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For Ilves, Creative Plenum Was Epiphany

Photo: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said the creative unions plenum of 25 years ago was the moment he realized that Estonia would eventually be free again.

Upon reading the April 7 issue of an Estonian SSR cultural newspaper, Ilves, who was then in Munich, "gasped."

"I couldn't believe what I found there," Ilves told those attending the 25th anniversary commemoration today. "I went home and told my wife - pushing, in a baby carriage, my 18-month-old son who has now been living here for many years - that I don't know when exactly, but Estonia will be free and I will move to Estonia."

"Who would not have been excited to hear that the finest artists, scholars and intellectuals of a nation were speaking truth to […] the Soviet regime?" he asked. "And furthermore: after 2,500 years was Plato's Republic really about to be born, led by lovers of wisdom, philosophers? That's the way it seemed."

"We all thought that this would be the face of the Republic of Estonia: an open agora or forum, a meeting point for philosopher-leaders who will look after Estonia's interests."

In a bittersweet reflection on the inevitable need to stray from pure idealism, Ilves stated: "Actually, true creative forces have always had a certain role as members of the opposition. After all, how could an artist ever accept the status quo? If at some moment, the existing condition is found to be sufficient, there is no need for something new or different. This, in my opinion, leads to the challenge for artists who are free of totalitarianism and at liberty."

"Because Estonians have always drawn on their culture and cultural intelligentsia more than on politicians, the opposition's role is perhaps more important here than it is elsewhere."

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