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Independence Day Speakers Ponder Estonia's Coming of Age

The state-of-the-nation speeches on Estonia's 95th Independence Day, led by the Estonian president's address, an annual highlight, shared a number of common themes.

These included economic well-being, the citizen's responsibility, Estonian success stories, comparison with other nations, government competence and demographics. Yet another theme was Estonia's coming of age - appropriate, considering that the country's period of independence will next month surpass that of the first republic, from 1918 to 1940. This coming of age, speakers said, marked a new era where independence is natural, but cannot be taken for granted.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: "[...] the thought of independence has, once again, become natural. It neither requires interpretation nor explanation because it is a basic truth [...] For we cannot endlessly search the past for the cause of our problems like a former colony that continues to blame it all on some 19th century injustice [...] Those who are younger amongst us do not even know that in the past our coastline was fenced off with barbed wire."

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip echoed the theme in his speech: "Should we consider our nation, democratic order and freedom to be self-evident? Have we been free for long enough to do that - to get used to it as the status quo?"

Commander in Chief Riho Terras also touched on the theme, although from an angle more appropriate for a general. He said: "Today, everything that a quarter of a century ago was new and exciting is seemingly self-evident. A whole generation has grown up in a free Estonia [...] But we must again and again remind ourselves that our people's independence and freedom have never been and will never be self-evident."

The archbishop of the Lutheran Church, Andres Põder, also emphasized that nothing could be taken for granted, in this case the soul of the person.

"Independence and statehood can only have meaning and value in a broader context - humanity. If we forget that, then the best legal order and economic success cannot help us. Society needs, first of all, to have a soul [...] One is most importantly a person. Only thereafter can we be Estonians, Europeans and citizens of the world [...] Perhaps our nation does not face such challenges as it did 95 years ago. Nevertheless, every generation and person must carry their own burden and solve their own problems."

Parliament Speaker Ene Ergma discussed the issue of emigration and the preservation of the Estonian language and people. "Is the fact that many Estonians have gone abroad to study, work or find their fortune a sign of tragedy, or is it a natural and expected exercise of freedom? [...] I am convinced that as long as most of us carry Estonia with us in our souls, both at home and abroad, there is no danger to our language or to our people," Ergma said.

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