In some ways, Estonia has done well since regaining its independence, but we are still far from being a seamless society and a country where an Estonian-Russian cashier could become the prime minister, the poet and choreographer Sveta Grigorjeva said in her speech given at the president's Kadriorg reception marking the 29th anniversary of Estonia's independence restoration.
When, 13 years ago, after graduating from high school I was asked what I want to be, I answered perkily that I wanted to become the first female president. Even if it wasn't a joke, I couldn't be the first any more to say that.
We tend to associate dreaming big with our childhood although, without it, statehood wouldn't have been possible 30 years ago. As a child in a republic, looking at today's Estonia, I have a feeling that dreaming big is only possible for certain people.
The fact that today, a young woman from an Estonian-Russian mixed family of unskilled workers, is giving this speech, is a miracle on its own, rather an exception, and we all know what exceptions tend to confirm. As American author and poet Audrie Lorde has said: "You being silent doesn't protect you". In this way, she agitates attention towards the historical injustices experienced by certain groups in society, realizing that while speaking can be dangerous, silence also does not provide protection. Thus, I am here, breaking the silence, knowing that I could be facing political persecution, termination of my current and coming employment contracts, maybe even a subpoena. This is the reality of a demanding and vocal woman today.
However, I can't keep the silence. One day I woke up in a country where the word was given to financially secure men, 20 years my senior, who consider themselves pure Estonians. And at one point I found myself in a country where the current coalition is humiliating women, minorities, the young, foreign employees and foreign students on a daily basis. I found myself in a country where today's coalition is vigorously introducing the idea that a free state and being a free person is possible only at the expense of a certain way of thinking, nationality, race, religion and sexual orientation. Still, there can be no silence. I am an Estonian who would still not choose a party that, after 17 years of government, it would be more correct to say of: In not governing, it had paved the way for today's populists.
Still, I can't be silent. I am a Russian who will never vote for a party that included people in the government who seem to know exactly how many children a woman my age is supposed to have, who I can fall in love with and who I have to marry. But besides that, I am a simple person who understands the people who vote for the populists.
The unemployed, the poor, Estonian-Russians, unskilled workers - paradoxically, they stand closer to me than you with whom I am celebrating the Republic of Estonia together. But why do I understand the people who instead, believe in the deep state? Aren't these people looking for reasons for their perceived or unperceived deprivation, both symbolic and material? Aren't these people just looking for reasons for their sometimes very joyful daily existence? Yes, they are looking for it in the wrong place, but who or has offered them a better alternative?
When, during the coronavirus crisis, joke pictures showing dolphins had returned to the Emajõgi (a river in Tartu County - ed.) started circling on social media, me and my mother noticed how more and more homeless people were starting to use public transport again. I do not dispute that Estonia is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, of the post-Soviet countries. We have something to be proud of.
Yet we are far from a so-called seamless society. Today, the coalition is preparing a completely unnecessary, extremely short-sighted and society-destroying marriage referendum. At the same time, the real concern is about 300,000 people living in relative poverty; the lack of integration and the resulting language-based segregation. At the same time, the real concern in Estonia is the number of young people aged 18 to 24 living in absolute poverty in this country. People who had been trying to survive long before the COVID-19 virus came along.
Maybe I am naive, but I can read about that from tomorrow's newspapers. But I dream of a country when people can dream about a lot more than just the essentials. Far from all are born with a proper "start package" as it's called in today's efficiency-based society. When the state doesn't provide proper education and materials, it is a little premature and cynical to allow people to forge their own luck.
Mart Helme (Minister of the Interior, EKRE - ed.) - to my detriment but to your delight, you don't have any reason to worry - Estonia is very far from a country where a cashier can become the prime minister*, not to mention, the president. Especially when her name is Masha, Vera or Sveta (traditionally Russian names - ed.). We can speculate that the 21st century didn't start this spring. The future seemed dark before the pandemic. We can either let our eyes get used to the deepening darkness, or start to direct the light to the corners that we have ignored until now or of what we have primarily been ashamed of.
Otherwise, men who are only concerned with the well-being of themselves and a very small segment of society will continue to sit in the government, in the Riigikogu and perhaps even in the chair of the future president.
The fight against the coronavirus crisis exemplified a very interesting phenomenon: We stood together by keeping distance; we kept apart in isolation. It turns out that this is also possible. It is possible that Estonians don't find it challenging to keep their distance from each other. But we need to start standing together in a different way as a nation.
*Editor's note: Sveta Grigorjeva is referencing comments previously made by Mart Helme about Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin, a former cashier.
Editor: Roberta Vaino