who are with us today, but we must move forward in memory of the rest.

Today as well, here at the Estonian National Museum, my thoughts are with those defending Estonia far from home. I am thinking about all of you working on this wintery night, keeping us safe.

Even more generally, on the drive home from work, I frequently find myself thinking with gratitude about all the people of Estonia whose activities shape our country as it is today. It has always been this way in Estonia: the country of our own people is that, which arises from our cooperation in both our families and our community. This Estonia is not characterised by noisy debate, but rather the calm passage of time: from parents to children, from children to grandchildren. Every generation receives from its parents an Estonia that has been kept in the best possible condition that time and circumstances have enabled. So does every generation likewise strive to leave an orderly household behind in turn.

Fortunate are those generations that receive support from their state. Still, others have been no less stubborn: Estonia’s communities have practiced close and supportive cooperation, regardless of the era; either with the regime or in spite of it. In Estonia itself or further afield. The following generation had to receive the best Estonia that could be made at the given moment.

And here is the next ring of our fundamental nature: Estonians will get by. Yet whether this happens together with the regime or in spite of it is up to the leaders. A seamless society is born of its leaders’ wisdom.

We have the most capable Estonian state of all time – the kind that is able to really impact people’s lives. For what purpose will we use this capable device? Will it be to help and support, or will it be to force, regulate, and lecture?

It is the one-hundredth birthday of our nation state. We love our country and are proud to be Estonian.

How will we use our sense of nationality? As a source of joy, or as one of hate?

Are we using our sense of nationality as a chain, or as a garland that connects us across the great, wide world? Should being Estonian be an obligation to bear because we were born a member of this small nation, or rather a wonderful feeling that carries and supports us through life?

The country’s dignity will not increase by insisting, or even demanding, that everyone dedicate their lives and as many children as possible to Estonia. Nor will it by coaxing anyone to forego pursuing their dreams in an international environment.

We are certainly able to defend and develop our language and our culture by living as free persons in a free world, without commands and coercion. It is necessary to continue having a strict citizenship policy and inclusive community work while at the same time remaining true to the principle of open nationalism as it was worded by Konstantin Päts when speaking to the Estonian Riigikogu as Head of State in March 1922:

‘It says here there seem to be signs that the type of national chauvinism, the narrow-minded nationalism that existed in tsarist Russia, and under which we ourselves once suffered greatly as a minority nation within Russia, is stealthily seeping through our society. I must note that I personally hate nothing more than such a limited understanding of the definition of a nation, as well as a narrow-minded and intolerant sense of nationalism.’

Estonians go out into the world, and they return. Citizens of the European Union are free to make Estonia their place of residence, though people also come to live here from elsewhere. Millions of people in Europe live within a country where the linguistic environment differs from the language they speak at home. They entrust their children to the care of nursery school teachers, finding it natural for school-age children to adapt to the linguistic and behavioural space of their country of residence. These children are capable of being equal, both in school and later in life, to those whose home and school languages do not differ.

We must offer the same to all those who wish to live in Estonia and send their own children to school here. They must be able to trust the Estonian state to share with their children that, which every other democratic country in Europe does: the ability to manage in the country’s linguistic, cultural, and behavioural space. In this way, the number of Estonian speakers will grow even when the number of children born to Estonian-speaking families hasn’t quite reached the natural replenishment level yet. I have no doubt it will again soon, but not just yet.

We must support every family enough to ensure desired children are not left unborn. By this, I mean more than financial support: every family should feel that society is genuinely on its side. No father returning from paternal leave should have to hear: ‘You’d better not do that again.’ Society’s general attitude should not be that it is natural and inevitable for a woman to lose years of her career due to being at home with children.

However, the multiplicity of choices in wealthy and developed societies has indeed always meant fewer children per family and them being born later in life. It is all the more important that we ourselves accept all who grow up in Estonia. Not one seven-year-old should feel unfit for an Estonian school. No matter if they speak Estonian with an alluring accent; no matter the colour of their skin or the difficulty of pronouncing their name: none of it should matter. Why tell those who personally wish to adopt our language and our customs that they still cannot become one of us? That is not fair, that is not reasonable, and it will not favour the perseverance of our nation!

Estonia’s schools are some of the best in the world, and everyone in the country has access to a good education. Comprehensive schooling is the most productive resource Estonia has to offer! Every person out of a million deserves the best education their abilities can take: the education one receives and the opportunities it brings must never depend on one’s parents’ address or income. Yes, Estonians’ birth rate is too low. However, I am content knowing that each and every one of those few has an opportunity – something that isn’t so little in turn! I would like to thank all teachers, the unwavering patriots of comprehensive schools!

The next one hundred years will present education with another, entirely new challenge: staying sane. Our ancestors understood the world because the world they lived in was real and they had to use their own hands to shape it into a suitable living environment: a warm room, a field behind the house for growing vegetables, food, and one’s own clothing.

Understanding the world is a vital part of being human that we must not give up. Society must not be divided into those who know little and who consume a lot; whom machines keep alive and inform of what is going on; and whose attitudes towards the world and society form according to how algorithms direct them.

Preserving the thinking person, and especially the person thinking in the Estonian language, will be the challenge of the century for Estonia’s education system and Estonian science. History will present the same challenge to Estonian culture for the next one hundred years; to all creative persons among us.

Culture protects the thinking person in the same way as education and science. When everyday life no longer demands thought, memory, or proficiency, these abilities can be applied in art; can be for one’s own pleasure and to stimulate and preserve cognitive ability, be it as a doer or an observer. I thank the creators and I am also content with this: Estonian culture is so thrilling and vibrant, both in picture and in word; in sound and in stone!

And I want to thank Estonia’s scientists! You, just like our cultural figures, have long been greater than Estonia itself can always enable you to be. This is all possible thanks to international cooperation, because smart money loves bright intellect! Nevertheless, I ask you: please also tell us of your achievements in our native language. In a small linguistic space, every specialist is likewise the author of their field’s technical dictionary. No one else can do it.

The Constitution of Estonia protects the Estonian language and the Estonian culture. However, our lives in the next one hundred years, as far as we can tell today, appear to require the opposite: the Estonian language, our culture, and our education must protect the Estonian people in the next century so we might remain a thinking people; a cultural people.

Large nations can handle only a very small part of society being engaged. It may indeed inflict significant societal damage if decisions impacting the country as a whole are made based on false information or the lack of information at all, but it will not destroy the large country. For a small nation, it’s different. Everyone must be engaged.

Together with the other Nordic peoples, we in Estonia have Europe’s best-preserved natural environment and have preserved our sense of nature. How will we use our natural wealth? Will we cash it in, as people did in 20th-century industrial society? Or will we leave it intact for our grandchildren? Will we leave it for our grandchildren without leaving a trace upon it, or would we rather have our pattern of good decisions visible in the natural environment in one hundred years? Or do we simply hope the traces of our mediocre choices won’t be too visible?

On the 85th anniversary of Estonian independence, President Arnold Rüütel remarked: ‘Estonians became masters of not only their own state, but of their own land as well for the first time in the 1920s. Our cultivated landscapes, which to this day symbolise the beauty of Estonia, were left to us from those times.’ Today, on Estonia’s 100th birthday, it is appropriate to ask: what kinds of landscapes will we leave to our grandchildren? What will we leave underground? I want to thank those who have spoken up about this topic: there is no clear answer as of yet, but one would never arise without discussion.

The only truly renewable natural resource is the one located between our two ears. The more we export the fruits of our minds, the greater our economy will grow without damaging our living environment. Thus, our education, culture, and environment are inextricably linked. They are linked through the economy. I’d like to thank Estonia’s entrepreneurs for understanding this link and for utilising it better and better! A smart Estonian deserves a smart job, and that is what you increasingly offer us!

Here in Estonia, we have one of the freest media spaces in the world. How will we use it: for well-argued exchanges of ideas, or for flinging rotten eggs at one another? For establishing directed beliefs, or for encouraging free ideas? Do we reach all people in our discussions, or do we give up involving everyone because not all of them seem like ‘one of our own’? Do we allow some of our own to feel alienated simply because some other country is trying to inculcate them with the idea?

Will we remain true to ourselves and trust the free media? Will we trust our own people to think, or will we direct them to think the ‘right’ thoughts? I’d like to thank those Estonian journalists who stand for freedom of speech, as well as all others, regardless of profession, who have the ability to use their words responsibly.

The dignity of the state thrives on the country being capable of treating each and every one of its citizens and residents in a way that honours their human dignity. The dignity of the state is affected by how it protects victims of abuse.

Last year, the registered incidents of domestic abuse increased in Estonia. This shows that we have chipped away at the wall of silence. If a victim is able to speak freely, then the state can provide support, preserve human dignity, and thereby also maintain its own dignity.

No one has to keep quiet so the rest of us might escape a sense of embarrassment. That is what is right. I’d like to thank the police, social workers, women’s shelters, state prosecutors, and all volunteers; everyone who takes notice! We still have a long way to go, but we will triumph!

The dignity of the state is devastated when a local government, the primary obligation of which, according to law, is precisely to notice our fellow men and women, does not take responsibility for its own residents in their times of need; when it does not help to stand up for residents’ dignity although it has accepted their tax money in better times.

The dignity of the state is devastated when municipal governments deliver newspapers published with taxpayer money to residents’ mailboxes, but leave people without aid and support when they’re undergoing their lives’ greatest misfortunes or are simply in the twilight of their years, claiming there just isn’t enough money to go around.

But for some reason, there’s still enough for propaganda; for instilling the notion that the local kings of the present moment are an irreplaceable force. The grotesque in the capital stands out especially, but the very same is being repeated at smaller scales elsewhere.

However, I would like to thank the local government officials who put their hearts into their work, paying attention to the needs and dreams of their local residents and spending money first and foremost wherever the greatest problems lie!

One does not need to be among the five richest countries in Europe, nor even the five richest local governments in Estonia, to begin paying attention to the human dignity of one’s citizens. Even the teeniest amount can go a long way if one acts with care. At the same time, our public resources are far from being a mere tiny amount. They suffice for Estonia to be a dignified country for its people.

One hundred years from now, we must also have a free and dignified country that recognises personal freedoms, supports those enduring life’s great misfortunes, fosters Estonian-language education and high-flying culture, enjoys a clean environment, and does not badger its population for support through coercion and propaganda.

One hundred years from now, we will also not be alone in the world, if we stay the course of democratic European values and freedoms. We have different neighbours. There are those that are democratic, and those that are less so. There are those who shared our fate in the last century, and those with which we are in close sync today. We also have one especially difficult neighbour. However, a neighbour is a neighbour. They are not to be ignored even if they disappoint us over the period of a few decades.

We expect our partners to not exchange a value-based world order for one that promotes short-term interests. We point out that strategic patience will ultimately lead you to your goal: even our own policy of refusing to recognize occupation had to last for fifty years before it finally succeeded.

What would have become of Estonia, had Western states attempted to relieve tensions during the Cold War by surrendering our rights? Now, it is our duty to remind Western allies of the magnificent role they played in our darkest years of history in order to guarantee secure and peaceful development for Estonia, as well as to preserve hope for others. The magnificent end to our first century of independence obligates us to do so.

On the 90th anniversary of Estonian independence, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves remarked: ‘When we were held down in the mud, we still had the knowledge that that was not our place. Our place is elsewhere. ‘Among the giants,’ as the classic Estonian poet Betti Alver wrote, ‘in a stone book upon a stone table atop a stone crag, which also contains the chapter ‘Eesti’.’’

Today, ten years later, our place is indeed among giants. Our responsibility and our task are fit for giants. Our common space of values, not our population or our wealth, is what will make us and our like-minded partners great in Europe.

It is our responsibility to remain true to our values, even when it might seem more beneficial to impulsively step over them while held by a large ally. As soon as we do so, the giant transforms back into a dwarf, because only raw force matters in a valueless world order. I’d like to thank all our politicians and diplomats who understand this and act accordingly!

The Estonian nation is always dignified. However, the dignity of the state in the eyes of its people depends on the decisions leaders make: on whether they’re made in the name of Estonia’s future as best as one can see fit or are done with a smaller advantage in mind that is closer to one’s own self.

We are still far from having a clear, simple, and predictable state, and I suppose we’ve even moved further away from one over the last few years. Clarity, simplicity, and zero bureaucracy have been our promises, but we’ve offered confusion instead. I’m not talking only about taxes, but about the machine as well. The e-government’s user interfaces, which are indeed the state’s face to its residents and is turned towards them, are often impermissibly outdated, illogical, and sluggish.

The heart of e-government is still beating soundly, but clumsiness visible to users portends the ultimate fading of this core if greater attention is not paid to developing it.

Congratulations, my dear Estonia! Congratulations, my dear Estonian people!

I’d like to thank you, the Estonian people, for having entrusted your questions and your expectations, your joys and your worries to me in every corner of the country. Today, your thoughts were woven together with those of people who have led us at various times. Who have led us through good and through bad.

These thoughts are a fine compass for the next one hundred years. The Estonian people wishes to walk its own path as much as possible, to think its own free thoughts, and to wander in open, pristine nature. To freely undertake and to also enjoy economic success. To do so safely and securely, and with the support of a simple and permissive legal space.

Tomorrow, a new century will begin. Compass in hand, the Estonian language on our tongues, leaning on a foundation that rests upon the Estonian culture and Estonian schools, taking strength from the pristine nature of Estonia, we will boldly set out.

Our work will continue: our efforts to ensure that new generations of Estonians will receive from us an Estonia that is just as orderly and an Estonian state that is just as dignified; one, which circumstances and our own decisions will enable us to achieve.

Congratulations again, my dear Estonia, and I wish you luck!

We cherish you!

Let us cherish Estonia!