Opinion: Kersti Kaljulaid has sustained value of state awards ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Küllo Arjakas.
Küllo Arjakas. Source: Klassikaraadio

Today's announcement of who will be getting state awards this year, signed into effect (from Antarctica) by President Kersti Kaljulaid, is demonstration that the value of the national decorations has been enhanced, according to historian and former politician Küllo Arjakas.

"In this way, she has clearly distinguished herself from her predecessors, helping to ensure that the national decorations do not get to bloated in number, Arjakas argues.

"Unfortunately, all kinds of decorations, city or municipal honorary titles and the like are given away very lightly these days. This year, for instance, over 50 people fewer will receive awards than in 2018, and this tendency is fully acceptable."

In fact, Kaljulaid's immediate predecessor, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, distributed fewer than 100 decorations each year, during the period 2009-2016 (Ilves became president in 2006-ed.), ERR reports.

Arjakas also noted that this year is the 102nd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia's founding. 

"So for a time it seemed the idea was to match the number of decorations to the country's birthday, and to issue 103 decorations next year. If such an approach were to emerge, futher swelling of the number of Estonian decorations would be completely avoided in the future," Arjakas said.

Regarding this year's list of honors, Arjakas says there is a complete lack of representation from the political elite, and a rather clearer emphasis on creative people, including scientists. 

"There are also a significant number of entrepreneurs and promoters of local life and, more broadly, supporters of cultural life," he noted.

Arjakas said that he personally welcomes awards given to several colleagues, such as historians Ago Pajur and Hellar Lill, and archivist Tatyana Shor, as their commitment to their daily work is well known in the professional field.

"Additionally, most likely, you won't find anyone on the list whose award might be seriously questioned any time soon. Unfortunately, some of these sad cases can be recalled from former presidents' times," he added.

Arjakas said that in fact, it should first be stressed that the publication of the list has a somewhat annoying wording year after year.

"It's not quite the right way of putting it to say that President X 'gives' and citizen X 'receives'/'received' the decoration."

"Bread is 'given' by a seller and the buyer still gets them from a store. It also utterly misses the mark to say that the president 'bestows'' a decoration on Citizen X," Arjakas added.

"We should instead use some more old-fashioned, but respectable wording, for instance, the president 'decorates' and Citizen X 'receives'."

In Arjakas meaning, decoration, in its own way, points to the permanence and durability of the Estonian state, which obviously in inherent to the decoration. 

"In some cases, it might even be worded that the President would 'give out', for instance, 125 decorations," he added.

Background figures on annual state awards

The president gave out 112 awards (or bestowed them, or decorated 112 people, if you prefer-ed.) this time last year, two fewer than this year, and a far smaller number than the figures from the final years of Lennart Meri and Arnold Rüütel's tenures – both over 800. Even Toomas Hendrik Ilves started off with figures in the 600s, dialing down the number to the hundreds per year later on (the highest award given to non-Estonian civilians, the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana (Estonian: Marjamaa Rist) was initiated by Lennar Meri-ed.).

State awards can also be withdrawn. This happened most recently with former national ski coach Mati Alaver, following revelations he had been involved in ski doping.

Kersti Kaljulaid became head of state in October 2016. Estonian presidents are not elected directly, but at a Riigikogu ballot, followed by rounds of elections in the regional electoral college if this draws a blank.

In President Kaljulaid's case, three rounds of Riigikogu voting followed by two rounds in the electoral college proved inconclusive, after which she was brought in as a single candidate, finally being elected at the Riigikogu by 81 votes with 17 abstainers.

In President Kaljulaid's case, three rounds of Riigikogu voting followed by two rounds in the electoral college proved inconclusive, after which she was brought in as a single candidate, finally being elected at the Riigikogu by 81 votes with 17 abstainers.

Presidential elections are held every five years; a president may serve a maximum of two terms.

The five Presidents of the Estonian Republic to date have been:

  • Konstantin Päts (1938-1940).
  • Lennart Meri (1992-2001).
  • Arnold Rüütel (2001-2006).
  • Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2006-2016).
  • Kersti Kaljulaid (2016-).

The next presidential elections will be in 2021.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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