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President of the Republic at the Carolin Illenzeer Foundation charity dinner

Carolin Illenzeeri Fondi õhtusöögil.
At the Carolin Illenzeer Foundation charity dinner.
© Kermo Pastarus/Kaitsevägi


Honoured Vice-President of the Riigikogu and ministers, dear veterans and everyone present,
“Only fighters can win” said Vello Salo, member of the Finnish Boys infantry regiment, clergyman, cultural figure, but above all, a great humanist, who passed away the night before last. ‘Fighting’ and ‘victory’ – these are big and harsh words but rather appropriate to talk about tonight.

Vello Salo could not fight for Estonia in Estonian uniform. He was robbed of this opportunity by the situation in which Estonia found itself in 1939. The already fragile system of international relations had collapsed under the right of the powerful, and Estonia suddenly found itself without allies.

Father Vello, as he was called, did manage to see the victory of 1991 and the triumph of justice. Today, Estonians can defend and serve their country in Estonian uniform as, Estonian soldiers. For 3000 of our servicemen, serving Estonia has meant fighting in foreign missions. This has been Estonia’s conscious choice and decision for nearly a quarter of a century.
Under General Einseln – our first post-war Chief of Defence, the two pillars of the Estonian security – certain resistance in the event of an attack and never standing alone again – gained a very practical, military meaning right from the beginning of our independence. The decision on the formation of the Estonian Peacekeeping Company in 1994 was made during a time at which only a few years had passed since the restoration of our independence and the creation of the Estonian Defence Forces. Dozens of objective reasons could have been found why we should not have rushed with such a nice-to-have thing. From the need first build primary self-defence capability to the Russian armed forces that were still in the country at the time. However, General Einseln was consistent in stressing that today’s wars are not fought alone. Victories are not won alone. Security does not depend solely on our own bravery. Our allies, who are our allies because they share our values, can help us more easily during times of hardship if we are seen as the provider rather than the consumer of security.

There were receptive, responsible officers, civil servants and politicians who saw the big picture and understood the necessity and importance of external military cooperation. They understood that foreign missions and participation in the system of international relations enhances rather than suppresses our self-defence capability. They understood that close daily defence cooperation between likeminded countries is one of the best guarantees that 1939 will never repeat itself. And that we would win this time if we had to fight. Naturally, unlike in 1939, our independence is reinforced by today’s international security architecture, which ensures the freedom of the self-determination of small countries. Nevertheless, the possibility that this architecture must be defended by force is not ruled out. Also in this corner of the world.

The fighting done by Estonian mission soldiers has produced very tangible results. We have a reputation of being a reliable and credible ally who does not balk at even the most serious and dangerous challenges. We can taste the fruits of the labour of our mission soldiers in the form of NATO’s defence plans or the Allied battle group in Tapa. Appointing men with experience to lead a company-sized unit in combat as the leaders of our battalions is just as important.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is said that one man does not make a soldier on the battlefield. However, on the day the worst happens, he is one. He is the soldier who pays the ultimate price. Indeed, even one man, every one, can be a soldier on the battlefield because they are prepared to be the one who does not make it home that day.
It’s now 15 years since the loss of the first Estonian servicemen in foreign missions. In February, former fighters of the ESTPLA-8 infantry platoon met at the grave of Sergeant Andres Nuiamäe. In October, members of ESTPLA-9 will gather at the final resting place of Master Sergeant Arre Illenzeer.

I asked a person who served with Sergeant Illenzeer to recall what kind of person and soldier Arre was. There’s no doubt that if cruel fate had not interfered, Sergeant Illenzeer would be one of the best NCO’s in Estonia today. I quote: “Arre loved the Defence Forces, but he loved his home and family even more. He spoke in the highest of terms about his family and newborn daughter. Unfortunately, his thoughts and plans remained on the battlefield.” End of quote.

I believe that we all think about our home and family when we do great things. Arre Illenzeer and his 3000 brothers in arms have done great things for Estonia. However, when they are on a mission – and thinking about what happens when they are gone – they cannot be there for their families and loved ones. This support and sense of security must be provided to servicemen by the rest of the society. Through the national veteran policy in order to ensure them the necessary care, rehabilitation and support measures in the event of injury. By ensuring sufficient support for their close ones if they should fall. By donating money to charity in order to support both the education of their children and the development of additional rehabilitation opportunities, which can then be used by servicemen as well as injured civilians.

Nothing can justify the loss of a human life, but we have to admit that several of the aforementioned initiatives were triggered by the tragic event in the outskirts of Baghdad on 25 October 2004. Arre Illenzeer was lost on this battlefield, but his name lives on in the Carolin Illenzeer Foundation, which supports his daughter and dozens of children of other fallen and injured servicemen. Also to wounded soldiers continue to serve and fight.
However, just like the Defence Forces as a whole cannot function without society’s support, the servicemen of the Defence Forces and their close ones need to be supported by not only the state but the whole society. This is why our donations to the Carolin Illenzeer Foundation are more than just financial aid. This shows that Estonia cares about, remembers and thanks its fighters. And I thank everyone in this room for your help.

The daily service of our soldiers ensures that our current generations do not have to suffer the fate of Vello Salo’s class at Põltsamaa Gymnasium. I quote: “The class was finally broken up in the fateful year of 1943, when the mobilisation of men born in 1925 was announced. Instead of a book, they placed a weapon in our hands. The sword that was shoved in our hands literally cut our class in half.”
Today, we no longer have to be afraid of foreign swords being pressed into the hands of our schoolboys. This weapon is in the hands of our own fighters. Let us take care of it, let us take care of one another, let us take care of Estonia.
Thank you!