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On Estonian Independence Day in Tallinn 2017

24.02.2017

‘…the land is thawing, the grass is sprouting, the trees are budding and in the shadow of a leaf, a bird is again singing its eternal spring song. Is it the sentimental nightingale or the romantic bluebird siuru – what difference does it make! What matters is it is proclaiming new life with new buds, blossoms, and grain.’

Good people of Estonia!

Dear guests!

The romantic who wrote this was Friedebert Tuglas. One hundred years ago. Estonia would soon become an independent state and there was hope that, year after year, things would slowly improve for future generations.

And that’s just what has happened. We have our own state, which will never be alone again. Our partners and allies stand with us unconditionally. They respect our language and our culture, our traditions and our wishes, just as we respect them and theirs.

Such allies are extremely important in today’s world. The situation may not be totally out of joint, but we’ve observed that things, which have been self-evident for decades, may no longer be absolute.

This world requires countries like Estonia to be especially vigilant. It requires resolute observation of the values that make up the basis of society, and especially of international law. It requires that we act responsibly on the international stage and in its corridors. I stress this today, when, in only 127 days and a little more than seven hours, Estonia will assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Otto von Bismarck once said, ‘No loss in domestic policy is forever. But in foreign policy there are times and opportunities that will never return.’ For a small country, there is no better formula for survival. No matter what we do, we must always consider, or even more, we must prioritise our foreign policy interests; our international position.

Over the last quarter of a century, our foreign and security policy has been successful. Our politicians have accepted international responsibilities and have fulfilled them, sometimes at the price of domestic popularity. Today, we can see how important this has been. We are being assured that, in turbulent times, we will not be abandoned.

I thank the previous governments of Estonia for having made the right decisions in complicated times.

Over 25 years, we have created the Estonia of our dreams. But this will not suffice for the future. We must now create the Estonia of our children’s and grandchildren’s dreams. Our country is very different from others; is clearly more creative and flexible. I see many opportunities for progress based on what has already been achieved. Let us ponder together.

The independent state of Estonia can only exist permanently in a space of democratic values. A small state cannot function in a geopolitically tense location such as ours if it is internally undemocratic.

An important role in democratic values is played by human rights, which all people are entitled to purely because we are born human. In addition, there are the values that have been agreed upon in our Constitution in order to preserve the Estonian language and culture, because otherwise, there would be no point to an independent Republic of Estonia.

Language and the arts create the cultural space. By adding customs and traditions, we get a behavioural space that is inherent to us as a people. We get a cohesive environment, and we have the right to demand that anyone who comes here for a longer period of time, or for good, recognises this. Anyone who appreciates our language, customs, and values can be an Estonian. Thus, they may consider themselves Estonian, and we can as well. 

We can write laws about how to become an Estonian citizen, but not how to become a part of the Estonian nation. If we were to attempt it, we would turn into a totalitarian society and destroy our freedoms in the name of preserving our customs.

We cannot prohibit everything that we don’t wish to see in our behavioural space, because, in the end, we would also be destroying our own freedoms. We cannot make Estonians of everyone who wants to live here. That should not be our goal. It is how we would destroy our very Estonian nature.

At the same time, our functional platform is an Estonian platform. We have one official language. Speaking the official language at home or with one’s friends is not mandatory. But readiness to communicate in other languages, including the state’s readiness to respect the human rights of local residents or visitors who do speak Estonian, should never be seen a signal that we are prepared to reduce the role of Estonian as the official language.

Far from it: the fact that the Estonian language and culture are protected by our constitution does not mean that Estonian is truly protected. A language cannot be protected by orders and prohibitions. A language is only protected when it is successfully taught to the residents who do not speak it. And the more it is taught to greater numbers of people, the better.

I understand that most Estonians want to hold onto their behavioural space more jealously than many other Western European countries do. The majority of us are not ready to live in a multicultural society where Estonian customs are not clearly more important than those of other nations.

The countries we believe are losing their identity to newcomers have been more successful than we have in creating a uniform linguistic space, even when they have been less committed to protecting their behavioural space. Integration into the linguistic environment starts in kindergarten and pre-school through natural communication between adults and children.

The customs of the other ethnic groups who have lived here have not differed very much from our own. There are peoples in the world whose understanding of society is radically different than ours. This does not mean there is no place for them in Estonia, be they war refugees or labour migrants. However, we must be able to formulate what we expect of them in order to function together in Estonian society.

Preserving the behavioural space cannot be a single course that teaches people to respect the local language as well as local civic freedoms and not restrict them at their own initiative. This is simply a precondition, a minimum. Our behavioural space is guaranteed by our constant readiness to remember the values that are important to us. Respect we show to the customs of others must also play a role in the protection of this space, but only insofar as they do not start to infringe on the space itself.

It is difficult to describe this behavioural space: after all, we are not homogeneous robots attending to Estonian affairs. We also have different habits, different expectations of life, and different worldviews. But since we are apparently not ready for a multicultural society, we must be able to formulate our own society, Estonia’s society. We must be able to describe it as well as to teach it consistently and deftly.

Ladies and gentlemen!

Though conservative in our habits, we are still one of the world’s most innovative societies. Those promoting Estonian life have a good grasp of the future.

We currently see that the expectations of our young people differ fundamentally from even those who are middle-aged. Young people do not know the meaning of structural unemployment or retraining. They switch employers, their own roles in the labour market, and fields of activity naturally and without hesitation. As their incomes increase, they prefer to reduce their working hours rather than save for the future. They live in the here and now. Traditional jobs are also changing: fewer and fewer people have to spend a certain number of hours at a definite location.

The situation seems strange. The new generations do not want to work for 30 years straight and then retire. They study, work, travel and have children in a rhythm that suits them. This lifestyle does not seem to be frowned upon. However, no developed country’s pension and health insurance models can accommodate this rhythm. Today, young people are not interested in it; they simply don’t contribute, because the risk of needing help is small or lies somewhere in the distant future.

We have to make the provision of our social support flexible. We must consider the different kinds of lives that our young people lead. The good news is that this does not require large investments, but rather our attention to changes in a timely manner and the will to see the value and not the problems therein.

Society is a river, the flow rate of which is determined by the will of its members, the environment around the streambed, and the opportunities of history. The story of our current history is one of movement: departure and arrival. Compared with the other countries of the world, we are much better prepared for this era, because we have a homeland that is available on the web; one that is a fulcrum for its citizens and its e-residents.

Every person needs a country that provides the opportunity to exist as a member of society. The more people function in different countries, the less the contract between people and states relates to a geographical place of residence.

We must offer our travelling citizens a permanent relationship with the state; the opportunity to pay taxes and participate in society’s security network regardless of their location on the globe. Those who are globe-trotting today as nomads must become recognised members of our society. If we are able to provide our e-residents with the same, then in ten years, we will absolutely be one of the most successful countries in the world.

What labour migrants have in common is that they are able-bodied, smart, and should contribute to society. Let them contribute to our society!

If we recognise our young people’s urge to fly, but also create a place to land that is always open and where they can be full-fledged members of our society, then it will also attract other entrepreneurial and educated people from around the world. Estonia can offer a portable environment with limited bureaucracy.

The portable state not only helps the IT- and start-up economies, but also traditional players. An English entrepreneur afraid of Brexit can find shelter from the storm here. For instance, if we could convince the world’s shipowners to conduct all their business electronically with their flag state, then our flag could fly on many ships. It is easy for Estonia to provide this on the basis of what already exists.

The state has already created the foundation. If entrepreneurs build a superstructure for e-residents that is as awesome as the one they have built for e-Estonians, then Estonia will certainly be among the winners of this century.

We have only five years to accomplish this, because in that time, our own exporting IT companies will most likely help other countries catch up. We must not delay. Already 1% of our companies are owned by e-residents. Currently, we can offer them limited bureaucracy, but few other services. The number of additional services must increase rapidly and become unlimited. The key is in the hands of the entrepreneurs who understand e-residents’ expectations and address them.

In this process, the role of state, as always, will be, time and again, to quickly eliminate any bureaucratic obstacles without endangering the reliability of the system.

Dear listeners!

We must also speak about the state of the Estonian spirit. Together, we must strive to reduce malice in Estonia.

Today is a national holiday. Police know: most beatings occur precisely during holidays. They happen where one should feel safest – at home. So it is around Christmas and St. John’s Day. And so it also is today, on Independence Day.

The cycle of violence repeats itself from generation to generation, and there is no way to break it without public attention that ushers in a significant shift in attitudes. It is not enough to delegate this problem to the police and social workers.

When was the last time you heard a political discussion, one before the elections, for example, about how our respected candidates would help to root out violence? Demand such a discussion. Don’t elect anyone who is only able to come up with a tasteless joke about domestic violence. Don’t laugh, and do not elect them. 

As for myself, I promise not to stop talking about this issue on important occasions before I feel that attitudes are changing. If people are protected in their homes, then we will also be better protected from road rage, random beatings, and unwarranted public derision.

I hope that five years from now, ignoring such incidents will no longer be conceivable. Undoubtedly, we also need investments into fighting violence: above all to provide the victims an opportunity for a new life, regardless of the nature of the violence and the person’s age. However, investments come from public demand.

Such demands will not come from a culture of looking another way. It is up to all of us to promote a culture of noticing. Let’s take a look at ourselves for a start. As of today, you will be able find the Action Meter online, which will begin collecting ideas for achieving a violence-free Estonia.

Dear friends! 

We have not accomplished everything of which we’ve dreamed. We don’t have a classic welfare state like the ones we saw in the wealthy democracies of 25 years ago and set as examples for ourselves.

In truth, no country has been able afford such a state: not economically, nor from the perspective of the society’s health. The caring state freed members of society from the need to constantly worry about themselves and their community’s future. This type of a society indeed loses the ability to resist changes in the surrounding environment, because discussions about the changes are not conducted at the grassroots level.

Today’s international situation is hard to bear. The world order and societal structure that we joined 25 years ago as an independent nation didn’t have the chance to become a global good before people began harbouring doubts about it.

The democratic world order was not sufficiently portrayed through human rights and freedoms, equal opportunities, and low levels of corruption. Worded in this way, a global democratic order is entirely feasible for humankind.

Alas, the democratic world order was described too much by way of convenient consumer culture. This could never have become a global advantage, because given our current level of technological development, our planet’s resources simply would not have sufficed. The collective fault and its revelation are to blame for destabilising the developed world today.

What can we do differently to achieve the wellbeing of which we dream? We deserve wellbeing, but we also want to make it available to our children and to their children, without leaving them debt.

Estonia has never been able to allow itself a society where people do not need to consider the future. Now, this way of thinking has become our advantage. We are accustomed to worrying about our family, our village, our country, and our corner of the world.

Each one of us belongs to several communities: a family, a job, and a group of people connected by a hobby or an interest in a particular place. Each of us is divided into fragments so as to form a new whole together with other people’s own personal fragments. Our society is like a basket of twigs, all interwoven. Our flexibility helps us be better prepared for the pragmatic organisation of 21st-century community life.

My dear people!

Now that the borders of Estonia’s rural municipalities lie farther apart and there are fewer seats of local government, the system for noticing and answering common needs must be fundamentally altered. There is no doubt that the way our country is run must be updated at the institutional level, and this by way of optimisation, not by building more. We know this as state reform.

However, the greater change that will help us arrive at a caring and cohesive society will happen with the participation of everyone. It’s wonderful that I don’t have to call today for an overhaul of local services. Work is already underway.

Direct perception, a desire to help, and the capability of state and local governments to provide support are overlapping better and better these days. Community activities in Estonia have spread into sectors that in the traditional model of the welfare state are available exclusively as public or alternative and expensive private services. They’ve moved into the social sector, for example. They have become community services. Thus, we have found our roots, because communal activities also played an important role in the Republic of Estonia prior to the Second World War.

Those of you erecting community services in Estonia number many. We have met with you. We have also met with those of you financing these community services as leaders in your cities and rural municipalities. And we have discussed ways to proceed so that these community services help to build society, not burden locals capable of leadership.

We have a long way to go in this area to ensure that what we’re currently seeing does not diminish from fatigue. It is also important to specify a financing model that is simple, but also transparent. This, so community services are not drowned in bureaucracy, but doubts also do not arise as to the purpose of using taxpayer money and no accusations of corruption are made.

State-supported communal activity should be seen as a feasible 21st-century model for local governance. As one example of many, I would like to highlight the undertakings made by a group of Viljandi women to assist other more elderly women with limited means. Several local governments are supporting this service born entirely of free will. The women’s initiative is spreading from one municipality to the next. In this way, we can create a seamless society where the community provides support and assistance, but the local government helps to cover the costs.

Local government elections are coming up. Ask the candidates whether they are prepared to support your endeavours if you have the will to act. Or, will they instead cling to outdated management models in which once elected, leaders decide what is good for the people, then praise their own decisions in media outlets funded by your own money?

Are they ready to enter into the ongoing discussion about what should be done in your local area? Would they allow you to develop the kind of village or city that you think is needed? If so, show them your appreciation. Elect them! 

What’s more, if the state wants local governments to be the true keepers and leaders of the community, then it should not burden them with tasks that a small country is capable of centrally organising. Now that Estonia’s municipalities have been made larger, it is tempting to shift onto them the responsibility for administering secondary education and primary medical care, for instance.

This should not be done. Making comprehensively high-quality education and healthcare available in every corner of the country is one of the Estonian state’s primary tasks. Local governments’ role must be supportive, but they should not be made accountable. Rather, we should consider whether the state’s responsibility for elementary and basic education should be clarified in order to maintain one of our greatest common values: comprehensive schooling.

If something should be uniform throughout the country, then it is the responsibility of the state. Local governments are responsible for everything that is local in nature and needs to be resolved here and now, even if it is needed by only one person.

Everyone can contribute the resources they have on hand to their community and our communal life, be they time, skills, money, or attention. I want to thank everyone who is helping every day to build a new, seamless Estonian society to the best of their ability!

Dear listeners!

It is easy to seek a common denominator, not contrast, in a society that is built upon communities. Balancing life and work, enjoying cooperation between community and state, and contributing to Estonian society while taking over the world at the same time are all possible. A technological breakthrough, which the brightest people in the world would have been searching for long ago, is not required to do so. The simple truth is that the faster the world changes, the more advantages the small and flexible will gain.

On 27 June 1918, the Estonian poet Ernst Enno wrote the following:

‘What was is gone,
what comes is still before us.’

We had achieved our own state, along with the responsibility to preserve it.

The foreign powers and battlefronts that had passed over Estonia were many. And yet, statehood rooted itself firmly, and these roots withstood all the trials of the 20th century even when the tree could not sprout the buds, nor the nightingale sing the songs for which we so longed.

How much more has been given to those of our era!

Let us be thankful.
Let us cherish one another.
And let us cherish Estonia!
Happy Independence Day!