Raul Rebane: Iti's essay and presidential elections

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

We are not electing a president for a political party, we are electing the president of Estonia. We do not need to search for a political product but a truly gifted and educated person, Raul Rebane finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Ninth-graders wrote their final essay, "Why is it necessary to learn Estonian?" on Friday. Seems simple at first glance, while the reality turned out to be different. Many were having difficulties, while others did a better job.

I was moved by the essay of 15-year-old Iti who goes to the Nõmme Basic School. She started by writing about how Estonian was suppressed for a long time and how it survived through many an effort:

"It is because the language survived that we can discuss its beauty and various nuances instead of talking about it as a mere memory, which is what unfortunately happened to Livonian. We can appreciate its cases, special characters and everything else that is unique and a little strange. We can appreciate the surprised looks in the eyes of foreigners when we break out in patriotic song in our elvish language. Make jokes, read poems, write exams. Do all the things one usually does with language. Enjoy our language's almost total anonymity in the huge world of tongues. Meet that one Estonian in every port and sing that one song at every Song Festival celebration. I am proud of the tiny language of my tiny country and I plan on loving it forever."

This by a 15-year-old! Patriotic songs in an elvish language! Doesn't it sound lovely?

And now compare this to the texts and sentences we are treated to in our presidential election debate. They have gotten seriously out of hand in recent weeks.

We can hear nothing on the kind of president we need, only about which candidates have a chance. We hear nothing in terms of who would be suitable, capable of representing our country with dignity, whether they are capable of thinking on a global scale, their language proficiency, education. Whether they are capable of honoring and loving their people and language and expressing that love in words as Iti did.

Instead, what we can hear is ruthless political combinatorics about who is dating whom and what kind of machinations are in order to push through one's preferred candidate and ideally fellow party member. It is no longer important for that person to be ethical or honest – the important thing is for them to make it. Let them be mute or insane, as long as they stand a chance. This is topped off by efforts to belittle the role of president, down to the idea of abolishing the institution altogether as it has no real authority.

This is clearly a case of holding the binoculars backwards. There is plenty of authority involved. Try asking the younger generation who served as prime ministers, not to mention other ministers, when Lennart Meri was president. They don't know. A minister leaves a brief mark in their time. Who then has authority, ministers or the president?

Estonia has been lucky. Meri took Estonia to the world, Arnold Rüütel reconciled those who moved at different speeds and helped us enter the EU, Toomas Hendrik Ilves sports a global view and made Estonia bigger, while Kersti Kaljulaid sees the weaker members of society and fights for great values, free speech above all.

Thank God our Constitution has made sure the president does not have to take concrete steps. That is up to the government. The president must show the way. Therefore, the government is the tactical and the president the strategic manager. The state is not a limited company or an act of balancing income and expenses. All of it will be taken care of. The expenses and income will be tallied up by the state's accountant – the finance minister.

But a state is a national-cultural sign system and a whole formed of symbols that unite us. I understand that it seems incredible, however, it is simplification that has abased our debate culture.

We are not electing a president for a political party, we are electing Estonia's president. In order to stand guard of values, one must be valuable to start with. We do not have to look for a political product but a truly gifted and educated person. Such persons do not usually grow out of party-political skirmishes.

The point of what I'm saying is to try and give the presidential debate a new heading. So, we would try to be above the phenomenon and not in it. To change course so that the Itis of the new generation who write such essays and sense in such a way their people and language would not have to feel ashamed.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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