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New Year’s Eve Address in Pärnu

31.12.2018

Dear residents of Pärnu, beloved people of Estonia!
Long live Pärnu, the birthplace of Estonian independence!

In just a few minutes, we will give the Republic of Estonia’s centenary year a cordial send-off and ring in a year dedicated to the Estonian language. Although the centenary year is packing up its tent, the celebrations of our beloved republic’s birthday will last for some time to come.

Tonight’s celebration will reach all corners of our land, just as the centenary year reached the forests of Kurgja, the streets of Tartu, and Viru and Võru counties alike, as well as hopefully every house and home in Estonia. I hope that during this past year, everyone found moments to cheer and reasons to stand proud and united.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this centenary year a success. It was fantastic!

The year that is just about to begin is the year of the Estonian language. Listening and speaking, arguing, agreeing, or not agreeing – all are best done in one’s native tongue. Only we Estonian speakers can fully comprehend references to the writers Tammsaare, Luts, and Kivirähk. This is our secret tongue, which only one million of our compatriots around the world understand.

It is our solemn duty to ensure that the number of Estonian speakers grows and does not shrink. Everyone who considers the language theirs has something to gain from it.

It is gratifying to see that Estonia is more prosperous than ever before. Viewed objectively, we are indeed doing better and better. However, there is the concern that a single mother raising a disabled child might not share in this feeling. Or elderly people in the twilight of their lives, in nursing homes or alone at home. Those who have endured violence, whether for years or even just on one occasion, may also be deprived of this sense of prosperity.

Do those of us who are weaker feel included? Or do they feel abandoned at a time when Estonia is truly better off than ever before? The question deserves to be asked, even on this celebratory evening.

Because they are all part of who we are: both those who are content with the way things are going, and those who feel that Estonia’s success story has not yet reached them. Those who believe this is the Estonia we’ve wanted, and those who believe a longer or shorter path must still be crossed to get there. Both those who hold the majority opinion in one poll or another, and those whose view is shared by ever fewer people but are all the more vocal for it. Those who speak Estonian at home, and those who converse in another language yet carry Estonia in their hearts. Our Estonia needs all of these people. ‘They’ are actually ‘us’. We have to remember this and, if necessary, remind each other of it.

As we enter the New Year with great anticipation, is everyone with us? Perhaps someone is very sad quite nearby? What can we do better? And furthermore, would we give up something we are attached to so that those who are sad could be a little happier? No doubt we will learn – and will learn next year as well – how to better harness our prosperity in places where it is truly, dearly needed.

My fellow citizens!

One hundred years ago, when the First World War ended and our War of Independence began, Estonia was not welcomed with open arms into the fold of the world’s independent nations. While there were those who backed our independence, the security net to which we are now accustomed was nowhere in sight. It is a safety net we now see from month to month at NATO and EU summits. If something is taken for granted, it will quickly turn invisible. At the end of the year, it is always a good idea to check and make sure the net has not torn. Have others, or have we ourselves, done anything to make the net more fragile?

This New Year will dawn amidst spirited debate, for elections are coming up. That is a good thing. Discourse is a prerequisite for progress in society. Thinking feels good. It is a fine thing to hear well-crafted and argumented debate in good Estonian.

This is the kind of Estonia we wanted: one that is prosperous and where there is time to think; where there is courage and confidence to express ourselves; where there is compassion and love, debate and resolution. The confidence to do things on our own, and enough faith to always help those in need, to the best of our abilities.

Each person in Estonia has their own part to play in all that we have achieved. Each and every one of us has made their contribution to building our home, like ants hauling spruce needles into one of the great ant hills in Estonia’s forests. Each of us has a role, a right, a responsibility, a possibility. May we all continue to enjoy such an Estonia in 2019!

Happy New Year, Pärnu! Happy New Year, Estonia!