Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) Maj. Gen. Martin Herem made a speech in Freedom Square, Tallinn, at the parade marking Estonia's 102nd Independence Day.
The following is a transcript of the speech.
Honorable President of the Republic, Honorable President of the Riigikogu, Honorable Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, Dear compatriots and guests.
It is not common for Estonians to use superlatives when giving a positive appraisal. If something goes well, we tend to say "okay". If something is great, we tend to say "pretty good". When assessing the value of our achievements, most of the time we do not want to compare modern times with the past. Primarily, the positive component of this assessment scale equates to dreams.
Dear Estonians and friends, we have a 102-year-old country of our own today. We are free, we have a rich culture, we live in good conditions, and we have many friends and allies who share the same values. We can decide for ourselves in which direction our country will develop. We have come a long way. That's a good sign.
Around 100 years ago, Cpl. Paul Hermann fought for his country during the Estonian War of Independence. One of his memoirs reads: "There were virtually no meals, and we had a very poor diet. Once, with another solider, we got some porridge, in a bowl. As we sat down to eat in the corner of the platform, the other man spit into the bowl – in order to keep all the food for himself. I looked him in the eye, and also spat into the same bowl … and then we both went on eating. Afterwards we sat on the armoured train and gave our enemy a really hard time."
Even today, we often behave egotistically, sometimes even very poorly, mainly for personal interest or for the sake of the exclusivity of our own knowledge. However, as a counterbalance, we as a nation are still prepared to defend our country, if necessary. Fortunately, we are currently practising this only via training exercises. And hopefully, with such conviction in expressing our will to defend ourselves, we will never have to prove it in a harsh battlefield environment.
The will of our citizens and the skills of our reservists are world-class. Any commander could be proud of this, any government could be proud of it, and the people should also be proud of it. We now have, just as Paul Hermann did 100 years ago, something more important than a single helping of porridge.
The law, or fear of punishment, is not the reason why we can form a military unit of citizens within two days, covering a hundred kilometres from the rendezvous point. And it is by no means any law which makes increasingly more employers pay full-time wages to employees who have taken leave for reservist training.
It is not for show if the Estonian basketball team is dressed in military uniforms. It is not simplu charity, when Estonian enterprises support the setting up of the holiday table for our soldiers either in Iraq, Mali or elsewhere; far from home. And it cannot be considered merely pitying care when village dwellers dole out bread-rolls to the soldiers during training.
What is it then? Is this the Estonia that was fought for 100 years ago?
A serviceman sees such support as widespread deterrence of an enemy – the enemy should take into account that the whole nation is involved in national defence. This should provide the people living in our country with peace and joy in their daily routine – a 102-year-old country, with its people, is a good place to live.
Fortunately, we also have the wisdom to see our country within the bigger picture. We have the resources to share with others. When speaking about the EDF, it is imperative to highlight the activities of our soldiers in international military operations, where we are not only reliable allies, but certainly also contributing to the well-being of the people who live in those areas.
We can only guess today how many French or Malian fathers and mothers saw their sons and daughters, who also serve as soldiers, alive and well, thanks to the fact that Estonian soldiers guarded the gates at the Gao base last July. But they know this. As in other countries where Estonian soldiers are defending people against terrorism.
I would like to thank the active servicemen of Estonia, both in the EDF and the Defence League, for their competent and often self-sacrificing service in Estonia and abroad. Most certainly, you have a very important role to play in ensuring that the defence capacity of our reservist forces will be seen as credible, and our service alongside the allies will be considered reliable - that we are worthy partners.
Perhaps this is why the British-led battle group at Tapa, together with Danish and French companies, has seemingly almost become part of the EDF too.
As a country, we have certainly reached the point where the soldiers of the Estonian War of Independence wanted to arrive100 years ago. Maybe even further than that. But in order to protect our freedom against the same threats as existed 100 years ago, we need to collaborate even more seriously with our neighbours and allies. Not only in addition to NATO, but as part of NATO.
Following the last year's major training exercises, we will undertake the "Defender 2020" training exercise this year, as part of which nearly 20,000 soldiers will be sent to Europe from the U.S. Some of these will also arrive in Estonia.
This international training is aimed at practising the defence of Europe, including our region. One of the big steps in the region's defence capacity was the establishment of the Multinational Division North, in Latvia last year. Currently, Danes, Latvians, and Estonians are working there, who, by drawing lines on the map, are not only planning another exercise, but also the defence of our region, while creating better conditions for accepting support from the allies. It is safe to say that we will not stand alone in defending our national independence.
Dear citizens of Estonia, if necessary, or one wants to, one can also "spit into the bowl" tomorrow. But today we have a reason to rejoice, as these two armoured train soldiers would certainly have rejoiced. We have a 102-year-old country - what an achievement!
Long live the Republic of Estonia!
Editor: Andrew Whyte