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"‘I’m not afraid’: The president of tiny Estonia gives a giant lesson in leadership", The Washington Post

Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia, sits for an interview with The Post’s Jonathan Capehart on the “Cape Up” podcast during the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum at the Steigenberger Hotel in Brussels on March 24.
© Jonathan Capehart/The Washington Post


By Jonathan Capehart

"No, I'm not afraid. ... I trust NATO."

When you are president of a Baltic republic that shares a border with Vladimir Putin's Russia, there really is no other response. But when it comes from Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, you are left with the distinct impression that she means exactly what she says.

"NATO's deterrence has always been adequate and I'm not worried about the physical security of my country. Not at all," Kaljulaid told me during an interview for the latest episode of "Cape Up," recorded at the Brussels Forum hosted by the German Marshall Fund in the Belgian capital last week. "NATO deterrence has always held ... all through NATO's history."

Buttressing that confidence is the first of 800 British troops who arrived earlier this month in Estonia, a member of NATO since 2004. According to the Guardian, other nations are sending troops to the other Baltic republics and Poland in an unmistakable bit of NATO message-sending to Moscow.

Kaljulaid is the first woman and youngest person to ever be elected president of Estonia. What makes her ascension even more remarkable is that she is in a job she did not initially seek. Kaljulaid was in her 12th year on the European Court of Auditors when the Estonian Parliament, which elects the head of state, turned to her as a compromise candidate in October. Kaljulaid is her nation's fifth president since independence in 1918 and the fourth since the end of Soviet occupation. You have to hear what happened when I said "Soviet domination" during the interview. A no-no.

And during the Brussels Forum, the president of the young, free country rose up to deride the consumerism that defines democracy today. "Too many people in the world associate democracy with their ability to go and buy more and more every year," Kaljulaid said. "I come from a country where it's much more popular to remind people that democracy is available at every income level and this is something which you need to protect ... The freedom of speech. The freedom of thinking. The freedom of coming and going."

Listen to the podcast to hear Kaljulaid, the first head of state to appear on "Cape Up," expound on her impassioned defense of democracy.

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