Message About Tolerance in Obama's Speech Received Unjustifiably Little Attention ({{commentsTotal}})

The US president's words and actions on his September 3 trip to Estonia have been analyzed as much as dresses worn at the annual Independence Day reception, but a few important factors have been neglected, says Annika Uudelepp, head of Praxis Policy Research Institute, in a comment originally for ERR radio.

We need to come back both to Barack Obama's obvious message in his speech but also to what was between the lines. There was more of the latter than initially visible.

First, the obvious. Obama said what we wanted to hear the most: the independence of the Estonian state and people is protected. It is defended by NATO and the United States and they will defend us here and now and for as long as we are worthy members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

That's the start of the between-the-lines part of Obama's speech.

US and NATO support is not elementary and unconditional. It has never been and never will be. NATO protects those states which meet the alliance's criteria, which go hand in hand with democracy, freedom and tolerance.

Barack Obama said we meet those standards. We are a democratic nation. We have shown that a nation which has long been occupied can in a few decades develop into a European state, if the population wants it.

Obama was like the best salesman for Estonia. Our own politicians and diplomats have never had such influence as to declare so extensively and convincingly that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all a natural part of this world.

Heinz Valk's slogan “One day, no matter what, we will win!” was now heard across the world and became an accolade for Western values. Recalling what Obama said: we are strong. We are strong because we are democracies.

Democracies are based on certain values. As Obama emphasized, our democracies cannot be truly successful before we are able to root out one-sidedness and prejudice from institutions and from our hearts. Nations are more successful and wealthy if they accept the talents of all people, including minorities.

The part about tolerance in Obama's speech has so far received unjustifiably little attention. That was the only part of the speech which lectured us, pointed to our conscience.

We demand that large nations take us as equals, listen to us as equals and take our interests into account as they would others' interests. Even though in terms of famous philosophers, inventors, artists and writers, poets and discoverers, we will always be looking up to the "old European" peoples.

Our demands of equal treatment will be taken seriously when we in Estonia stop looking down on our minorities, regardless of whether minority is defined by a mother tongue, skin color, sex of a partner or anything else.

It was embarrassing to read about people complaining that Obama's visit upset their daily routine, considering the symbolic, value-based meaning of the visit.

Think about it: what do we want others to do to bring the Kremlin to heel? We want France to lose thousands of jobs in the ship construction industry. We want Germans to risk having no heating during winter. We want Finns to be ready to close part of the dairy industry. We want the Brits to forgo accounts worth billions of euros. We have demands for all European peoples.

And at the end we want them to, if necessary, risk their lives for our freedom. But we do not tolerate 30 minutes stuck in a traffic jam. For some that is too much to offer for freedom. They find that Obama could have landed at Ämari, read a speech from the aircraft's door and taken off again. Ridiculous.

Barack Obama began his speech by recognizing us for the Baltic Way. That, in a way, was the biggest traffic jam ever in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – cars were parked by the side of the road when people joined hands for the name of freedom.

Back then we knew what was important and what not. I am convinced we also know that now and Obama inspired us to stand more firmly for that.

(Translated from the piece on

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