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At the public session of the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu

15.06.2020

Dear members of the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu,

You call yourself free. But free from something or free for something? (Nietzsche)

The constitutional order of Estonia is now 100 years old. According to the results of the public vote of 28 June 1992, we have a Constitution that complies in an excellent manner with the principle phrased by English politician and writer George Halifax in the 17th century: A Maxime in Law, that no man is to have benefited from his own wrong Act. This is the principle echoed by our entire legal space. The options of people in all positions are limited. But within the limits of their powers, they are free to make decisions without fear of sanctions from people in other positions.

The freedoms and rights of all people are also restricted by the freedoms and rights of other people. But within the given framework, they are free to realize their dreams.

The idea of the Constitution of Estonia is supported by our proportional election system, which guarantees a broad representation of society’s different views in the Riigikogu.

Such an election system means that coalition governments are almost guaranteed, which means that there cannot be a government that only represents a single narrow worldview.

Our constitutional order, as the people decided in 1992, is very focused on people. First, come people. Then citizens. The state and all of its institutions are there for their citizens.

According to our Constitution, the link between the state and its citizens is not a vassal relationship or the relationship between the carer and the cared for. Taking the state’s interests into consideration for the common good is all that the state can expect from its citizens.

The Constitution says that as citizens, we are free to come and go, even give up our citizenship – but nobody can take it from us if we received it by birth.

The Constitution guarantees that the state treats us equally before the law, not according to our contribution, whether this contribution is assessed objectively – by taxes paid, for instance – or subjective, such as position in society.

Similar declarations, which protect the freedoms of citizens, including the freedoms given by their positions, can be found in all chapters of the Constitution.

Such an approach to the state, where the citizen is not one of the objects of the state, someone to rule over and use for the achievement of the state’s goals, or someone who can be forced to perform certain activities, is very demanding of the leaders of the state.

Because the only reason for the citizens of a state with such a constitution to support the state in its aspirations and goals is the free will of the citizens.

Free will arises from respect for one’s state and its institutions. Free will arises from understanding the goals of the state. Free will also arise when a citizen sees their role in shaping and achieving the goals of their state.

Jean-Jacque Rousseau said: as soon as any man says of the affairs of the State “What does it matter to me?” the State may be given up for lost.

In the year when the Constitution was adopted, the majority of Estonians understood freedom as freedom from something – freedom as the absence of foreign power. Back then this interested all of us. However, the big question we’re facing today is different – freedom for what?

Thirty years of an independent journey and the choices we’ve made have created also material wealth, which in its turn gives us more choices. But do we all feel today that we can and want to have a say in looking for answers or making choices?

During stages of peaceful development in history societies will develop complacency over what they have achieved. They feel that the only way is up. They even feel that sometimes there is room for decisions that entail a huge risk of rolling down a little because, at the end of the day, there is nothing existentially dangerous in this.

However, these moments can become turning points in history. It may seem that life, the state and society are moving towards a better future anyway, no matter what we do. It may also seem that the achieved balance cannot be changed enough with a couple of decisions so that significant risks would arise. But let’s think a minute...

E-state Estonia, whose physical location is often unknown to the world, but whom many recognise as a quick implementer of future technologies.

A safe Estonia, where nobody has to fear harassment because of their beliefs, nationality or race, or discrimination because of their sexual orientation, disability or even an infectious disease they have or had.

An Estonia that values entrepreneurship, where nobody is pointed at when they have managed to establish something economically more successful than their neighbour or even several neighbours.

An Estonia that is a trustworthy partner to its allies, that shares the democratic values on which this trust is based.

A respected Estonia whose opinion is valued by its friends and neighbours and who returns this respect.

A contributing Estonia that knows how to be proud of what it can do for other countries and peoples without looking for direct benefits for itself in decisions made for the common good.

A protective Estonia that defends everyone’s rights and freedoms unconditionally.

A helping Estonia that looks after its law-abiding citizens equally, irrespective of their beliefs.

A state that also supports people who don’t share the opinions of the leaders.

This is the kind of state the people of Estonia have built on the basis of their Constitution in 30 years. Let me remind you that they did it out of their own free will. The state of Estonia has not obliged us to do this. It has allowed us to make all other choices. But as citizens, these are the collective decisions we’ve made.

The contours of the ideal landscape created by the Constitutional Assembly have been coloured in, covered in harmoniously blending colours, which are the sum of all of our dreams.

Following the unwritten rules in the spirit of the Constitution has been important in the development of this state.

The press is free and independent. What kind of a state is it where the editor-in-chief feels the need to publicly wonder whether the unwillingness of the government to help media companies during an economic crisis is related to the right to criticise the government, which these publications have not been afraid to use?

What kind of a state is it where the top politicians of different parties are not held back by their positions when they attack the free press?

What kind of a state is it where any social group can be turned into an enemy in just a couple of weeks?

What kind of a state is it where self-censorship shuts the mouths of those who think just like the enemy of the week, but wonder – I may also need the help of this state, but can I be certain that speaking up will not reduce the likelihood of me getting it?

What kind of a state is it where a group of peaceful teenagers who want to discuss their inner world have to do it under the protection and in a secret location?

It’s difficult for citizens to love the kind of state where everyone knows that they may become the object of the wrath and mockery of the leaders. There is less interest in how it’s doing. People find a way to live their lives without having an active relationship with the state. This, of course, is convenient for those who want to lead without having to explain their decisions, without having open discussions.

There are always people in a state like this who hope that the vassal relationship will help them achieve their goals. There is no doubt that the state has the means for rewarding those to bend, stay meek and keep their thoughts to themselves.

But such a state  –  based on dependence, not on cooperation based on freedoms – is not the state the people of Estonia approved on 28 June 1992.

The declarations of freedom given in the Constitution do not materialise by themselves but through a legal space that ensures them. The will of the Estonian people has been done in this building for 30 years. The meaning of our freedom and how it works in real life have been described here – for what are we free?

I emphasise that the people, the supreme political authority, did not simply want the majority to rule over the minority in Estonia on 28 June 1992. The Estonian people clearly wanted all of us to be free in our choices. They didn’t want the state to ever tell us again how and where and in which way we have to live.

This work is not finished yet.

We cannot say yet that all of the freedoms written into the Constitution have already materialised as a result of the development of the legal space. One of the biggest white spots concerns our local governments.

Subsection 154 of the Constitution states: all local matters are decided and administered by local governments, who discharge their duties autonomously in accordance with the law. We created bigger and more capable local authorities with the administrative reform. This is done. But we haven’t given them a cost base that would make it possible to live according to section 154.

The result is limited independence because the tax revenue base of the Estonian local authorities is extraordinarily weak. Thus, the local authorities are incapable of exercising the freedom given to them by the Constitution, the freedom to make their own decision and to act in a manner for which the local community – people, the supreme political power – would be prepared.

Dear members of Parliament,

The Riigikogu is all the people, wrote Regina, a 7-year-old girl from the green flag-winning Lotte kindergarten in Tartu. And she is right. The Riigikogu is not the place where the majority establishes its power over the minority. The Constitution of Estonia demands more. Estonia needs more. The Estonian people deserve more.

The Constitution of Estonia is an act established for the free citizens of a free state, which can only be kept alive by citizens who are truly free. Our Constitution does everything to ensure that every adult citizen would want to think along with their state and consider its future when thinking about their own, whether they decide where to live, who to become or how many children to have. The Constitution of Estonia was not established to give the state control over its citizens, the majority control over the minority.

I wish the Riigikogu continuing wisdom and skill in addressing the free citizens of a free country!