ERR News republishes President Kersti Kaljulaid's Victory Day (Võidupüha) speech, given on June 23 in Paide, in full.
Dear Defence League members, fellow Estonians here in Paide and around the country,
Today, after an enforced break, we can once again celebrate Victory Day as we are meant to – hundreds of Defence League members, Young Eagles, the Home Daughters and allied soldiers have gathered here on the central square in Paide for the parade. To talk to us about the will and capability to defend ourselves. And about the fact that the virus crisis has abated. Estonian people can come together again. To celebrate both our victory over the Landeswehr 102 years ago and the desolate pandemic winter we left behind.
But just as defense capabilities must be continuously developed and people's defense will foster, our fight against the virus is not over. Our ability to protect ourselves from the virus also depends on our willingness to defend ourselves – can we vaccinate Estonian society in such a way that there will be no more missed days of school, no more lives unlived? In this battle, too, each of us is a soldier on the battlefield – by protecting ourselves, we help Estonia as a whole. In this battle, too, we will likely have to add to our defensive capabilities every year – new rounds of vaccination will have to follow initial rounds so as to maintain defensive capabilities of our society, or to establish them in the face of new and mutated strains. We do not know as yet how things will pan out, but coping with viruses has become the most pressing aspect of national defense in the broadest sense and will remain so for some time.
Victory fires did not go unlit and distributed across Estonia last year. The best Young Eagles and their leaders from every county took those fires with them from Kadriorg. It was a beautiful ceremony in circumstances where more could not be done. But just as virtual learning does not replace studying at school, nothing can completely replace the traditional Victory Day parade and Territorial Defence Days in all of our counties.
Our model of national defense is rather unique in the world. Voluntary defense organizations like the Defense League and compulsory military service are of course found elsewhere in the world as well. But there are few countries in which practically all of the war-time units are composed of reservists and Defense League members. Where ordinary citizens, not professional servicemen, are entrusted with more than individual soldiering duties. Their duty is to lead squads and platoons, to use highly complex weapons systems. The first patch of reservists have just ended their conscription service who, with the new Spike guided missile system, have taken our Defense Forces' anti-tank capabilities to a completely new level. In May, Defense League members took part in training in Nurmsi and elsewhere in Estonia with Allied paratroopers and special operators. They did not come across to our allies as amateurs in any way. They are professionals, in work they are undertaking voluntarily. Respect to them!
With respect to you – the rank and file here in Paide today and the tens of thousands of reservists in their homes. It is you who defend Estonia.
A defense force based to such an extent on reservists is not a choice enforced by the small size of Estonia or its complex geopolitical location, but an opportunity to man our forces with the best, highly motivated citizens who in peacetime prefer to work in other fields. However, such a defense model only functions if those citizens meet regularly with their teachers – their commanders; and their fellow fighters – other reservists. It is not about parades that have been canceled in the meantime. Let us not forget that the year-and-a-half coronavirus crisis has led to the cancellation of many planned reserve training exercises. But such training is highly necessary in order for our reserve units to test their readiness and combat capability. I know that the Defense Forces and the Defense League have very cleverly maintained their fighting abilities during the crisis but are looking forward to the opportunity to come together for major military exercises. And while the Spring Storm military exercises were underway, I was particularly pleased to hear from a number of Estonian employers that they too had prepared for the fact that the reservists would have to be given time off work to take part in the exercises. Indeed, they were prepared for more than that: also to keep paying the salaries of these men and women during the exercises. Respect to you, Estonian employers, for grasping the nature of our reserve army! Your contribution to this year's Spring Storm was more modest – few reservists took part in the exercises – but next year it will again be the case that every thorn of the hedgehog counts.
My fellow country members,
In overcoming the health crisis over the past year-and-a-half, out country and society have learned a harsh but very useful lesson. It is humanly understandable that we want to take a moment to catch our breath. To take a break from the last year's concerns, toils and sorrows. But in taking this time out, we must not allow ourselves to become totally unconcerned. Because the world beyond infection indicator tables and vaccination statistics has not become safer or more peaceful. The NATO summit a week ago confirmed that our allies care about the future of our alliance and their strong desire to adapt to the concerns of the 21st century. But the powers that continually present challenges to European security have not gone anywhere. Powers that want Europe's future to be shaped not by the people's free self-determination, but by the right of the powerful. We must pay close attention that the major military exercises of our neighbor to the east this year do not grow into anything more serious and that the coming months do not prove fateful to the futures of Ukraine, Belarus or Moldova.
When we rehearse defending Estonia – whether that be on field exercises, at military headquarters, on the Government, on the National Defence Council or in meetings of NATO ministers – it is never a sign of weakness, or of fear, or of impending danger. On the contrary: constant training, practicing and thinking about defense, analyzing the adversary's potential plans, and being prepared to respond to them – reassure us that we are protected. Because we have already thought about all of the risks that threaten Estonia. Because we always have a plan. And that plan is not just on paper, but one we live by, one for which we procure equipment, one for which we train, one in regard to which we consult with our allies on joint actions.
Then we cannot be surprised. Then we can confident. Then we will always be victorious. This is how we cherish Estonia!
Long live the Defence League!
Editor's note: English translation provided by the Office of the President of Estonia.
Editor: Helen Wright