New president’s first speech: We need more understanding and less condemnation, more assistance and less shaming, more courage and less fear (1)
After taking her oath of office, President Kersti Kaljulaid held her first speech. In it, she outlined the obligations and tasks of a 21st century democratic state, and reiterated that only confident citizens could make and maintain a confident state, a point she had made in earlier speeches as well.
Honorable Mr. President, Members of the Riigikogu and the Government, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear people of Estonia,
25 years ago, in this very same hall, the Republic of Estonia was restored. We now have a state, a democratic 21st century state. This has been achieved through the contribution of all Estonian people, irrespective of where they live, their profession, or living standard.
Today’s children only know about the occupation as part of the memories of their grandparents. They are the grandchildren of a free Estonia. Today I think about these children – and of their grandchildren.
But indeed, how small is the number of these children. Babies sleep in cots in fewer than fifteen thousand Estonian homes. Approximately one hundred thousand preschool children are there to sneak into their parents’ beds in the morning. All over the world there are hundreds of millions of such children.
These one hundred thousand children and their older siblings are our responsibility. As children grow, they will inevitably lose their sincere faith in the goodness of the world. It is our job to keep up the faith that these children have in Estonia, themselves, and the future.
All the people present in this hall have given one or other oath that conveys the same message: To remain faithful to our constitutional order. This represents an acceptance that common, shared values stand above everyday bickering and self-interest.
In our activities, we create the framework for the meaning of freedom, fairness, and justice in Estonia. We – and we alone – can maintain both the separation and balance of powers. Our attitude, mentality, and activities will decide whether people feel that the highest authority is vested in them. We will determine whether the new generations will have faith in Estonia and themselves and in the future. Let us endeavour to keep their faith.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I stand here before you, I would like to acknowledge my predecessors, as each and every one of them has been great in his era. Lennart Meri by taking Estonia into the West, Arnold Rüütel by bringing Estonia and Europe to the people, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves by launching Estonia into cyber space.
In this increasingly complex world shrunk by information density, we have Estonia, a simultaneously stable and constantly transforming nation that is looking for new targets.
We have a society that believes in education, where schoolchildren exceed their peers almost everywhere in the world.
We have a healthcare system which may occasionally give us cause to complain, yet contributes to the steady increase of average life expectancy. We have a unique culture that binds us together with a wreath of flowers. We have our language, which rises up to the heavens in the winds of incantation and seeks eternity.
We have a society where diversified communities are becoming more and more important. People with various interests and goals contribute together and as one towards making their dreams come true.
This is the Estonia that we wanted to have. 25 years ago we sang together and won Estonia its freedom. The difficulties experienced during the initial years forced many of us to toil on our own. Now we have come full circle. We have a civil society, which we will continue to nurture together.
Indeed, our everyday expectations are no longer as simple and apparent as they used to be. Independence is no longer a goal, simply an expectation. An open world is no longer a dream, just an opportunity.
This is why we now proceed and act as communities, settlement societies, choirs, and boards of school guardians. We enhance our lives, we do it together, and we enrich Estonia. Each and every one of us creates the Estonia that he or she wishes to have. This merges into the state that belongs to all of us. Let us continue to maintain this feeling of togetherness and support!
Dear listeners, unfortunately, all of this does not mean that Estonia can enjoy a carefree existence and simply focus on maintaining what has been achieved. Those who are born into freedom take the sovereignty, security, and freedoms of our small country for granted. We shouldn’t. All gardens are overcome by weeds if not tended to or taken care of.
Our population is getting older, and it is decreasing. The living standards of people depend increasingly on their distance from Tallinn or Tartu, and this is cause for concern. We top rankings that we should be at the bottom of, whether these reflect disparities in wages, rates of suicide, or quantity of alcohol consumed. Many processes that cause us anxiety, to put it mildly, take place in our immediate neighbourhood.
We can’t choose the era or world in which we live, but we can choose the standpoints we take about the world and the people around us. Do we see them as fellow wayfarers who aim for shared goals, or as competitors promoting selfish interests? If we see competitors, we will inevitably start to look for faults and lose our ability to see the positive. Knowing everyone’s weaknesses in detail will bring us no benefits. It will only contribute to the destruction of confidence.
Self-confidence is a prerequisite and important foundation for development and success. Those small children I think about today, as I stand here – they are self-confident. They have immense faith in us, but they also have the same immense faith in themselves.
Confident people build up enterprises, raise happy children in their roles as parents or teachers, compete for research grants, create and maintain our culture, and bring home medals from sports competitions.
But those who are afraid that someone at home, in school, or in the media will gleefully highlight their flaws will not promote our life. There are no perfect or infallible people, but there is also no individual without any strong features. People who are aware that they can expect gloating, ridicule, and public shaming for every mistake they make will lose their ability to make decisions.
We can only develop Estonia by supporting each other. The Constitution is not merely a set of legal provisions. The Constitution gives us basic values to rely on. Those who share these values can consider themselves sterling members of society, even if they are somehow different or we ourselves would choose a different approach within a certain context. Let us cherish our values!
Estonia did not become rich in the last century, when becoming rich required lots of natural resources and resulted in considerable damage to the environment. Luckily for us, we all have the opportunity today, for now wealth and prosperity come from education and the courage to be entrepreneurial. Apart from self-confidence, we must give our children education. This is the most important tool in ensuring they build a future for their own children.
Henry Ford was the first to say that it is not the employer who pays the wages; the employer only handles the wages. Products and increasingly services pay wages. What possible product or service could we develop in Estonia that would harness local conditions and opportunities and contribute to our international success?
This is not just a single large Nokia-type enterprise, rather many products and services that depend on the skills and dreams of their developers. These can only be created through smart work by free and responsible entrepreneurs. The state is responsible for education, and for ensuring the simplicity and freedom of entrepreneurship.
A president of a democratic country cannot single-handedly create a fair, caring environment that supports self-confidence. A president can only articulate and see that important issues for our children and grandchildren – and their children – will always be on the agenda. The president is responsible for the Estonia of our children and grandchildren. An Estonia of self-confident, well-educated, and healthy people.
This leads to an inevitable conclusion – the president must be present in places where people face difficulties. The president must use the power of her words and status of her office to support those who could otherwise be pushed away. It is the job of the president to remember that an ethical state must offer opportunities to the strong and support to the weak.
An ethical state will offer people self-confidence and will therefore become stronger itself. This is a state that belongs to the people. The highest authority can only be vested in people who sense that their leaders are in their service. The leaders of the 21st century create the environment and provide the prerequisites. The leaders of the 21st century won’t issue commands or bans. The leaders of the 21st century will inspire people to strive forward and acknowledge the outcomes. In the 21st century, success will come to countries that act with regard for the future – countries that remember and establish long-term goals.
In our era, when tomorrow is expected to be better than yesterday solely because we have already forgotten everything that happened yesterday, this will be more difficult than ever before. But this is the task for us, the people here, in this hall, today. The self-confidence and courage to act in the interests of our children and grandchildren. Their education. Their health, and the health and well-being of our parents. The care that we show looking after our parents today will show our children how they should take care of us once they are grown up.
The people in this hall must encourage others to dream, and support the realization of their dreams. And we must also be there to pick up the pieces of broken dreams. To support when the light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed, or when there is no light left.
I do believe and hope that in five years we can see more understanding and less condemnation in Estonia. More assistance and less shaming. More courage and less fear.
Back in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt said his famous phrase, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. This quote has accompanied me for almost 20 years since I first saw it on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. This sentence was a part of his inauguration speech. It was during the Great Depression. He also added that thankfully, the common difficulties of American society only concerned material things.
The problems of Estonia have never only concerned material things. The same can also be said about the concerns of America during the times of Roosevelt, and he probably knew it, though he didn’t say so. Our greatest problem has never been economic. Our main concern will always be security. How can we ensure that our children’s grandchildren will be able to look at the world with confidence?
Yes, indeed, we do have allies who share our values, and who have helped build the sovereign Estonia that is stronger than it has ever been at any time in its past. Let us cherish our allies and listen to their worries!
But we must never forget that the responsibility for safekeeping our sovereignty starts with us. We must have the self-confidence and faith that we can keep Estonia safe – always, every day.
The most important key to the security of Estonia is its civil society: Free and self-confident Estonian individuals who will stick together with their kindred spirits and are willing to cooperate. The importance of the Defence League in our national defense’s source documents has increased considerably. And this is also a sign of the development of a civil society.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can sense the spirit of cooperation here today, in this hall. And there is even more outside of this hall. We have spoken too little recently about some things that we take for granted – about our dreams for a better Estonia. The Estonia of our grandchildren and of their children.
Time will continue to pass, and indeed the future will inevitably come, even if we don’t think about it every day. However, the rightful, bold decisions we take today will help ensure that the hope in the eyes of those looking at us from their cradles will be fulfilled. To present and future generations, as is stated in the Constitution.
Let us cherish Estonia!
President Kaljulaid's first speech was published on the president's website on Monday.