Martin Herem: The victory of evil is unacceptable

General Martin Herem.
General Martin Herem. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The loss of Ukraine and the victory of evil is unacceptable, Gen. Martin Herem, commander of the Estonian Defense Forces, said during his Independence Day speech. It is likely we will need to support Ukraine for long time and personal sacrifices may need to be made.

It was 105 years ago today that the Declaration of Independence was read out in Estonian towns. That declaration broke the foundations of the Russian czarist state here and gave hope for peace and for our own statehood.

We have fought for and won our statehood. We have lost it and then regained it again. But the imperial mindset that is one of the foundations of the Russian state and that poses a threat to us has not gone away. And just one year ago, the mask dropped, and the rulers of Russia showed their true intentions and what they are prepared to do. Unfortunately, they also have the support of their people in this. 

Through our history, Estonia has become a country that understands the price of independence. Estonia is a country that can stand up for itself. We are also a country that understands the concerns of others and understands the help that they need. Last year, as a people and as a country, we acted on our own words and values.

We gave support to Ukraine without long discussions about whether other, wealthier nations, should do more. About whether we, as a smaller country, should be more reserved. We understand that it makes no difference to a Ukrainian soldier whether his or her weapon and ammunition have come from the great power America or from small Estonia. It does not matter whether their medical equipment comes from Paris or Paide. They are protecting and saving the lives of their people. We too should find it of little importance whether the looters and occupiers are being destroyed by our few weapons or by the many provided by others. We appreciate the value of the lives saved.

We have not given assistance because of some political instructions from somewhere else. We have given our help, military or otherwise, because we knew what was needed. This knowledge that we need to help has been accompanied by the desire of our people, the wisdom of our officials and the courage of our politicians to do just that. We have behaved as a strong country and a strong people, and above all as a nation that is morally strong.

Through this moral strength, we have perhaps been able to surprise others with our physical strength. Our relatively small Defense Forces may sometimes have been mocked, but they have proved able to provide weapons and equipment in quantities that no one expected. I know that the Defense Forces are capable of even more surprises. Good ones for those on our side, and nasty shocks for our enemies. These surprises will be all the greater because in the course of a year our Defense Forces have only become stronger. We have increased our stockpile of ammunition and upgraded our weapons. Membership the Defense League providing territorial defense has increased. The units representing the Defense League today at this parade are comprised of members who joined during the past year. Over that year, we have improved how we work with our Allies in Estonia, by creating a new division. Today, U.S. multiple rocket launchers and an infantry company are deployed here, and we will soon be seeing additional French and Spanish units serving side by side with the eFP battlegroup and the Baltic Air Policing detachments.

The Estonian Defense Forces are based on reserves. Reservists, you are the main power of the Estonian Defense Forces! This year, the Defense Forces are calling up more than 25,000 people for their reservist training. The support and understanding of friends and family is essential for a reservist to be able to do their reservist training with a strong sense of purpose and commitment. So I ask the partners, friends, colleagues, and everyone else who knows someone going to their reservist training to give them a hug or a pat on the back as you wave them off on their way.

We have succeeded in surprising ourselves positively not only as the Defense Forces, but as a whole society. We expected a year ago that there might be 10,000 refugees and we planned the capacity to host that number, but we have by now exceeded this number many times over and our society has handled it very well. Our people have shown empathy and a will to help, and we may be proud that when faced with any resulting difficulties, we have not forgotten that the cause of the difficulties is not the people who have become refugees or a political misjudgement, but the aggressive behaviour of Russia. This has left us facing what we could call a hybrid war, but we have coped admirably so far. As a nation, as a people and as part of a union of states.

This lets us believe that if things get worse for us, we will manage. Proof of this is the effort and desire our people have shown to help defend our nation, by individuals joining the expanded Defense League or by businesses supporting national defense. Proof of this is the ever-increasing belief that WE can defend ourselves and the determination that I will be a part of it.

But hope and belief alone is not enough. The threat will not disappear for many years, and we will probably have to support Ukraine for a long time. Victory for Ukraine is only the first step towards a braver future. Defeat for Ukraine and victory for evil is unthinkable and cannot happen.

While we support Ukraine on the path to victory, we must also continue to stand prepared against the threat to ourselves. Countries, like people, have a habit of postponing troublesome issues. They do not want to spend time and money on those matters and so they hope that the danger will just go away. Moreover, as individuals we prioritize our personal goals and believe that we know best. We were like that at the beginning of our War of Independence, but we learned then to come together. We were again like that in the late 1930s and we paid the price for it. Then 50 years later, we were able again to come together wisely. 

Perhaps now is again a time when we must lay aside some of our personal goals and our personal ego. The approaching elections complicate matters and we must hope that we can move on from the deliberate confrontations and become stronger together.

As a country and as a society, we will probably have to sacrifice even more over the next year and in the years to come. We will have to trust others. More and more, we need to do what is really important. And things that are less important, however enjoyable, must be left aside or postponed. We all must do this – the state, officials, political parties, organisations and people. Only in this way can we be better prepared for what we have had to face repeatedly throughout our history. This is the only way we can confront any aggressor that should choose to come against us.

The 105th year of the Republic of Estonia gives us hope for this.

We have good people. We have an independent and strong country. We have allies we can trust. We have proven it in the past year.

Long live the Republic of Estonia!


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Editor: Helen Wright

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