Alar Karis: Europe has moved closer to Estonia in the last three decades

Alar Karis.
Alar Karis. Source: Marko Mumm

Europe, the democratic world in general has moved close to Estonia in the last three decades, while the eastern border is just as close as it was 31 or 104 years ago. And just as dark, President Alar Karis said at a recent Ministry of Foreign Affairs anniversary event.

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been operating for 104 years without interruption, serving as the only institution to have carried our country's continuity de facto through the mist and closeness of the occupation.

This is part of the reason why the ministry managed to start working so elegantly, wisely and effectively a year and a half before Estonia restored its independence. Of course, it also required Lennart Meri's Silverwhite horizon and the faith, hope and love of many of his colleagues, young women and men.

Our foreign service – next to our state and society – has played an instrumental part in Estonia hitting major targets. Most notably [joining] the European Union and NATO. The EU in order to open the door to NATO, and NATO to ensure our national security. However, I would also mention making the Eurozone and Schengen area. This international integration is the best possible guarantee of Estonia's national interests.

My predecessor in the presidential office, two-time foreign minister and ambassador Toomas Hendrik Ilves considers the depoliticization of the foreign service to have served as a vital foundation for Estonia's foreign policy success. While domestic politics has an effect on foreign communication, Estonia luckily lacks politically appointed diplomats. The ministry's headquarters only has one political figure – the foreign affairs minister.

The ministry has more or less weathered all soon to be 20 ministers. The ministry has also always handled the president who, according to the Constitution, represents Estonia in international communication, while coordinating their activities with the government – the foreign ministry in this context. It means that we know our mutual steps before they are taken.

I only have reason to thank the foreign ministry for recent and future cooperation. Still, allow me to make a recommendation in passing but not impinging. Consider, before the president's foreign visits, how to serve, in addition to the smorgasbord of all international communication, two or three topics that could really be furthered at that particular venue.

Let us escalate our ambition. The question is clear: what do we want from the world and what do we have to give? We have a single Estonia. We are all working for that one Estonia.

Allow me to return to the apolitical foreign service. President Ilves phrased the nature of a good public servant when still serving as foreign minister 21 years ago. An official needs to be talented and devoted; they need to be someone who would make more money elsewhere but prefers to serve their country because it is more exciting, creative and noble. Because any fool can make money, while only the best and brightest can serve their country.

That is what we expect from our diplomats, all public servants. However, my message is not to urge the headquarters to cling to closeness. On the contrary. Matti Maasikas, Kaja Tael, Kaimo Kuusk or Sven Sakkov, all of whom I've had very interesting meetings with, came to the foreign service from the outside so to speak. And it is a good thing they did. It is excellent that Jonatan Vseviov or Kristjan Prikk have returned.

Closeness and lack of or incompetent criticism leads to feelings of infallibility, which is hardly a progressive force.

Europe, the democratic world in general have moved closer to Estonia in the last three decades, while the eastern border is just as close as it was 31 or 104 years ago. And just as dark.

I believe it is something we all consider. We do it every day right now. Russia's full-scale military aggression in Ukraine is Estonia's first major challenge since joining the EU and NATO.

The West did not manage to prevent the war, while I do not believe this begs the conclusion that diplomats failed. Putin's desire to go to war was stronger than attempts to avoid it.

What are Estonia's goals and interests following the collapse of the recent security picture? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs helps phrase and execute them.

Matti Maasikas once compared Estonia's location to that of the Last Homely House from Tolkien's "The Hobbit" that rests at the foot of the Misty Mountains and where one can live quite comfortably provided precautions have been taken.

This is the foreign ministry's – headquarters and embassies – role. To take those precautions. To have as many armed friends as possible. To find friends near and far, even places where one might not know to look for them at first. Importantly –we must know how to keep our friends. Because the diplomat who put Estonia in the Last Homely House also said: the small become great with the help of friends and allies, with them – it is something that we should always remember.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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