At Friday's memorial ceremony to the March 1949 Soviet deportations of Estonians to Siberia, head of state Alar Karis made a speech noting the tendency of evil to distort historical truths.
The speech, held at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in the Maarjamäe district of Tallinn, Tallinn (see gallery above), while marking the 73rd anniversary of the deportations from Estonia, carried with it a particular poignancy this year given the month-long war which has been raging in Ukraine, following the Russian Federation's invasion of its neighbor.
ERR News is reproducing President Karis' speech, in its entirety, below.
My fellow Estonians,
Leelo Tungal is a past master at channeling the zeitgeist. During the first week of the war in Ukraine she wrote a poem about evil plunging the world into darkness and settling scores, and about it once again being possible to take a foreign land with iron and fire.
She was speaking about Ukraine as the target of Russia's war. But we know such realities from our own lived experience in the XXth century. Estonia knows what it means for evil to plunge the world into darkness, as it is taken, one piece at a time, by those worthy of nothing but our contempt.
Here, on this memorial which recalls the tragic journey of victims of the communist regime, are inscribed the names of more than 22,000 people who foreign forces forcibly relocated to a foreign land. Not a single family in Estonia remained untouched by this violent scourge.
Close relatives of my own were laid to rest in Siberia. Thankfully, a number of my family made it back to Estonia. They never forgot the anguish of deportation or the angst that accompanied those years in the Siberian wastes.
Tens of thousands of victims of evil...
And for what?
For recalling the Estonian republic taken away from them by a foreign power.
For recalling the freedom they were forbidden from talking about by that foreign power.
For recalling their national anthem and flag, which that foreign power ordered them to forget.
For recalling how proud they felt to stand at the front door of their home, or next to their field, or in their store, or in front of their factory. That foreign power took away their homes, their fields, their stores and their factories. And in the blink of an eye they had nothing left – in some cases not even a mother or father.
That foreign power forbade them to remember, because remembering threatened to undermine their power. Evil wants historical truth to be denied. Because evil fears the truth. Including the truth about itself. In this cowardice lies the reason why the Russian authorities forced the closure of Memorial, the human rights organization investigating Soviet-era repressions.
Such cowardice reflects the authorities' weakness in acknowledging their own past.
We are seeing the same thing in Ukraine. Russia's aggression against its neighbor, which has killed thousands and displaced millions, has been shrouded in lies and fabricated justifications. But for those who truly wish to see, it is clear that President Putin's war has no justification: It is a brutal rejection of the UN Charter and international law and a flagrant breach of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Reading stories about the cities that have come under Russian fire and the women and children who have been taken to Russia, we here in the Baltic States and many others who met the same fate can only recall those tragic years, and in particular that one painful day: March 25 1949.
We recall the railway stations with their deportation wagons; the anguished souls dragged from their homes; the crooked crosses marking far-off graves.
In recalling and remembering the victims of the communist regime in Estonia here today, we think too with sympathy and concern of the victims of the war instigated by Russia in Ukraine. We think about the thousands of people being taken to Russia against their will.
When we speak of the evil responsible for all of this, we must never forget that evil has a human face. A regime may be evil, but it is people themselves who do evil deeds. Those who issue orders and those who carry them out.
This is how it was in Estonia 73 years ago, and that is how it is in Ukraine today.
I bow my head in memory of all victims of evil.
Reproduced with thanks to the Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte